Tuesday, September 24, 2013
20 Favorite Science Fiction Films
Fred over at his blog, Fred's Place drew up his own very interesting sci/fi list and I thought, well, what the heck, I will too.
I'm not a major reader of science fiction, but I sure love the films I saw growing up, watched later mostly on WPIX, channel 11, and even later on cable. Now of course there's Netflix and whatnot. Though I note that on my list there are many newer films (well, relatively new) I'm ready to admit that most modern sci/fi films generally leave me cold (exploding stomachs, bloody mayhem and general gruesomeness are not my cup of tea plus I'm not really fond of teenagers in charge of the future or for that matter, caped crusaders).
However, there are those films that live in memory, films that thrilled me as a kid and fascinated me as an adult. Films that opened up the possibility of new worlds, dangerous adventure and the idea that we're not alone in the universe.
I guess my first exposure to sci/fi was the afternoon live show CAPTAIN VIDEO starring Al Hodge. I watched it religiously every day and wished that when I grew up this sort of thing would be seen as normal - we would be hopping planet to planet and solving the problems of the universe as a matter of course. I was a fanciful kid.
Though sci/fi doesn't, necessarily, mean outer space, most of my choices seem to disprove that. This is not a critic's list, this is just a fan's list, so keep that in mind. Far as I'm concerned, anything goes.
Okay, here's the list - not in any real order of preference, just in the order of when I thought them up:
1) THE THING From Another Planet (1951) starring Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, James Arness and Margaret Sheridan.
I love everything about this movie with unreasoning fervor. No more need be said. Oh well, I will say that I own it and watch it all the time and every time I get caught up in this straight-forward, very well directed tale of a vegetable-based life form (James Arness) from outer space who crash-lands in the Arctic Circle where, coincidentally, a scientific research team is studying phenomena.
They get phenomena, all right. Turns out the creature is an advance scout for an alien civilization intent on harvesting humans for food. Uh-oh.
"An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles."
2) THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955) starring Rex Reason, Jeff Morrow and Faith Domergue.
An improbable tale of extraterrestrials with high foreheads and white hair, forced to recruit earth scientists to help them create a new source of fuel - think nuclear fission - to try and save their doomed planet. Yeah, that makes sense.
But Jeff Morrow is wonderful as a sympathetic alien. Rex Reason usually played a hero impossible to like, but in this movie he comes close. The special effects aren't bad. A great popcorn movie.
"Where am I?"
"I kind of expected Neptune."
3) THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal.
Oddly appealing Michael Rennie (he of the chiseled precision cheekbones) was my mom's favorite actor. He comes close in my own estimation as well. Here he is perfection as Klaatu, a mysterious alien from outer space come to give earth one last chance to save itself before the federation of planets he represents blows us all to smithereens. It seems humans are just too quarrelsome (think atomic bombs) to be allowed to gum up an other-wise peaceful universe.
Patricia Neal makes for an intelligent leading lady and Hugh Marlowe makes for a very smarmy bad guy. The setting? Washington D.C. where 'smarmy' is often par for the course.
"Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!"
4) THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007) starring David Lee Smith and Tony Todd.
A brilliant, low-budget sci/fi film without special effects of any kind. Yes, it's possible. The screenplay is all intelligent talk that makes you think and wonder about the likelihood of an immortal (I'm not immortal, I'm just old.) 14,000 year old cave-man turned college professor.
A film that makes you think. The mind boggles.
"Every ten years or so, when people start to notice I don't age, I move on."
5) DARK CITY (1998) starring Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland and Jennifer Connelly.
A mix of genres; film noir, science fiction, horror and 1940's hard-case detective. On a bleak sunless world (Earth? Possibly not.), there are dark doings when a man can't remember either his wife or whether he's committed murder. (Where did all that blood come from?)
Complicating matters are a pesky group of very weird 'strangers' with derby hats and telekinetic powers who keep putting everyone to sleep, stealing souls and changing the city overnight, moving buildings about and such.
A very underrated film that should be much better known and appreciated.
"Hey, do you know the way to Shell Beach?"
6) THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson.
Another case of unfriendly skies - aliens seeking to take over our world for their own nefarious purposes. Terrific special effects (of the time) - especially the alien's fabulous looking mid-century art deco-ish ships.
Based on H.G. Wells' novella set in England, this version takes place in California - at least to begin with. Orson Welles' panic-inducing radio play set in New Jersey was also based on the Wells' story.
"What is that gizmo?'
"I'd say that gizmo is a machine from another planet."
7) STAR TREK IV - The Voyage Home (1986) starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley and Catherine Hicks.
This is the one where the crew travels back in time to the 20th century to kidnap a whale (whale-nap?) to take back to their whale-less future. Why? Well, a dangerous alien space probe awaits a response to a hail only answerable in humpback whale language. Wrong response = destruction. My favorite of all the early Start Trek movies.
A plea to end the killing of whales and a grand adventure. So much fun to watch the crew handle bewildering 20th century customs. The captain even gets to order a pizza.
"Captain, there be whales here!"
"You'll be rich beyond the dreams of avarice."
8) STAR WARS Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.
The first in the series (though I also liked the next two). A genre-busting film that astounded me when I saw it in the theater for the first time. I like to think that I'm not that easy to astound. It was the gold 'droid that did it. Spectacular John Williams music too.
" Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope."
"May the Force be with you."
9) STAR TREK (2009) starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto
Pine is young James Tiberius Kirk and Quinto is young Spock. Quinto, especially, is brilliant in this Star Trek prequel. Karl Urban is wonderful as the (already curmudgeonly) young Bones. The beginning grabs hold immediately and then you're on your way. Don't miss it - even if you're not familiar with the original Star Trek and/or you don't much like sci/fi movies.
"Who was that pointy-eared bastard?"
"I don't know, but I like him."
10) CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) starring Richard Dreyfuss and Francois Truffaut.
The second half of this flawed film is as good a sci/fi movie as you could possibly want - the music, the special effects, the basic message. All absolutely thrilling. The first half of the film - not so much. But that darned second half makes up for everything.
"Einstein WAS right!"
"Einstein was probably one of them."
11) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) starring Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace and Peter Coyote.
A movie that had the same kind of eye-opening impact on me that the first Star Wars did. The kids in the cast are perfection - I always wondered why Henry Thomas did not get an Oscar nod.
This is the touching story of a space alien accidentally left behind on earth and the young boy who happens upon him. It is a wonder to behold. The stirring music by John Williams is really quite moving. You can probably only love this movie if you are relatively un-jaded and not overly burdened by cynicism. Otherwise, pass it by. A very snippy attitude, I know. But that's how I feel.
"He's a man from outer space and we're taking him to his spaceship."
"Well, can't he just beam up?"
"This is reality, Greg."
12) 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968) starring Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood
Okay, let's face it - nobody really knows what this movie is about. But it's still one of those things that sweeps you along and makes you think deep thoughts about the universe. The art direction is superb. Plus there's Hal the computer and that smooth oh-so-intoxicating voice. And of course, the astonishing opening credits to the tune of Richard Strauss.
"Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?"
"Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do..."
13) INCEPTION (2010) starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard.
Another movie that makes little sense but is so interesting, so intriguing, so gloriously mind-boggling that it's easy enough to throw sense out the window. It's all about a group of esoteric specialists - headed by Leonardo Di Caprio - who have the ability to manipulate dreams. They're high-tech thieves hired to steal corporate secrets while their victims are in a dream state.
The film also seems to have something to do with the manipulation of time, far as I could tell. Hard to figure what's really going on, but it's a beautifully imagined film full of incredible images and possibilities. Ellen Page is totally miscast, but hey, you can't have everything.
"You create the world of the dream. We bring the subject into that dream and fill it with their subconscious."
14) THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997) starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich.
Gary Oldman as Zorg the bad guy comes very close to ruining this movie, but I just fast-forward through his scenes because everything else, including the orange-ade costumes, works for me. Bruce Willis is totally disarming as a cab driver/trouble-shooter from the future - yes, he may be an acquired taste but I acquired it when I first saw a commercial he did for Seagram's Whiskey - back in the day. Then, of course, there was MOONLIGHTING. There's just something about Willis's face that I find SO appealing - he also happens to be a very underrated actor.
Then there's Milla Jovovich as Leeloo the supreme being. (You hadda' be there.) She sports a a head-full of shocking orange hair and speaks an unintelligible language in a rabbity-screechy way which I find utterly beguiling. Chris Tucker is fabulous as a fast-talking, cross-dressing show-biz type D.J. (he wears an eye-popping wig). The story is all about saving earth (yet again) by restoring some mumbo-jumbo element thingy stones that everyone is after. Ultimate power, you know how that goes. Terrific special effects too.
"Father, are you sure she's a supreme being?"
15) DEJA VU (2006) starring Denzel Washington
A.T.F. agent Denzel Washington must travel back in time to save a woman (whom he ultimately falls in love with) from a heartless killer, but also save a ferry-boat full of U.S.S. Nimitz crew-members and their families, from being blown-up by a bomb. A film that is surprisingly good even if some of the violence made me close my eyes and shudder - occasionally this sort of thing doesn't prevent me from watching a film that otherwise captures my imagination. Plus I love time-travel stuff.
"He's gonna kill her. In twelve hours he's gonna kill her."
"He killed her four days ago! You were at the funeral - what's wrong with you?"
16) SOURCE CODE (2011) starring Jake Gyllenhaal
This is another film (with another non-sensical plot) I didn't expect to like. Look, as long as most of it makes some sort of sense, I can forget the actual nuts and bolts which don't. Here - somehow - a soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) whose last memories are of crashing in Afghanistan, wakes up in a lab, inside a pod, trapped in a kind of suspended animation with no idea how he got there.
He is surrounded by computers and scientists who are hard at work trying to prevent a Chicago commuter train from being destroyed by terrorists. To that end, the soldier's essence (he left half his body back in Afghanistan) must - somehow - travel back in time (inside another body) over and over again (till he gets it right) to stop the horrendous event. But each time he only has 8 minutes to do it. Don't ask. It just works. You'll catch on.
"Source Code is not time-travel. Rather, Source Code is time re-assignment. It gives us access to a parallel reality."
Oh, so THAT's what's happening. I don't know, sounds like time travel to me.
17) THE ABYSS (1989) starring Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Diving teams from an underwater oil rig (along with some Navy Seals) are asked by the Navy to help search for a nuclear submarine which has mysteriously crashed fathoms deep. Cause unknown.
The special effects and underwater filming are spectacular. The 'aliens' are beautifully conceived and their actions and reactions are enthralling. The ending is absolutely thrilling. No exaggeration here.
Ed Harris is only superb and although Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as his estranged wife and fellow scientist can be annoying, I don't mind her too much. Though I could do without their squabbling. The set of the underwater oil rig with its maze-like tunnels is something to behold. This is a gorgeous movie.
"When it comes to the safety of these people, there's me and then there's God, understand?"
18) INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman
The film which made Will Smith a star - I think. At any rate, the film that brought him to my attention. Here he has wonderful screen presence. The story: Unfriendly aliens attack earth - their space ships guided by a huge 'mother ship' (which ultimately proves their undoing).
When it looks as if all hope is gone, in step fighter pilot Will Smith and scientist/cable-repairman, Jeff Goldblum (who comes up with a very simplistic solution to destroy the aliens and stop earth's destruction - but hey, if it works...).
Bill Pullman plays the young, idealistic President.
A terrifying scene: the White House blowing up as the Prez and his staff barely escape in a helicopter. Favorite scene: Will Smith dragging a dead alien up to the gates of an Army installation and demanding entrance.
"If you're so smart then tell me something how come you go to M.I.T. for eight years to become a cable repairman?"
19) THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998) starring Jim Carrey, Ed Harris and Laura Linney.
Well, I guess this is mostly a fantasy-type thing, not strictly sci/fi - but it's MY list.
I don't like Jim Carrey. But just to be contrary I liked him well enough in this quirky, intelligent movie which works because the concept and execution are so strong. The story: Truman Burbank is a happy insurance salesman who thinks his life is pretty much ideal. What he doesn't know is that his entire life is a set-up. Unknown to Truman, he is the star of The Truman Show, the most popular television show in the world.
Truman has been observed by hidden cameras since birth and the town he thinks he lives in is actually a large studio set where actors play Truman's friends, co-workers and even his love interest.
One day, Truman recognizes an actor who portrayed his 'deceased' father growing up - this time the actor (mistakingly re-hired) is playing a stranger in the crowd. Truman begins to wonder what on earth...?
Ed Harris as the god-like director has the best line in the film:
"Cue the sun!"
20) THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011) starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt
David Norris, a young New York politician (Matt Damon + guest-spots by a host of real politicos which is part of the fun) on his way up meets Elise Sellas, a ballerina (Emily Blunt) and sparks fly. The problem is, he is not supposed to have met her. So it's up to the aptly named The Adjustment Bureau: Fate in the shape of natty men in hats who take their mission very, very seriously - to step in and adjust the situation so that David forgets Emily and gets on with his own destiny. Preordination is not to be trifled with.
But David resists.
The special effects are terrific. The city of New York has seldom looked so special. I expected little from this film - in truth, I rented it because of Matt Damon. But this turns out to have been a very lucky choice - an underrated film woefully advertised. I loved it.
"Being early is just as bad as being late."