Benedict Wong is an actor from Manchester who comedy fans will know from Sean Lock’s 15 Storeys High television series, or The Wrong Mans, Peter Serafinowicz projects like Look Around You and The Peter Serafinowicz Show, and even a small part in The IT Crowd. He’s also been in some John Simm dramas like State of Play and Prey. However, his career also has a big-budget sci-fi side. Let this post be your guide to science fiction of the modern era, which also happen to feature versatile actor Benedict Wong.
People complain that the latest season of Black Mirror is too Americanized, what with Netflix at the helm, but part of that does mean this science fiction show looks a little bigger budget than season 1. In the episode “Hated in the Nation” (2016), Benedict Wong plays Shaun Li, someone who we, at first, believe will be able to get our protagonists out of the trouble they’ve caused. In this episode, that trouble is having created a hackable robotic bee population that can target and kill anyone the hacker likes, and this hacker is leaving it up to social media users to decide who that is. One person each day. The global consensus decides. It’s like Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, but with tiny killer robots. The tech may be a bit more farther in the future than previous episodes, but the way in which social media acts as both a hive mind and a way for individuals to detach… we’re already there. Not a bad way to end season 3.
Based on the originally self-published novel of the same name by Andy Weir, The Martian (2015), directed by Ridley Scott, follows the fictional journey of a space mission to Mars, which accidentally abandons one of their astronauts, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) on the red planet. They quickly realize their mistake and send a rescue mission, but as we know, space flight can take a while. Can Mark Watney keep himself alive in Mars’ hostile environment long enough to be picked up? There are lots of people on the ground trying to help him, including the token boy genius Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) and Jet Propulsion Lab director Bruce Ng (Benedict Wong), who spends a lot of the time talking via video linkup from California to the government but then pulls his weight in a big way by bringing in the cavalry. The film (and book) take great pains to get the science right, and it has largely been confirmed that Mark’s actions, like growing potatoes in Martian soil, are actually possible given the right circumstances. The non-fantastical, non-lazy science work in the script is what makes this film superior to most films on this list.
Ridley Scott’s 2012 alien monster flick Prometheus is the dud on this list. There is lots of suspense and action, and it probably looks great on a big screen, but the characters do not evolve or have secrets. As a viewer, you know exactly what everyone’s up to and you don’t need to question anyone’s motives. There is an attempt at depth by introducing an element of faith, which I usually enjoy when it involves soul searching and makes you think, but in this film, the idea of gods is not about individuals’ personal journeys in faith but instead about mirroring ancient theological stories of gods punishing humans for trying to climb above their power.
Benedict Wong plays Ravel, one of the pilots who crashes his ship to save mankind. You may remember him from his self-sacrifice line, “With all due respect, Captain, you’re a shit pilot, so you’ll need all the help you can get.”
Even though this film was a long collaboration between Ridley Scott and James Cameron, it feels like a rip-off of Alien that was later billed as a prequel to Alien as a tack-on publicity stunt. Sorry. I know lots of people liked the film.
In 2009, David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones made his debut film Moon, which is in my opinion one of the best science fiction films of our age partly because it’s not an action film. The entire film takes place in and around a base on the moon where astronaut Sam Bell is finishing up his three-year solo mission and preparing to go home. But when he’s injured in an accident, he’s in for a shock.
The great thing about this film is that it heads toward stereotypes and then veers away from them. You think that because the computer Gertie (played by Kevin Spacey) sounds like Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey, he’s going to turn out to be evil. You think that it’s going to turn out that Sam’s mission was not what he thought it was, but in fact, his mission is exactly what he thought it was. It’s how it actually keeps running that’s a surprise to him.
Duncan Jones co-wrote the film with the star, Sam Rockwell. In fact, Rockwell is almost the only actor in the film. Aside from Spacey’s voice, the only contact that Sam has with other people is through videos. One of the people he has contact with is Thompson, an Earth-based Lunar official played by Benedict Wong.
Eight astronauts strapped to the back of a bomb. Eight is how many you’ll need if you want to show characters being murdered or sacrificing themselves in as many imaginatively grisly ways as these writers did. Sunshine (2007) is a movie about how the sun has stopped, and a team of astronauts and scientists go up to fix it. It’s directed by Danny Boyle, who you’ll recognize as the man responsible for this nightmare fuel.
The film’s protagonist is a pretty-boy physicist (played by Cillian Murphy) with wavy rock star hair. Speaking of which, the film’s scientific adviser was Professor Brian Cox, who has said on The Infinite Monkey Cage that Danny Boyle ignored his advice to have no sound in space because he said an audience would just think they had run out of budget.
Benedict Wong plays Trey, one of the eight astronauts. If you don’t count the protagonist’s choice to divert from the mission in effort to double their chances at success, it is a simple mistake that Trey makes in the beginning that leads to the chain of events that results in all of their deaths. Trey spends most of the movie doped up because he’s so depressed about what he’s done.
It’s a very suspenseful movie, but unfortunately the writers felt that the elements in outer space were not enough of a risk and they needed a super villain, much like Matt Damon’s needless appearance in Interstellar. So Mark Strong’s character becomes a sun-god-possessed superhuman bent on sabotaging the mission. Yeah.
One of The Trip‘s Michael Winterbottom’s lesser known films, Code 46 (2003) is a love story starring Tim Robbins. William (Robbins) travels to Shang Hai to stop a criminal, Maria, who he lets off the hook because subconsciously he knows she has the same DNA as his mother. There are some cool sci-fi elements involving clones and viruses, but mainly it is the story of star-crossed lovers. Benedict Wong plays the medic who William tricks into giving away the fact that Maria’s indiscretion with him resulted in a pregnancy that broke Code 46, the rule that you can’t spawn with someone who shares 25% or more of your DNA. It’s not a bad movie, but it could have gone more in depth and had a better ending.