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.
Set in Antarctica (and partly shot there), the science fiction tale sees a researcher (Crawford Thomson) dealing with unsettling events — traumatic personal news, isolation, disquieting “anomalous electrical readings”, and warping time. As newsreader John Campbell says in an intercepted transmission: “the speed of light is changing. Well, what does that mean?”. The title is from Hone Tuwhare’s anti-nuclear themed poem of the same name, but the film was inspired by Pat Rushin short story Speed of Light. It was an official selection at Edinburgh Film Festival.
This science fiction comedy ended up becoming a three year labour of love for director Christian Nicolson and his crew. Inspired by memories of old school sci-fi like Blake’s 7 and The Six Million Dollar Man — in those long ago days before computers transformed special effects — the film follows three geeks plunged into an alien world which inexplicably resembles a B-grade movie. The project was born as one of 750 entries in low budget contest Make My Movie; it was runner-up. In 2016 the finished film won Best Comedy prizes at genre festivals in London and Boston.
In director Geoff Murphy's cult sci fi feature, a global energy project has malfunctioned and scientist Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) awakes to find himself the only living being left on earth. At first he lives out his fantasies, helping himself to cars and clothes, before the implications of being 'man alone' sink in. As this awareness sends him to the brink of madness — see the excerpt above — he discovers two other survivors. One of them is a woman. The Los Angeles Daily News called the movie “quite simply the best science-fiction film of the 80s”. Read more about it here.
“Everyone plays a part. Who’s going to play yours?”. This tagline is given a Twilight Zone twist in this Moa-nominated feature about two Jakes. Jacob (Jason Fitch) is an everyman who is made redundant when his life is ‘recast’ by a shadowy agency. When the new, more confident Jake (Being Eve's Leighton Cardno, also award-nominated) makes moves on his lost love, Jacob fights to get his life back. The Listener’s David Larsen tweeted of Doug Dillaman's indie-funded debut: “The smartest bit of low-fi high-IQ science fiction New Zealand has produced.”
Director Peter Salmon's sci-fi 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 performance) is a lonely programmer looking for cyberspace love via Angelife: a fantasy-fulfillment site with "five billion connections worldwide". Disenchanted with her Adam (Rupert Cocks), her desire for real world connection, plus a chance meeting, push her into a dangerous underworld. Ray Woolf cameos as a winged Angelife agent.
A helmet cam records the claustrophobic reactions of a rookie mercenary (Elliot Travers) as an interplanetary combat raid goes wrong in Ferand Peek's debut short. Peek produced the one-shot DIY Gravity in Wellington over five years. Audio was recorded first, then Travers (shot in a special rig), then CGI effects were forged with the help of Miramar/Weta filmmaking crew. The result was touted by io9 doyen Annalee Newitz: “All we see of the world around him are reflections in his helmet, and yet the suspense is incredible. Plus, the story [is] surprisingly moving.”
In this children's sci-fi caper, an all-singing all-dancing gang of cronies led by 'evil Eva' (Nevan Rowe) holds Auckland to ransom for $5,000,000. As in Under the Mountain Auckland's volcanoes play a starring role, with Eva 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. Writers Ian Mune and Keith Aberdein give director Roger Donaldson (and a bevy of industry talent) plenty of goofy 70s fun to play with. Donaldson would shortly helm the acclaimed Smash Palace.
On a holiday to Mt Tarawera with her scientist parents, teenager Jenny (Katrina Hobbs) finds an odd shard of metal. By touching it she unwittingly awakens 'Drom' — a survivor of an alien mission to deactivate a planet-annihilating space gun (aka the volcano!). Local kids Tessa and Lloyd also own key pieces; if Drom and the teen trio can't defeat the gun-toting mechanoid ... human and alien species extinction is imminent! The internationally successful six part series was a South Pacific Pictures and Canadian co-production; it screened in 1991.
Maurice Gee's classic novel about aliens running amok under Auckland has rarely gone out of print, since its debut in 1979. First adapted as a memorable 80s TV series, this movie retooling sees teenage twins Theo and Rachel stumbling across shape-shifting creatures that are hiding beneath Auckland's extinct volcanoes. American showbiz magazine Variety praised Black Sheep director Jonathan King's "solid helming", and the excellent acting of Sam Neill as the mysterious Mr Jones. Oliver Driver plays lead villain Mr Wilberforce, under four hours of make-up.