Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Science Fiction and the Siren

Know what’s funny about random drawings? They’re so bloody random. To wit, the Siren takes requests, and gets two George Sanders movies. All righty then. She also gets a B movie, and the Siren’s B-movie viewing isn’t that extensive, and she gets a Hammer movie that could be loosely defined as horror, and she gets a science fiction movie.

Now, anyone troubling to read this blog over its near six-year existence cannot fail to have noticed that two genres haven’t exactly been examined in depth: horror and science fiction. You, shrewd readers, may have guessed that these cinematic subsets hold a lower place in the Siren’s affections. And her first impulse is to say that p’r’aps altogether, shrewd readers, you’re right.

But after some contemplation, the Siren has realized that she can, pretty easily, put together a list of science fiction films that she holds in high regard. It’s just that most of them aren’t all that old, or at least not old by the standards of this blog.

Plus, science fiction attracts...how shall one put this. Passion. Passion to the point where it seems to the Siren that people are reliably touchier about this genre than any other, save Movies Involving Caped Crusaders. “Did you ever notice your mother is cross-eyed?” “Why yes, yes I did.” “Did I ever tell you why I disliked The Matrix?” “YOU WHORE.”

The Siren isn’t enough of a connoisseur to have a stringent genre definition, and that also gets her into occasional trouble. But if you’ll permit her to list some “Favorite Movies That Include Aliens, Space and/or the Future,” here’s 20, all (repeat, all) of which she likes quite a lot, in extremely rough order according to her level of affection:

1. Wall*E (OK, that probably tips her hand right there. Still, the Siren proceeds.)
2. The Empire Strikes Back
3. Star Wars
4. Blade Runner
(Note: Much as she likes them, the Siren avoids the cult for numbers 2 through 4 on this list. When she spends too much time reading too-ardent worship, the Siren gets cranky and finds herself borrowing a line from Glenn Kenny about another good film staggering under its bundle of adoration: “It’s not Jesus Christ coming down off the cross, people.” She’d rather sit in her own little corner and quietly like them.)
5. Seconds
6. E.T.
7. Aliens (First one is excellent. Second one plays more to the Siren’s preoccupations.)
8. Avatar
9. They Live
10. Soylent Green (Edward G. Robinson. And Heston.)
11. 12 Monkeys
12. The Terminator (Yes. I like James Cameron.)
13. Brazil
14. The Thing From Another World (1951)
15. A Clockwork Orange
16. Strange Days (Do people like this one now? Because the Siren used to feel very lonely.)
17. The Stepford Wives (1975) (It’s my list and I’ll include robot women if I want to.)
18. The Invisible Man (1933)
19. Escape from New York
20. Fahrenheit 451 (I probably never mentioned my huge thing for Oskar Werner either, did I?)

There you are. Another side to the Siren. You no doubt noticed the tilt toward the relatively recent. Well, it’s like this. The other night the Siren was watching Nora Prentiss and there’s a scene where Ann Sheridan and Kent Smith are driving in a convertible, pretty fast if you believe the rear projection, and his hat remains neatly tilted on his handsome brow and Ann Sheridan’s fabulous hair is barely stirring. And the Siren noticed, but it didn’t bother her a bit. On the other hand, if she’s sitting there watching an old science-fiction film and the spaceship looks like a spray-painted shoebox, she slides down the cushions muttering “Oh brother.”

Is this fair? Probably not. But the Siren has never denied that there is such a thing as progress, and she does think science fiction movies were aided by the development of better special effects. It’s probably no coincidence that the older movies that did make her list tend to accomplish things with simplicity and indirection.

Finally, if you are wondering “where the hell is Metropolis?” the Siren says yes yes yes, it’s a great freaking landmark movie, but it isn’t her favorite Fritz Lang by a long shot, and she admires it much more than she loves it.

All of this is leading up to George Sanders in Wolf Rilla’s 1960 Village of the Damned, but the Siren is going to break off here and continue shortly. You may fire when ready.

P.S. Know what it is about lists? You always forget something. In this case, Demolition Man. By rights it belongs somewhere in the middle up there. Pretend I included it, please. Carry on.


Greg said...

I've got a post on sci-fi I'll be writing this week and now I can happily include this as a part of it.

Of course, I was just about to be one of those annoying geeks that complains that Star Wars isn't sci-fi but adventure and then I saw this:

The Siren isn’t enough of a connoisseur to have a stringent genre definition, and that also gets her into occasional trouble. But if you’ll permit her to list some “Favorite Movies That Include Aliens, Space and/or the Future,"

The Siren is always one step ahead. I shouldn't even get small hopes of ever catching her in error (not that I ever have, mind you!).

Happy Miser said...

I must say your choice of WALL E is "spot on". Is it me or do the first 15 minutes or more play like a good silent movie? I would not have included both Star Wars films; only because I would have Invasion of the Body Snatchers on there somewhere.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

For the most part, your preference for newer sci fi corresponds to the fact that sci fi from the classic period pretty much all sucks. I mean, I love a lot of it to death, but I can't defend any of it. Well, with the exception of The Invisible Man, I guess. That movie rocks all kinds of hard.

I think the world is coming around on Strange Days. I don't like it much, myself, but that's just me.

Anagramsci said...

interesting list!

I LOVE Strange Days, and always have, but I still don't think we have much company

Did you see the entire Alien franchise--my favourite of the bunch, by far, is Alien Resurrection... I'll have to write on that someday

The Siren said...

Greg, I never understood why Star Wars isn't sci-fi, but I did in fact include that sentence specifically to head that off at the pass, LOL! I'll look forward to your post.

Happy Miser, I just don't like Invasion all that much. Never have.

Dr. Morbius, you're too funny. And yeah, the original Invisible Man is another demonstration of Whale's genius. And that of Rains.

Anagramsci, you are the fourth person (including tweeters) to tell me "Oh I loved Strange Days!" so I think the tide may have turned. I recall the reviews being either tepid or even outright savage for that one and I loved it.

patuxxa said...

As a member of the cult for numbers 2 through 4 on this list, (with enough remnants of sanity to make some self-criticism), I very much enjoyed this list and found myself agreeing with several items on it.

Gloria said...

A huge thing for Oskar Werner?

Well, here's the man himself with a dude who was playing Lear:

X. Trapnel said...

Having harbored an intense passion for SF from age 12 to 15 (then I read Oblomov and every thing was changed, changed utterly) I still feel a fond nostalgia for the genre, and much prfer the crudity of the 50s/60s films because they brought the strangeness into a familiar-looking world, and therefore intensifying it. This is why so many Twilight Zone excursions into SF are still pretty effective (cf. "Third From the Sun," even with all its many and manifest absurdities).

I love Fahreheit 451 to bits, and think Oskar W. was just fine in it.

And as for Soylent Green: "Djevver seeya peessa SOAP this BIG, EHHH?" Ah, memories.

VP81955 said...

If your sci-fi list hadn't been quite so narrowly focused, I tend to believe Jack Arnold's (and Richard Matheson's) thoughtful "The Incredible Shrinking Man" would have been on it. Not a perfect movie by any means (someday, someone should do a remake more in line with Matheson's original novel), but very well done.

Bob Westal said...

We've been through this before when Patricia Neal passed on, but while I generally sorta kinda agree with Dr. Morbius on SF movies from the classic era (and I would include "Metropolis" which is visually astonishing but increasingly hard to watch as it gets longer and longer and longer), the one real and true exception is, I think, "The Day the Earth Stood Still." It just has to be said. I'm still a bit surprised the Siren doesn't like it more as it's the most classic-era style, most non-B, science fiction film I could ever imagine. It's a very distant second, but "Forbidden Planet" has kind of a classic edge.

Actually, technically "Bride of Frankenstein" is also a science fiction film and those must indubitably doesn't suck on any level....

The fact of the matter is that very few science fiction movies have risen anywhere near the level of science fiction literature and it's still lagging pretty behind.

Oh, and Greg, I would argue that while "Star Wars" is definitely an adventure film, if you want to get really specific about it's genre, it's either what the literary SF geeks would call "science fantasy" or, to be really specific, "space opera." I.e., heroic deeds in outer space not all that different from heroic deeds in the "horse operas" of the American west. The greatest space opera film of all time is, in my hugely prejudiced opinion...the "Firefly" TV series -- "Serenity", the movie, wasn't bad either.

Eurappeal said...

I adore The Day the Earth Stood Still. Love Michael Rennie, Sam Jaffe, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, and Billy Gray in it. Everyone in it, including the great Klaatu robot, is excellent. And what a great flying saucer!

What, no Star Trek?! The Wrath of Khan and First Contact are excellent.

Forbidden Planet is another great sci-fi movie.

I like the first Planet of the Apes movie. Scared the crap out of me when I was a kid and still creeps me out. It's still thought-provoking.

The Siren said...

Oops, forgot--Alien Resurrection--I am afraid I wasn't taken with it, but I'd gladly read whatever you wrote on it.

Patuxxa, welcome; I was a huge SW enthusiast until the third movie left coal in my Christmas stocking. It wasn't all bad (esp. not compared to the 3 recent ones, or so they tell me--I have a perfect track record of avoiding them) but I wanted the space equivalent of the climactic battle in an Errol Flynn movie and I got these furry muppets instead. And Han was so barely and badly used!

Gloria, my heart went pitter-pat. I do love him so.

XT and VP, I don't know, I look at something like Fantastic Voyage or The Incredible Shrinking Man or the original The Fly and I'm just not enchanted. LIke I said, it's probably not fair...

surly hack said...

The sf Siren? What, no Forbidden Planet? Your own restraint in describing the "passion" of sf fans is hilarious.

William said...

On the other hand, if she’s sitting there watching an old science-fiction film and the spaceship looks like a spray-painted shoebox, she slides down the cushions muttering “Oh brother.”

Years ago when living in San Diego there was an interesting program every Friday Night, transmitted from Mexico entitled "Disasterpiece Theater".

The host - a rather poor imitation of Alister Cooke, would proceed to talk about this week's bad movie.

Throughout the movie if a particularly bad bit of acting or special effects came up, he would interject with comments.

I remember one movie about giant grasshoppers, and the effects were so bad you could see the reflection of the glass under tjhe "giant " insect as it was climbing up a skyscraper.

In truth this program got a certain appeal as to my delight some movies can be so bad they are entertaining.

But Star Wars not considered science fiction???? What is it a documentary? ;-)

The Siren said...

Always so glad to see you H. "Passion" -- oddly enough, when I last posted on Constance Bennett, I didn't accidentally double-comment because like three other people were posting at the same time! Passion is a great thing as long as, as Patuxxa says, there are enough remnants of sanity for self-criticism.

The Siren said...

Bob & Eurappeal, I don't know...the science fiction I dislike often strikes me as overly solemn or allegorical and I have this visceral thing about being preached at. And the classic era has a lot of that although it certainly isn't absent these days.

William, that sounds even better than Mystery Science Theatre 3000. I know, I don't get why Star Wars wasn't science fiction either but I figure, people don't pick fights with me over whether or not Mildred Pierce is a women's picture and no way am I picking a fight with a truly knowledgeable SF fan about Star Wars. I totally get where Bob is coming from in his comparison to Westerns, although it really reminded me most of The Adventures of Robin Hood, even at the time.

joe said...

Siren, I'd be interested in reading a post about James Cameron from you, should the impulse strike. He and I just don't get along, so to speak, and most of the positive notices that he gets are from critics I don't share a whole lot in common with.

john_burke100 said...

Nice to see Seconds on the list. I should take another look at that movie, now that I'm a little more parable-savvy than I was fortymumble years ago. Has anyone taken a look at the cohort of US-made "art" films from the late 50's and early 60's (i.e., before Everything Changed)? I'm thinking Crime and Punishment USA, Night Tide, Lilith... probably plenty of others I can't call to mind. Like the Bohemia of the time, they weren't trying to change the world, just make a little space in a corner of it.

Mark Bourne said...

As a longtime science fiction aficionado (and devotee of the Siren herself), I thank you for this list. It's a pleasant surprise to see Seconds there, never mind so highly placed.

Another for your consideration: I'll always beat the drum for The Man in White Suit being the best science fiction movie Alec Guinness ever starred in (allowing, of course, for a particular restrictive definition of "science fiction").

Vanwall said...

Lemme whip my Hoffman Glasses on here, and gander at the list. No "Prince of Space" or "Amazon Women blah blah blah", that's a good sign. SF is way too subjective, atho you have a lot of my faves - spec-fic movies that are disturbing. Your recentness is definitely showing, tho. Which is OK, except "Metropolis" would've been high on my list, and "These Are The Damned", and those Damned Children movies - the original Brit ones, would there as well. "Seconds" is marvelous stuff, tho, good choice. "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" is a good one, but so mutch great SF was on TV. Go figure.

The Siren said...

Joe, usually I try to be coming off a recent viewing when I defend a director, but here goes: I like Cameron's sense of dynamics and pacing, the way he can set up a bunch of disparate plot elements and keep them chugging along without losing coherence. I think he has a brilliant ability to take a big action set-piece and film it so that even as your blood is pounding, you know what is happening and what the stakes are at each point. I love the fact that his best films put up strong women as integral parts of the plot, not just sexy things who occasionally swim into view, launch a put-down or sassy witticism at the hero and then do little until it's time for them to be rescued. I don't find his machismo mindless, quite the contrary, I see a lot of thought about power and its uses and abuses in his films. Plus, I also see echos of other much older action directors in Cameron, and this always earns bonus points from me.

I do wish his dialogue weren't so often digging an elbow into my ribs, to make sure I got the joke, but even the Siren doesn't go to an action/SF film for the dialogue.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

I should note that I'm second to none in my admiration for Forbidden Planet (I mean, just look at my user name if you want an example). But it got dated really fast. Nature of the beast, I guess, and I can't really defend it.

Someone mentioned The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That's an exception. That movie does not suck, even in its mutilated state.

I don't much like The Day the Earth Stood Still these days. I think Klatuu's "show of force" is kind of lame, and I'm deeply uncomfortable with the resemblance Klatuu's mission bears with the Bush doctrine.

Oh, and WALL-E is utterly beautiful. I'm totally with you on that one, Siren. I LOVE WALL-E's weightless pas de deux with EVE in that movie, and the ending opens the floodgates for me every time. I always thought that it should have ended with a time lapse of WALL-E and EVE in the middle of a new civilization springing up around them over a thousand years before WALL-E's last line, but that might have been too arty for the multiplexes. Unfortunately.

The Siren said...

John Burke & Mark Bourne, so nice to see people de-lurking for this. I do love Seconds. Man, that movie is bleaker than bleak, and the camera technique was trippy as hell, and Rock Hudson's performance went so deep into places about the significance of your looks and the fleeting nature of youth and a man's choices in life. It put me in traction. I was obsessing over the ending for days. And incidentally I'm a fan of Lilith. Dear Jean Seberg's best performance, although not (of course) her best movie.

Trying to remember The Man in the White Suit!

The Siren said...

Vanwall, know who is a huge fan of Robinson Crusoe in Space, and wrote a really good post about some time back? John Nolte of Big Hollywood. I've been meaning to see it ever since, because I saw The Human Comedy and The Bullfighter and the Lady on his say-so and dug them both.

Dr. Morbius, Wall*E is amazing, a Chaplinesque space romance. When some deride it as sentimental I bellow "Of COURSE! That's the whole freaking beauty of it! Pure, gentle, unabashed, Abou Ben Adhem sentimentality! You think that's an INSULT to me?" (Sorry. I'm getting quite partisan here. *clears throat*) I also love the space dance. And know what else I loved, a scene that Wall*E himself wasn't even in? The captain summoning the strength and the nerve to get up and wrest control of his ship. That *slew* me.

joe said...

Siren, thanks for the thoughts on Cameron: that was an impressive extemporaneous performance! I like your point about the coherence of his action sequences (and his narratives). And I agree about his female characters. Linda Hamilton is something to behold in "Terminator 2".

Your comment about his relationship to older directors made me think about Hawks. Cameron seems to me to be kind of an anti-Hawks in some ways: devoted to grandiosity for its own sake, deeply uncomfortable with the "hanging-out" elements in his films, addicted to pious messages. Not that every director has to be like Howard Hawks, but the comparison helps me to clarify some of my problems with him.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Je t'aime Je t'aime

La Jetee

Blade Runner


(the first is the best IMO)


Abbott and Costello Go To Mars

The Rocky Horror Picture Show


Operator_99 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Operator_99 said...

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1958) I thought would have made the list.

Greg said...

Bob, I don't want to write it all up now but I'll definitely cover it in my piece. Should be up Thursday.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Another vote for Strange Days. The ending especially is a reminder of Kathryn Bigelow's background as a painter.

Laura said...

Han Solo was one of my first celebrity crushes. Oskar Werner has been the cinematic love of my mother's life since the '60s. In other words, this post has many things in it my family cherishes deeply. Shine on, Siren. Shine on.

Trish said...

A category after my own heart!

Count me in as another fan of Strange Days. The sight of flustered Ralph Fiennes eyeballing the naked breasts of Juliette Lewis is a genuine highlight...

Hurrah for SW, Empire, The Thing, and 12 Monkeys.

I also love The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Incredible Shrinking Man, which has the most nihilistic ending of any 1950s film I have seen. What about Creature From the Black Lagoon? or It Came From Outer Space? These films can all be discussed within political and environmental contexts.

But no love for Robocop and it's prophetic view of Detroit? Planet of the Apes? Jason and the Argonauts? The skeleton battle alone is the reason why I'm a movie fan.

Sadly, I confess that though I love the two Terminators, I don't like Avatar a bit.

DeboT said...

Ohhh, Oskar Werner. I had such a crush on him as a teenager-- all that German angst and vulnerability. I even liked Ship of Fools because of him and Simone Signoret.

I'm also a fan of Strange Days which none of my friends would even go see it with me???? Ralph Fiennes and Angela Basset, Tom Sizemore and Juliette Lewis - what a cast.

I really do like some of the clunkier, radio dial, shoebox rocket, ScyFi . Women with hairdos, lipstick and bullet bras serving coffee in the cockpit. What about Godzilla! The early days. That can't just be a monster movie. It's full of nukes. What about The Thing (the post WWII one)? It had an alien creature and everyone was so rational and grown up. Talk about fiction.

justjoan123 said...

Siren, I love your list. I, too, beg inclusion for "The Day The Earth Stood Still." I keep a warm spot in my heart for "The Thing," my introduction to James Arness. For real, shlocky fun, though, I offer "I Married a Creature from Outer Space," where the saddest person in the whole, damn invaded town is the owner of the local roadhouse, the spot where the alien/substituted men still congregate every night, they just never order so much as a beer. Sad!

Tom Shone said...

The Siren's comments about the uses and abuses of power in James Cameron's films are — if I may be so bold — perceptive and persuasive. I think it comes from his being a Canadian, which is to say, living right next door to a military giant whose victories you find awesome but whose failures you feel enough detachment from to properly absorb and study. When America exhausted itself in Vietnam, I see the young Cameron taking notes with the sort of awed fascination you might have for the sight of one of your schoolyard heroes — a legend in the neighbourhood — taking a beating in the street. Hence his wonderful feel for asymmetrical battle in Aliens, Terminator 2, and Avatar, all films in which superior strength turns into a cumbersome liability — and one of the reasons, one suspects, Cameron is able to position women at the centre of his films.

The argument about Star Wars not being sci-fi seems suspiciously close to saying that it's not boring enough to qualify.

Trish said...

Tom - a great theory about Cameron! I lived down the street from his Canadian high school, Stamford Collegiate, where he was asked to paint the football team's logo on the wall around the field. His family moved to California when he was 17 -- which might have prompted his asymmetrical study of the two countries.

The Siren said...

My goodness. Throw up a list of science fiction movies you never bothered to mention before, and everybody shows up to play. I'm tickled to death.

Joe, funny you should mention Hawks, because in Tom Shone's Blockbuster (Tom can be seen in a cameo lower down the thread--hi Tom--I'm trying to go in order) he compares Cameron's love of strong women to Hawks, which I see, even if there isn't much of Hawks' lightness of touch in Cameron. I also should say that Cameron endears himself to me by being one of the few action directors with a real sense of romance. The Terminator, one of a number of films I've seen over the years basically to please a man, was startling to me in how well-played and authentically touching the romance was.

David E., I thought maybe you would express some Oskar love as well...too angst-y?

The Siren said...

Operator_99, what can I say. Invasion and Day the Earth Stood Still, they felt like homework to me.

Greg, I will link!

Peter, I thought Strange Days was just gorgeous, and not just because of Fiennes, although, rowr, even slobbed-up as he was there.

The Siren said...

Laura, I don't think I knew what hormones were until I encountered Harrison Ford as Han Solo. And don't get me started on the decidedly un-sci-fi Witness.

Trish, Robocop repelled me--it felt like spending a couple of hours with a lynch mob; Planet of the Apes I really only appreciate the ending, which was a lulu; and Jason and the Argonauts I found tedious. But hooray for Ralph Fiennes and Lewis' girls. It was, as you say, a highlight.

The Siren said...

Deborah, I was just telling someone the other day that I loved Ship of Fools for Signoret and Werner. It isn't just that they steal the movie, without them there isn't much of a movie at all, although there's fun to be had watching goddess Vivien Leigh get the better of Lee Marvin.

JustJoan, I haven't seen I Married a Creature from Outer Space, but movie characters in the 1950s were all the time marrying spectacularly bad partners, weren't they?

Casey said...

Strange Days is amazing. Actually there were some critics who praised it at the time, but a lot of people didn't get it. I hope it's getting more attention now.

I think Incredible Shrinking Man is one of the most interesting films of its time. As the hero grows smaller and smaller he has to keep rethinking his identity. I think one commenter called it nihilistic, which I totally disagree with. It seems to me that at the end the hero's consciousness has evolved to a whole new level. Matheson's story is really very rich, and Arnold does a solid job with the direction.

Trish said...

I should clarify that, Casey. The concept of his growing smaller and smaller to infinity was horrifying to me and kept me awake in the dark when I first saw it as an adult. I agree that he was evolving...

The Siren said...

Okay, so here I take the time to give a very high recommendation to Tom Shone's Blockbuster, a terrifically sharp and funny book where he discusses a lot of these movies, as well as some which I gave no love here. Like The Matrix.

And I agree with you, Tom, that Cameron has an eye for wildly uneven odds and giants getting their comeuppance, and does it in a way that isn't always comfortable for the audience, as witness the howls in some quarters over Avatar. Which got me into trouble at another blog at a point when I hadn't even seen the movie, but that's another story.

I also admit to choking with laughter over your last line.

Trish, I love the idea of Cameron painting a football stadium. Talk about foreshadowing.

Casey, who liked Strange Days? I wanna know!

The Critic said...

Hey guys, I have started this new science fiction blog story writing. could you guys take a look?


Yojimboen said...

A few months back IIRC, I expressed a liking for Wall-E, with the semi-snide caveat that I liked it better when it was called Zardoz. Childish. Apologies.

The joy of SW (like the Indy series) has I submit less to do with Sci-Fi than it has with Saturday morning serials. Even the youngest of the audience for the first SW (1977) was old enough to be in touch with Hopalong Cassidy, Flash Gordon and Red Ryder, if not with Commander Cody and the Radar Men From the Moon or – the progenitor of them all - Gene Autrey and the Phantom Empire (1935).

The genius of Lucas and Spielberg was to open their adventures in the middle of a raging battle or a lethally dangerous chase – a direct link with our serial experience. Every episode of every serial (except obviously the first episodes) opened with the same captivating excitement. It’s well-known that Lucas and Spielberg – in preparation of SW and Indy - rented every available serial (dozens of titles) from the legendary L.A. video source, “Uncle Eddie’s Saturday Matinee”.

(Nice list, David, I’ll add to it later.)

Yojimboen said...

Sorry, “Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee”.

I loved Oskar Werner until I learned what a rat bastard he could be on a set. He decided to cut his hair short, right in the middle of production of Fahrenheit just to fuck with Truffaut.
Not nice. Unprofessional.

I agree about Cameron; what I like most about him is his mania for technical perfection doesn’t seem to get in the way of his storytelling. Plus whodathunkit he’d turn out to be the modern Cukor? (i.e. the best “woman’s director” working.)

The Siren said...

"I agree about Cameron; what I like most about him is his mania for technical perfection doesn’t seem to get in the way of his storytelling. Plus whodathunkit he’d turn out to be the modern Cukor? (i.e. the best “woman’s director” working.)"

Oh man Y., I so love you for that. I bet Tom Shone will too. :) I am so sorry to hear that about Oskar and it was really very bad of him but Yojimboen he's soooo cuuuuute...

I have never been a huge movie-serial person so I didn't see it in SW or Raiders but man did I see Curtiz & Flynn with bits of Walsh too.

Vanwall said...

SW was hugely influenced by Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress" - the robots especially were like the classic, peasant humorous relief characters in a lot of Japanese jidaigeki films - I daresay you could've transposed them directly. To be honest I thought the look and snark was somewhat inspired by "Dark Star" from 1974 in some parts, as well.

Just as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" oeuvre is very dependent on "Secret of the Incas" - in Indy's case, not only more so in looks, but in character, as well; and also quite blatantly for the "light in the tomb" reveal scene, which may expalin why SOTI is curiously unavailable thru regular means to compare.

justjoan123 said...

You bet, Siren. That alien husband from I Married A Monster From Outer Space (I checked IMdb; it's not "A Creature") is not remotely the strangest of 50s young marrieds. But Tom Tryon does give him a certain pathos, especially when he tries to get his wife to give him a tumble. What I love about this one, besides its humor, is that testosterone saves humanity -- the only way to tell who's been replaced is to hang out in the local OB-GYN's office...

The Siren said...

JustJoan, "Bad 50s Movie Marriages" Is a post right there. A long one.

Vanwall, I am a Kurosawa fan but never got around to The HIdden Fortress, although I hear that comparison all the time...

Casey said...


Film Comment made Strange Days their cover story when it was released. The issue includes a thoughtful review of the movie, as well as an interview with Bigelow. I seem to recall a couple other critics who praised it, but can't remember who exactly.

It's interesting how critics and audiences react to Bigelow's movies. Because she mostly works in the action genre, people judge her movies by their expectations of the genre. People like Star Wars and The Matrix because the heroes become powerful enough to defeat their enemies in spectacular battles. In Strange Days, Lenny can't even avoid getting beat up by a bouncer. And his real victory isn't winning over the bad guys, it's having the courage to let go of the past.

The Siren said...

Ah, in 1995 I wasn't reading Film Comment, just the NY press and a few favored reviewers in my work database. And I don't remember any of them liking it although Wikipedia informs me Janet Maslin gave it a good review. Maybe my memory has mashed up the reviews with the box office. For sure none of my friends wanted to see it or liked it if they did. The plot was a tangle but I liked it so much, at least in part because the one heroic character was Angela Bassett.

Anonymous said...


Is there a "Horror and the Siren" in the works? This I gotta see.


Tonio Kruger said...

For what little it's worth, this ex-Detroiter seconds the Siren's opinion of Robocop. It was never quite as prophetic as most of its proponents claimed--last time I checked with my relatives in Michigan, the Detroit PD wasn't using robotic law enforcement officials and they don't seem likely to any time in the near future--and it always seemed to me to be more than a little sadistic to boot. I always suspected that this film was part of Paul Verhoeven's attempt to avenge himself on all the American movie-goers who refused to go see Soldier of Orange but alas, that's just a theory...

I'm pleased to see Brazil make the Siren's list since that film always struck me as a better version of George Orwell's 1984 than most of the actual adaptations. I suspect it will hold up much better than such recent efforts as V for Vendetta and Watchmen--which are best described as "okay but not quite my cup of tea." (I did like VfV's visual homage to the controversial ending of Places in the Heart but I somehow doubt that bit was intentional.)

The whole "Is SW sci-fi" question, I suspect, started in response to director George Lucas' assertion that his movie wasn't really sci-fi but a "science fantasy." In any event, it has long been fashionable for any director who aspires to be have his spaceship movie taken more seriously than Godzilla Goes to Tokyo to claim his movie isn't really "science fiction"--a stance which-- needless to say--wasn't generally welcomed by professional science fiction writers, most of whom got tired of always having their more serious work associated with Godzilla more often than with, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

And since the Siren likes Oscar Homolka and John Barrymore, it's tempting to ask her what she thinks of 1940's The Invisible Woman, a comedy in which both actors appear. However, that same film also stars Shemp Howard, so I can probably predict her response from that point alone. Besides, I suspect Homolka would rather be remembered for Ball of Fire and The Tamarind Seed.

Anyway, thanks again, Siren, for giving me many bright things to think about on a wintry day.

justjoan123 said...

Clash by Night?
Written on the Wind?
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?

ooh! Can't wait.

Trish said...

Siren, I wish I had a photo of Cameron's artwork for the Stamford Hornets, but I can't find one anywhere. The wall was decorated in yellow and black with a cartoon hornet. At some point it was painted over by someone who was obviously ill-informed.

Han Solo. I saw Star Wars 30 times as a university student because I loved this guy so much. My affections for him were exceeded only by the even more lovable Indiana Jones.

WALL-E is a beautiful movie, and much better than the overrated UP.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

It's difficult coming in at the end of a discussion like this. I *was* going to suggest the Siegel "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers," until I discovered somebody else had done so. Perhaps I'll just add that the '70s Kaufman version puts a nice spin on the inherent misogyny of the climax of the '50s one. Have you, Siren, any affection for the Arnold-directed "It Came From Outer Space"? I certainly do.

"It Conquered The World," the Corman one, has a lovely Bad '50s Marriage in it: Lee Van Cleef, in his salad days, as a Misguided Scientist who aids the monster-in-the-cave, and Beverly Garland as his feisty wife who clearly will take no b.s. from no-one -- even Venusian monsters shaped like cucumbers. I like to think of this pair as American International's own George & Martha. (It's low-budget filmmaking, often laughable in its particulars but lively and full of visible talent.)

I've been around San Diego long enough to remember "Disasterpiece Theater." Loved it.

hamletta said...

What Y. said about Star Wars.

My dad took us to see that movie 14 times. He grew up in the '40s, and it reminded him of Saturday serials.

We usually went to the Uptown in DC, a grand old movie palace with a wraparound screen. When they got the 70 mm print, we plotzed. I still remember the smell of rancid butter in the carpet.

Mothra will always have a special place in my heart. Not because it's good, just because.

Bob Westal said...

I'm terribly embarrassed to say I've never seen "Seconds" despite being a huge John Frankenheimer fan, though less of a Rock Hudson fan, which may be why I've been so ridiculously slow to see it, partially. Weirdly enough, I was recently at a roundtable with its extremely good writer, Lewis John Carlino. Didn't even realize he'd written it until later.

gmoke said...

Angela Bassett is the best thing in Strange Days, along with the hallucinatory ending with all the millennial confetti flying through the air.

No love for William Cameron Menzies? "Things to Come" should get a recommendation if only for the shoulder pads on Raymond Massey. The original "Invaders from Mars" is very, very scary.

The Melies' "From the Earth to the Moon"? Should be old enough and classic enough to merit consideration.

"The Woman in the Moon" from Lang is worth viewing. Who knew the moon was not green cheese but gold, gold, gold!

Then there's "The Day the Earth Caught Fire," a little Brit sf flick with Janet Munro and Leo McKern that could use a little love. Somewhat prophetic in these days of climate change and globally weird weather.

Saw "The Day the Earth Stood Still" recently on AMC and it definitely holds up. Bernard Hermann's first film score, with theremins.

Paulette said...

The 10th Victim
Fahrenheit 451 (Oh la la Oskar!)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers-1978
The Stepford Wives-1975
Planet of the Apes-1968
2001: A Space Odyssey
A Clockwork Orange
The Incredible Shrinking Man
Soylent Green
Blade Runner
Peggy Sue Got Married
Back to the Future
Being John Malkovich
Ground Hog Day
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Vanwall said...

2001: A Space Odyssey is a must see, sorry. I have to stick a plug in the sci-fi love here for a guilty pleasure of mine, "The Ice Pirates" - it's so loopy it's occasionally brilliant. I agree about "The Day the Earth Caught Fire," it's a great little film, and good companion viewing would be "X the Unknown" and "Five Million Years to Earth", a pair of disturbing films, some of my faves.

There's such a rich yield of TV movies, "The Lathe of Heaven," from 1980, "The Stone Tape," from 1972, both triumphs of story over budget, and the oddly-named "The Year of the Sex Olympics," not what you'd expect. To say nothing of the series, whose episodes often worked like short films.

As for SW not being a sci-fi, it's straight outta the space opera daze from the 30's and 40's, with little new, and one of the reasons I despair regarding film SF versus written SF - it's all about FX, much of it being well behind the advancement curve of written works.

Yojimboen said...

I thought long and hard about Strange Days after seeing it before I figured out why it failed so decisively for me on every level.

(Okay, not every level, Juliette Lewis had a pleasing symmetry.)

It seems to me “The best-laid schemes of Kathryn Bigelow gang aft aglay”. (It’s Robbie Burns birthday, forgive me.)

First, though, I agree Strange Days will gain audiences – and a certain amount of prestige – over the coming years. Perversely, it will work better the older it gets. Where it failed is in the basic premise. And of course, its timing. The film I’m told was about four years in the planning(1992); so a script which climaxed at the millennium – eight years in the future – was buyable.

(We all look at the props and costumes of “futuristic” movies to judge what changes we can expect – but Things to Come; Fahrenheit 451, Time Machine and even 1984 were all a little hubristic. Costumes and scenery have changed less than predicted.)

But by the time it was released world wide in 1996 Strange Days (“set in 1999”), the millennium was right on the doorstep and audiences simply didn’t buy the mind-reading SQUID technology (which in the film was already old hat). It was sold as Sci-Fi but it was perceived as a contemporary story with non-existent Sci-Fi toys. And, in the immortal words of Saint Lenny, ‘If you don’t buy the premise, you don’t buy the bit.’

The budget – reported at $42 mil – was actually closer to $70 mil – and its utter failure at the box office is what put Kathryn Bigelow on her fainting couch in a darkened room with a cool cloth over her eyes for almost five years. She did some TV but it took five years for her to get another feature (in the 16 years since Strange Days, she has completed only three theatrical features). Which is a shame. I think she’s a talented filmmaker; light years behind Jim Cameron, her latter-day mentor, but talented nonetheless.

That sounds like faint praise, but it’s not. I love Near Dark; Blue Steel slightly less but it’s still pretty good. And albeit suspiciously thin gruel, Hurt Locker is well-made.
But now I submit it’s time we put away our kid gloves. Kathryn Bigelow is no longer a woman director – she’s a director and should be judged as such.

Arthur S. said...

This is as good a time as any to confess. I generally don't think in terms of genre when I like a film but if there are genres which I dislike then it's horror and science fiction. So I can totally relate to this list. I dislike the former because I always found the idea of judging a film on how scary and frightened it can make you dubious and the latter mostly for how bland and generic most of its imaginings of future or distant space is.

My favourite sci-fi(a phrase detested by fans of the genre) are,
Le Voyage dans le Lune,
Les Yeux sans visage
Fahrenheit 451
La Jetee

and the best,

I also like Metropolis and Losey's THESE ARE THE DAMNED.

Unknown said...

An intersting topic for this blog and makes one think. But I also find the lack of love here for The Day the Earth Stood Still difficult to understand - it is a little preachy and allegorical, admittedly, but in the context of the time it was made, that is in all in its favour, I'd say. I would also add Solaris and 2001, though it is arguable if they qualify. Klaatu barada nikto!

Daniela said...

This Oskarette would pick, out of the ones mentioned on your list, The Invisible Man, Seconds and Fahrenheit 451 (although I must say: alienated people fed on long hours of dumb TV shows – where exactly is the fiction in here?) I would also add the already mentioned Incredible Shrinking Man, Metropolis and 2001. Considering all my choices are pre-70s, I guess that says a lot about my movie-watching habits (science-fiction or otherwise).

Eagerly waiting for the "Bad 50s Movie Marriages" post!

The Siren said...

I love y'all, truly I do. You are the cream in my coffee. However, I have to say that repeatedly urging just one forkful of "The Day the Earth Stood Still," on the grounds that it's GOOD for me, is no more likely to work than when I try the same thing with my elder son and a plate full of broccoli. It was dull, it was preachy, I couldn't wait for Klaatu to just leave already.

(Now I must hope that elder son never sees this thread and invokes it the next time I try to get something with chlorophyll inside him.)

Trish said...

I'm not saying its a great film, but Island of Terror is irresistible. Peter Cushing battles creatures who not only look like Hoover vacuums but perform like them as well, completely sucking the bones out of their victims. The quivering mass of flesh which remains is a sight to behold...

The Siren said...

Trish, I guess another issue with some old sci-fi is that the camp appeal usually eludes me. It's hard work for me, connecting with a genuinely bad movie like Creature from the Black Lagoon. (Is that SF or horror, or both?) Trying to watch things like that, because they have these cult reps--it never seems to end well.

Trish said...

That's a good question, Siren. I like CFTBL a lot and don't considerate it camp. I enjoy the thoughtful ethical wrangling between Richards Denning and Carlson. And though Julia Adams must ultimately play the damsel in distress, I think the film goes to a lot of effort to show that she knows her science, and has earned her place among the men. The Creature is an updated Frankenstein monster -- he's lonely. Ultimately I'd call it a horror movie for the casual way they dump poison into the lagoon.

Patrick Wahl said...

There are a few things that grate on me when I watch "The Day the Earth Stood Still", especially that little kid (bobby) who is probably like no other kid who ever existed. In spite of that, I sort of get a kick out of the movie. The remake I found to be unwatchable, talk about preaching....

I can't help noticing how the Siren has studiously avoided the mentions of "Forbidden Planet", maybe out of politeness to its fans? That is a good one.

The Siren said...

Creature from the Black Lagoon--I had too much trouble with the stilted performances and ludicrousness of the monster, and with Forbidden Planet I couldn't get past the robot. Things to Come is stunning-looking, as is 2001, but it falls along with Metropolis in the "admire but do not love" category.

Marilyn said...

I would have chosen John Carpenter's The Thing or The Thing from Another World, the latter of which I find just a little too strident. I'm into time travel and cloning, too, so the recent Moon and Primer make my list, even if the latter did give me a headache trying to follow it.

Exiled in NJ said...

Close Encounters? Logan's Run? Not very sporting to mention the two in the same breath, but made about the same time.

When very young, my daughter was a SW freak and could not wait for #3 to arrive....we went on Memorial Day weekend, stood in a long line, and I guess she was satisfied for she made me play all the parts but Leia. I was about to forgive Lucas the Ewoks when he decided to morph Gunga Din for the finale.

I recommend handing out Zoloft when giving someone a copy of Seconds, the greatest film ever made without a middle.

justjoan123 said...

Marilyn I adore Moon, even if Kevin Spacey is so channeling HAL. The waiting and wondering for him to be what he turns out not to be, if you catch my drift....worth the trip.

Ladybug said...
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rudyfan1926 said...

I echo your fascination with Oskar Werner (and I LOVE Farenheit 451 and not simply for the Hermann score) and I wonder about your choice of Avatar. It was wonderful CGI, but the plot could not be have been more hackneyed. Truly a case of ymmv and it is, after all, your list, not mine.

X. Trapnel said...

One of the sonic delights of Fahrenheit 451, besides Herrmann's sublime score, is Cyril Cusack's glissando-like "Hmmmmmmmmmm?" (e.g., "Would that make Montag happy? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm?")

WelcometoLA said...

I admired but did not love Metropolis, too, until I saw the recent restoration, which makes it less of a sci-fi movie and more of a melodrama, almost a woman's picture, in the old-fashioned, teeth-gnashing sense of the word.

Trish said...

Agreed on Avatar. I can appreciate the technology, but the story and acting make me cringe. Much worse is Cameron's shameless self-promotion as an environmentalist, a smokescreen for making lots of money.

Yojimboen said...

Now you’ve done it. As the Sirenian dagger sinks deeper into my chest, I gurgle my last protestations re TCFTBL.

Ere you condemn or dismiss, please, please see it in crappy B&W 3D [same goes for It Came From Outer Space]; realize the Gill Man prosthetic suit may, by today’s standards, look silly as all get out, but at the time, dear lady, at the time, it was the best thing we’d ever seen in a horror movie (in my fevered memory, ‘Sci-Fi’ was never mentioned in connection with TCFTBL); finally, and here I accept it’s a guy thing, Julie Adams’s white maillot made an entire generation of spotty-faced teenagers sit up and as near as dammit quite literally say, “Holy shit, that’s what girls are!”

Yojimboen said...


X. Trapnel said...

A guy thing, true, Y, but mainly a kid thing. I had a much-treasured plastic model of the Creature (and even then noted its curious resemblance to John Quincy Adams--I was a 7 yr. old history buff). Julie Adams (never cast in polystyrene by the Revell/Aurora folks to my knowledge) is a very recent (i.e., post-adolescent) and welcome discovery for me.

Yojimboen said...


Ladybug said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trish said...

Here's one for you, Yojimboen...a really sweet colour photo...


AndrewBW said...

I don't disagree with your argument about "The Day the Earth Stood Still." It is preachy, and Klaatu's doctrine of law enforcement is nowhere near as benign as he'd like us to believe. It's an interstellar zero tolerance policy based on collective guilt.

Still, there is one scene that always gets me, and that's the scene when, riding in the taxi, Klaatu gives Helen the message for Gort and tells her she must get the message to him or he'll destroy the Earth. The look that comes across her face and the way her shoulders sink as she realizes that she is now carrying - literally - the fate of the planet on her shoulders is worth it all.

I think "Alien" may be the greatest sf film I've ever seen, despite the fact that I haven't seen it since it was released. Man, by the time that was over I was a quivering ball of mush hiding under my seat sure that the thing was going to get me. I was terrified! None of the sequels even came close to matching it.

I'd really like to hear what you like about "Demolition Man."

Patrick Wahl said...

Andrew, you didn't ask me, but I've watched "Demolition Man" recently, and I keep thinking of that movie every time Mayor Bloomberg tries to regulate some new aspect of New Yorker's lives, it's not as exaggerated as I once thought it was. There are plenty of people who do want to regulate what people do and eat and say. I'm on the side of Dennis Leary on that one.

C. S. P. Schofield said...

I'm glad to run across somebody else who likes Demolition Man. I consider it one of the finest Black (as in Dark, not African-American) Comedies ever shot. It starts where too many action films end; with the 'final' fight between "good" and "evil" doing about as much damage to the vicinity as a B52 bombing raid, and shows the next reasonable step for society; throw both destructive, irresponsible jerks in prison.

I was baffled that everybody seemed to take it at face value as an 'action' film, and even MORE baffled by the Director's Commentary track on the DVD which seemed to indicate that even the Director took it seriously as such.

I've felt for years that Snipes as 'John Pheonix' was a far better Joker than Nicholson (who seemed to spend the entirety of his screen-time in Batman smirking 'Aren't I a great guy, stooping to play The Joker'). I think "...you're an evil Mr. Rogers!" is an absolutely classic line.

I would love to read what you like about it.

Noel Vera said...

Star Wars? Avatar? Wall-E?

Not the sentimentality I mind so much as the simplemindedness of Pixar movies, or that's how I see it. Big googly eyes that just beg you for sympathy from the get-go (it gets worse from there, tho). Much prefer my robots colder, then you learn to sympathize with them.

And I think of Star Wars as--someone pointed it out--science fantasy. The trappings are lasers and spaceships, the spirit is farmboy, pirate, princess. Flash Gordon (which I much much much prefer over Star Wars--and why hasn't anyone mentioned it?) is in this genre.

Cameron's machismo I just can't stomach; if he apes old-time action moviemakers, I'd rather watch them old-time action moviemakers. And yes, he puts strong women in his movies--I think it's his way of trying to say he's a sensitive feminist too. Nothing feminist about his view of women in True Lies.

Sorry; bite my lip. It's your list. I meant to say I enjoy your inclusion of Carpenter's Escape from New York, Fahrenheit 451 (a beautiful Truffaut film), and I love it that you like Demolition Man (Daniel Waters can always use the appreciation).

I do like one Cameron. The Terminator is a decent adaptation of two Philip K. Dick stories ("Second Variety" and "Jon's World"--and don't let Harlan Ellison persuade you otherwise). The most decent Dickian adaptation ever, tho, would be Videodrome.

I also recommend Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa, of the Valley of the Wind, for thoughtful animated science fiction. That, Bride of Frankenstein, and La Jetee (thanks David E for the early mention) are my favorites of the genre.

Well, Solaris--but that's the pretentious science fiction enthusiast in me (don't say sci-fi, please!) speaking.

No love for Quatermass and the Pit? Dr. Who (the Steve Moffat episodes are especially fine)? Japanese SF (maybe not Akira, but Cowboy Bebop is stylish and funny)?

Happy Miser said...

Noel Vera- I find simple mindedness refreshing every so often. I think part of the point in WALL E is that along with everything else the humans left behind was the ability/desire to connect/empathize. WALL E is preserving the human characteristic of longing for something greater than one's self. I don't want to put too much on the movie; but that's what I think. I also was entertained by WALL E being such a nebbish (sp?) and, as mentioned earlier the quietude of the first 15 minutes; letting the picture tell the story.

Noel Vera said...

Oh, and I agree, Empire Strikes Back is wonderful. But yeah, it isn't science fiction.

(That scene where an arm is lopped off in Star Wars, that's from Yojimbo, by the way)

You might also want to check out Children of Men (No more kids in the world), Michel Gondry and Charles Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Erasing memories), Gustavo Mosquera's Moebius (Topological SF! In a subway!), Brad Bird's The Iron Giant (boy and big metal friend) Eliseo Subiela's Man Facing Southeast (ET, only more realistic), John Carpenter's Starman (ditto, American style), AI?

And no love for Island of Lost Souls? The Back to the Future movies? 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?

No love for The Prisoner? Dollhouse? Firefly?

Noel Vera said...

There's something about Pixar that makes me go ick! And I prefer fifteen minutes of Keaton doing silent pantomime...

No love for Zardoz--ye gads, have ye no love for Zardoz, dear woman...?

Noel Vera said...

And Stuart Gordon's Reanimator? HP Lovecraft, only funny!

AndrewBW said...

I should add one other utterly fabulous science fiction that hasn't been mentioned yet, and that's "Gojira," which of course we all know as "Godzilla." I'm not talking about the wretched mess it was turned into when it was originally released in the U.S. - the bad dubbing, the interpolated Raymond Burr scenes, the cuts that turned the story into nonsense. I mean the original Japanese version.

Many years ago when I lived in NYC I had a chance to see it at the Public Theater, and I walked out absolutely stunned at how brilliant it was. Obviously it's a dramatization of the effects of atomic weapons and the role of science and scientists, but the story stays grounded and doesn't lapse into preachiness. Some of the scenes of the monster's rampage are genuinely sorrowful. I know lots of people can't get beyond what they consider the poor special effects, but I think of it in terms of the non-realistic aspects of Asian art. If you haven't seen "Gojira" I really really recommend it.

A cheesy sf film that I always enjoyed and haven't seen in ages is "Kronos" from 1957, with Jeff Morrow and Barbara Lawrence. Silly but fun.

Vanwall said...

M Vera -
I left out specific series on the tube, I figure that's a whole 'nother animal.

I still have a lot of trouble with the "fantasy" part of any classification for SW - Doc Smith, the best known of the space opera-tors, coulda wrote most of that series, it was so cardboard in a lotta ways - fun ways, tho. It was kinda like a moving series of Fran Paul pulp covers.

Happy Miser said...

AndrewBW- I couldn't agree more. I bought the DVD with both versions and the Japanese original is a revelation. I was gonna mention Godzilla, myself; but, feared it was not science fiction enough to qualify.

Vanwall said...

Correction at the end: Frank Paul covers.

Vanwall said...

I forgot "The Road Warrior" - a kinda perfect thing, and very SF.

dfordoom said...

Fahrenheit 451 (so much better than the incredibly dreary novel) and The Stepford Wives - both great choices.

joe said...
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joe said...

Yes! Another vote here for "Gojira," which achieves a real gravity against all odds. I love it when that happens.

I also want to mention Lang's "Woman in the Moon," which I just caught up with recently and liked quite a bit. Really, outer space is the most appropriate setting for a baroque Thea von Harbou soap opera plot...

gmoke said...

The ending of "Fahrenheit 451" with the "books" walking in a circle reciting their stories as a light snow falls... ahh.

And for off the wall, how about "Buckaroo Banzai" - "What's the deal with that watermelon?" "I'll tell you later."

Noel Vera said...

"Doc Smith, the best known of the space opera-tors, coulda wrote most of that series"

No hard and fast rules, just a continuum. Star Wars' colors are too bright and its ideas too lightweight not to recognize it for what it is (not science fiction). 'Doc' E.E. Smith is a tad more in the science fiction end of that continuum.

Now A.E. Van Vogt, there's an SF writer. Alien cribbed from him ("Discord in Scarlet," later part of "Voyage of the Space Beagle").

Noel Vera said...

Gojira's director Ishiro Honda was in a film apprenticeship program when he met and became friends with Akira Kurosawa. As I heard it, they both vowed to finish the program and change Japanese cinema forever, which they did--Kurosawa with some pretty good samurai films, Honda with his definitive statement on the horrors of nuclear weaponry.

Noel Vera said...

Banzai for Buckaroo!

And: Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Also Abel Ferrara's.

And Abel Ferrara's New Rose Hotel, from the William Gibson short story--Tag Gallagher's vote for best film of the past twenty years. I'm not sure I disagree.

Kent Jones said...

Siren, I am absolutely in sync with your qualifiers about #2 and #4 on your list. BLADE RUNNER is an obviously good but dangerously purple movie, and it weighs a ton. The world of the movie is immaculate and obsessively crafted, the narrative considerably less so.

I'm not such a great fan of the "Trump the Big Movie with the Small Movie" game, but it's interesting to think of BLADE RUNNER side by side with TROUBLE IN MIND, Alan Rudolph's no-budget, retro-futuristic, fatalistic romantic thriller made a few years later. It takes a simple, straight, elegant line to stuff that BLADE RUNNER strains for with layer upon layer of production design and Harrison Ford. Just came out on DVD, and it was good to see it again.

Zoomie said...

Don't forget "Star Man" - with an amazing performance by Mr. Bridges.

Yojimboen said...

Not sure I’m grateful, Mr. Jones, for bringing Alan Rudolph into the mix; but I must admit that despite indifferent dubbing, I do sort of like Trouble in Mind (mainly because I’d pay money to watch Genevieve Bujold paint a wall). But that’s today, Thursday, don’t ask what I think of the movie tomorrow.

It started for me with Welcome to L.A. - I came out of the Coronet (I think) not knowing if it was the best movie I’d seen in years, or the worst.

I’m still not sure. Rudolph has always been like that. I honestly don’t know if he’s great or godawful. (I’d welcome someone straightening me out.) I actually despise Mrs. Parker… for its hackneyed, eyes half-closed banality – I’d have preferred it if Jennifer Jason Leigh had simply done a talking heads recitation of D.P. quotes. But The Moderns - with a better budget perhaps – had enough quality in the Production Design to make the performances look good. I almost did walk out whistling the scenery.

Re Rudolph’s scores, I do know the longer ago and further away I get, the clearer it seems Rudolph’s success depends heavily on just how much of Mark Isham’s muted horn is present to carry the load (nine films together – one more than Keith Carradine).
Now if only it didn’t all sound like the opening of Red Shoe Diaries...

SimplyStated said...

Being a huge classic Sci Fi/Horror fan, I can work with everything on the list (Especially "Seconds" which is so underrated) but Clockwork Orange. And I would have to add "Five Billion Years to Earth" "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (Original) and "Close Encounters".

Noel Vera said...

Talk of small movies, don't forget Alex Cox's gloriously scuzzy Repo Man.

Throw in Joe Dante's Innerspace, Joseph Ruben's Dreamscape, and arguably Roger Corman's finest: X The Man with X Ray Eyes.

Noel Vera said...

And Little Shop of Horrors, both versions.

C'mon--you can't resist that cute little bloodsucker, can you?

Yojimboen said...

Two movies wave kindly at me from distant pre-teen memory:

Destination Moon (1950) and

The Man From Planet X (1951) which may have been the real start of the “Visitor from Space/Red Scare” phenomenon.

There’ll always be a warm place in my heart for:
Mars Needs Women (1967) and
This Island Earth (1955) with the pneumatic Faith Domergue and Jeff Morrow as a proto-Conehead.

But my all-time favorite line of dialog from the genre comes from Invaders From Mars (1953) when the arriving Earth Astronauts change out of their space coveralls into the pastel togas their hosts the Martians have provided, one of the Earthlings shrugs uncertainly at the costume and says, “Well, when on Mars…”

cynthia said...

I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm format on a gigantic curved (Cinerama?) screen in an aging Atlantic City movie palace when it was first released. It made the greatest impression on me of any movie I had ever seen: feeling immersed in the vastness of space, the odd and mesmerizing classical score, the unwillingness on Kubrick's part to indulge in traditional storytelling, even the unbelievable(at the time)realism of the hominid creatures living in the beautiful desolation of a primitive Earth. 2001 abandoned all the tropes of the typical science fiction film--most were really traditional plots in space/monster garb. Many people in the audience I saw it with were restless and then angry enough to walk out. But a few knew they were seeing a work of genius.

SimplyStated said...

Cynthia...you are right about 2001. The only problem with 2001 is that no two people can agree on a exactly what was being presented. Then again, maybe that is what makes it so dynamic. For sheer artistic beauty it is untouchable.

Kent Jones said...

Yojimboen, Alan Rudolph is a pretty divisive figure among the dwindling ranks of people who've actually seen his movies. I think he's a very special filmmaker, and while I get what puts people off - the dreamy and sometimes gauzy imagery, the often laughable dialogue that sounds like it's been lifted from a graphic novel about "adult relationships," the occasionally woozy musical scores, the antic stretches - they have never bothered me in the slightest because I find that at the core, he's an extremely tough-minded artist with a bracing candor about romance, aging, and an unapologetic faith in beauty. I'm a fan of pretty much everything, and while there are a few exceptions (TRIXIE and MORTAL THOUGHTS don't do much for me), even the lesser ones seem pretty good to me. As for MRS. PARKER, I felt exactly as you did when it came out. I looked at it again a couple years ago and had a different experince. Regarding TROUBLE IN MIND and "dubbing," I'm mystified. Do you mean looped dialogue? I don't believe there is any.

justjoan123 said...

gmoke, I make many of my friends run out of the room screaming when I get started in on my Buckaroo Banzai love. My favorite exchange is, "Drives like a Truck." ".....What's a truck?"

Yojimboen said...

M Jones – Thanks for the input, I will look at Mrs. P. again.

Re Dubbing, Looping, Post-Synching or to give it its Sunday name, Electronic Dialogue Replacement (EDR) is a fact of life with pretty much every feature film made anywhere in the world.

I would guess with Trouble in Mind that Rudolph had to re-record anywhere from 30% to 50% of the dialog. Most if not all of the exterior shooting sounds like EDR, plus a healthy slice of the interior-shot dialog looks ‘rubbery’ (slightly out-of-synch) enough to tell me it was replaced.

The necessity to use EDR is no reflection on the skills of the filmmakers, but rather a function of budget. If you’re out of the studio in the big bad world, you no longer have control of your environment, and with a low- to medium-budget you don’t have the luxury to wait for that truck or plane to pass, you have to shoot now. So you shoot image and what’s known as a ‘guide track’ – the synch dialog with whatever extraneous noises make it unusable – then when the film is edited, you replace the guide-track dialog with studio-recorded EDR tracks.

What is a reflection on the filmmaker is laziness. I admit as an editor with years of experience in the field, my standards are insanely high; but my philosophy is simple: if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing correctly. I have great difficulty excusing sloppy tech work – no matter that the general audience never notices – when it’s just as easy to make it perfect.

john_burke100 said...


For real, shlocky fun, though, I offer "I Married a Creature from Outer Space," where the saddest person in the whole, damn invaded town is the owner of the local roadhouse, the spot where the alien/substituted men still congregate every night, they just never order so much as a beer. Sad!

Yes--the tipoff to which man has been annexed by an alien isn't blank emotionlessness, as in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but quitting the sauce. Was Gene Fowler Jr. annoyed when formerly convivial pals dried out? Is there an anti-AA message lurking in there somewhere?

JohnP said...

Lots of wonderful movies mentioned above! I'll add one of my all-time favorites: Phase IV, the only feature directed by the great Saul Bass.

Noel Vera said...

If we mention Wrath of Khan, then we should include a Star Trek parody, Galaxy Quest.

A lot of SF is all about the ideas, which is why so much good SF happens in TV (a writer's medium). Unless the filmmaker stops thinking linearly and in terms of ordinary drama and starts using the medium itself in an inquisitive, analytical way (Ehrenstein called it with Je t'aime Je t'aime; arguably Last Year at Marienbad is a time travel film where the machine broke down, perhaps stranded its passengers at different points of their lives; arguably Tati's later films--Mon Oncle and Playtime--are SF meditations on the relationship of man with modern architecture; arguably Godard's Weekend is the most chilling post-apocalyptic ever made).

Noel Vera said...

Oh, and Hiroshima Mon Amour plays with the possibility of memory implants.

Kent Jones said...

Yojimboen, looping drives me up the wall in many movies but when I buzzed through the TROUBLE IN MIND disc a couple of months ago, I didn't hear anything that sounded egregious.

In any case, given your stringent standards, I would suggest that you stay away from CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, AMERICA AMERICA and Rossellini's Ingrid Bergman period.

rcocean said...

My top 20:

01. The Empire Strikes Back
02. Star Wars
03. Planet of the Apes (1968)
04. Blade Runner
05. Seconds
06. E.T.
07. War of the Worlds (1953)
08. Matrix
09. Predator
10. Soylent Green
11. The Incredible Shrinking Man
12. The Terminator
13. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
14. Mad Max
15. Day the Earth Stood Still
16. Forbidden Planet
17. Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
18. The Invisible Man (1933)
19. Back to the Future
20. Journey to Center of the Earth

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh I just ADORE Buckaroo Banzai!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Julie Adams

DavidEhrenstein said...

I find Oskar Werner perfect in Jules and Jime and Lola Montes. Promlematic elsewhere.

dfordoom said...

I liked Oskar Werner in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. He was a slightly odd actor but I generally liked him.

FDChief said...

Interesting that most of the Cameron-favorable comments (and I'm not saying that to disparage either the director of the comments) note that he doesn't let technical nitpicking get in teh way of storytelling.

Which, for a storyteller, is often a good thing.

My problem with him (and with George Lucas, tho my issues with Lucas are much bigger) is that his willingness to sacrifice tactics for technique bugs me enough to break the suspension-of-disbelief needed for science fiction to work.

I almost walked out of "Avatar" because the climactic battle scene was so poorly plotted out. Here you have space-marine Sully becoming the War Chief of the N'avi and he throws them away against the evil corporate army firing line like any studio movie redskin.

If you're going to make what is essentially military science fiction - which is what the second half of "Avatar" is, what a good portion of both "Empire" and "Return of the Jedi" are - if your military common sense fails you, you've got trouble.

So watching Lucas' stormtroopers bumble around getting shot or (even worse) knocked over by rocks hurled by carnivorous teddy bears makes you question the entire premise - how the hell did the Eeeevil Empire stay on top so long if these dummies can't even get behind some effing cover? Fire and maneuver? Indirect fire? Tactics, General Veers? WTF, over?

I think the problem here is the what's-not-the-problem here. Projectile weapon combat (whether your weapons are blasters or M-4 rifles) just isn't very cool to watch. Most GIs are freaked out at the way battlefields often look empty, as everyone hides to avoid getting shot. A Battle of Endor, or a battle between a genuinely tactically sound troop unit on N'avi wouldn't look very cool, and the two directors (Cameron, especially, but Lucas as well) are all about the look and feel of their films.

So the result is that the military tactics get altered to fit the tecture of the story, and that works for most of the viewers, which is what the directors are looking for. And I get to sit in the corner in a huff paging through my FM7-8 and muttering "Spread out, you dumb prokes, one grenade'll kill you all..."

FDChief said...

Just because it popped into my head the moment I finished typing the last comment; just caught Kubrick's "Strangelove" the other night and was blown away by how totally outstanding his brief "combat" footage ("COL Guano" and his paras attacking the SAC base) was. Cameron and Lucas should have screened that little segment. Unlike the two SF directors' stuff its a throwaway bit from a comedic satire, but Kubrick (being Kubrick) gets it absolutely, perfectly right. THAT's what gunfire battle scenes look like, guys.

FDChief said...

And that brings me to a question:
Siren, do you have any "war" films on your favorites list?

And by that I include the sorts of films that deal with aspects of war other than actual fighting, like "The Best Days of Our Lives".

Topic for another post?

Noel Vera said...

FDChief: that's military tactics, not science fiction. Whole other genre, as you point out.

Not just Kubrick gets it right (Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket anyone?). Fuller, Michael Mann (Heat, Miami Vice) and John Irvin (Hamburger Hill). Starship Troopers the book got it right, but I need to see the film again to remember if Verhoeven did (he wrought unforgivable changes on the MI armor). Ah, boys' games.

FDChief said...

Noel: Two different things, but often related. If you're making a military SF story the "tactical" part has to work or the rest of the story falls apart, like the sipposedly fearsome Star Wars storntroopers pratfalling like coppers in a Mack Sennett comedy. So its OK for a military-SF film to take some liberties with its military tactics, but it has to have SOME credibility. Lucas in particular just gave up in order to get the look he wanted. Cameron did better, but he didn't think through the inherent military possibilities of his film, and I think it hurts the film. He could have made a better, more thoughtful film and didn't because it was cooler to show Isandhlwana in space...

But, for example, you brought up "Starship Troopers", which was IMO a genuine science fiction novel. The plot hinged on the powered armor of the Mobile Infantry, a genuine (and pretty cool) SF concept. The rest of the book was pretty standard "war film" stuff. So a "Troopers" that included the armor might have had some possibilities. The hacktacularity of the film version is that you lost the armor and were left with Heinlein's cryptofascist politics and lots of bugs. Meh.

And tho I hate to get off-topic, but I can only name a couple of standard war flicks that come anywhere close to getting close. Sam Fuller's "Big Red One" is one, probably because Fuller was a grunt himself.

Kubrick could get it wrong, tho, too. "Jacket" was way too conventional, almost as bad as "Saving Private Ryan (save the opening ten minutes), and "Barry Lyndon" effective only as a period piece - I doubt whether even 18th Century warfare was as flawless as that. Same with Mike Mann: his "Mohicans" is fun as entertainment, but Braddock-as-history it ain't.

Irvin's "Hamburger Hill" always comes across to me the same way that Randy Wallace's version of "We Were Soldiers Once..." does - in both movies the directors and their technical guys get the tactics right - they both catch the look and feel of the war - while retreating into "war movie" cliches. Irvin is worse, IMO, because he retreats into FAKE cliches about the peace movement and the GIs coming home to abuse and disrespect. Shows the other side of the coin; you can get the tactics right and still make a can of corn.

Anyway...I'm going way off-topic, so I'll stop now.

dfordoom said...

I thought the Starship Troopers movie was sending up Heinlein's crytofascist politics.

Vanwall said...

Say, Chief, howyabin?

I always thought Strangelove's little newscamera looking firefight was amazing, but he's that way - "Paths of Glory" looked pretty true, and I think Kubrick may have had some interplay with Brownlow and Mollo's "It Happened Here," a sort of sci-fi-ish alternate history, that had that kind of look as well; I've read that Kubrick saw some of the footage already shot, and he threw some unused reel-ends Their way to help finish it.

Avatar was just "Dances with Smurfs" as far as the plot went, and we know how so many movie Westerns loved a good massacre either way.

FDChief said...

dfordoom: I've read that Verhoeven was mocking Heinlein - not all that hard to do, ol' Bob was a complex guy but some of his work is unsavory even for his time (read "Farnham's Freehold" - yike!) - and his military society. I think the movie muddles its message by getting lost in the war porn and the need to have the audience identify with its hero.

Vanwall: Cameron draws with a crayon, doesn't he? I guess that chaps me as much as his form-over-function approach to the combat scenes.

dfordoom said...

FDChief: I think most of Verhoeven's Hollywood movies are essentially satire. I think he went over the top with the war porn deliberately. Unfortunately for some reason many American audiences and even mainstream film critics don't seem to have spotted the satire in movies like Robocop, Basic Instinct and Showgirls as well as Starship Troopers. It's terrifying to note how many critics didn't realise Showgirls wasn't meant to be taken seriously.

Noel Vera said...

"Irvin is worse, IMO, because he retreats into FAKE cliches about the peace movement and the GIs coming home to abuse and disrespect."

I'll give you the home front but the grunts' POV was plenty convincing. I'll stick with Hill, thanks.

Compering visual styles: between Spielberg's handheld hooha and Kubrick's Teutonic tank crawl, I prefer the tank crawl. As for finales, please give me the Kubrick and never mention the Spielberg. Ever again (it's a repeat of the embarrassing Schindler finale, isn't it? It is).

I get that Verhoeven wanted to do a sendup of Heinlein, but I wanted more fascism there, a Berlin 1939 feel. More obvious satire? Hey, if it's worth doing it's worth overdoing...

Unknown said...

I like seeing Wall*E as the first film on your list.
But, as you said, lists are a pain in the ass because you always miss some good ones.
What about the classic but still unmatched "2001: A Space Odyssey"? You have "A Clockwork Orange" but not its sci-fi space twin.
Am I the only one who appreciates "The Matrix"?
And, lastly, you say you intentionally left out "Metropolis," but what about its German expressionist brethren "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"?
Any way you look at it, great list!
- Shoot the Critic (a new film&TV blog)

Revanchist said...

Interesting choice of No.1! As a science fiction enthusiast, which borders on obsession, I have to concur with those who have named the likes of "La Jetee", "Alphaville", "Stalker", "Metropolis" and "Solaris". "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Blade Runner" would be my No.1 and 2 on the list. Among the animated films, it would be a close tussle between "Nausicaa" and "Paprika", with many others coming close.

Among my other favourites are "A.I.", Star Wars IV and V, "The Matrix", "Planet of the Apes", "Forbidden Planet", "Invasion of the Body Snatches (1956)", and tons more.

If one can stretch the definition of science fiction, "Ajantrik" deserves a mention.

If only someone could resurrect Kubrick and persuade him to film Clark's "Rendezvous with Rama"!