Last week Cherise and I did the The American Film Institute a favor by selecting the top 10 Fantasy Movies of all time. See, this year they're revealing the top 10 movies in ten different genres. It was so much fun we're going to give you the Top 10 Science Fiction Movies this week. I'm telling you, those nitwits at the Film institute should really thank us.
The cool thing about Science Fiction is the bounds are limitless and meaning can pervade every inch of the story. The Matrix is a supreme example of the idea of layered meaning. Sure, it looked cool and the special effects were rockin' and the fight scenes choreographed to perfection, but there was a story being told and that story was an old one. Plato wrote about the allegory of the cave in his volume, The Republic. The premise is that when prisoners are trapped in such a way that they only experience objects by seeing their shadows, not the objects themselves, that these prisoners become conditioned to view those shadows as reality and when released they initially reject the objects in favor of the shadows. What is reality? That's the question Plato explored as well as will the freed prisoner return to free his fellow, or will he realize that the prisoner's reality is as satisfying as his own newly discovered world.
The Matrix explores this idea of reality and morality in such a way as to thrust ancient thought into a bleak future. For it's philosophy and it's story, it belongs on the list. For Keanu Reeves, it belongs no higher than number 10.
The Star Trek franchise has been around since 1966 and has acquired a large following. One of the hallmarks of the shows has been a willingness to tackle social problems and offer commentary other shows have avoided, from thinly veiled criticisms of the Vietnam War to outright repudiation of segregation. Of all the series and the movies they spawned, the second film stands out as the best, The Wrath of Khan.
Khan Noonien Singh, played by Ricardo Montalban is a genetically enhanced fugitive from the 20th century. Together with his followers, he takes over the Starship USS Reliant and then proceeds to exact revenge against his nemesis, James T. Kirk. At the same time he wants possession of Project Genesis, a device that reorganizes molecular matter to terraform entire worlds â a force as equally destructive as it is creative.
The story is superior, the acting â especially by Montalban â is the best the franchise produced, and the moral choices complex. It's filled with self-sacrifice and concludes with the best funeral scene in sci-fi film history. It succeeds in entertaining and making the viewer think.
Jack B Sowards
In Science Fiction the story has to be gripping, the setting must be interesting, but most importantly the characters must be compelling. Few characters in the genre are as compelling as Kurt Russell's âSnakeâ Plissken.
Manhattan's been walled off, the bridges mined, and the island is now an unregulated prison housing the most violent offenders of a nation where crime has gone out of control. Air Force One, carrying the President of the United States, crashes in this dystopian wasteland and while still alive, he's taken hostage by the self-appointed Duke of New York, played by Isaac Hayes.
Enter âSnakeâ Plissken. Ex-military and as mean as anyone could be, he's offered the classic âDeal he can't Refuse.â Rescue the President, retrieve the secret to fusion energy, and do it all within twenty-four hours or die as the result of an injected time-release explosive bomb.
This classic disaster ride is everything dystopia political commentary strives for. Also, don't miss the tie-in novel written by Mike McQuay that explores a lot of back story as well as details of World War III, which has left residuals of nerve gas through the United States. The population is slowly going mad, which explains some of the crime rise. It's one of the few movie tie-in novels that adds nicely to the film.
Forget that stupid 2002 remake, this is the best film version of H.G. Wells' classic science fiction story. Starting in 1899 London, George constructs a machine that can travel in the fourth dimension â time. The story is more about the nature of mankind than a simple man flitting through time. George keeps going farther into the future until he discovers a time past wars, past technology, and instead the people are pastoral and incurious.
The twist is that this is only half of humanity â the Eloi. The other half of humanity are violent creatures of darkness, the Morlocks. This is humanity split into its two parts, peace and innocence vs. violence and will. The Morlocks feed on the Eloi, treating them as the cattle for their evolved society.
George is distraught, having fallen in love with Weena, an Eloi. He returns to 1900, tries unsuccessfully to convince his friends before he leaves again presumably for that far future earth.
It's a fantastic voyage.
H.G. Wells (novel)
David Duncan (screenplay)
See, our point proven by this remarkable film â the idiots at the AFI didn't even include it on their ballot. Good thing Cherise and I are here to help.
Where Escape From New York brought us the best in character, Strange Days brings us the best in mood. Another dystopia, Los Angeles is a wasteland of police crackdowns and civil unrest but it's all coming to a head with the murder of Jeriko One, a musician critical of the fascist tactics of the police.
Into this setting we have Lenny Nero a hustler dealing in recorded experiences taken directly from the cerebral cortex of people and which allows âviewersâ to completely reexperience events, from sex to death â snuff tapes. Lenny is just feeding his own obsessions for a happier time with his ex-girlfriend, Faith through these tapes when several snuff tapes come to him, one after another.
The short version is that the tapes lead up to Jeriko One's death and the police's involvement, but knowing that is death in itself. More importantly for Lenny, however, is how Faith is tied up in the danger. Great tension, fantastic story, and really powerful mood. It's number 6 and deserves it.
5. Alien - 1979
Few horror movies deliver. Alien did. Sigourney Weaver is Ellen Ripley and we all know what happens, or we ought to. An alien being is introduced to the Nostromo after crew member Kane is attacked after discovering eggs on a derelict spaceship. The alien, attached to his face, soon detaches, slinks off and dies. But the real menace is the alien creature that's gestating inside Kane. When it explodes out of his torso the real drama begins.
Through the movie is a series of hunts where hunter and hunted are often confused and only the Alien is the real threat. It's scary, tense, and revealing in its commentary on the greed of the parent company who we find out set up this encounter without informing the captain or crew. They didn't care if anyone lived, they wanted a sample brought home for study, possibly use in bioweapons research.
Not to be missed, this is the best of the franchise and besides being a great science fiction work, it deserves recognition in the horror genre as well.
In the height of the B-movie era comes a truly complex science fiction tale, Forbidden Planet. An expedition, the Bellerophon, disappeared without word 20 years ago and a United Planets Cruiser is sent to investigate. When they arrive they find a genius doctor, Morbius, and his nineteen-year-old daughter. All others from the Bellerophon were killed when they tried to escape the planet.
Morbius has been examining artifacts from a long dead civilization, the Krell, who left a power source larger than anything humans have ever conceived. Morbius has also constructed a robot, Robby, one of the most famous in all science fiction. The story reveals why the expedition perished, why the Krell went extinct, and how technology can outpace one's ability to control it. Truly an important film for understanding the genre.
Fred M Wilcox
Irving Block (story)
Allen Adler (story)
Cyril Hume (screenplay)
This is the penultimate contact movie. It ties together alien monoliths with the idea that some other presence has been involved in evolving human beings from the beginning. Every time humans encounter a monolith they make and enormous advance forward.
This is the film that gave us HAL9000, a supercomputer that reproduces human emotions and works against it's crew on the spaceship Discovery One. As the machine vs man plot plays out in space the main character, Dave Bowman, is taken through a portal or star gate where he experiences himself at all ages and in various settings. At the climax of the film the idea of human rebirth into something more is introduced as Dave is transformed from death to birth after touching the final monolith. He is transformed into a Star-Child.
The movie is open to all forms of interpretation and I'll leave it there for now because a full discussion of the film would take more than a single part of one blog post.
Arthur C. Clarke (novel and screenplay)
Stanley Kubrick (screenplay)
With the exception of perhaps the Lord of the Rings, no other film has so successfully transferred the idea of the hero's myth to the big screen. Star Wars â remember it? Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and the big baddie of all Sci-Fi films â Darth Vader. It was a journey through space with the time honored story of a boy trying to become a hero and save his people, sometimes willingly, sometimes not. It had clearly delineated good guys and bad guys. Or did it?
See there's some depth to the story arc that perhaps escapes the first or second or third viewing. Luke, his aunt and uncle are just scraping by on a difficult world, Tatooine, right? Scraping by as slaveholders and the slaves: C3PO and R2D2, among others. Remember throughout the movies, C3PO refers to Luke as master, isn't allowed in the bar, and is treated as property. Sure he's an android, but there's definitely an undercurrent there that good isn't always so good as it appears, and we know what happens with Darth Vader â so bad isn't so clear cut either. Our heroes: a slaveowning heir to a mystical order and a gun wielding smuggler. Our sage is a hermit refugee hiding from danger rather than actively fighting for truth and justice.
It's a monumental film. Before Star Wars, science fiction was relegated to the periodic film and the b-movie. After Star Wars, it was part of our culture, at the forefront. It changed us as a people, it really did.
The best of all sci-fi has all the elements I discussed, plot, setting, and character, and has those at the top of their game. Blade Runner does that, and it adds the question: what does it mean to be human? That's the prevailing message in all of Philip K. Dick's fiction, that the lines defining humanity and reality are thin at best. Everything is to be questioned.
Rick Deckard is a Blade Runner whose job it is to find and eliminate replicants because they're banned on earth. In this dystopian version of Los Angeles, replicants are becoming harder and harder to distinguish and Deckard comes out of retirement to find some of the most dangerous, a combat model, a nuclear fuel loader, an assassin, and a pleasure model. Using the primary tool of his trade, a test called Voight-Kampff, he navigates the hazardous world of the streets and of the corporations with equal danger.
Eventually he discovers that nothing is what it appears, not even himself.
This film is a masterpiece in capturing the spirit and feel of sci-fi. It's also the only film that ever did true justice to Philip K. Dick's work.
Philip K. Dick (novella)
Hampton Fancher (screenplay)
David Peoples (screenplay)