(Not so) hard sci-fi challenge

August 20, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Duncan Jones is one of the young masters of modern sci-fi on screen. His debut feature, MOON, is a spectacular throwback to the works of  the 70s, some peculiar, genius hybrid of Tarkovsky and Hyams.

When Duncan bellied up to The High Bar he provided clues to unraveling SOURCE CODE and shared his picks for under-appreciated genre classics. Now, let’s find out yours.

** Submit a list of your five favorite under-sung sci-fi books and/or movies below, in the comments, by Noon (PST), Friday, September 2nd, 2011 and be eligible to win a copy of MOON on blu-ray or a complete collection of The Warren Report tv series on dvd.**


  • kevin rexroat

    a canticle for liebowitz
    matthew looney and the space pirates
    on the beach
    a boy and his dog

    if i win, please send me the warren report discs. i *hated* moon.

  • “Primer” (2004)
    “The City of Lost Children” (1995)
    “Gattaca” (1997)
    “Dark City” (1998)
    “Alphaville” (1965), Jean-Luc Godard

    Runners up: Aronofsky’s “The Fountain.” Any number of Miyazaki’s films (okay, they’re fantasies, so crossover appeal is left to the discerning reader). Joss Whedon’s “Serenity” (being a fan of TV’s “Firefly” obviously helps). “Replay” – novel by Ken Grimwood (why it hasn’t yet been screen-adapted puzzles me).

  • The obvious first answer is “Moon”. Hardly anyone has seen it, and it’s simply terrific. I hope I win.

    In 2nd place, I’ll suggest “The Quiet Earth”, a spooky-quiet film from the 80′s about a man who wakes up completely alone.

    3rd comes Sunshine (also mentioned above), a sci-fi film that did almost everything right and got precious little attention. (Shame about the twin ship subplot, but oh well!)

    In 4th place I’ll put “The Last Three Minutes” by Paul Davies, which is non-fiction but is so speculative that it might as well be, and is a positive high-ball for the imagination.

    The 5th spot goes to the first 85% of any Culture book by Iain Banks. The man can’t finish a book properly to save his life, but he has a marvelous time setting up shitty and unsatisfying endings! (Oh dear, that sounds mean. And I’m basing it only on two books — Excession and The Algebraist — but they both share this unfortunate trait.)

    Wish I had better choices for you, but I’m pretty disappointed by most sci-fi books and movies. “Dune” is my favorite sci-fi book, but t’ain’t nobody what ain’t heard of it.

    • “A high-ball for the imagination.” Wow. With that description, you know I’ll be ordering several copies of The Last Three Minutes in just one sitting. Thanks, Uncle Vinny.

  • Nicely said & with glorious timing

  • Robert Sharl

    1. The Man Who Fell To Earth
    2. Slaughterhouse 5
    3. The Fountain
    4. Never Let Me Go
    5. Fantastic Planet

    • I have seen the first four many, many times, but it’s been ages since I’ve watched FANTASTIC PLANET. Thanks for the reminder, Robert.

  • 1. Spierlberg’s War of the Worlds. Isn’t given near enough credit.
    2. Back to the Future Part II. While this sounds like a film everyone knows, it is frequently discredited as being dull and not near as good as the first. This is not the case.
    3. Primer. Don’t know what else to say other than see it. See it now.
    4. The Fountain. Flawed, yes, but Aronofsky makes a heck of a film and gets great performances out of Jackman and Weisz.
    5. Serenity. I wouldn’t recommend seeing unless you have watched Firefly first, but Joss Whedon continues the excellent series with an excellent movie.

    • True. I don’t give the first two much credit. maybe I’ll revisit given your faith in those films. I do greatly admire PRIMER and love THE FOUNTAIN!

  • Terenn

    1. Infernal Affairs
    2. Old Boy
    3. Death Note
    4. Dune
    5. MOON!

  • *Battle Beyond the Stars

    *Robinson Caruso on Mars (as a kid, I always thought he was eating boston baked beans candy instead of oxygen pills)

    *Buckaroo Bonzai


    *Starman (I think people forget how good this movie really was!)



    • BUCKAROO BONZAI still holds up, Damon, and I’d watch BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS for James horner’s score alone. Jeff Bridges is fantastic in STARMAN. Nice choices.

  • KieranD

    Oh man, unsung? I suck at unsung, I’m a total mainstream sucker. On that, here’s my hastily put-together list in no order:

    1) District 9
    2) Star Wars
    3) Moon
    4) War of the Worlds
    5) Ghost in the Shell

    I’ll admit, about 50% of that I just looked at my DVD shelf, and even then I ran out. Still, don’t own Moon and it’s about the only obscure-ish sci-fi I’ve a) seen and b) loved.

  • 1. Dark City
    2. Spaceballs
    3. Escape from New York
    4. Sunshine
    5. Top 10 (Alan Moore comic)

  • Justin

    1. PRIMER
    3. CUBE

    I would say everyone should see these films if they have any interest in unique sci-fi


    • PRIMER does seem to be the early front-runner, for sure, though I’d take either of your SUNSHINE suggestions first, Armak.

  • The Bed Sitting Room

    Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”

    The Man Who Fell To Earth

    Flash Gordon (1980)

    Matt Ruff’s “Bad Monkeys”

    Honorable mention: Tank Girl (the movie)… guess, it was worth a try.

  • FLASH GORDON, really, Sab? Are you just a fan of Queen? Or, Lori Petty? ; )

  • David

    1. Inception
    2. 2001: A Space Odyssey
    3. Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back
    4. Blade Runner
    5. Moon

  • Hyperion – Dan Simmons
    Redemption Ark – Alistair Reynolds (easily the best book in that trilogy)
    Altered Carbon – Richard Morgan
    Consider Phlebas – Iain M Banks (but there’s plenty to like there in his back catalogue – see also Player of Games / Surface Detail, and unlike Vinny I thought The Algebraist was fantastic)
    12 Monkeys by Terry Gilliam is pretty under appreciated (thought I’m not sure you can describe any film with Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis as under the radar)

    • Thanks, Kris. The only title I knew amongst your recommendations was 12 MONKEYS, so clearly, I have some reading to do… or publishers need to find a way to insert Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis into books.

  • Mark Brunke

    I think the most unsung thing in sci-fi is Ultra Q, a tv series from Japan in 1965 created by Eiji Tsuburaya. But, to stay true to the subject at hand…

    Books, I don’t know if any of these could be called unsung
    1. The Simulacra, Phillip K. Dick
    2. Babel-17, Samuel R. Delaney
    3. The Killing Machine, Jack Vance
    4. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Phillip Jose Farmer
    5. The Number of the Beast, Robert Heinlein

    and I might as well make a list of some movies
    1. Space Battleship Yamato (the animated movie from 1977)
    2. I would’ve said Outland, but since it was said, I will say The Lathe of Heaven
    3. Stalker (the Tarkovsky movie)
    4. Full Metal Yakuza
    5. Body Snatchers (the one directed by Abel Ferrara)

    • So many of these are unknown to me. Thank you, Mark! (Is Ultra Q the one with the guy in the funky red and silver space suit?)

      • Mark Brunke

        that’s Ultraman, he was in the last couple episodes and turned out to be so popular the created a series around him. Tsuburaya was the special effects guy for all of Ishiro Honda’s movies, like Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, etc. I have to say, MOON is an awesome movie, I’ve watched it probably 4 or 5 times.

        • But do you OWN a copy of MOON, Mark?

          Thanks for the clarification. I know the Ultraman toys better than the actual show.

  • Charlene

    1. Moon (loved it!)
    2. They Live! (So bad, it’s good)
    3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the original, so good)
    4. Perfect Sense (saw it at SIFF this year, wonderful and thought provoking Sci Fi, it reminded me of Moon in that way.)
    5. Every Sci Fi fan should own this book….

    Also, props to the people who picked Buckaroo Banzai and A Boy and His Dog. And thanks for a reminder that I need to see “Primer”.

  • Gattaca, Fire in the Sky, Frequency, Boys from Brazil and They Live

    • ah, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL… incredibly cheesy, but that amazing Jerry Goldsmith score and Sir Larry’s over the tippy-top performance always make it damn fun.

  • La jetée
    The Fountain
    Children of Men
    The Tree Of Life (your argument is invalid)

    • My argument or anyone’s argument, Robert? Wait till you hear what Charles Mudede has to say about THE TREE OF LIFE in an upcoming episode of The High Bar.

  • Alex Walsh

    1. Primer
    2. Pandorum
    3. Solaris (either version actually)
    4. Videodrome
    5. Timecrimes

    And I could probably name another 5 obscure gems if not for all that grappa I just had, but then again, this is the High Bar.

    • As you were not part of The High Bar crew at the time we shot the episode with Duncan Jones and because I approve of your selections, you remain eligible to win, Alex. ; ) Have another grappa for me. Or, some true schnapps in honor of Trimpin.

  • Logan’s Run- what teenage boy could miss that brief Jenny Agutter changing scene.
    Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger- This was the second best fantasy of 1977
    A Quiet Earth- art house movie about nobody else on earth-similar concept to I am legend.
    12 Monkeys- who would have thought a movie inspired by LeJette
    Excalibur- the first R rated movie I saw on my own.

    • LOGAN’S RUN features another great Jerry Goldsmith score and the Agutter disrobing… however, it also shames Roscoe Lee Browne putting the guy inside a silver-sprayed refrigerator box. Jury’s out on that one. If the SINBAD film had featured the Survivor song as its title track, I might be more forgiving of that one, too.

  • Jeremy

    First, let me say that Primer is hardly under-sung. Quite the contrary, actually. Primer has developed a rather rabid fanbase, especially in circles such as this. So that being said, my list:

    5. Solaris (1972)
    4. Cargo (the subtitles are offputting, but the film is excellent)
    3.Titan A.E.
    2. Keeping Up with the Kardashians (it’s remarkable seeing these alien specimens react naturally to external stimuli)
    1.The Cathedral (An INCREDIBLE short film, nominated for an Oscar in 2002. http://vimeo.com/16441202 )

    As for books, most of William Gibson’s work after Neuromancer has failed to garner the same type of attention, but undeservedly. Spook Country and Pattern Recognition are both very mature, complex works of subtle science fiction.

    And obviously, I love Moon and Source Code. Duncan’s tweet earlier today about writing a script to a story he has played out in his head hundreds of times got me SO excited.

  • Chris



    Galaxy Quest

    13th Floor

    Buckaroo Bonzai

    …and Final Countdown. I can’t tell you the mindbeng conversations *that* movie spawned.

  • Brien

    Le Voyage dans la lune (1902)
    20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
    Sleeper (1973)
    Flight of the Navigator (1986)
    The Rocketeer (1991)

  • thescarletpeacock

    This genre is new to me but I thought I’d take a chance at winning since I loved ‘Moon’ so much. I welcome any suggestions for someone that is not nearly as familiar as most of the others’ knowledgeable posts … besides Starman, Blade Runner, Dune and the Man Who Fell to Earth (and obviously the fantastic film that is Moon) the rest of the films listed are unfamiliar to me. Hope to win and *begin* my collection!

  • Brandon

    Dark City
    12 Monkeys
    Vanilla Sky
    Event Horizon
    …Primer doesn’t nearly make the list

  • A Boy and His Dog, by Ellison. Film is great as well.
    Altered States.
    Cat’s Cradle, by Vonnegut.

    To defend Primer still being unsung as far as I’m concerned, only one other person I know/have spoken to sings its praises/knows about it at all, and that was only because they supposedly filmed it in his hometown.

    • Well, I would normally have taken your side in the PRIMER argument but it’s probably the title cited most frequently in this contest, Drew.

  • Michael Aguilar

    Paranoia 1.0
    right at your door
    ghost in the shell
    timecrimes (los cronocrimenes)

  • Maria

    1. Galaxy Quest – because I think it’s one of the funniest movies ever made, and also a hilarious send-up of a lot of sci-fi cliches. (Also: Sam Rockwell. Need I say more?)

    2. 12 Monkeys – It’s Terry Gilliam. It’s brilliant. I love it and I don’t think it ever got the respect it deserved.

    3. Reign of Fire – I think the brilliant scene at the beginning of this movie when a Star Wars scene is re-enacted for the little kids in the post-apocalyptic world makes it a classic. Also, I have a weak spot for dragons and Bale.

    4. The Jacket – I absolutely adore this movie. Adrien Brody is fantastic in it and it kept me guessing all the way through. The movie company didn’t know how to pigeonhole this one I think and ended up with a terrible PR-campaign for it.

    5. Silent Running – Yes, it is somewhat dated, but I still really like it. Robots, environmental concerns, a human going bonkers in isolation… what’s not to like?

  • Edward Jones

    A Wrinkle in Time
    A Boy and His Dog
    Time Bandits
    Waking Life

  • Joe Swartz

    So many of my top 5 picks are included above (Primer, Sunshine, Moon, etc.), so maybe it’s not much use listing them here again, but I’ll at least add these other favorites:
    1- Horses On Mars (short film)
    2- Looker (mmm Susan Dey…)
    3- Hardware Wars
    4- The Twonky
    5- Earth Girls Are Easy (mmm Julie Brown…)

    Honorable mention: The Last Starfighter, which I remember being a fairly bad film, but a dream scenario for the video game kid that I was.

    • Thanks for coming up with other suggestions. You get points for the extra effort. And while I can appreciate Susan Dey, is LOOKER that Albert Finney/Michael Crichton film?

      • Joe Swartz

        It is. I first caught it on HBO in the early 80s, long before I knew who Crichton was.

  • 1) Starship Troopers
    2) The Man From Earth
    3) The Island
    4) Contact
    5) Hot Tub Time Machine (the premise is pure genius).

    • I, too, loved the set-up — and even many of the punch-lines — in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, Lee, but it wasn’t nearly as funny as THE ISLAND. ; )

  • Wow, just found out about this contest on Twitter and had to enter.

    * “On Basilisk Station” by David Webber: recently read the first two Honor Harrington books and can’t believe I haven’t heard of them before. The first one, “Basilisk Station,” has an incredibly awesome space battle, and the way this Webber’s thought out a post earth diaspora almost gives “Foundation” a run for it’s money.

    * “Star Surgeon” by Alan E. Nourse: I listen to the audiorecording from Librivox all the time, and am continually impressed with a fun story that manages to be chalk full of science. I only wished Nourse had written more about his universe (a la Asimov); maybe then more people would have heard of this early scifi story.

    * “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley: everyone’s always talking about Big Brother and “1984,” but for my money BNW is a far more nuanced and believable distopia, not to mention a better written novel.


    * “Gattaca”: some have named it already, but I’m still surprised this film isn’t more wildly watched and discussed, considering how timely the subject matter is.

    * “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”: I’m going out on a limb here by naming a Star Trek property, but how many people even know about this one? It has one of the better plots of the ST movies (politics, murder, better thought-out and less obvious villains) and wonderful focus on the the arcs of the big 3 (with Kirk and Spock on seeming opposite sides of the conflict), not to mention an early Michael Dorn appearance. Seriously underrated.

    Finally, since I wasn’t sure if you’d count television:
    * “Babylon 5″: it’s amazing to me how little press this series gets from the scifi crowd. Whether it’s top ten lists, fan fights, or cosplay, I rarely see references to this little gem. Sure, there are some episodes that aren’t as good, sure the last season wasn’t it’s best, and yes, it’s more mystical than some scifi fans like. But I’d put seasons 2-4 against anything the more known franchies have out there. Babylon 5 was revolutionary for the genre on the small screen in both visual effects and character/plot arcs that ran for years. Not to mention the great humor and pathos it delivered, along with an incredible sense of the alien cultures represented. B5 totally deserves more respect than the fandom community gives it.

    • I do love your well-reasoned advocacy, Michelle, and I join you in your support of Brave New World over 1984.

      To be honest, I never gave Babylon 5 a fair shot, maybe I will now have to do so.

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