Since we had so much fun with the Military List. Plus, it’s Friday.
- Star Wars The original 1977 theatrical, error-filled release only. Han did shoot first. The storm troopers did want the blast doors to be closed only to then want them re-opened. Darth did do the wagging finger gesture for no apparent reason after his speech in the war room to Tarkin was over. When I saw the movie when it came out I wanted a light saber so bad it hurt. I was 13. I could still find a use for one.
- The Thing from Another World Original; the remake is excellent, too, but probably better classified as Horror; see below. If you have never seen this, you are in for a treat. I have seen this movie dozens of times, and each viewing I hear a new line I somehow missed before. This is one of those Rosalind Russell fast talking comedy dramas. It’s hard to keep up. Dr Carrington’s motivations are natural, believable, and consistent throughout. The only, very minor, jarring point is when Scotty faints at the end, when he had been on Okinawa during the end of World War II. Anybody who made it through that would not pass out when seeing a vegetable cook. This movie does not follow the now usual conventions and will surprise you. You also have to keep in mind that this came out at the height of the Great Saucer Scare.
- The Day the Earth Stood Still. The original! The scenes in the movie are as good or better than any today. The angle of the camera when Klaatu comes out of the ship and is shot is stunning. When suddenly we see—a non-computer generated—Gort immobile and menacing. Wow. That immobility was of a necessity, ok, because the moving robot looked a little clunky, but they made the best of what they had and it turned out to be better than they could have hoped. Sure, there’s the obligatory wild-hair scientist and precocious kid, but they are not so annoying. Thank God, no love story. The religious allegory you sometimes here of is there but it is sly and minimal. “Klaatu barada necktie.” Oops, wrong movie.
- Terminator All time travel plots are doomed to failure at some level, but this one is as perfect as can be. Nothing can beat Arnie is his prime. “I’ll be back.” Original in every way. Movies, especially sci-fi, should get right to the point and then move along. This does. Maybe it’s because I find Linda Hamilton so attractive, but she did a remarkable job. The number of special effects are kept to a bare minimum, and the movie benefits enormously from it. The ending at the gas station is chilling.
- Alien Mixed feelings here. First the bad. This was the movie that started the now cliche trend of killing a group off one by one, only to see the young, plucky girl triumphant in the end. Plus, it has what too many movies have: letters plotting across a computer monitor at a snail’s pace accompanied by bup-bup-bup sounds. Good grief! So it’s hard to watch now. But, boy, when it came out. It was new! Graphically stunning. Talk about surprise indigestion! Like Star Wars, this movie had the sense, where the movies from before that time did not, to make the equipment/space ships look used and lived in, like they were really there. You see it everywhere now, but it was innovative at the time.
- Planet of the Apes Original, natch. The best part of this movie is the interaction between Taylor (Heston) and Dr Zaius. To hear Zaius spin in the name of the faith is fascinating. “There is no conflict between science and religion. True science.” Of course, we’re now supposed to say how foolish this is. But given the ending (and the original intent of the book), it is not so clear that Zaius wasn’t doing exactly the right thing. “Take your dirty paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”
- Blade Runner Theatrical version, please. Yes, with the P.I. voice over, dammit. Makes it more like a film noir, and gets us quicker through the boring parts. Yes, there are dull bits. Not when Batty is on the screen, though. There is an award-winning (yes, award-winning) professor at a place I know who uses this movie to demonstrate what it will be like when global warming takes over. You’re also supposed to root for the sophisticated interpretation of the ending, where Deckard realizes he’s a replicant, too. Oh my! If so, then the whole movie makes no sense, because every higher up would have known, thus invalidating the plot. This is one of the rarer instances where I will defer to the movie and not the original story. “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” was all right, but not wonderful. You’re not supposed to say that about Dick nowadays.
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind Again—computers, damn them! I am repeating myself—but the original, theatrical version only. The one that shows Roy go to his job site at the beginning of the movie, and so on. This had a certain hopefulness, an eagerness. It was more than a little frightening, too. Spare use of technical effects made the aliens seem realer than if we had been bombarded with them. Remember that, Mr Director! Too many effects ruin a movie. We care about what happens to the people. In this case, I was as jealous as can be of Neary (Dreyfuss). When I see the pile of bills arrive daily, and think about facing another ride on that smelly F train, I still am.
- Highlander Utterly absurd, but just as emotionally compelling. Maybe it’s because it’s layered on so thick that you can’t help but be effected just a little. The ending—the very, very end as they lay in the grass—stinks. The chief cop is a cliche, Christopher Lambert—Connor of the clan MacLeod—is a bad actor, Sean Connery’s part is goofy. But you can’t take your eyes off of it. Clancy Brown as the very wisely left unexplained “Kurgan” was excellent as he always is. Yes, even the music by Queen was good (it was in Flash Gordon, too). Maybe this is one of the movies you watch at home in a group of people who have consumed as much beer as you have. Love the scene where MacLeod gets in a drunken duel. “There can be only one.”
- Soylent Green The original greenhouse gas, population bomb movie. Characteristic of all those early 70s, late 60s dystopian dramas, many starring Heston, this one is the best. It’s a mystery. The head of the Soylent corporation is found dead. Suicide? Detective Thorn (Heston) is on the case! He steals some jelly and some “furniture.” His roommate “goes home” to Beethoven. Actually, I’m not so sure how great this movie is, but it’s one everybody should see so that they get it when somebody shouts the last line at them. Solyent Orange is on special today. Yummy.
- When Worlds Collide The pacing of this movie is perfect. A distant object—a new solar system of one planet and sun—is moving towards Earth. It will hit us. The one hope is to build ships to move to the new planet. An isolated group, financed by a wealthy curmudgeon, begins to build; the rest of the population blows it off, assured by politicians that they can handle it. A PA system in the background occasionally announces “Work faster! Only seventeen days left!” When the world learns the truth, the compound of the group is stormed. The people who built the ships draw straws to see who can go. Those with the short ones realize their predicament. Does humanity make it?
- Escape from New York Kurt Russel as pirate eye-patch wearing Snake Plissken? Ernest Borgnine as a crazed cabby (who listens to good music)? Manhattan Island as a prison? What’s not to love! Strangely believable. The ending is fantastic. John Carpenter used to do a good job with suspense.
Yes, I can count. Close enough to 10.
Honourable mentions (in no particular order): Tron A must see; War Games “Would you like to play a game?”; War of the Worlds Original only, the remake featured a midget ego-maniac Scientologist and had an asinine plot; Galaxy Quest “I see you managed to get your shirt off!”; Trekkies I & II “This year we even had a girl come.”; The Last Starfighter Come, on. Admit it. You love it.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers This time—the only time—both the 1956 (crazy man) and 1978 (Spock wears a turtle neck) versions. Not the most recent one; It Came From Outer Space Surprisingly good paranoia flick.
I, Robot I wish they would have done more from the book and they could have had a franchise; Logan’s Run Ustinov was great. “Renew!”; Vibes a guilty pleasure; Mystery Men “The PMS avenger!”; The Philadelphia Experiment Much better than you would think.
Road Warrior (Mad Max II) I learned from this movie that Australians are just as crazy as Japanese people—I mean this as a compliment; Starship Troopers Supposedly, they didn’t harm any real bugs in the making of this movie; They Live! Silly plot, but best fight scene ever; Total Recall “We can remember it for you wholesale”; X-Men (I & II) Solid entertainment, but not much else.
Altered States Don’t remember this one? Plenty of weird religious allegory. Done when water/isolation tanks were big. Yes, they were; Back to the Future Goofy fun; Flash Gordon Awful in every way, but so awful that it’s worth watching; Forbidden Planet & Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Somehow these two seem a natural pair; Fifth Element But only because of Bruce Willis; Stargate Not too bad; Iron Man First part and last scene only; Alien Nation I even liked the TV show; Serenity Same thing, but you had to see the show else the movie made little sense. I saw this at a premiere where the audience was composed entirely of fans. A gasp ran through the crowd when one beloved character handed in his dinner pail.
I am sure I have left out honourable mentions that I have forgotten about. All animated movies have been purposely omitted.
More horror than sci fi?
Predator Jesse the Body: “I ain’t got time to bleed…”; The Thing from John Carpenter. “Why don’t we just wait here for a little while… see what happens…” ; Scanners Canadians on a rampage!; Godzilla Again, the original, and most of the Japanese continuations. Each is more ridiculous than the last. But, God help me, I do love them;
The obvious theme to this list is that most remakes suck. My official probabilistic estimate is that any remake has a 99.9% chance of sucking. I have seen the previews for The Day the Earth Stood Still and I fear the worst. Several other movies in the list above are slated for remakes. Even When Worlds Collide! This time, no doubt, some hero will save the day.
The unbearable wonderfulness of computer graphics
A word of caution: you cannot judge’s yesterday’s movies by today’s special effects standards! The older ones, especially since they didn’t have racks and racks of computers…were obviously better. The disadvantages of being burdened by computers are only too obvious. The temptation to add in an extra explosion or physics-defying stunt is just too much for most directors to resist. One more CGI space bug is just the thing! Poor, deluded souls. They deserve our sympathy. It’s really not their fault. The computer just makes things too easy.
What! You didn’t include X Y or Z?
No, no Star Trek movies. The best of them seem to be mere extensions of the TV show. No black mark against them, but somehow they don’t seem to be “real movies.” And I am a fan.
No, no Star Wars after the first. The second one was OK, the third one stunk, and the last three shows what happens when you pay nerds to play with computers but give them no moral guidance (“Love is like sand. It gets in your shorts and grates.”).
No 2001 either, though to not to include it is sign of unsophistication. I love the man-apes beating the crap out of one another, but the movie didn’t make any sense; the book did. It did do the physics right and deserves praise for that.
Sorry, but The Matrix was idiotic. The plot was ridiculous beyond even a small child’s ability to suspend disbelief. Pretty, sure. Yes, those computer graphics were innovative. But in the end, that’s all they are. Computer graphics. I remember when CGI first really took hold. Some group put out a VHS of various shiny-skinned human-like creatures interacting with ray-traced Greek-columned houses and such like. The kind of nerds who listened to Vangelis bought them. They have rightly disappeared without a trace.
Nope. Donnie Darko is theatrical version of pseudo-angst-filled Starbucks coffehouse imitation of deep, meaningful chatter.
You’re also supposed to list the original Solaris. I do not. Stick to the book. Also read Lem’s The Futurological Congress.
No Metropolis either. It’s boring. Being first does not mean being good (hear that, Beatles fans?).
Uh, uh. No Jurassic Park. Have you noticed that all CGI monsters do exactly the same thing? When the evil, man-eating creature comes upon somebody, does it snatch him up and swallow tout de suite as is within its ability? No! Instead, it stops cold, rears back, put it’s tentacles, arms, and other appendages to the back, strains its neck forward to its limit, then roars while shaking its head. Thus allowing the heroine plenty of time to escape or shoot. Every. Single. Monster now does this. It’s stupid. If you’ve ever seen a real predator go after real prey you know what there are no theatrics involved. It’s chomp city, baby, as fast as can be.