5 Epic Sci-Fi Movies You Can Watch In Under 10 Minutes
Look, you're a busy person, I understand -- but that doesn't mean you can't make time for your passions. And assuming your "passion" is passively consuming nerd-media, then maybe it's time to make time for some quality new science fiction. But you don't have 30 hours to burn on Alphas (which was way better than you think), or even 10 to rewatch Firefly -- you have, at most, an hour on your lunch break to cram as much dork into your skull as possible. Well, I'm here to help: Here's the best new science fiction you can consume in less time than it takes to bake a Hot Pocket (as though anybody does anything but microwave them. Honestly, Hot Pockets, you aspire beyond your station).
Abe is a simple little flick by London filmmaker Rob McLellan, taking just the few intense minutes out of Silence of the Lambs where Buffalo Bill is addressing the girl in the well, but recasting the sexually infuriated psychopathic transvestite with a Robot Butler. If you're not sold on that blurb alone, then you need to pack up your Spock ears and get the fuck out of nerd town before the Asimov posse -- the Asimosse -- gets wind of it.
We don't cotton to your ilk around here.
Good sci-fi is all about pushing boundaries, and while "the murderous robot" certainly isn't a new trope, it hasn't been pulled off in this fashion, or this well, in any mainstream movie I've seen. Maybe it's the lack of greater context that makes Abe so effectively creepy, or maybe it's the design -- the hunched posture, the unerring immediacy with which he slices that moth in half, the wide, unblinking eyes -- or maybe it's just the British accent.
Seriously, Brits, do you not see what we Americans did to you? It was a subtle revenge: For a few decades there we had an inarguable stranglehold on pop culture, and we used it to cast every single British person as a disturbing sociopath masquerading as an esteemed gentleman. The Hollywood blockade is breaking apart now, but the damage is done: Even the evil robots in your own films are posh now. Don't you see what we've done? You're starting to consider yourselves the villains!
Don't believe me? Fine. Re-dub Abe with a hillbilly drawl and see what the effect is:
"Well, I tell you whut: I ain't got no lovin' from y'all, so I reckon I'ma cut you in the face till I get some."
Still a bit disturbing, but it's less "brilliant, psychotic machine warped by love" and more "somebody built a fuck-bot and accidentally gave it a knife."
There are better shorts on this list -- some have higher production value, some have more impressive effects, some have more believable acting -- but The Device is my favorite. It's incredibly brief, true, but it's also incredibly complete. Maybe it's the loose connotations of quantum physics and teleportation, but I get a distinctly Portal-esque vibe from this short film. The two properties approach their storytelling in much the same way: with a sparse minimalism that never takes itself too seriously. It's a simple comedy flick without much of a message, but they say brevity is the soul of wit, and if that's true, then The Device is a platter full of quantum-fried chicken.
Try to stop and appreciate all that this film accomplishes in about two minutes. You get a real sense of who the main character is -- even if it's just that he's bored, lonely, and kind of a dork, and he wants to travel. That's not revolutionary character building or anything, but those are four more character traits than you got from 90 minutes of Will Smith in I, Robot. And all that in less time than a long stoplight, and with the only dialogue being "yes" and "woo!" We also are introduced to, and come to completely understand the unique mechanic of, the titular device -- what it is, what it does, how it works -- and this is accomplished entirely without painful exposition.
If there are any aspiring filmmakers out there, take note: When they say "show and not tell," they don't mean cut all the dialogue and replace it with explosions -- they mean do stuff like this.
The Gate (For the Love of God, Stop Watching at 6:46)
That's a weird parenthetical in the heading, I know. Let me explain: The Gate does most everything right, but if it's not too late already, do me a favor and stop the video at exactly 6:46. Close the video at that point, and violently assault anybody who ever suggests that you watch any further. It takes shockingly little to ruin an entire work. In Blade Runner, it was Harrison Ford's lifeless, unnecessary voice-over. In the new Battlestar Galactica, it was a single Bob Dylan song. In Lost, it was, like, the entire last episode of Lost. In The Gate, it's the handful of cards at the end extolling the subtext with the heaviest hand this side of a Rockbiter.
If you stop The Gate at 6:46, the ending seems a little anticlimactic, and maybe a bit abrupt, but you're still left with the sense that this is a good step toward a greater, more compelling horror/sci-fi universe. It's like reading a Lovecraft short: You don't get the whole story from just one, but you do get the sense that there's something larger going on, far beyond the scope of what you've been shown thus far. And you want to know what that something is. That's a tough trick to pull off in any medium, and The Gate does it very well (for a short). Excellent, unique monster design, quality effects, gripping atmosphere, a world fleshed out with smaller details -- the special soldiers who get flown in to deal with what I can only optimistically call the Foot-Monster imply that this sort of thing happens enough to have a task force assigned to it -- it all adds up to make for some killer sci-fi.
And then somebody, presumably the director's dull-but-well-meaning father who put up the seed money for the film, said, "I don't get it." A few months and a few sentences later, and you've got a monster-themed PSA that looks like it was funded by the Obvious Conspiracy Division of Big Pharma. But not if you stop at exactly 6:46 -- listen to the parenthetical! Trust in the parenthetical!
OBEY THE PARENTHETICAL.
The Silent City
It's rare to get the full movie experience from a short. It's the nature of the medium. There's not enough time to nail everything, but sometimes it's enough just to get one small aspect down in its entirety -- you generally have to choose between plot, character development, and atmosphere. And The Silent City is all about atmosphere: It's a dystopian Full Metal Jacket. It's Enemy at the Gates if Jude Law was actually Cillian Murphy. Seriously, that's him:
If that's not Cillian Murphy, I don't know who is (Crispin Glover?).
But just because The Silent City nails atmosphere above all else, that doesn't mean it does a poor job at anything. It's shockingly hard to write even basic war movie dialogue -- characters come off like they're either reading a field manual or in a 1950s school film about the dangers of foul language to developing young minds. But The Silent City strikes the right balance of jargon to slang, at least well enough to get you through to the incredibly chilling end note.
So it's a shame that I can't enjoy this flick at all. The filmmakers didn't do anything wrong to lose me -- that's entirely my fault. See, once in a while you notice something in a movie that throws you out of the entire experience. Sometimes it's a silly mistake -- like Theron's whole "half a billion miles from Earth" gaffe in Prometheus. But sometimes it's just the act of recognizing how a trick was done: It's spotting the wire in the pivotal action scene, or sensing the setup right before the big twist. In this case, there is one stupid, trivial, irrelevant detail that throws me, screaming, right the hell out of The Silent City: All of the soldiers are wearing my old novelty bicycle helmet.
It's like spotting your favorite NERF gun in Hunter Prey, or your old TV remote being used to hail the Enterprise. Objectively, you know it doesn't impact the story at all -- it's just a prop -- but all you can think every time they use it is just "That's not self-destruct; that's the AUX button," or "That shit isn't even rated for road use -- good luck protecting against the Unnamed Pursuing Terror of the Wasteland."
Zombie movies have been done to death (undead zing!), but that doesn't mean there's no territory left to explore. Once all conceivable plot twists and scenarios have been tried on, tweaked, and discarded, at the end of the day, a quality zombie flick is all about the execution (double undead zing!). To some extent, that's true of all horror: Finding new and novel situations is the cheapest way to refresh a horror property. ("What if, like, the Leprechaun goes to ... space?!" "Don't be ridiculous, Chaz; let's just have him go to the 'hood again.") But it's not always the best way. Sometimes it pays to just accept the default setting -- no rage viruses, no sprinting monsters, just slow, mindless zombies operating on Romero rules -- and focus on telling the best story you can within those given parameters.
With that in mind, Cargo does more for the relevancy of the zombie film in 30 seconds than the entire second season of The Walking Dead. The efficacy of the first few moments of Cargo is astounding: You know so much from that one little sequence. We're in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, the main character already knows about and accepts their existence, his wife has just died, and the stakes for his survival are incredibly high. That first minute is every bit as chilling as it is educational; it's like an after school special of the damned.
The premise of Cargo (you're uh ... you're watching these before you read the write-ups, right?) is ingenious. It takes you a second to catch on, but once you do, it hits you like a bullet to the brain. That scene with the bag is so gloriously twisted -- using his zombified self as a pack mule to carry his kid to safety -- but it's also touching, in a warped and unforgettable way. Cargo had to be made as a short -- there's not enough meat (he's done it, folks -- the triple undead zinger!) for a feature length film as it is -- but holy shit, imagine this as the last few minutes of a longer film or TV series. There would be a few dissenters pointing out that any time the zombie-dad turns, he'd pursue the bag in the wrong direction, or that the pack does nothing to stop other zombies from tearing the kid off his back -- but they would be the few rational, skeptical voices in an otherwise emotionally destroyed audience.
If you're feeling wronged by nerds somehow and want justice, just make this movie well. Give us two hours to love the father and wife/girlfriend/partner -- make us think they're the main characters -- and then end it like this. Just by the pure volume of emotional devastation, it would be the most effective form of revenge in history.