Weekend Watchlist | Weird World of Science Fiction

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Shruti Talekar | Senior Staff Illustrator

By The Pitt News Staff

Stalker (Prime Video) // Nick Suarez, For The Pitt News

Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 science fiction art drama “Stalker” is a film perfectly suited for this time of social isolation against an invisible but omnipresent threat. Twenty years after a meteorite’s collision with earth, the area surrounding the impact point has transformed into a mysterious and perilous region referred to as the Zone. In this world, social pariahs referred to as “stalkers” are the only ones able to safely navigate The Zone. The story follows three men called “Stalker,” “Writer” and “Professor” as they journey into the alien realm, each in search of something different, but sharing the same dissatisfaction with the decaying post-industrial world they inhabit outside the Zone. The Zone’s rules and its deadly alien traps are never explained, and the film eschews special effects, allowing the audience to glimpse the extraterrestrial horrors only through the characters’ reactions to them. The agonizing deliberation and uncertainty of the trio’s journey slows the film’s pace to a crawl, but the outstanding acting and cinematography successfully skirt monotony and lend Tarkovsky’s metaphysical exploration an atmosphere that is simultaneously tense and feverishly hypnotic.

Arrival (Prime Video) // Alexis Widenhouse, For The Pitt News

If you watch “Arrival” for anything, do it for Amy Adams. 

Based on Ted Chiang’s award-winning 1998 novella “Story of your Life,” the 2016 movie “Arrival” is a captivatingly existential approach to how we navigate human relationships and linguistics. In dispersed locations around the world, 12 ginormous half-moon-shaped pods are found to be ominously hovering above ground. Obviously, chaos ensues, leaving the government and its officials dumbfounded and extra horrified. Military intelligence seeks the help of Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), an expert linguist believed to be capable of figuring out the extraterrestrials’ reasons for disrupting Earth. In contrast to her coworkers, Banks’ tone stays warm and gentle when talking to the aliens, hinting at the ways director Denis Villeneuve is pushing viewers to think when faced with absences of understanding someone else. The story purposefully shies away from giving too much information about Banks’ personal life too quickly, as this feature is essential to how the movie unfolds and concludes. I’ll let you watch and see for yourself before I spoil any endings. But I will say, this is definitely the sci-fi movie that you get a heartwarming cry out of — guaranteed.

Melancholia (Hulu) // Simon Sweeney, Staff Writer

The apocalypse of fiction is beginning to feel, in many cases, as if it’s approaching a sort of uncanny valley –– as we live through the world crumbling into disrepair, global disaster movies can seem like they come ever so close to the real truth of the end times but just miss the mark, ringing hollow in a way they didn’t pre-doomsday. All of this is to say that Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” captures the feeling with a terrifying truth, crashing a planet (literally) named Depression into the Earth and showing one family coping with planetary heat death. The central pair of sisters, played by Kirsten Dunst (giving what may be the finest screen performance of the decade) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (like, half a notch below that), have polarized reactions –– Dunst’s Justine is resigned, Gainsbourg’s Claire panicked –– and it’s their relationships with themselves, each other and the doomed world around them that “Melancholia” focuses on. Von Trier isn’t particularly interested in the sci-fi mechanics of the situation, nor the suspense of a possible escape. Instead, he examines humanity in the micro as its world prepares to shatter, and what it might do to make sense of it all. 

Stranger Things (Netflix) // Hayley Lesh, Staff Writer

By now, you’ve probably heard of the show “Stranger Things.” With its 1980s aesthetic, phenomenal cast and twisted storyline, it lives up to the hype. “Stranger Things” opens with the mysterious disappearance of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) and the dark secrets his friends uncover. As Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) search for Will, they unexpectedly cross paths with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a girl who possesses strange, unearthly powers. From there, the show is transformed into a thrilling sci-fi universe that always keeps the audience guessing. Under the direction and creative minds of the Duffer Brothers, the “Stranger Things” cast offers an excellent performance that only gets better as the seasons go on. The show presents a nostalgic experience not often seen in television shows today. Sci-fi elements underlie much of “Stranger Things,” yet the show heavily relies on the realistic setting of Hawkins, Indiana, to add another layer of suspense. “Stranger Things” is an amazing show for sci-fi lovers and everyone in between. With only eight episodes in the first season, it is the perfect weekend watch.

Snowpiercer (Netflix) // Vikram Sundar, Staff Writer

As an official member of the Bong hive, I cannot restrain myself from recommending any Bong Joon-ho movie when the opportunity presents itself. That said, if you’ve never seen or heard of Joon-ho, get out of the rock you’ve been living under! The Oscars finally gave the incredibly talented and multi-faceted director the recognition he deserved by gracing his genre-defying masterpiece “Parasite” with a Best Picture Oscar in 2019. But to tell you the truth, he’s been putting out banger films right from the start. “Snowpiercer” is his most American film of the bunch, with Chris Evans playing the eponymous hero and the only one who ostensibly fits into the category of sci-fi. In this far-fetched, totally inconceivable world where climate change has ravaged the Earth into a frozen tundra, people are forced to take refuge in a mega-train that houses the remaining members of the dwindling human population. But wait, it wouldn’t be a Bong film without some form of class commentary, so there’s a catch. The train is divided into sections based on class, with the majority lower class rotting away in the grimey caboose and the select upper class living lavishly in the extravagant coach. All in all, Bong delivers an epic parable on the foreseeable consequences of climate change and the inherent flaws of any capitalist system.

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