The unknown. Technology, space, the future, aliens. “Where No Man Has Gone Before…” to “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream.” From Dr. Clayton Forrester to Dr. Miles Dyson. Xenomorphs, Monoliths, Replicants. The sky’s the limit. Science Fiction knows no bounds. What makes us come back? And where is your sweet spot? Highlights?
James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984). Audacious, soulful, personal, and tragic, this low budget love story steeped in time travel and the apocalypse sings a sad tune refreshed by the tenacity of its conception and the sincerity of its performances. Self-aware A.I., retroactive abortions, machines covered by living tissue, your savior fathering the man he works for. So much Sci-Fi in this picture not solely the imagery but the the thinking as well. A film that challenges the imagination and effects its own ripples on the genre leaving a lasting mark. Machine vs Man? Hello The Matrix (1999). Sure this line of logic existed in 2001 (1968) and Westworld (1973). The stakes and the extent this raises it to are emotional and invested in an extreme unseen previously. Feeling and Science Fiction in The Terminator so forcefully fuses investment in the principals is uncommonly strong and speaks to Terminator’s stamina today.
Westworld (1973). Written and directed by popular novelist Michael Crichton, this Jurassic Park precursor foreseeing a vacationing wonderland serviced by lifelike androids who attend to the every need of guests is a ticking timebomb of tension. Richard Benjamin and James Brolin are our eyes and ears absorbing the sights and sounds of this glittering eutopia whose seams unveil as the film unfolds. Yul Brynner mirroring his Magnificent Seven (1960) role uncannily personnifies a programmed adversary who eventually fights back. A nervy genre bending ride infusing absurdity and tragedy deftly, Westworld touches the nerves The Terminator (1984) would eventually harvest and reaps its own hangover.
Science fiction is so great because it allows us to consider the many possibilities of things humans might some day accomplish.
But for me the best kind of science fiction always examines something about human nature. The way our own technology can be a great tool or a terrible weapon; how new discoveries can inspire terror or hope; how often we as a race succumb to our hubris. Not saying that only grim, dystopian, or cynical depictions of sci-fi are the best. But I just think the genre is a useful way to reflect on common issues among society. Often classic science fiction works have been, not predictions, but commentaries on their present day (I’m thinking 1984, I’m thinking Avatar, I’m thinking Star Trek.) Amid the cool robots and fancy spaceships and looming fascist governments, you see basic ethical questions raised, and the answer given in that context is often applicable even in present day. I don’t know why to me it’s so much more powerful depicted through this genre, but it is. Maybe it’s because science fiction encourages us to think about what humans could accomplish from a scientific standpoint, and if those things are within reach then can we (or why can’t we) also create real solutions to real societal problems as well?
@Rifftilicus The clean slate of it not reflecting today yet relating to today is tangible. It was said Star Trek: The Original Series dealt with controversial issues where contemporary shows then would fear to tread. The fantastic futuristic sheen of Science Fiction distances the subject from direct interpretation permitting allusion, comparison, and tackling of the thought removed of its most direct impact on audiences. Sci-Fi distills the considerations into their own safe space where the ramifications of the journey never touch reality. At least not directly.
Forbidden Planet (1956). Seminal 50s Sci-Fi. Interstellar travel, ancient alien machinery, a talking robot, a starship probes the disappearance of a team of scientists. Leslie Nielsen leads the investigation uncovering two survivors and an unraveling mystery in this landmark big budget production. Shakespeare, special effects, and the basis of Star Trek according to Gene Roddenberry, Forbidden Planet showcases the potential of the genre introducing a scale and ambition later seized by 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Star Wars (1977), and Alien (1979). The cinematography, electronic score, and the performances lift Forbidden Planet to a standard of the genre.
The Thing from Another World (1951). Howard Hawks or Science Fiction? You decide fair viewer. An Alaskan outpost marshals an expedition to the snowy depths of the Arctic and brings back the find of the century. Spotlighting a group of relative unknowns, Hawks and Hecht’s script yanks the actors to primetime. The words rip across the screen and you sense at once this takes no prisoners. A lark, a study of men, and a pageturner filmically, the souls never give way to the tension. You’re up to your neck beside them and the intimacy is unique in sci-fi. This could easily be cliche while dimension and byplay raise the investment and the stakes. Popular television star James Arness plays the creature though the real star is the ensemble and how well Hawks uses them. Though it says “Directed by Christian Nyby”, the proof is in the pudding. Thanks Howard!
@Humbledstone Forbidden Planet (1956). Toss that on the heap!
Yessir! Thank you
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). A child of Gene Roddenberry and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). This big budget mammoth enterprise (Pun intended!) languished in writing purgatory for years prior to warping into production sparked by Star Wars (1977). All the principals, all the money in the world, and not enough calendar to finish (according to Director Wise who re-edited a Director’s Cut in 2001) mar this into uncertainty and disappointment. Deliberate, heady, and old-fashioned, it’s not easily accessible or exciting. Watching it as you would a Space Odyssey helps and Wise’s Director’s Edition is the far superior version. To the most patient, there’s much to experience and it increases the more you encounter it.
The Andromeda Strain which I only recently watched. Honestly, I was amazed by it. The slow, methodical way of revealing the story, the tension at every stage. And the solution. It really creates an amazing story. When I read the book in high school, I really didn’t get it. I should reread it, but the movie is great. You don’t watch it for big special effects (although there are some good ones). You don’t watch it for fast-paced action (although it gets a bit of that, too). You watch it to see what will happen to this people stuck underground, knowing that there’s no way to stop what’s happening if they can’t figure out what is causing it. And quite frankly, the reason I watched The Andromeda Strain was because of Moon Zero Two. And James Olson is a good actor.
Science fiction puts you into a different world, one that sometimes is just like the world you live in, sometimes eerily so. But it pushes you beyond daily experience and into something that (so far) can’t happen in the world we experience.
This is one of my absolute favorites and I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Directed by Robert Wise who also handled Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).
And The Sound of Music, interestingly enough. Talk about different genres.
@TeriG A forty year career in pictures. The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), The Set-Up (1949), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Executive Suite (1954), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), I Want to Live! (1958), West Side Story (1961), The Haunting (1963), The Sound of Music (1965), The Sand Pebbles (1966), The Andromeda Strain (1971), The Hindenburg (1975), Audrey Rose (1977), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). He tinkered in everything. Horror, Sci-Fi, Musical, Thriller, War Film, Drama. He edited Citizen Kane (1941), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) before that.
@Xucaen I profiled Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) above.
My mother, with her younger siblings, was dropped off at the movies by my grandmother while she ran errands. The Andromeda Strain was the only thing playing at the time. My mother was nine years old.
She was traumatized by the epileptic seizure scene, and that scarred her for years.
I just saw Robert Wise’s submarine movie, Run Silent, Run Deep. I highly recommend it.
I can imagine. If I had seen it at the age of 9, I would have been traumatized, too. Yikes!