From moody French New Wave to a comedy gem, here are some of the best science fiction films available now on Kanopy through your library
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We have been singing the praises for the Kanopy film service for a while now, but it bears repeating: for movie lovers, there is a surprising depth to this depository of films available to you now, for free, with your library membership if your local library participates. (And if they don’t, you definitely should encourage them to do so.) This time around, we want to highlight some of the science fiction gems within their catalog for you to enjoy, from across the broad history of cinema.
It is hard to imagine we could say anything here that hasn’t already been said about Fritz Lang’s magnum opus. The impact this dystopian vision of a society starkly divided by class has had not just on speculative filmmaking, but all film, is kind of hard to overstate. But if you’ve never seen it for yourself, and know it only by its reputation, Kanopy has an excellent print of it available. You may think that a two and a half hour silent movie is a tall order, but the visual language is so arresting that you’ll barely feel the length.
Even by the standards of Jean-Luc Godard’s diverse and prolific career, Alphavilla is fairly singular. A dystopian neo-noir that explores that relationship between individual freedoms and collective responsibility, Alphaville famously didn’t use any special set design to create it’s futuristic automated city, instead utilizing the new architecture of 1960s Paris to cast a view towards the perceived future. Eddie Constantine returns to the role of Lemmy Caution, sent in to investigate and ultimately destroy the computer-run town of Alphaville. Imagine if they made a James Bond movie that was set in the near future and was about the fate of humanity in the rising tide of modernity and was shot like a French New Wave film, and you have the basic idea.
A.I.: ARTIFICAL INTELLIGENCE
At the time of its release, A.I.’s legacy was that it was a long-languishing Kubrick passion project that he handed off to Spielberg, and then was released after his death. While the film was initially met with a collective shrug as a strange mix of tones and themes, it has since been reconsidered as something of a misunderstood work, as quietly one of Spielberg’s darkest films. Ostensibly a science fiction face-lift of the tale of Pinnochio, the film in turn explores the complex shape of what humanity actually is. Grounded by a remarkably effective performance by Jude Law and a truly singular visual language, reconsider or discover for the first time this moody sci-fi spectacle.
It is probably hyperbolic and a bit dishonest to say that Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek film; that honor likely still belongs to Wrath of Khan. Conversely however, Galaxy Quest might be the best film about Star Trek. When the jaded cast of the titular TV cult hit finds themselves in an actual intergalactic war, they discover the positive impact their show’s optimistic vision of co-existence had on unwitting alien civilizations. The tension between the actual realities of pop culture being made by messy people versus the impact it has on “fans” is played mostly for comedy, there is a genuine sweetness to the film. Grounded by an incredibly cast (Sigourney Weaver! Alan Rickman! Sam Rockwell! The best performance of Tim Allen’s career!) and an extremely clever script, Galaxy Quest stands as an all-time great sci-fi comedy.
There are countless services to explore and great things to watch on all of them. Which ones did we miss that you would suggest to us? Tell us what we’re missing out on or what new services we should check out by leaving a comment below or emailing us.