Visually Stunning Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films

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Sci-Fi and Fantasy are great film genres for experimentation, especially when it comes to new frontiers for visual effects and cinematography.

From classics of these styles to recent releases, I’ve delved in head first to find you a top notch list of the most visually stunning movies.

Top: High octane space thrills in “Gravity” (2013).
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Golden photography and design in “The Fountain” (2006).

The Fountain

Darren Aronofsky is a director known for his sense of visual flair and experimentation in photography techniques. This includes his nauseating fisheye camera and hyper editing in drug opera, “Requiem for a Dream,” but he reached a peak in 2006 with sci-fi epic “The Fountain.” Using man’s historic fascination with the Tree of Life as a jumping off point, Aronofsky crafts a visual symphony of groundbreaking effects told through a central love story that echoes across the ages, from the Spanish Inquisition to the boundaries of space. While it divided the critics, the effects and photography in the film are extraordinary as a quilt of golden light covers all the action, from ancient palaces to floating bubbles in the universe.

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Sandra Bullock and George Clooney fight for survival in “Gravity.”

Gravity

Rightly crowned as one of the most inventive and exciting films of 2013, this space saga by Mexican auteur Alfonso Cuaron is a work of cinematic art. Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a mechanical engineer on her first trip into space when disaster strikes and she is separated from the rest of the crew by high speed debris. The film is an emotional and physical roller coaster, but there’s no doubt that the true success of “Gravity” is in its groundbreaking visual effects and cinematography by regular DP Emmanuel Lubeski. From the near wordless opening sequence where we see the earth suspended, fragile in a sea of empty blackness to high-speed action set pieces, there isn’t a single wasteful frame or shot that isn’t composed and lit perfectly.

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80s fantasy epic “The NeverEnding Story” (1984).

The NeverEnding Story

Made at the time with the crème de la crème of visual effects wizards, this classic of 80s and fantasy cinema may look to some to be on the dated side, but is in my humble opinion one of the most beautiful fantasy films ever made. There’s an air of comfort in the fact that there’s no 3-D effects or over the top digital wizardry. Everything you see is the work of skilled costume and production design. We are taken across the world of Fantasia and are greeted with flying pink luck dragons, giant tortoises that emerge from mud swamps and the white palace of the Child-like Empress. There is so much visual wonder on display here.

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The magical world of our dreams in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004).

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Not a science fiction film in the traditional sense, as there is a noted absence of death stars and Vulcan death grips, but there is no denying that “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a mind blowing sci-fi film of dreams and intellect. The visuals are sumptuous as DP and regular collaborator Ellen Kuras shoots with an experimental eye; handheld camerawork and an expressionistic approach to colour. Natural lighting is utilised beautifully in this film. Simple scenes of our protagonists Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) walking on winter beaches and through autumn forests are a particular standout.

All Images © respective film studios
Christopher Smail

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Christopher is based in the UK, the former assistant editor of Illusion magazine. Follow the author @ and view more articles.

December 31, 2013 Cinema Sci-Fi Special Feature