Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Favorite Sci-Fi Movies

Science Fiction has a rather broad definition, especially when it comes to movies; it can encompass a large variety of film styles. For me, it usually has to involve robots (in all their various incarnations); aliens; space travel and/or genetic mutations - or indeed, any combination(s) thereof. We'll talk about Fantasy and Horror later, though they are often (and mistakenly) lumped into a descriptive troika (Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror). Today, I am focusing on my definition of Science Fiction and the movies that I love which fit that definition. So, without further ado, my choices for the best Sci-Fi movies ever.
E.T. : The Extra-Terrestrial - Who else but Steven Spielberg could come up with an ugly, lovable alien with Christ-like powers, capable of inspiring awe, fear, love and tears? This 1982 classic inspired an international catch-phrase ("E.T. phone home."), shot a candy to the top of the sales charts (Reeses's Pieces) and inspired imitators galore. When an alien is accidentally left behind by his crew, it is up to our young hero Elliott (Henry Thomas) to help him get home before the toxic environment and government agents can kill him. Young Drew Barrymore made her film debut, Dee Wallace got the role of her lifetime and Spileberg forever cemented himself as an auteur of family adventure all in one fell swoop. A classic along the lines of The Wizard of Oz, E.T. is the movie that made us all believe that bicycles can fly and purity of heart will always win out over cold, clinical science.
Metropolis - The first silent film I can remember falling in love with, Fritz Lang's chilling 1927 tale of a dystopian future where the rich live in a fabulous city while slaves toil underground to support them, is both prophetic and allegorical. When a rich young man (Gustav Frohlich), living in Pleasure Garden discovers the preachings of young Maria (Brigette Helm), he realizes the error of his father's ways. But an evil inventor (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) creates a robotic doppelganger of the beautiful Maria, who prompts the slave laborers to continue to serve their evil, mechanized masters. Utilizing amazing (for the time) SFX, Metropolis serves as a warning to those who would allow technology to destroy their humanity. Recently discovered missing footage means that Lang's masterpiece may very well be seen in its entirety for first time in over 80 years!
2001: A Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick's visionary 1968 film, based on a novel by Arthur C. Clarke, remains an enigma to many viewers. Gorgeous Kier Dullea stars as Dave Bowman, an astronaut assigned to explore the origins of a mysterious black obelisk discovered on the Moon. Obtuse, bizarre and downright puzzling, 2001 was both a watershed FX film and a hotly debated story about the nature and origins of man. It introduced audiences to the concept of artificial intelligence (the iconic HAL 9000) and pioneered an impending explosion of movie special effects.
Godzilla (Gojira) - After WWII, the Japanese were obsessed with the possible effects of radiation that followed the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Toho Studios response was the giant T-Rex-like Godzilla, a fire-breathing behemoth who brought destruction upon the unsuspecting people of Tokyo. Raymond Burr (TV's Perry Mason) was brought in to film additional scenes for the American release of the movie that started the atomic monster craze of the 50's and early 60's. In subsequent films, Godzilla became a sort of Japanese hero, protecting Nippon from all sorts of other rubber-suit monsters. A 1998 remake, by director Roland Emmerich, became one of Hollywood's biggest flops.
Alien - In 1979, writers Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shussett reworked a 1950's stinker (It! The Terror from Beyond Space) into one of the most iconic and claustrophobic Sci-Fi movies of all time. Under the direction of Ridley Scott (more on him later), Alien introduced audiences to the art of H.R. Gieger and made a star out of Sigourney Weaver (who would go on to appear in no less than three sequels). Taut, dark and oh so scary, Alien gave rise to one of the greatest movie taglines of all time: "In space, no one can hear you scream." It also freaked out audiences world-wide with its infamous "chest-burster" scene.
Forbidden Planet - What's not to love about this 1956 classic that's basically "The Tempest" in outer space? Starring Leslie Neilson, Walter Slezak and Sandra Dee, Forbidden Planet is the first movie to be scored exclusively using a theremin (more about my theremin obsession in a later post) and is the film that introduced the world to iconic Robbie the Robot. Great fun.
Aliens - in 1986, future "King of the World" James Cameron directed what is quite possibly the best sequel ever. Nearly 80 years after dispatching the original Alien, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is rescued from hyper-stasis and called upon to lead a team of Marines on a rescue mission to the planet where she and the crew of the Nostromo first encountered the acid-blooded beasties of the original film. A virtual rollercoaster ride of a movie, Aliens is both a Sci-Fi and an action film, combining tension, explosive action and the ultimate "battle of the bitches" in one amazing movie.
Dark City- Director Alex Proyas (The Crow; I, Robot) wrote this astounding 1998 noir movie about a man (Rufus Sewell) in search of his true identity. He soon discovers that his actual memories have been supplanted by alien beings who want to discover the true nature of Human emotions. Aided by a mad scientist (Kiefer Sutherland, in one his best performances), Sewell soon discovers that he naturally possesses the powers which the aliens can only achieve through mechanical manipulation. The amazing supporting cast, which features Jennifer Connolly (A Beautiful Mind), Richard O'Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and William Hurt, all help to create a world both alien and familiar. And the early CGI FX are just terrific.
Blade Runner - For a while, it looked like director Ridley Scott was going to make a career based solely on Science Fiction movies. His 1982 masterpiece originally featured a terribly written narration, forced on the film by the studio, who apparently thought audiences were too stupid to be able to follow the plot. Harrison Ford stars as a cop who specializes in hunting down rogue Replicants (genetically engineered artificial people with short life spans hard-wired into their genetic codes). Scott's futuristic Los Angeles is a dark, forbidding place filled with monolithic skyscrapers, holographic billboards and pollution so bad it rains constantly. A box-office failure when it first came out, at least 2 subsequent Director's Cut versions have elevated Blade Runner into the best Science Fiction film of all time.

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