The Greats: Sci-Fi

Posted: November 27, 2010 in Top Lists
Tags: , , , , , ,

We all like Science Fiction, right? Maybe? A little? Well, you should, and here are the ten movies from that genre that you should see.

Jurassic Park
It might be hard to remember what a total game changer this movie was. More than anything else, this is the movie that made CGI okay. Yeah, you could complain about the CGI in other movies, but here it’s used sparingly and with other techniques to fully realize the idea of dinosaurs in the modern world. Surprisingly, the movie still works today. I watched it a little while ago and was surprised how well it’s aged. Some of a dialogue is a little wonky and some of the effects look a shade dated, but over all this is still an immensely watchable film.

Blade Runner
While the narrative structure of this movie might be a tad weak, the visuals and style still hold up to this day. There is something to a movie when 25 years later people are still trying to compare the latest piece of derivate garbage to that film. It’s a fairly complete world, filled with people who seem to belong in it, and the sense of atmosphere is complimented by the synth score that runs through it. There are about a bajillion cuts of this movie, all of which are on the five-disc collector’s edition that came out a few years ago.

Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior)
The best darn Australian post-apocalypse movie sequel evar. In many ways, this is a strange little movie. While it takes place in a huge piece of country, it feels very small. Outside of the desert, there is really only one actual set. Most the action takes place either on the roads or around the one set. It has less plot and storytelling than the original film, but it’s got more action and it’s where Gibson turned in his first really iconic performance that I’m aware of.

2001: A Space Odyssey
Some movies you have to put on a list because everyone expects them to be on the list. This is such a movie. However, I’m not just following along here. It is highly influential, it is very good, and it’s actually enjoyable if you can get over the pace which… isn’t the pace a modern filmmaker might set for the movie. It’s a movie with a lot to say, while ironically not saying very much. Kubrick always did like his minimalism. Go watch it once so you understand where all the jokes are coming from and then if you don’t want to, you never need watch it again.

A world where corporations run the world, violent sport is used to dull the masses, and no one can be free because they’re owned by the companies. People are uneducated, besides what their told in company approved books and highly edited TV and movies. I will spare you the “is this really fiction” joke because it becomes less funny every year. Leaving the violence of the sport behind, the real meat of the story is Jonathan E, a sports star that has become too popular. The Evil Corporate Masters want the game to be a collaborative effort, to remind people that they can only win by working together. If one achieves higher status, then people think they should be the ECM and where are you then? In the end, it’s a story about being kept in your place by people who have no interest in letting you leave it. What’s interesting about this movie is that if it were a government, rather than a corporation, it would be one of those movies that libertarians point to as a warning. Instead, it’s companies that hold massive monopolies (Water & Power, Food, so on) and it becomes a warning against libertarianism. In actuality though, one can view the movie with no political bent and see it as a warning against totalitarianism of all kinds. Any time the balance is lost and the people in charge no longer have to answer to anyone, things like this can happen.

The Phantom Creeps
Because we’ve got to have at least one serial on this list! We’ve all heard about this one, right? A mad scientist with a giant robot, an invisibility device, and robot spiders that put people into trances is on the loose and it’s up to… some guy who’s name I can’t remember or be bothered to look up to stop him! Let’s be honest here, Bela Lugosi is the reason to watch this thing and he delivers magnificently for the schlock he’s asked to work with. This is a cheap little thing, full of cliffhangers and more padding and a room full of overstuffed sofas. The story is paper thin, the action is the same six things that happen in ever serial of this kind, and the acting is… well, there’s a reason you’ve only heard of one of the actors in this thing. The thing is though, it’s still good. It’s good because Bela is there, giving it his all and then some. Everyone needs to watch one or two serials, just so you can say you understand the format. This is the one I’ve chosen, but to be honest, they’re all so cookie cutter that I could have dropped any number of them in here. They wouldn’t have had Bela though, and that goes a long way.

Silent Running
Alright, I’ll admit it, I just really like this one. In some respects though, Silent Running is one of the more realistic Sci-Fi films out there. It is up there with 2001. Because of its simplicity and ease of story telling though, it strikes a lot of people as dull. I’ll admit it, I can sort of see where they’re coming from. I find the tale so charming and the end so heart breaking though that I can’t really fault it. This is a slower pace film, and one with a nice hippie/green message that doesn’t bang you over the head too much. It does a little, but it lets up and you can enjoy the movie. The story of a man, his robots and his green houses, sailing through space is one that’s easy to ignore, but I would ask that you not do that. This is part of that mid-70s every movie has to be about something phase, and sci-fi was used to hold up environmental causes more than once. It’s a nice little film and worth your while.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
If for no other reason, than the fact that you’ll know where bad Trek movies really got their start. Wait, let me explain. Yes, The Motion Picture was slow and dull, but all the Khan imitators were just plain stupid. Pretty much, every action oriented Star Trek movie after this was trying, in some way, to outdo Wrath of Khan. At the very least, every bad guy has been trying to one up Khan, which is impossible because they are not played by Ricardo Montalban. A lot of this movie’s success rests on the unequalled performance of Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh. While the part is well written and the movie is well directed, it’s basically down to how Montalban plays Khan that gives the movie the quality that it has. He chews the scenery a little, but only a little and even then it’s in a believable way. The only other villain I can think of that rests so fully on how the actor decided to portray them is James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom. There is a lot more to talk about, but I don’t want to get into a full review right now, maybe later.

I’m struggling with this one, because… there’s a problem with a list like this. Either you throw in some critical favorites that always get picked, or you champion some little movie that’s influenced a bunch of people, but that you don’t like very much. I’ve instead chosen to just throw in a personal favorite that doesn’t seem to be terribly influential and that critics don’t seem to love very much. While I know the Tron sequel is coming, I’m wondering if it will have even one tenth the charm and silliness of the first. Looking back, the idea people had about how computers worked was just laughable, but it’s still a decent movie. I like it, maybe you like it too.

Because we’ve got to have at least one cartoon on this list and it might as well be the one with all the nudity! I’ve reviewed this movie in the past, and I still think it’s a great film. A fully realized story with a trippy time traveling plot, with a decent battle in the middle. What more could you want? Go give it a watch, it’ll kill a few minutes of your time if nothing else.

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