It’s a scary world out there, but it could be worse. It could be invaded.
The ‘Dark Skies’ film festival at the Irish Film Institute is back this July, with a selection of top science fiction cinema that will entice genre fans across the county. It’s a change of pace from last year’s theme, which celebrated ‘Science Fact and Fiction‘ in collaboration with Trinity College’s Science Gallery. Which isn’t to say there’s no food for thought in the films at this year’s edition of Dark Skies, which both ask the question, ‘is there benevolent life out there in space?’, as well as answering it; ‘no they’re bad and coming to invade the bejaysus out of us’.
There are some fine films on offer throughout Dark Skies: Invasion, which will be taking place at the IFI from July 7th – 29th. The work of big-name directors including John Carpenter, Tim Burton and Philip Kaufman will be on show throughout, as the IFI screens a range of sci-fi from Carpenter’s infamously tense and horrifying take on The Thing to Burton’s extraordinarily silly Starship Troopers. For those who missed out on a ticket to Aliens in 70mm this month, part of the cinema’s Summer of 70mm , Dark Skies offers another bite of the cherry. Due to demand another screening of James Cameron’s sci-fi sequel has been added, taking place on July 26th. A multipass ticket, granting you access to any of the four films on offer (minus Aliens), is on offer from the IFI box office for €35.
See the full Dark Skies: Invasion programme below. (Plot summaries from the IFI, where tickets are available now)
The War of the Worlds – Sat 7 Jul, 3.30pm
H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel of a devastating global Martian attack is updated to ‘50s California in Byron Haskin’s enduring cold war classic, an Oscar-winner for its then innovative use of special effects.
Professor Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) witnesses what he assumes to be a meteor crashing close to his home, out of which emerges a hovering Martian craft which proceeds to obliterate everything in its path, one of many such extra-terrestrial war machines appearing across the country in what becomes a war for the survival of humanity.
Attraction – Sun 8 Jul, 3.30pm
A Russian sci-fi blockbuster made on a comparatively meagre budget, Fedor Bondarchuk’s Attraction – a phenomenal domestic boxoffice success – is an eye-grabbing contemporary riff on the alien invasion movie.
The bravura opening sequence is especially memorable as the Russian military intercepts an enormous spacecraft cloaked in a meteor shower; shooting it down over Moscow, its spectacular crash-landing is depicted through an impressive display of special effects. Surprising shifts of tone follow in a film that upends our expectations of how this familiar scenario will play out.
Starship Troopers – Sat 14 Jul, 6.10pm
A critical and commercial misfire on initial release, Paul Verhoeven’s playfully self-aware intergalactic war movie has grown in stature over the years and is now rightly viewed as a biting satirical critique of US right-wing jingoism, militarism and interventionist foreign policies that somehow managed to smuggle Nazi iconography into an ostensibly mainstream sci-fi entertainment.
The setting is the 23rd century when mankind is at war with an insectoid species; the film charts the military career of young hotshot Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) as he rises through the ranks from naive infantryman to decorated officer in the brutal war against the giant bugs.
Earth vs the Flying Saucers – Sun 15 Jul, 3.30m
Scientist Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and his new bride Carol (Joan Taylor) have an alarmingly close encounter with a flying saucer at the beginning of Fred F. Sears’ classic of the ‘50s alien invasion cycle, a key inspiration to Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!
Insisting they come in peace, the silver-suited aliens soon launch a surprise attack, announcing they will conquer the earth in less than 60 days. Enlivened by its faux-documentary approach, and terrific stop motion special effects work from the great Ray Harryhausen, Earth Vs the Flying Saucers is a B-movie matinee delight.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Sun 22 July, 6.15pm
Of the many versions of Jack Finney’s highly influential 1955 novel The Body Snatchers, which sees the populous of San Francisco being replaced by emotionless extra-terrestrial ‘pod people’, Philip Kaufman’s unsettling, atmospheric sci-fi-cum-horror movie is arguably the most successful.
Reconfiguring the cold war communist threat of the source material (and Don Siegel’s 1956 adaptation) to a more downbeat, post-Watergate era of jaded paranoia, the film stars Donald Sutherland as Mathew Bennell, a health inspector who begins to believe that something sinister is afoot when friends and colleagues begin to exhibit strange affectless behaviours.
Aliens – Thur 26 Jul, 6.15pm
‘This time it’s war’ declared the tag line, a promise director James Cameron delivered on in spades for this truly epic sequel to Ridley Scott’s ground-breaking original.
Ditching the slow burn tension and ‘stalk and slash’ horror dynamics of that film in favour of a full-blown shock and awe assault on the senses, Cameron’s film is one of the most relentlessly thrilling action movies ever made. Sigourney Weaver was Oscar-nominated for her reprisal of the iconic Ripley character, accompanying a gung-ho military mission to investigate the fate of colonists on the world where she and her late crew first encountered the hostile xenomorph.
The Thing – Sat 28 Jul, 8.30pm
One of the few remakes to improve upon the original (1951’s The Thing from another World) John Carpenter’s incredibly tense and atmospheric sci-fi horror finds a team of American researchers in Antarctica, led by the taciturn MacReady (Kurt Russell) grappling unsuccessfully with a recently defrosted, shape-shifting foe of alien origin.
Wildly imaginative creature effects courtesy of SFX wizard Rob Bottin are complimented by the exacting widescreen cinematography of Carpenter’s regular DOP Dean Cundey and an effectively nihilistic tone that extends to the ambiguous finale.
Mars Attacks! – Sun 29 Jul, 3.30pm
Tim Burton’s irreverent love letter to his precious ‘50s sci-fi B-movies was – then and now – an expensive, deliriously over-the-top folly; there is a sense of a lucrative director being indulged, but for all that, Mars Attacks! stands as a breathlessly entertaining romp.
When malevolent, bug-eyed, bulbous-brained Martians invade earth intent on global annihilation, humanity mounts a counter attack under the aegis of American president James Dale (Jack Nicholson). Burton keeps the madcap action at fever pitch and elicits suitably camp performances from a heavyweight cast including Annette Bening, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan and Danny DeVito.