All is Lost (2013) vs. Gravity (2013)

October 26, 2013 Arthur Tiersky

Lost at sea.

Lost in space.

Adrift alone in a vast ocean, the helpless victim of a freak accident.

Adrift alone in the cosmos… same dealio.

Man vs. Nature.

Woman vs. Nature.

One of the top movie stars of the ’70s, holding the screen all by himself for an entire film.

One of the top movie stars of the last 20 years, holding the screen all by her… well, okay, she’s got help, so we’ll stop there, but the point is, these two thematically similar movies of survival are facing off at your local cineplex as we speak. One is a studio blockbuster on its way to being among the year’s biggest hits, the other is a modest indie seeking sleeper success, and both seem destined for Oscar attention and rivalry, but in the meantime, let’s sit back and watch Gravity and All is Lost duke it out, keeping in mind that here at Smackdown, movie titles are not necessarily spoilers. […]

Dark Skies vs. Dark Skies

March 1, 2012 Bryce Zabel

Our “Dark Skies” has established itself in the minds of a significant number of science fiction fans as a gripping piece of conspiracy drama set in the world of UFOs and abductions. It anchored NBC’s Saturday night “Thrillogy” concept in the 1996 season premiere and starred Eric Close (“Nashville”) and the late film character actor J.T. Walsh (“Sling Blade”). Its main title design won the Emmy award and its pilot screenplay received a Writers Guild nomination. The Syfy Channel aired the entire series multiple times. Since 2010 there’s been a Facebook page where thousands of fans from many different countries push Sony for a TV revival. […]

Apollo 18 (2011) -vs- Apollo 13 (1995)

September 1, 2011 Bryce Zabel

Probably the only good way to look at NASA these days is in the rear-view mirror of past accomplishments, given that the agency seems to have lost its way. After all, it’s ended the manned space missions of the Space Shuttle program with no clear replacement in site. There is no grand new mission, like going to Mars, just the past-tense glory days of going to the Moon.

But before we get too nostalgic here, we have a Smackdown to remind us that space is not always a triumph. Sometimes that cold vacuum of nothing can force a human to look straight in the eye of death. And, as Elton John reminded us in Rocket Man, “It’s lonely out in space.”

The new Apollo 18 is a fictional story about a manned space mission to the moon that you never heard about. NASA officially pulled the plug on Apollo after 17 missions. So this one is right out there in conspiracy theory heaven. And the other film, Apollo 13, is about the NASA’s greatest near miss with disaster that could easily have landed the astronauts involved into the history books with the crews of the Challenger and Columbia or the doomed Apollo 1 mission. […]

The Tree of Life (2011) -vs- The Fountain (2006)

July 6, 2011 Mark Sanchez

The universe is full of mystery: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? If God exists, why does He allow evil? And perhaps most perplexing of all, how did not one, but two Hollywood productions in the last five years attract major financing for projects tackling those kinds of questions without linear stories that film critics, not to mention common moviegoers, could understand?

Well, the good Lord works in mysterious ways, and in the case of writer-director Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (now in theaters) and The Fountain (2006), written and directed by Darren Aronofsky with help on the story from Ari Handel, we are arguably better off for it.

Reactions are all over the lot on Malick’s latest opus, and so is the film, which examines a Texas family’s extended life and reaches for an emotional link connecting it to all of creation. Aronofsky’s metaphysical missile, on the other hand, describes a parabola between life and death, attempting to shed light on life’s essence through a sort of tag-team narrative, part of which deals with a literal search for — wait for it — the tree of life. […]

Alien Contact @ Movie Smackdown

May 29, 2011 Movie Smackdown

In the billions of stars, solar systems, and galaxies out there, our little planet is but a single speck of dust in the whirlwind of the universe. Probably, we are all starting to realize, we are not alone.

Hollywood got there earlier than the rest of us, and the film industry has told us stories of alien contact — what might happen if intelligent beings out there were to make contact with our suposedly primitive culture here on Earth — since the 1950s.

This week, Movie Smackdown! examines how alien contact is portrayed in cinema. Each day, we’ll pick another Smackdown from our Classix vault. From the brutal attack force of Independence Day to the benevolent space brothers of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, let your imagination soar as the extraterrestrial life of a crowded Hollywood universe comes calling here on Earth. […]

“Galaxy Quest” Boldly Arrived Ten Years Ago!

December 20, 2009 Mark Sanchez

Galaxy Quest (1999) -vs- Spaceballs (1987)
Patrolling the Universe for Laughs
The Smackdown. While the newspapers and magazines are full of “Best Of” lists for the past ten years, let’s get specific. It was a decade ago that the great “Star Trek” send-up “Galaxy Quest” came to theaters on Christmas Day of 1999. This year we put the film into the Smackdown ring against another comedy send-up “Spaceballs” which took on the other great space franchise, “Star Wars.” While fan boys and girls alike will be debating “Star Wars” versus “Star Trek” for generations to come, maybe just maybe we can get a clear winner out of the comic dopplegangers. Here we go!
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Pandorum (2009) -vs- Event Horizon (1997)

October 6, 2009 Bryce Zabel

Ever since “Alien” showed the dark side of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” filmgoers have been disabused in one film after another of any thought that going where humans haven’t gone before can be a noble journey. Cold, hostile, horrific space, set in the middle of this century — that’s our Smackdown …
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Contact (1997) -vs- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977 | 1980 | 1998)

June 20, 2009 Bryce Zabel

If you’re old enough to remember the marketing campaign for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” then you’ll remember the goosebumps you got when you heard the phrase, We are not alone. What was great about that simple sentence was that it promised a movie about aliens that was about wonder and mystery and wasn’t about the same old Hollywood treatment of life in the universe, namely that if it bothered to interact with humans it was for a nefarious reason, like “Independence Day” and “War of the Worlds.” Twenty years after “CE3” came another film that promised to make first contact a matter of humanity’s growth out of the cradle and not some intergalactic cage match. Both “CE3” and “Contact” were aliens for smart people brought to you first by the immense talent of Steven Spielberg and later by the immense intellect of Carl Sagan. In my Hollywood career, I’ve had the good fortune to discuss UFOs and extraterrestrial life with both of these men and found them to have some very different visions of the subject. They each have used film to express their views about life as it might exist “out there.” The question is, which version comes closest to what might be the truth about first contact, and which one is the better film?
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Invasion (2007) -vs- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

August 28, 2007 Mark Sanchez

Nothing persists like a good idea. Its power and elegance hold up no matter how it is reinterpreted in movie sequels, prequels and remakes. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” became a surprise science fiction hit in 1956 and remains a popular model for imitation. You can trace elements of the basic storyline on film and TV today: Bad things happen when you fall asleep. This sturdy premise spawned well-made remakes in 1978 and 1994. Now, a new version of Jack Finney’s tale of alien takeover steps up, “Invasion.” This remake arrives with plenty of drama behind the camera. It offers an otherworldly Smackdown: Does “Invasion” snatch a good idea from the original movie, or lose its identity?
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