Director Bong Joon-Ho earned universal acclaim and cinema’s highest awards, including a historic Best Picture Oscar, for his recent study of class inequality, Parasite. However, his searing 2019 film wasn’t the first time he’d tackled such subjects. Back in 2013 Snowpiercer explored similar themes, incorporating a desperate social uprising into an explosive future-set sci-fi thriller.
The struggles of a persecuted lower class, and their rebellions against the powerful elite that persecutes them is a theme that’s been seen in dystopian sci-fi classics throughout cinema history. To celebrate the first UK release of Snowpiercer on UK Blu-ray™ and DVD we’ve taken a look at the best dystopian sci-fi cinema. The revolution has begun…
One of the cornerstones of Weimar expressionism, Fritz Lang’s visionary science fiction epic Metropolis remains as compelling today as it is influential. Set in a futuristic urban dystopia where the rich live high-up with total control, while the masses are huddled underground, Metropolis tells the attempts by Freder (the son of one of the city’s wealthy figureheads) and Maria to bring together the workers and upper classes in harmony. Metropolis was written by Thea Von Harbou, Lang’s wife and frequent collaborator in the 1920s and 1930s, although following their divorce in 1933 Lang moved to America to work in Hollywood, while Harbou stayed in Germany, working as a filmmaker under the Nazi regime. Notable for its stunning sets, innovative special effects and an iconic sequence in which a robot, appearing to be human, is brought to life with electricity, Fritz Lang’s classic has influenced everything from James Whale’s Frankenstein to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner for its groundbreaking visuals and its searing social commentary. An unmissable masterpiece from one of cinema’s all-time greats, which teaches us: “The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!”
Just six years after George Orwell’s groundbreaking novel 1984 hit shelves in 1949, Michael Anderson brought the terrifying dystopian tale of a totalitarian government to cinema screens. 1984 was the first feature length movie adaptation of the novel (prompted by the success of a 1954 television version starring Peter Cushing and Andre Morell) and starred Edmond O’Brien as the story’s protagonist Winston Smith with Donald Pleasence, Michael Redgrave and Jan Sterling completing a stellar cast of British acting names. Following a nuclear war, the world has been divided into three superstates, with the UK being incorporated into one, Oceania, which is ruled over by the omnipresent Big Brother. Interestingly, the CIA secretly financed the film production like they had with a 1954 film adaptation of Orwell’s Animal Farm, to fan the flames of some of Owell’s ideas and present a damning image of a totalitarian state (ie the Soviet Union) in the Cold War. A timeless classic from the golden age of British science fiction 1984 is not to be missed. Big Brother is Watching You.
BLADE RUNNER (1982)
Ridley Scott’s masterpiece brought to life one of the finest cinematic realisations of a gritty, neon-lit urban future in its depiction of Los Angeles, 2019. Now a rain-sodden multi-cultural melting pot, capitalism is firmly in control as enormous advertising blimps glide constantly overhead. With many abandoning the overcrowded and polluted earth for a better life on off-world colonies, those who couldn’t afford the trip are left to slum it on the streets while the remaining elites lock themselves away in futuristic ivory towers. Blade Runner’s uprising comes not from the human populace, but from a group of synthetic replicants who return to earth seeking a meeting with their maker to find a way to extend their lifespan beyond its four-year limit. Harrison Ford, looking for a deeper role after Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, is the detective ordered to find and ‘retire’ them. Based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? from the master of the dystopian sci-fi genre Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner famously received mixed reviews and a disappointing box-office on initial release, however this may have something to do with The Thing, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan being released in the same month (yes, 1982 was a very good year for film fans!). Subsequently reappraised the film is now rightly regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time.
GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995)
Distilling dystopian sci-fi through a 90s cyberpunk lens, Ghost in the Shell presents a vision of the future where national boundaries have broken down, dividing the world into powerful city-states. Within this world the human race is augmented by cybernetic technology that enhances the body to varying degrees, with many fitted with ‘cyberbrains’ allowing them to connect directly with online networks. One such enhanced human is Major Motoko Kusanagi, whose body (or ‘shell’) has been fully replaced by cybernetic parts. A member of a police investigations task force that deals with political and cyber-criminals, the film finds the Major hot on the heels of mysterious super hacker The Puppet Master, who has the ability to ‘ghost hack’ taking full control of a cyberised person’s body. Based on Masamune Shirow’s manga, Ghost in the Shell was directed by Mamoru Oshii who would further explore his philosophical musings on mankind’s integration with computer technology in works such as Avalon and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence – the first and only anime to compete for the coveted Palme D’Or prize at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. This unique, layered vision of a complex future society and our relationship with computer technology poses questions still relevant today, and its influence can be seen in everything from The Matrix to Avatar.
THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)
Adapted from the bestselling book by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games takes place in a fictional dystopian world called Panem where, each year, a boy and a girl from 12 districts are chosen to take part in a televised fight to the death… The Hunger Games. Jennifer Lawrence plays the lead Katniss Everdeen, who takes her sister’s place in the games alongside Peeta Mellark (played by Josh Hutcherson). With thrilling action shot in the wilds of North Carolina, a commanding lead performance from Lawrence, The Hunger Games pitted one girl against a grotesque authoritarian regime in a bloody and emotional tale that was just the beginning of an epic saga. Breaking box office records on its release, The Hunger Games was followed by three highly successful sequels making the franchise one of the highest-grossing of all time. Earlier this year a prequel titled The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was officially announced. We can’t wait!
From the visionary mind behind 2020 Oscar-winner Parasite, Bong Joon-Ho’s star-studded dystopian sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer is set in 2031, with the entire planet frozen and the world’s only survivors living aboard the Snowpiercer: a train that’s been hurtling around the globe for the past seventeen years. Within the carriages the remnants of the human race have formed their own divisive economic and class system. This is all set to change when Curtis (Chris Evans) leads a group of lower-class citizens, who live in squalor at the back of the train, on a fight to the front of the Snowpiercer to share the food and wealth equally among the inhabitants. Each section of the train holds new surprises for the rebel group as they battle their way from carriage to carriage.
Full of action spectacle and plenty of biting social commentary, this exciting dystopian thriller sees director Bong, making his English-language debut, team up with an A-list cast including Chris Evans (Captain America: Civil War), Song Kang Ho (Parasite), Tilda Swinton (Dr. Strange), Ed Harris (Apollo 13), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting) and the late John Hurt (Alien). Made in 2013, the film is finally making its way to UK Blu-ray™ and DVD and is not to be missed by fans of the director’s work or lovers of dystopian sci-fi cinema.
Snowpiercer is on Blu-ray™ and DVD 25 May 2020 from Lionsgate UK