Friday, May 31, 2013

Superman Week is Coming: June 10 - June 14


Mark your calendar!

June 10th through June 14, 2013 will be Superman Week here on the blog.

In anticipation of The Man of Steel (2013), I'll be posting (relentlessly...) about Superman movies, TV series, and toys/collectibles from Monday thru Friday. Should be a blast...

Don't miss it!


Reader Top Ten Science Fiction Films: Bruce Nims


Reader Bruce Nims contributes a final top ten list for today.  Lists resume tomorrow!

He writes:

"As a caveat, I don't get into boxing a movie into a "sci-fi" category instead of some other genre as I think some of the best movies out there easily cross multiple genres.  (For example, I think you can just as easily argue that Blade Runner is a Film Noir instead of a "sci-fi" movie).

In no particular order, but if there is an overriding theme in my list it is that I feel that each of these movies have been incredibly influential on movies and popular culture (so much so that I think their impact is self-evident):


1)  Alien

2)  Outland

3)  Forbidden Planet

4)  Blade Runner

5)  Star Wars

6)  2001 A Space Odyssey

7)  Close Encounters of the Third Kind

8)  The Matrix
9)  The Thing
10)  The Terminator

Bruce, I am thrilled to see that Outland (1981) made your list.  I am a big fan of that movie, and think it is time to watch it and review it again for the blog.  I feel it was always unfairly dismissed with the "space western" label, when in fact some of the production design is exquisite, and the ideas about corporations very timely.

Well done!

Reader Top Ten Science Fiction Films: Cannon Blaster


The amazing Cannon Blaster, the cat who helped me to re-consider and re-contextualize the 2011 version of The Thing -- and who brilliantly went toe-to-toe with me on Oblivion and Return of the Jedi -- offers his list of top ten SF films.  

As you might suspect, there are some surprises here...

Here's Cannon: 

1. The Thing
2. Alien
3. Blade Runner
4. Jurassic Park
5. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
6. Ghost in the Shell
7. THX 1138
8. Youth Without Youth
9. Forbidden Planet
10. Things to Come
Runner-ups:
2001: A Space Odyssey
Dredd
Starman
Akira
The Terminator
Minority Report
Total Recall
Altered States 
12 Monkeys
Robinson Crusoe on Mars

This is the first list to include THX-1138, a great film from 1971 that likely deserves a stronger showing than it has received.  

I'll confess, I've never seen Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth (2007), but I plan to rectify that oversight immediately...

And it looks like Star Trek: The Motion Picture is having a very strong showing in our tally.  It has made the top ten in quite a few lists at this point...


Reader Top Ten Science Fiction Films: Mike S.


Mike S. contributes our second list for this beautiful Friday, and provides a little tweak on the format:

Here he is:

"Here's my top 10 science fiction list (with a twist).

Lists are easy, but giving yourself limits can be fun. My list is limited to only one movie per decade..."


01. Metropolis (1927)
02. Things to Come (1936)
03. Dr. Cyclops (1940) [hard to pick, sci-fi not a big genre in the 40's ?]
04. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
05. Planet of the Apes (1968)
06. Star Wars (1977)
07. Blade Runner (1982)
08. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
09. Serenity (2005)
10. Looper (2012) [well, so far]

Some hard choices for me, especially in the 60's to 80's period.

And now for my next trick, top 10 science fiction SEQUELS (and only one sequel per franchise)....er, maybe not...


Mike S, I like your self-imposed limit here, although in my opinion, that makes matters way too difficult.  I just saw Looper (2012) a week ago and thought it was great.  I'll be reviewing it this summer on the blog, but suffice it to say...it was amazing.  I agree with you about the 1940s too.  I've made a mental note that not many titles on these lists originates from the decade of film noir...

Reader Top Ten Science Fiction Films: SGB


The great SGB, a frequent comment-writer and regular reader here on the blog this morning offers the first "top" science fiction film list of the day.

Here's SGB:


"I had to jump into this fun.
 
All of these science-fiction films I experienced in theaters beginning as a boy in the '70s, including re-releases in theaters. It is based on both the emotional impact and the milestone of the film at the time of it's original release.  Sorry, I have a top fifteen list.  I just can not 'tie' as they are numbered by importance to me beginning with most important number one.
 
1. Star Trek:The Motion Picture(1979)
2. Planet Of The Apes(1968)
3. Empire Strikes Back(1980)
4. Star Trek II:The Wrath Of Khan(1982)
5. Star Wars(1977)
6. Beneath The Planet Of The Apes(1970)
7. Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea(1954)
8. Escape From The Planet Of The Apes(1971)
9. Alien (1979)
10. Andromeda Strain(1971)


11. The Time Machine (1960)
12. Logan's Run(1976)
13. 2001:A Space Odyssey(1968)
14. Westworld(1973)
15. Silent Running(1972)
 
There is nothing like sitting in the theater with others and experiencing a film."


SGB: I love your final sentiment there, and I agree with it wholeheartedly.  Going to the movies is a magical experience, to be sure. 

I also love your selections.  I grew up with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and still love that film with a passion.  I also appreciate that you express some love for a few of the Planet of the Apes sequels.  I've always thought that the Apes saga had quite a few outstanding installments.  

Cult Movie Review: Moon (2009)


Victor Hugo once wrote that "the greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves or rather loved in spite of ourselves.”

Now imagine a world in which you carry such great happiness and love in your heart, only to discover one day....that it's not true. 


Or more accurately, that it's not yours. It isn't your love at all.  Rather it is an illusion, and the love you carry is but the "property" of someone else, another individual.

In broad terms that's the crux of the understated and haunting Moon (2009), a  science-fiction film starring Sam Rockwell, written by Nathan Parker, and directed by Duncan Jones.



Moon is set in the near future, primarily on a moon base called Sarang that is busy producing Helium-3, the miraculous new energy source needed down here on Earth.

Manning Moonbase Sarang is one lonely, strung-out astronaut, Sam Bell (Rockwell). Sam is rapidly nearing the end of his three year contract, growing a little loopy from passing the hours alone, and he spends much of his day chatting with the base's ambulatory computer/robot, Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey).


But Sam longs to return home to his beautiful wife, Tess, who periodically sends him recorded video messages. Sam also has a beautiful little daughter, Eve, that he misses desperately. In two short weeks, he can resume his life with them, he believes.

That's the only thing he is holding onto.

Sam is so excited about returning to his family that he ignores some odd events going on around him. Like the fact that the large diorama/model he's worked on for 938 hours was actually begun before he arrived at the base. 

Sam also ignores the phantasm of the girl in the yellow dress, and jolting video images of himself that seem to sparkle to life and then vanish on his view screen without rhyme or reason. He doesn't seem to worry much, either, that he can never, ever get a live feed transmission back to planet Earth.

Then, one day, there's an accident on the lunar surface involving one of the powerful energy harvesters. Sam is injured in a lunar rover and suddenly things take a turn for the truly weird. Somehow, Sam is returned safely to Sarang's infirmary.

 Who rescued him? How did he get there? Why can't he remember the specifics of the accident?

Upon recuperation, Sam overhears Gerty talking to officials of the LUNAR Corp. in hushed, conspiratorial tones...even though supposedly there's no available live feed to Earth. Then the officials abruptly decide to send a rescue mission to recover Sam before his tour of duty is over. Why? What is the real reason the enigmatic "Eliza" rescue team is moon bound?

Finally, Sam meets someone on the lunar surface, in the wreck of the lunar rover, and comes to realize that he's been a patsy in someone else's game for a long time. That reality is nothing like he had imagined it to be.


I don't want to write too much more about Moon's plot except to say that it is fascinating, and lives up to Outland's (1981) famous ad-line: "Even in space, the ultimate enemy is still Man."

And that allusion to an older science fiction film -- one set on a moon base orbiting Jupiter -- leads nicely into a discussion of Moon as dedicated homage to the outer space film tradition of the late 1960s-early 1980s.

I'm not talking about the swashbuckling Star Wars adventure tradition here, but something else entirely: the sort of "man alone"-confronting-the-mysteries-of-existence tradition. These are films and TV installments that focus on the details of our near-future space "tech" or hardware, but also on the condition and future of the man who operates it. It's not the holodeck/transporter room/bumpy-headed tradition of latter-day Star Trek, either (not that there's anything wrong with that...). But here, life in space is extremely difficult, and one little mistake means instant death.

Accordingly, Moon references a number of respected older productions. 

Alone on his job, going slightly bonkers, Sam might well be Bruce Dern's Freeman Lowell in Douglas Trumball's Silent Running (1972). 

There, Dern's character -- the only human aboard an agro-freighter called The Valley Forge -- had only three drones (Huey, Dewey and Louie) to converse with and play poker with. Here Sam has the company only of the computer, Gerty. 

Dern's character was also put in the position of disobeying orders and attempting an escape of sorts. Sam's journey mirrors that aspect of Silent Running too.

There's also a reference in Moon to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). 

Remember the scene in Kubrick's masterpiece which featured Dr. Floyd arriving on the space station and telephoning home to wish his daughter a happy birthday? There's a recorded birthday call between Sam and his daughter here too. It's interesting how the same idea is re-purposed in an original way by Jones. In 2001, the phone call represented a marvel of communication: a way for humans to stay close across vast distances. 

In Moon, the call represents precisely the opposite: Sam's distance from his family. The recorded message allows no real back-and-forth. It's only a reminder of what's lost: real-time contact between father and daughter.

And, viewers familiar with Outland (1981) will instantly recognize the over sized, digital countdown clock ticking away to the "rescue" shuttle's arrival at Sarang. 

A similar clock counted down the arrival of a supply shuttle at Io in the older film. But that Outland shuttle was really carrying a team of assassins to murder troublesome Marshal O'Neil (Sean Connery). 

Likewise, the countdown clock serves the same purpose in Moon: building suspense, and carrying assassins bent on murdering poor Sam. In both cases, an individual (O'Neil or Sam) has stepped out of the prescribed order, learned a secret, and must be dealt with before the population-at-large discovers the hidden truth. 

There are even some similarities in shuttle design in the two pictures.

Right down to the smallest details, Moon echoes the outer space thrillers of yesteryear. One Purina-style logo on the computers comes right out of Alien (1979), as does the frequent talk of work "contracts." 

Also, the company LUNAR -- which runs the moon base -- is of English/Asian origin, just like nefarious Weyland-Yutani. 

And Sam's discovery of a body on the lunar surface -- wiping ice away from the face plate of a space suit -- also refers back to a haunting image from the classic Space:1999 (1975-1977) episode titled "Another Time, Another Place," and it's actually the same discovery: the horrifying vision of a corpse that can't possibly be a corpse.

 In that Johnny Byrne episode of Space:1999, the discovery involved alternate worlds and alternate selves. Moon boasts a resonance of the latter element.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the film's plot and resolution come around to echo Blade Runner's (1982) central them: the idea of man playing God with living beings who feel, think...and love; mankind tampering with life-spans, memories, and emotions.

What I found so consistently intriguing and delightful about Moon is that although it indeed alludes to all these great productions of the late 1960s-1980s, it isn't a remake, a re-boot, a re-imagination, a "brand," or a sequel. While cleverly aping the austere, minimalist visual style of 2001Silent Running and Space: 1999, director Jones nonetheless weaves an original and thoughtful narrative.

It's one that -- like Silent Running, Solaris, Blade Runner, etc. -- asks important questions about what it means to be a human being in the technological, "space age."  And Moon also questions whether love is something we can transfer -- perhaps through osmosis, perhaps through programming, perhaps through cloning -- to our creations.

Gerty is one answer to that question. 

Jones teases us throughout the film that Gerty (a robot with a 1970s yellow smiley face screen...) may be as secretive and manipulative as Kubrick's HAL 9000. The truth is somewhat different...and ultimately affecting from an emotional standpoint..

Gerty lives up to his programming, but it's implicit that he's doing something more than that as well. He boasts an (apparent) emotional bond with Sam that goes well beyond company directives and protocols. I mean, the robot understands the concept of self-sacrifice. 

So Moon seems to suggest that man and machine, clone and robot, are more than the sum of their "constructed" parts. 

When we dismiss such things out of hand, it makes us all...less human.  It diminishes us all.

Interestingly, Moon opens by explaining that we have conquered our energy problems. A voiceover narration informs the audience "there was a time when energy was a dirty word," for instance. But after optimistic talk of this great breakthrough, the movie then it goes on to tell Sam's story; a story of a corporation that has made moral compromises to achieve that breakthrough. 

Space:1999 episode of the 1970s ("Dragon's Domain") noted that "space adventuring is terribly expensive" and that "the opportunities" come "one at a time." Moon acknowledges that reality: watching the bottom line, LUNAR has assured that no humans will die on the moon; and that no interruption of the energy flow will occur either. But the way the corporation has achieved this end is both deceitful and immoral.

Moon is a sturdy, introspective, highly-intelligent meditation on the near-future trajectory of humanity. When we go to the stars, how will we treat the men and women who represent the vanguard? How will we replace people who are injured? How will we assure that those astronauts remain psychologically sound during a long span alone, isolated? 

Moon finds answers -- and it also pitfalls -- in LUNAR's solutions.

The film is not a shoot-em-up, it is not a blockbuster, and it is not a crowd-pleaser, either. The location may be "space," but the approach is entirely human; entirely grounded. The last film that attempted this alchemy was Solaris (2002), and I remember how vehemently modern audiences hated, hated, hated it. 

It's easier to tell a sci-if story about light sabers, aliens, and rampaging robots than it is about the condition of the human heart, I suppose. By some way of thinking, Moon is even a love story: an impossible love story.

Moon is a space epic all right, but it is an emotional epic.

And no, that desciption needn't be a contradiction in terms.

Movie Trailer: Moon (2009)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reader Top Ten Science Fiction Films: Roman J. Martel at Roman's Movie Reviews and Musings



Roman J. Martel is the great writer headlining the blog, Roman's Movie Reviews and Musings, and today, he offers his tally for the top ten science fiction films.  

Take it away, Roman:
"As you said, this is a fun question but a tough one. I ended up picking films that had a lasting impact on science fiction as a genre and an impact on film as a whole. Then I put them in order of what I perceived as having the greatest impact.

I’m sure if you asked me again next week it would change, but these were my top ten with a few runners up. Now, if you asked for a list of favorites, it would be a bit different. Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Ghost in the Shell would be much higher on the list.

1. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
2. Metropolis (1926)
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
4. Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
5. Forbidden Planet (1956)
6. Blade Runner (1982)
7. Alien (1979)
8. Akira (1988)
9. Close Encounters of a Third Kind (1977)
10. The Matrix (1999)

Planet of the Apes (1968)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Looking forward to your compiled list this weekend!"

Thanks, Roman.  I love your list, especially for including Metropolis.  I can't wait to start collating the results of this exercise...



Reader Top Ten Science Fiction Films: Meredith


A regular reader, Meredith, contributes an excellent top ten list below.

Here goes:


"No particular order, but these are films that have made a lasting impression on me:

2001: A Space Odyssey 
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Star Wars
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Superman (the first Christopher Reeve film)
Jurassic Park
Jumanji
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (okay, not as good as the BBC incarnation, but still a favorite)
Galaxy Quest
Planet of the Apes (scared me silly the first time I saw it!)"


There are some new and worthy titles on this list.  I took special note of Superman: The Movie (1978), which I grappled with for my own list, and Jurassic Park (1993), undeniably a classic.  Galaxy Quest is also a beloved sci-fi film, and a great comedy, so it's cool to see it here.  Well done!


Reader Top Ten Science Fiction Films: Rob B at Edge of the Fringe


Reader and blogger Rob B. at Edge of the Fringe contributes his top ten list this afternoon. 

Check it out:

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The Thing (1982)
Blade Runner (1982)
The Matrix (1999)
Sunshine (2007)

I am very happy to see Sunshine on the official tally.  It has cracked at least a few "honorable mention" lists, but I believe this is its first appearance in a top ten.  Cool!

Reader Top Ten Science Fiction Films: Robert


A regular reader of the blog, Robert, makes his list, our first for today, and it is filled with intriguing and unconventional choices.  

Check it out:

"Robert’s Top Ten Science Fiction Movies
(in alphabetical order)
Back to the Future (1985): Still as fun and exciting as it was in 1985. 
The Black Hole (1979): Crap science but stunning production design and a creepy, Gothic atmosphere. It's almost like a haunted house movie in space.  And don't forget that insane ending.
Children of Men (2006): An incredibly powerful, deeply moving film.  An allegory of our times.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): Up there with Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark as Spielberg's best.  All those faces looking up in wonder.  Spellbinding.
Flash Gordon (1980): Hail Flash!
Planet of the Apes (1968): Best twist ending ever.  A movie featured twice this season on Mad Men!
Starman (1984): Poignant and soulful.  I love the scene in the truck-stop parking lot where Jeff Bridges's alien resurrects the deer strapped to the back of the car.

They Live (1988): An indictment of the Reagan era that still resonates today.              

Time After Time (1979): A great cat-and-mouse chase across time.
The Time Machine (1960): Fascinating in that most of the action takes place in a man's back garden--over a period of 800, 000 years." 
I just want to say I give serious kudos to a list that includes two dramatically underrated John Carpenter films (Starman, They Live), and pays respect to two incredibly popular films from my generation, Flash Gordon and The Black Hole.  Well-done!

The X-Files Promos: "Colony" and "End Game"




Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Reader Top Ten Science Fiction Films: Jeffrey Siniard



Our final list for today (with more coming up tomorrow and Friday...) comes from Jeffrey Siniard, and it has some great selections that we haven't seen before.

Starship Troopers (1997) -- a caustic satire of nationalist propaganda -- is here to represent the works of Verhoeven, and I also appreciate that Gilliam's mind-bending 12 Monkey's (1995) made the list.  Both are solid and worthwhile choices.  

Here's Jeffrey:

"Here's my list for Science Fiction films. I decided only to list films I've actually seen, along with some honorable mentions and films that I need to watch.


Note: I understand the lasting impact and influence of Star Wars is incredible, especially it's special effects, pacing, and it's status as the original blockbuster, but it's really not Science Fiction to me (more like Fantasy, where it would be close to #1).  Also, if I'm picking a Star Wars film, I'd want the best one - which I think is The Empire Strikes Back. Anyway, onto the list...



Top Ten (no particular order after #1)



#1     2001: A Space Odyssey    


    Forbidden Planet

    Starship Troopers
    Alien
    Planet of the Apes (1968)
    Silent Running
    The Matrix
    12 Monkeys
    Blade Runner
    Close Encounters of the Third Kind



Honorable Mention



    Gattaca
    A.I. Artificial Intelligence
    Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
    Prometheus
    The War of the Worlds (1953)
    Aliens
    The Abyss (Director's Cut)
    Solaris (2002)
    Sunshine
    The Terminator
    Terminator 2: Judgement Day
    Moon
    
On the "to watch" List



    Solaris (1972)
    Metropolis
    Brazil
    District 9
    Things to Come
    Logan's Run
    Destination Moon"

Reader Top Ten Science Fiction Films: Le0pard13 at It Rains...You Get Wet.


Le0pard13 at the blog It Rains...You Get Wet, is one of my favorite film writers on the net, and a great friend to boot.  Last year he compiled a top ten sci-fi films list at his blog, and I want to include his excellent choices in our tally.

So here is Le0pard13's list:

1. Blade Runner (1982)
2.2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
3. Planet of the Apes (1968)
4. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
5. Star Wars (1977)
6. Alien (1979)
7. Forbidden Planet (1956)
8. The Matrix(1999)
9.Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
10.Children of Men (2006)

This is (I think...) the first list that has Blade Runner (1982) in the number one slot, and that's a great choice.  My top twenty would include Alien, Blade Runner and Prometheus -- a veritable Ridley Scott-a-thon.


Reader Top Ten Science Fiction Film Lists: David Fullam


Reader David Fullam tallies up his top ten SF films, below, with some explanations:


"Here is the list of the ten I find to be the best. This WAS NOT easy by any means. Picking only 10 was a pain and several classics were left out. 



1. 2001-A Space Odyssey.
2. The Day The Earth Stood Still (Original).
3. Space Runaway Ideon-Be Invoked.
4. Forbidden Planet.
5. Andromeda Strain.
6. Silent Running.
7. Things to Come.
8. War of the Worlds (George Pal version).
9. Invaders From Mars (Original).
10. Mobile Suit Gundam 3-Reunion in Space.


Just missing out were Blade Runner, Metropolis, Star Trek 2-The Wrath of Khan, The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars and The Thing From Another World. I feel that Alien and the Carpenter version of The Thing are actually Horror films. I tried to limit it to what I feel is straight up Science Fiction, which is why classics like THEM and Godzilla (1954) are not here. I think they veer more towards Monster movies."

Great list, David!  I also seriously pondered The Andromeda Strain, Things to Come and Silent Running, so I'm happy to see all those titles made your list.  Your anime choices -- I must admit -- are not from my field of expertise, but I'm dipping my toe into anime with Star Blazers at the moment (and have already watched Evangelion).  I'm intrigued by the title of these, so I will definitely check them out at some point.

Also, this is the first time that Invaders from Mars has made the list!  Cool.  I love the expressive production design in that Menzies film.  The whole film takes on a child's eye perspective in an amazing fashion.

And readers: don't forget, I'll be posting reader top tens through Friday, and then tallying up all the votes by the weekend. So send me those lists at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com

Readers Top Ten Science Fiction Films List: Ampersand


A regular reader and commenter, Ampersand offers his top ten list below.

"Disclaimer: Ask me again tomorrow and you might get 10 different films, but I think over time these are the ones that I'd pick most often. Presented in alphabetical order:

1. Alien (with honours to its spiritual predecessor, Dark Star)

2. Blade Runner (pretty much any of the various versions; they all have their strengths)

3. Forbidden Planet (without which we might not have Star Trek or Star Wars or ...)

4. James Whale's Frankenstein / Bride of Frankenstein (I justify including this as one movie if only because the combined runtime of the two movies is less than that of most individual movies today)

5. The Iron Giant ("I am not a gun.")

6. Slaughterhouse-Five

7. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (of all the ST movies, this is both the closest in spirit to and a thoughtful critique of The Original Series)

8. Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope if you must -- I personally think the sequels and prequels led to increasingly diminishing returns, but nothing beats the original for evoking the sheer excitement of space opera)

9. John Carpenter's The Thing (which I do consider sci-fi, although it's also a damn fine horror movie)

10. 2001: A Space Odyssey

Looking over my selections, I'd like to say that there's an overall connecting theme involving an implicit or explicit discussion of the nature of storytelling ... but that might just me being pretentious.

Anyway, thanks for your great blog, and thanks for giving us a chance to play along!"

My pleasure, Ampersand.  

And you played very well, indeed!  I am a fan of The Iron Giant, and I actually have Slaughterhouse Five at home here (from Netflix) so I can review it for my upcoming book, Science Fiction Films of the 1970s,   I have never seen it before, so seeing it on your list is great serendipity.

I am also happy to see Alien atop the list!


20 Years Ago: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

After the box office disappointment and mixed critical notices of  Mars Attacks!  (1996), director Tim Burton returned to theaters in...