Sunday, 28 November 2010

More Movies - Favourite SciFi Films

Probably my favourite genre of movie is the SciFi movie. I enjoy the imagination, the special effects, the interesting aliens, and if it's well-done, the fascinating story lines. My Top Ten list covers a variety, from old classics to some newer movies and I think they display a nice variety.

John Carpenter's Starman
 Number Ten is from 1984 and I think it's John Carpenter's best movie. Starman starred Jeff Bridges as an alien who crashes on Earth and must travel across the United States in order to rendezvous with his ship. To do so, he kidnaps Karen Allen, a widower who is having great difficulty dealing with the death of her husband. Basically, Bridges is able to assume the appearance of her husband (alien trickery) to make himself seem more familiar to her. During the journey across the US, Karen tries to escape and, as well, the US government is chasing them as they want to experiment on the alien. The US government is represented by Charles Martin Smith and Richard Jaeckel.

The best aspects of this movie are the interactions between Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges and also the people they meet along the way. These interactions provide Bridges with insight into humanity and in many ways help develop his character; from alien to human. It's a great movie and so many excellent vignettes. I enjoyed Jeff Bridges, one of his strongest roles, and Karen Allen is also excellent. Charles Martin Smith also puts in a very strong performance as the UFO expert who must battle his interest in aliens and his concept of right. There was a TV series spin-off in 1986 with Robert Hayes, in which the alien returns to Earth to help the son he fathered on his previous visit.

Robert Wise's The Day The Earth Stood Still
 Number 9 is one of the classics. In 1951, Robert Wise, who also directed West Side Story and The Sound of Music, amongst others, directed Michael Rennie as that noted alien, Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Rennie, or Klaatu, is sent as a representative of other alien races to warn Earth that if they don't live peacefully, they will be destroyed as a threat to the peace in the galaxy.

Klaatu assumes his human form to interact with Earth, especially with Patricia Neal and her son and to attempt to get his message across to the rest of the planet. In the interim, his spaceship is guarded by his Alien robot, Gort. This was a very interesting movie, slowly paced, and attempting to present the dangers of nuclear weapon. There are some nice small scale special effects, especially, when Klaatu demonstrates the power of the alien races. (I won't ruin that for you if you haven't seen before.)

As mentioned, this is a classic. As a side note, a rock band of the 80's, took the name of Michael Rennie's character, Klaatu. They were a mysterious group, many rumours of who was in the band, but they did produce some good songs; notably a version of The Carpenter's, Calling Occupants. There was a 2008 version of the movie, starring Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly, but I must say I have never got up the interest to watch it. Maybe someday.

Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys
 Bruce Willis is in two of my favourite SciFi movies, the first one being Number 8.  12 Monkeys comes from the weird and wonderful mind of ex-Monty Python star, Terry Gilliam. He also brought us such films as Brazil and The Time Bandits.

12 Monkeys stars Bruce Willis as a man from the devastated future who is sent back to the present to stop 'someone' from setting the events in action which will result in this awful future.

During his trips back, he meets the lovely Madeleine Stowe as a psychiatrist who believes Willis to be insane. In the insane asylum, Willis meets Brad Pitt, in one of his wilder roles. He hams it up terribly, but is fantastic.

I really enjoyed this movie, the story line was interesting and complex. The ending surprised me, but I won't get into it as I wouldn't want to ruin the movie for anyone. Suffice it to say, Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis at his best and Brad Pitt is fantastic. An excellent effort from Terry Gilliam.

Francois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451

Number 7 is not only a great movie but also an excellent SciFi novel by Ray Bradbury. Released in 1966, Fahrenheit 451  starred Oscar Werner as a Fireman whose job is to track down people who save books and then burn them. He meets Julie Christie and gradually begins to question his life.

As mentioned, this is also an excellent novel and the movie follows the ideas and concepts of censorship very well. The movie is definitely recognizable as a movie of the 60's, as the special effects aren't great. However, I think Truffaut displayed the bleakness of Ray Bradbury's future so very well.

Oscar Werner is excellent as Guy Montag, the troubled fireman. I particularly liked the scenes at the end as Montag meets the 'resistance', those people who hide out and try to keep literature alive.

Luc Besson's The Fifth Element
 Number 6 is the second Bruce Willis movie.Oddly, it also has a number in the title (12 Monkeys, The Sixth Sense) and The Fifth Element, written and directed by Luc Besson. I will say that my wife doesn't particularly care for this movie, although she will sit and watch it with me. However, I think it covers all the bases; great special effects, interesting concept, sound acting and even a sense of humour.

Bruce Willis once again proves he is an action hero par excellence and in this movie he is surrounded by a great cast. Gary Oldham can play any role and here he is perfectly cast as the villain, Zorg, playing him with wit and menace. Mila Jovovich plays the 5th Element with a nice innocence but also proves her skills as a deadly killing machine. Ian Holm as the high priest is also wonderful. Chris Tucker is outlandish and hilarious as the VJ Ruby Rhod. Even small bit parts like Luke Perry as Billy and Lee Evans as Fog are well acted.

The story is of the deadly Evil approaching Earth to destroy it. Mila Jovovich is sent to Earth to try and stop this deadly evil. She is assisted in her mission by Bruce Willis as Korbin Dallas, an ex - soldier who is now a taxi driver. The mission takes them into outer space to find the other elements necessary to stop Evil. It's a high paced adventure and an excellent SciFi movie from beginning to the very end.

The War of the Worlds
 Number 5 is another classic. The War of the Worlds starred Gene Barry and was released in 1953.

The first thing I will say is that I am disappointed that the movie could not be set in the era and locale of HG Well's book, that being the 1890s and in England. However, besides that disappointment, I find this movie a guilty pleasure.

It's one of those movies I can watch over and over and I must say that I have. There are corny bits but for some reason, the idea of HG Wells' story come across quite well. Gene Barry is satisfactory as the scientist asked to help discover what the meteors that landed in California might possibly be.

There is suitable tension as the Army and Air Force try with all their might to destroy the alien invaders from Mars.

All in all, it's a very enjoyable movie and worth seeing. Hopefully, someday, a director, maybe Peter Jackson will release a version that is loyal to the book. When Steven Spielberg put out his version in 2005 I had high hopes for it. Unfortunately, it was more of a action vehicle for Tom Cruise than an homage to Wells' story.

The First Star Wars movie
 Number 4 happens to be Number IV in the first Star Wars Trilogy. In case of point it was the very first Star Wars movie, but in George Lucas' scheme of things, the first movie was the middle his originally planned 3 trilogies. Confusing, much? Star Wars: A New Hope came out in 1977. This is one of those much awaited movies where I actually remember where I was.

In the summer of 1977, I was spending my time training with the Canadian Forces, working at Base Supply at Canadian Forces Base Halifax. When the cinema down the road on Barrington Street. A bunch of us went down and stood in a huge line awaiting this movie. It had been anticipated so very much and there were huge line ups everywhere.

It definitely lived up to its billing; the special effects were awesome for the time and, in effect, even now they still hold up. They set the trend for so many future SciFi movies. George Lucas was an inspiration and created an empire out of this movie.

Anyway, the movie was great and the follow-on movies were even better. The cast became household names. Having said that, only Harrison Ford was able to move on from Star Wars and not be typecast as Hans Solo.

They did update each movie, with some added technologies, but in my mind, I don't think it was really necessary and didn't really add anything to the originals. The second trilogy was somewhat disappointing; I don't think it had the inventiveness or freshness of the original trilogy. So where were you when you went to see the first Star Wars?

For Number 3, I go back to the classics. Oddly, I saw the 1978 remake first and quite liked it. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, starring Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum and Brook Adams was tense, creepy and well-directed. I enjoyed it so much I researched where it came from and was informed that the movie was originally based on a novel by Jack Finney's novel, The Body Snatchers, written in 1955. As well, the original movie from 1955 was based on the story.

Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers
 Number 3 on the list then is the 1955 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter. While the special effects in the '78 version were better, the original had a touch to it that really grabbed me. And if there is a choice between a well-made original and a well-made remake, I'll always pick the original.

The story deals with alien spores from space that choose Earth to settle. The spores form pods from the essences of individuals and create duplicates. When the duplicates are formed, the original is destroyed.

The story is so neat, with family members of pod people trying to explain that the pod person isn't their husband or wife or child, but not being believed. Gradually, Kevin McCarthy as the local doctor begins to suspect that things aren't normal in his community. With the help of others, mainly Dana Wynter, he investigates and discovers the alien spores and the plan to take over the Earth.

The movie is tensely directed and came out at a time when Communism was considered to be a threat to individualism and freedom. It struck a chord then, but its success was also in large part that it was a very good movie. There have been other Body Snatcher type movies; in 1993, Gabrielle Anwar starred in a version called simply Body Snatchers. I also heartily recommend this version. You can't go wrong with a good alien invasion story.  One final movie of this ilk that I'd like to recommend is one based on Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters. While not of the same quality as the Body Snatcher movies, it's a very entertaining movie and a great story.

Ridley Scott's Aliens
Number 2 is Aliens, the second of Ridley Scott's series. I had listed the first Alien movie in my list of Top Ten Horror movies, but this is the highlight of the series in my books.

In this version, the characters are much better developed, we get to really get to know Sigourney Weaver's character, Ripley and the action is constant and thrilling. The Space Marines are an interesting bunch, from tough female marine, Vasquez, to the true group leader, Michael Biehn, as Hicks, through to Bill Paxton's whiny, Hudson. Lance Hendrickson as the updated Android (or Artificial Person as he prefers) is the most humane of all the characters. Paul Reiser is perfect as the evil company rep who will go to any ends to get a live Alien. And finally, Carrie Henn in her only acting role as little Newt, who has as much courage as any of the Marines.

This movie is not stop action, thrills and spills. It's scary, creepy and full of tension. Some scenes stand out in my memory; Lance Hendrickson volunteering to crawl down the tunnel to get to the automatic recall so he can get the spaceship back. If you have any sort of claustrophobia, it will give you chills. It was an excellent movie and Ripley as the super mom was wonderful. Of all the Alien movies, and they were all great, this is my clear favourite.

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner
 And finally, my favourite SciFi movie, Number One on my list. In 1982, Ridley Scott released another excellent movie, based on Phillip K. Dicks' Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The movie became a cult classic and all time SciFi favourite. Starring Harrison Ford as Richard Deckard, my Number 1 movie is Blade Runner.

This is a fantastic SciFi movie; gritty cop movie with the science fiction thrown in. Deckard's job is to find android's who have escaped and are trying to live as humans.

The setting of the movie is dark, rainy, gloomy; film noir at its best. Ridley Scott creates such an excellent mood and texture. The characters are all great, Rutger Hauer as the head android of a group that have escaped from Mars is intensely disturbing. Darryl Hannah as one of his followers gives her best acting role of her career. Sean Young is cool and detached; is she human or android? Even the Toy Maker, Joe Turkel creates interest.

It's a moody movie, but a true classic and one that bears watching over and over again.

Honourable Mentions

There are so many excellent SciFi movies and they cover such wide ranging topics and ideas. Some of my other favourites include:

Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton's story of cloning dinosaurs
The Abyss - a love story set thousands of feet underwater.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai - witty, funny story about Aliens invaders from the Eighth Dimension. Starring Jeff Goldblum as New Jersey and Peter Weller as Buckaroo and John Lithgow as the mad Alien.
eXistenZ - From Canadian director, David Cronenberg, a strange story of virtual reality and games designers on the run from assassins.
Strange Days - From Jarhead Director, Kathryn Bigelow, another cop type SciFi story dealing with murder, mayhem and virtual reality set on the Eve of the new Millennium.
District 9 - A South African entry, interesting movie about Aliens who crash on Earth and are forced to live in slums around Johannesburg. Very interesting strange movie.
Cloverfield - Final mention is to another Alien invasion film, as caught on film by a group of party goers who must try to escape New York. Very well done movie, with humour and interesting ideas.


  1. Oh God I would be so pissed of if an alien pretended to be my husband!!! Especially if I had just lost him!!! I haven’t seen this movie, but I think I have to now!

    My other half and I both enjoy Luc Bessons movies a lot. I think I can say he is our definite favourite! We especially like the French ones like TAXI (all four of them) and “Tais toi”. So funny – and also action packed! I also enjoy “The fifth element”, and would definitely put in my top ten list on Sci-fi movies!

    Stare wars is great! ”A new hope” is my favourite.

    The “Aliens” movies are just horrible and something I stay as far away from as possible – as you may understand after reading my joke on Nemo… I get the chills just thinking about that movie! I enjoy sci-fi that plays with the thought of other worlds and cultures outside earth – but not when it includes scary looking creatures that wants us dead. It has to resemble life on earth in a way – so that I can relate.
    That is why I just LOVE the Stargate “world”. Have you seen Stargate? I love how they come up with different theories on how different ancient cultures disappeared from earth... – And I love Richard Dean Anderson in the role of Jack O`Neil. It’s not very often that they make a movie that is great, and then go on to make a TV series that is even better!

    I quite enjoyed “Contact”. You know the one with Jodi Foster? I think that would have to go on my top ten list.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Siri. I always enjoy hearing what interests other people.

    I think you would enjoy any version of the Body Snatcher films. They are all excellent and have their own qualities.

    I can't say I'm familiar with much else by Luc Besson, except maybe Nikita, the tv series. I have never seen The Transporter, but it did get positive feedback.

    You are quite right about the Stargate movie and follow-on tv series (how do you pluralize series.. lol). It's definitely had staying power.

    Contact was interesting. I do like Jodie Foster as well.

  3. You should see the Taxi movies then! Of course not Sci-fi, but funny funny funny action packed movies. But then again - they are French - so you would have to see them texted in English. I guess that is kind of a problem if you’re not used to watching texted ones? I like The Transporter - and those moves (I think they made 4) are in English.


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