By NZ On Screen Team
Some of New Zealand's most memorable screen images have come from the genre of science fiction: Bruno wandering man alone onto Eden Park in a nightie; giant slugs living under Rangitoto. From alien hunters to futuristic fuel wars to nuclear volcanoes, this collection is a showcase of film and TV that has imagined 'what if?' versions of life in the shaky isles.
In Geoff Murphy's cult feature scientist Zac Hobson (a tour de force performance from Bruno Lawrence) awakes to find himself man alone on earth. In this excerpt Zac lives out his fantasies, before reality bites. Los Angeles Daily News: "quite simply the best science-fiction film of the 80s".
This classic TV series followed the summer holiday adventures of redheaded twins with psychic powers. Adapted from the Maurice Gee novel, it left its slimy imprint on a generation of NZ kids, haunted by the transmogrifying Wilberforces and giant slugs slithering underneath Auckland’s volcanoes.
Battletruck sees marauders roam the wasteland looking for oil in a lawless fuel wars future. Their malevolent leader Straker threatens his daughter Corlie; but she's rescued by loner Hunter and harboured in the Clearwater Commune. But not for long: there will be blood on the Central Otago plains!
"We put too much trust in computers. Now the computers are against us." Drom explains his dilemma to plucky teenager Jenny (Katrina Hobbs). With locals Tessa and Lloyd, they battle the Predator-like 'Guardian' of a planet-annihilating space gun (aka Mt Tarawera!) in this cult kids series.
Bad Taste — Peter Jackson's breakthrough 'splat-fi' romp — sees alien-hunting public servants trying to rid Makara of Lord Crumb and his ET fast-food gang, who want to turn earthlings into burgers. This ‘making of’ shows the ingenuity behind the guns, vomit, and sheep-obliterating rockets.
Armed with his trusty ray gun and protected by his pith helmet, Lord Broadforce's alien planet exotic species search is going swimmingly ... until the dame gets colonial angst. The short is based on the sci-fi world of Dr Grordbort created by Weta Workshop's Greg Broadmore (District 9, King Kong).
This kids sci-fi story follows the adventures of runaways Peter (Toby Laing) and Maggie (Toni Driscoll). After falling into a grave of golden light at a farm cemetery, they wake up in the house of the mysterious Piper family. Peter was played by Toby Laing, now trumpeter for Fat Freddy's Drop.
This 'revenge of the bros' Tem Show episode sees Tem kōrero with Kiwis involved in the Sydney-shot Star Wars chapters: he hakas with Jay Laga'aia and cooks some eggs for Rena Owen in LA. Tem also meets George Lucas; after Boba Fett is cloned at Skywalker Ranch he muses about creating his own iwi.
Set during the 1974 Commonwealth Games, this fondly-remembered series was NZ telly's first children's serial. It follows three teenagers battling a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes. Notable pioneering DIY FX include performance-enhanced sheep and deflating villain (John Bach).
In James Cunningham's short a mutant three-fingered hand attempts a brash virtual heist, seeking to wipe a student loan debt in a government databank. The lovingly rendered CGI "digital action thriller" (punctured eyeballs, hypodermic needles) won selection to Cannes and Sundance film festivals.
Derek Pearson’s feature is a brain-teaser spanning three eras. Inventor Matt neglects his girlfriend while struggling to perfect time travel; when a colonial killer arrives in modern-day Wellington she’s in great danger. The low-budget film leverages CGI advances to realise ambitious FX and worlds.
Under the Mountain scriptwriter Ken Catran's tale of kids and extraterrestrial contact follows holidaying teen Gretchen (Sarah Dunn) trying to unravel the mystery of an eerie weathervane. Backing up this girl-power sci-fi adventure are Catherine Wilkin, Roy Billing and Utu star Zac Wallace.
Matthew Sunderland (Out of the Blue) plays the sole survivor of a cataclysmic event. Roaming bloody and dazed amongst a polar landscape — pocked with beached container ships — he experiences a moment of sky-splitting beauty. Dylan Pharazyn’s short received a 'New Frontier' nomination at Sundance.
This unsung TV pioneer was the NZBC's first attempt at sci-fi fantasy and its first drama to be shot in colour. The Wellington-set tale of body snatching aliens is dominated by Davina Whitehouse's performance as a retired schoolteacher. It has early turns from Paul Holmes, Susan Wilson and Grant Tilly.
With a rare adult-targeted plot Margaret Mahy’s sci-fi story sees a cast of interested parties descend on the lab of assassinated scientist David Typhon, who was rumoured to be conducting human experiments. Brits Alfred Molina and Greg Wise, and Aussie Sophie Lee star alongside Michael Hurst.
Tim Balme (Braindead) narrates this rain-lashed tale of being trapped in a world where all the women have disappeared. The film noir stylings and tough-talking dialogue come to the fore when Balme meets a beautiful woman. Director Andrew Bancroft’s short won the Critics' Week prize at Cannes 1996.
A boy in medieval Cumbria, trying to flee the Black Death, persuades his villagers to dig a tunnel deep into the earth. They emerge in the brave new world of ... Auckland, New Zealand, 1987. Vincent Ward's film competed at Cannes, and scooped up a sack of key awards on both sides of the Tasman.
Ambitious Jonathan Gunson-created children's series Space Knights pitched the King Arthur myth into a zany sci-fi universe of Knights of the Round Space Station, Vader-esque villains, and laser lance jousting. The distinctive blue screen-shot puppetry was developed by cartoonist Chris Slane.
Set in Antarctica, Jonathan Brough's Edinburgh-selected short sees a lone researcher dealing with unsettling events — traumatic personal news, isolation, and warping time. As newsreader John Campbell says in an intercepted transmission: "the speed of light is changing. Well, what does that mean?".
This is a loopy look at the relationship between people and cars in 1975 NZ ... from an alien's eye view. Nifty animations and FX mark the alien automotive anthropological survey of Mark IIs, VWs, anti-car activism and driveway car-washing. Look out for a roof-riding ladykilling Jesus Christ.
Glenn Standring’s second feature is set in an alternative colonial NZ where steam powers cobble-stoned cities, and zeppelins cruise the skies. Benevolent vampires rule over the spiritual life of humanity; when one turns rogue, chaos reigns. Hollywood actors Dougray Scott and Saffron Burrows star.
Dangerous Liaisons meets The Fly in this creepy crawlie classic with (literal) weta effects. The concept for the Bressa Creeting Cake video involved a girl in love with a weta. Sadly the weta has an affair with a horse. Girl then tries to metamorphosise into an insect to be with her love. Of course.
Possibly more horror/comedy than sci-fi Black Sheep sees inept environmental activists release a mutant lamb from a laboratory, turning thousands of sheep into bloodthirsty predators. Director Jonathan King executes genre thrills and tips over a few sacred cows in his well-received debut feature.
The song title is literally animated in this Ned Wenlock-directed promo for a track from Wellington electronica explorer Rhian Sheehan. Sheehan's lounge beats are set to a lunar day-trip plot, where a chilled-out Right Stuff ends in satellite-gazing reverie. Cosmic travel never looked so relaxed.
Eternity is a whodunnit set in a virtual world: a detective must solve a case where the suspects were all in the next room to the murder, while battling a memory-eroding virus. Director Alex Galvin’s second feature defied a low budget to manage shoots in Wellington, Hawke’s Bay and Hong Kong.
James Cunningham's SIGGRAPH-selected CGI short purports to find the answer as to why UFO sightings have been in decline recently. The truth is indeed out there, but in this sci-fi spoof, it turns out to be the result of alien bureaucratic cover-ups, outsourcing and unorthodox use of space probes.
Reuben Sutherland's Phoenix Foundation promo is an eerie "electro noir" tribute to the great film director. As in Battletruck and Dominant Species traffic is fuel for sci-fi world-building, as eco-Ladas of the 'Petrol Crimes Bureau' are pitted against a gas guzzling Stars and Stripes-bedecked 4x4.
In Roger Donaldson's (pre-Smash Palace) goofy sci-fi caper, an all-singing all-dancing gang of cronies holds Auckland to ransom, threatening to drop a nuclear bomb into the crater of Rangitoto. Who will save the city? A trio of intrepid kids and their DIY anti-gravity machine are on the case.
This movie retooling of Maurice Gee's classic novel sees twins Theo and Rachel battling shape-shifting creatures who're hiding under Auckland's volcanoes. Variety praised Black Sheep director Jonathan King's "solid helming"; Sam Neill is the mysterious Mr Jones with Oliver Driver as Mr Wilberforce.
Peter Salmon's short is set in a dystopian future where citizens spend most of their lives in virtual reality to escape the bleak Blade Runner-like offline world. Grace (Sara Wiseman, in a NZ Film Award-winning turn) is a lonely programmer looking for cyberspace love via the mysterious Angelife.
Ilam art student Glenn Standring’s Cannes-selected short sees private eye Lenny Minute face a rampaging giant blue “sheila doll”. A collage-styled cityscape is mined from a grab-bag of Americana inspirations: 50s sci-fi, jazz, the hardboiled detectives of Dashiell Hammett, plus Marlene Dietrich.
Two tadpole-like creatures with enormous eyes chase each other around, to a driving techno soundtrack in this early short from James Cunningham. Then the CGI characters find themselves plunged into a different reality — one where a single wrong move could mean they exist in only two dimensions.
Taika Waititi's galactic 80s farrago wouldn't have been complete without the man himself arriving on set in a DeLorean —time-travelling from Back to the Future. The clip is another homage-packed lo-fi gem from the Oscar nominee. Note Eastern European-derived keyboardist Luke Buda's 'Poland' synth.
Maurice Gee on the TV adaptation of his tale of volcano-dwelling aliens that scared a generation of Kiwi kids. Read more >
Dr Grordbort creator and Weta Workshop designer Greg Broadmore (King Kong, District 9) aims his raygun at Kiwi sci-fi. Read More >
NZ On Screen editor Paul Ward maps the lineage of Kiwi-made sci-fi, travelling from Andromeda to Pandora. Read More >
Sci-fi genre debates are notoriously pedantic. Sci-fi or fantasy? Hard or soft? Let us know what we’ve missed off your canon. Email us >
NZ ON SCREEN 2015
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