Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Sci-Fi Movies Episode 4: Trilogy is 3 arsehole!

Two new computer games have appeared on the horizon, to distract me from both Civ3 and my Sci-Fi top 10. They are Football Manager 2005, and Half Life 2. So this may be my last blog for some time ;-)

Round 3: The final round
AKA the moment of truth. AKA The moment when My Stepmother is an Alien wins.

When I embarked on compiling my own top 10 definitive list of Sci-Fi movies, I really hadn't imagined it taking this long. In a 30 minute brainstorm, I managed to shortlist 31. Truth is, it could easily have been 51 if I'd given it more thought. Once I sat down to write these blogs I realised I'd forgotten a whole host of movies. The human memory really does suck at times.

Anyway... 16 movies remain and they are:

1984, (1984)
2001: A Space Odyssey, (1968)
Akira, (1988)
Blade Runner, (1982)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, (1977)
Dark City, (1998)
The Day the Earth Stood Still, (1951)
Donnie Darko, (2001)
Empire Strikes Back, (1980)
Gattaca, (1997)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, (1978)
Metropolis, (1927)
Planet of the Apes, (1968)
Quatermass & the Pit, (1967)
The War of the Worlds, (1953)
Westworld, (1973)

What? No Barbarella? I hope all the Jane Fonda fans out there can forgive me.

When I look at the list above, there are a number of movies that I already know would be in my top 10. They are the dead certs; the films that, for me, define the very nature of Science Fiction. First into the top 10 go 2001, Donnie Darko, Metropolis and Planet of the Apes. Reasoning to follow.

12 movies left and only 6 places, so it follows that the axe must now fall.

Empire Strikes Back jumped out at me first. I love this film. It's the best Star Wars film by a long way and coincidentally the one that Lucas had the least input on.

What draws me to Empire is that it gives all of the characters a chance to shine. Mark Hamill may not have been the most accomplished actor, but his performance in the Dagobah swamps is superb, given he was pretty much alone. The chemistry between Ford and Fisher is a true success and something that Lucas was unable to follow with Jedi or the new prequels. Similarly, splitting up the droids avoids much of the annoying campness that has crippled the more recent films.

Empire is the film that offers a more sober and realistic view to the fantasy of good vs evil. However, despite my love for the number one Star Wars film, Empire does not warrant a place in my top ten Sci-Fis. Empire is a movie about good vs evil, but it's themes are still quite simplistic when you break it down.

The 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a classic piece of cinema. It scared the life out of me as a child, but I was never happy with the oh so perfect ending. However, in 1978 Philip Kaufman (Quills, The Right Stuff) produced a masterpiece remake. Out went small-town America and in came the big city, as one by one the residents of San Francisco are replaced by emotionless clones. Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy are superb, while the ending is anything but perfect for the good guys ;-)

Time may have told on this classic, but behind the horrible 1970s kitsch is a true frightener. Not quite top 10 standard, but the ear shattering screams are everlasting.

As far as Science Fiction stories go, few can claim to have had such a lasting effect as HG Wells' The War of the Worlds. As a novel it influenced Science Fiction across the globe. As a radio play it convinced millions that the world was actually under attack, and as a movie it gave Science Fiction its first true blockbuster. It's easy to get lost in the hype surrounding a story and for that reason The War of the Worlds is perhaps one of the most surprising cuts from the top 10. For all the brilliance of the original story, the movie lacks the same punch. Transferred from turn-of-the-century Britain to post WW2, small town America, the movie feels slightly out of place. The book at over a hundred years old, retains it's charm and naive optimism about the future.

Perhaps the knowledge that the original movie is so dated is the driving force behind Spielbergs decision to remake it. What he fails to realise is that the true brilliance of the book is in it's setting. A time when machines were truly alien and western confidence (and arrogance) was at it's highest. A modern day remake has already been done... it was called Independence Day and unsurprisingly, it failed to make my shortlist! Give it up Spielbergo!

*pause for breath*

Now that we are down to nine films more clear-cut choices become obvious to me. The break that set 2001, Apes et al above the others now wields it's magical wand of justice and promotes a further four movies into the top ten. Welcome to the elite Blade Runner, Dark City, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Gattaca.

5 films left and only 2 places for them to go. Bollocks! But I want them all in there. Waaaah!


This final decision became a real challenge. It was only now that I realised why some reviewers lumped movies together (a la Guardian). After carefully weighing up the options, it was time to say goodbye to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Westworld. Close Encounters is arguably one of Speilbergs finest pieces of work, made at a time when he could do no wrong. The mysterious drive towards the final encounter with the aliens is riveting storytelling, while the light and sound show of first contact has been ripped off by everyone from the Simpsons to Independence Day. Despite the tremendous impact it had on me as a child, and the haunting symbolism throughout it falls at the final hurdle.

Westworld, meanwhile, is easily Crichtons finest work. It's memory may be somewhat tarnished by the atrocious followup 'Futureworld', but it still has it were it counts. The dialogue is hammy and the vision of the future on par with the 1970s kitsch we've come to love. This is probably it's biggest downfall. Like The Andromeda Strain, Crichton seems to struggle with creating realistic humans we can easily relate to. Despite this, Westworld remains one of my favourite movies and has influenced a number of modern greats, including another favourite of mine, The Truman show.

11 films, 10 places and the toughest choice of all. In the end, I opted to say goodbye to 1984. Orwells haunting vision of a totalitarian future is possibly one of the biggest influences on my own Sci-Fi Thriller. I love theorising about the replacement for Democracy and stories like 1984, Brazil and even Equilibrium offer those harsh futures that I just can't get enough of. The 1984 version of... errr... 1984 is lacking in that it fails to carry the impact of the book completely across. I know that this is probably true of most movie adaptations, but with 1984 I feel it is relevant. The movie is a scary depiction of the future, but it isn't as compelling and utterly gut-wrenching as the book was for me. Hmmm, maybe it's time for another remake ;-)

So, that's it! The also rans have been listed. I'll publish details of the final top 10 later today.

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