Science Fiction movies

Since getting a DVD player, we've been sampling a lot of the DVDs available for rent at the Waltham Public Library.

One of my favorite genres is Science Fiction. I was only 8 when Star Wars came out, and grew up on a diet of sci-fi movies, TV shows, and books. I define SF very widely -- basically, if it has aliens or is about the future or an alternate, fantastic reality, it's SF in my book.

My favorite old school sci-fi movies were Star Wars I and II, Blade Runner, Silent Running, the first few Star Trek movies (until that stupid one where they went to San Francisco), and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I also liked the Road Warrior, but not its prequel Mad Max or sequel with Tina Turner. Terminator and Robocop were good, but I wouldn't rent them. The 1980 Thing was awesome, but the earlier one from the 1950s had terrible dialogue and pacing. Another 1950s recreation that was much better the second time around was Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with Donald Sutherland. That was scary.

Here's an obscurity: Starship Invasion, which features mass suicides. That freaked out me and my best friend when it came out in the late 1970s; somehow our parents let us see it down at the West Newton Cinema. This was when "R" ratings were ignored by the management down there.

In the 90s I got out of touch with sci-fi films. I didn't own a VCR, and only occasionally went to movies. I saw a terrible film -- can't remember the title -- with Keanu Reeves and Henry Rollins based on a terrific cyberpunk novella by William Gibson. It just didn't translate to film, or seemed too contrived and Hollywoody. Reeves redeemed himself in 1999 with the Matrix, but from what I have heard, the sequels sucked.

Another 90s film that was totally Hollywood, but was actually pretty good, was that one set on Mars with Arnold. Can't remember the title. Judge Dredd was good, too. The Fifth Element was interesting in its portrayal of a mixed-race future society -- that's really where we're going -- but the ending was pathetic. Another Bruce Willis sci-fi movie was the excellent Twelve Monkeys, which I saw twice.

I saw the first Star Wars prequel and it sucked. It was uncomfortable sitting in the theatre, watching that movie. The only good thing I can say about it is the Simpsons episode that makes fun of it ("Cosmic Wars") was hilarious.

I never saw the TV series X-Files before seeing the movie, which might explain why I left the theater scratching my head. Dark City was very atmospheric and dark, but the snivelling introduction by Kiefer Sutherland almost ruined it.

Anyway, back to the recent SF DVDs at WPL. I've rented about four sci-fi movies in the past year or two. Solaris (George Clooney) was really great, even though I hadn't heard of it when it was in theatres. Even my wife thought it was thought-provoking, and she generally doesn't care for SF. A classic sleeper, I will surely rent it again.

AI was also very special and thought-provoking, although I wish they hadn't had that ending. It seems that a lot of good sci-fi movies are ruined by happy endings, which seem to be dictated by Hollywood formulas and marketing needs ("make sure they leave the theater smiling!") rather than good storytelling. The best ones that I've mentioned here tend to have ambiguous (Blade Runner, Solaris) or downright negative endings (Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers)

Now for the bad DVDs: Minority Report had some interesting parts and concepts, but the last 30 minutes were so confusing yet typically Hollywood -- hero vs. an evil conspiracy.

And last night we rented I, Robot. The Three Laws (based on Asimov's earlier work) was intriguing, but this movie executed it so poorly, and in such expected Hollywood fashion -- lots of chases, unbelievable shootouts, last-second saves, the ho-hum buddy detective characters who are natural opposites, happy endings, and that stupid twirling acrobatic style of filming that Hollywood and TV commercials ripped off from Hong Kong movies. Two thumbs down on this one.

But at least the price was right -- $1/week!


Blogger Kal said...

The Arnold Mars movie was Total Recall.

Blade Runner is one of the best, darkest, SF movies, in my humble opinion.

I understand your complaints about I, Robot, but I liked the allegorical aspect of the tale; being a government person, and of a more libertarian bent, I read it as a parable against the Nanny-state -- freedom and safety being two very different things. The Robots would have given safety, but to do that they would've had to take away basic human freedoms.

Or maybe I'm reaching.

6:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with you more about Blade Runner. It was chosen as one of Time's top 100 films of all time, and I think the British Film Institute also put it in their top 100. It's a very special movie, especially the "Director's Cut" which nixes a lot of the Harrison Ford voice over.

2:38 PM  

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