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Beyond “2001”: A Look at Trippy Sci-Fi Films

Science-fiction films typically fall in one of two camps. There are the loud, outer space shoot-‘em ups such as Star Trek, Independence Day, and the like. The other type is idea-based sci-fi—like last year’s Inception and one of this week’s major new releases, The Adjustment Bureau.

Of course, the granddaddy of heady science-fiction is 2001: A Space Odyssey, director Stanley Kubrick’s masterful, original, and totally indescribable 1968 masterpiece. The film tells the story of two men who travel out to Jupiter to intercept a mysterious transmission. Their company: A self-aware computer—the evil HAL-9000.

So in anticipation of The Adjustment Bureau—and to honor one of the greatest films ever—let’s take a look at some of moviedom’s most famous (or infamous) sci-fi flicks and judge just how trippy and smart they are. Films will be rated, fittingly, on a scale of 0 to 5 HALs.

Star Wars

The film that changed the way movies were made. Its cultural impact is undeniable, and its action scenes are great fun. How does it measure up intellectually? Well, it’s creative, with all its different worlds, creatures, and characters. But I’m not sure many could or would make the argument that Star Wars is a brilliant piece of mind-bending sci-fi, like some of the other films on this list.

2/5 HALs

The Matrix

It’s a special effects showcase, which makes it easy to forget just how intelligent The Wachowski Brothers’ 1999 film is. It questions reality in such a unique way that you can almost believe what it’s saying. That being said, it loses a few points for its video game-inspired sequels.

4/5 HALs

Minority Report

Now, this is some trippy stuff. Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film that tackles the age-old question of fate vs. free will is exciting and very intellectually engaging. Trippy sci-fi films don’t get much better—or trippier.

5/5 HALs

Southland Tales

Of course, not all films in this genre are good. Richard Kelly’s 2007 critical and box office bomb is undeniably packed with ideas, but they all seem to fall on their face as the film clunks along to a laughable conclusion. I’ll admit to admiring it on some level for at least being ambitious, but there’s no buts about it: this film is a stinker.

2.5/5 HALs


There’s a reason it was everyone’s favorite blockbuster last year. It was something we had never really seen before, and it was executed brilliantly. Of course, the special effects were top notch, but what really captured our hearts and minds was Christopher Nolan’s stunningly original screenplay that brimmed with new and exciting ideas.

5/5 HALs

The Adjustment Bureau

Of course, there’s no way to judge or grade this film on its merits, but we can speculate. The film, like Minority Report, is based on a Phillip K. Dick story, and it appears to go after the fate vs. free will issue, also. What worries me slightly (besides the fact that the release date was pushed back several times) is the fact that most of the recent TV spots seem to focus on the romantic entanglements of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt’s characters. But we’ll find out Friday when the film opens. It certainly is more promising than your average March fare at the movies.


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