Friday, November 15, 2013

Reader Top Ten: Greatest Science Fiction Films of the 1970s: David Read

Reader and friend David Read provides our next list of the reader top ten: best science fiction films of the 1970s.

David writes:

"Got your new book on Kindle today, so I will have a read and see how badly my choices have fared!

1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
I only watched this again recently with my 9 year old, and it is still seems fresh.  Spielberg’s ability to generate that childlike sense of awe, excitement and possibility is unrivaled, even if the ending is a little anti-climactic. .  I do enjoy the ambivalence I feel about Dreyfuss’s character though, difficult to like and difficult to dislike, an odd mixture.

2. Dark Star
One of the great things about Carpenter going on to be such a well-known figure, is that films like this don’t get lost, and are given a chance by people who otherwise would consign it to history.  Sure it is creaky and shows it’s budget, but it is very funny, thoughtful and even poignant when it needs to be.  I think the grubby squabbling attitude from our ‘heroes’ was certainly reworked when O’Bannon supplied us with Alien a few years later.

3. The Stepford Wives
I think this film is often overlooked as it is just so slick, a very approachable film, but the end result is devastating.  Having just finished reading  “An English Affair “  by Richard Davenport-Hines, which (whilst following the Profumo scandal that overtook Macmillan) highlights how demeaning many men’s attitudes are towards women were, it hardly seems far-fetched.  I think is the tide of feminism rose in the seventies, a lot of men just wished women could ‘know their place’ and go back to sewing in the corner of the room… and having babies, making them cups of tea, being perfect in bed and the subservient hostess when needed.  This film shows, given a choice, women would have stayed subjugated… or worse…

4. Mad Max
The Road Warrior may be far more fun, but George Miller hit the ground running with this one. He really nailed the whole ‘post apocalyptic’ thing, and the film had a good pace, and with a spartan setting and use of cars, doesn’t fit badly in its budget.  What surprised me on watching it recently was how flat Mel Gibson is, I remembered him as having far more energy in the part, he was certainly improved in the Road Warrior.

5. Westworld
 Relentless, that is the one word I would use to describe this film.  The social commentary, the way man easily slip into abusing those he can are pretty much forgotten as you follow Richard Benjamin’s nerdy Peter escape a seemingly unstoppable Yul Brynner.  On reflection what is odd, given how pacey the end of the film is, and how taut Coma is, that Crichton’s films became so pointless (Runaway) or confusing (Looker). 

6. God Told Me To
 My word New York looks grim in this and it has a great grimy seventies vibe.  Tony LoBianco is credible in the part, even during the increasingly weird ending.  Q the Winged Serpent is probably a better film, it’s certainly more fun, and it has Michael Moriarty, but this film has a strange atmosphere that does stay long after the film finishes.

7. Shivers
Much like the film above, one simply cannot easily forget a film like this.  Not as slick as Rabid, and all the better for it, this is a stark film with an unsettling rhythm and a sense of inevitability following the grim opening scene.  Not going to win any awards for acting though.

8. The Andromeda Strain
 The clinical environment almost overwhelms the film, as everything seems so measured and precise.  Yet, as we see, the failings of the staff and the facility nearly lead to disaster.  It is this sense of control and precision which makes the near disaster seem that much more effective.

9. The Mind of Mr Soames.
 An odd slice of UK Scifi, with a spot on performance from Stamp (and in fairness Davenport and Vaughn).  There is definite good cop and bad cop to Vaughn and Davenport, but also the traditional Mother / Father is there too, and is not Soame’s ‘escape’ not just an early appearance of adolescence.  It is not a perfect film and probably only rates so highly due to the excellent performances.

10.  Alien
The furious retrofitting of Prometheus had soured my perception of this film a little, but watching it again that is forgotten.  Cast is great, design is great, it scares, it convinces and Scott’s film wasn’t pretentious, which is a bonus for his work ;-)

Honorable mentions… I was surprised what I left out.  I watched Omega Man on a nice shiny blu ray and found it (save for the music and the first 10 mins) rather uninspiring.  The messianic gun wielding Chuck was too much for me and the ‘vampires’ decidedly TV movie quality.  Logan’s Run I always found insipid (save for the bit on the operating table). 

Star Wars… it is so hard…. I thoroughly enjoyed it as a young lad, but now, not so much.  The battles still excite, the storm troopers look great and Han Solo is cool, but so much of the rest of it has become rebranded, repositioned and repurposed by Lucas I just have no enthusiasm left.

Otherwise, Punishment Park and No Blade of Grass get a mention… as does Stalker and Time After Time.

David:  Thank you so much for buying my book!  I appreciate it tremendously.

This is an awesome list, with some great "buried" treasures.  I am a big fan of The Mind of Mr. Soames.  Terence Stamp is amazing in that film, playing a man in his thirties who has been in a coma since birth.  But Vaughn's performance is a career-high as well.  The film is positively haunting, without ever becoming over-sentimental or schmaltzy.

I also love that Dark Star made the list.  I reviewed it not too long ago on the blog, and I love that film.  I consider it the initiation of "slacker" sci-fi, and a brilliant inversion of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  And you are absolutely correct in your conclusion, I feel, that it plays a role in the shape, mood, and texture of Alien.

1 comment:

  1. Why did I not think of Time after Time and Dark Star?


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