Saturday, June 22, 2013

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Film Characters: William Johnson of The Paxton Configuration

William Johnson, my friend and a great blogger at The Paxton Configuration, submits his list of top ten greatest science fiction movie characters.

Will writes:

"10. Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters (has there every been a funnier sci-fi hero?)

9. Commander William T. Riker, TNG (One word: beard)

8. Caesar, Conquest/Battle for the POTA (made one great and one bad movie much better by sheer force of will and an inspired, anti-Cornelius performance by Roddy McDowall)

7. Marty McFly, Back to the Future (my true hero as a kid)

6. Optimus Prime, Animated Transformers/The Movie (not the Bay version. Everyone from my generation needs no explanation)

5. T-1000, T2: Judgment Day (Robert Patrick is so chilling in this role ... and so effective on screen AND off, that he has to be on this list)

4. Ellen Ripley, Alien, Aliens, et al (I think all four Alien films are great ... yes, even Resurrection ... and the main reason for that is the every-woman quality that Ripley is ... she is, essentially, us ... but she can pilot big robot things).

3. Roy Batty, Blade Runner (a truly breathtaking performance by the never-been-better Rutger Hauer who took what could have been a cardboard cutout and created discussion for years)

2. Mike Nelson, MST3K (I originally would put Joel Robinson here but he never got to star in a/the movie. I wouldn't be interested in movies, books, space, comedy, writing, puppetry, politics ... anything ... without Joel or Mike however!)

1. Fox Mulder, The X-Files (hardly any fictional character in ANY genre made me want to believe what he wanted to believe)

I think Fox Mulder is a great choice, a character who continued to develop on the big screen (in 1998 and 2008), and who has come to embody, for many movie and TV fans, a whole belief system.  It's also incredibly cool that Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters made the final tally!

Also, I played with the idea of adding Caesar to my list.  He was close to the top ten for me.  I always thought Roddy McDowall made a special effort to differentiate Caesar from his turns as Cornelius.  He gave two great performances in the role.

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Film Characters: Pierre Fontaine

Writer, illustrator and scholar Pierre Fontaine contributes his top ten greatest science fiction film characters below.  He writes:

"I've been sitting this one out because I'm having a very hard time distinguishing between Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror characters.  So many films blur the lines.  If the category was larger than King Kong would certainly be on the top of the list.  Many of my favorite film characters are from fantasy films, many of whom were derived from book series.

Therefore, I want to limit myself to one character per film (since it would be easy to populate much of the list with Planet Of The Apes characters).  I'm also trying hard to not include film characters who originated from Sci-Fi TV shows, otherwise I'd easily include characters from the Star Trek series.

My list of favorite Sci-Fi film characters is:

1. HAL 9000 - 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. George Taylor - The Planet Of The Apes
3. Freeman Lowell - Silent Running
4. Luke Skywalker - Star Wars
5. Robby The Robot - Forbidden Planet
6. Dr. Charles Forbin - Colossus: The Forbin Project
7. Old Man - Logan's Run
8. Ellen Ripley - Alien series
9. Roy Neary - Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
10. Detective Thorne - Soylent Green

This list represents the first time we've seen two Heston characters on the top ten list (Taylor and Thorne), and the "Old Man" from Logan's Run makes his first appearance.   Also it looks like today is the day for some Robby the Robot love, which is entirely appropriate...

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Film Characters: Bruce Nims

Reader Bruce Nims shares his list of greatest science fiction film characters below.  Bruce writes:

"Here is my Top 10 list of Sci-Fi Characters of all time!  (Drum roll please!)
  1. Darth Vader (not counting the prequels where Lucas seemingly did the impossible and ruin the greatest movie villain of all time).  - Seriously, has there ever been a more iconic villain than good old Darth?   Has there ever been a more amazing introduction to a villain than Darth?  Has there ever been a more quoted villain than Darth?  Well if you don’t agree with my points then, "I find your lack of faith disturbing."  Darth Vader, especially in Empire Strikes Back, has no peer in my opinion in the pantheon of movie villains.
  1. Han Solo - (ignoring Return of the Jedi of course and the silly "Special Editions" that were anything but).  The perfect embodiment of cool and yes HE SHOT FIRST and I'm okay with that and Lucas should be as well.  The fact that he was a stone cold killing bad ass and then developed into part of the core of the rebel alliance and a trusted leader is something we call a “Character Arc”.  Look it up George.
  1. Ripley (Alien & Aliens only).   Not only one of the best written characters in Sci-Fi history but one of the best written characters in cinema history.  Endlessly copied now but all copies are a pale imitation of the real thing. 
  1. T-800 (aka The Terminator).  In the first movie, gives Vader a run for his money as greatest villain ever.  In the second movie, becomes the greatest protector ever in a movie and shows a level of heroism and humanity that you would not expect from a machine originally programmed to kill.
  1. Marshall William O’Neil (from the criminally underappreciated Outland).  This movie is full of amazing characters but Sean Connery’s portrayal of a world (space) weary Federal Marshall who decides that he is tired of looking the other way while as the gears of corruption continue to turn around him and decides to take a stand.  Frankly, I think its Connery’s best acting ever.
  1. Dr. Lazarus (also from the criminally underappreciated Outland).  A lost soul stuck in a soulless place.  Dr. Lazarus’s sharp wit and mind find a natural ally in Marshall O’Neil and this causes her to find the hero within herself forming a great arc from a great character.
  1. Mark Sheppard (also from the criminally underappreciated Outland).  The villain of the ConAm mining operation featured in Outland is frankly one of the most interesting villains I have seen in any movie.  Peter Boyle’s best performance.  Mark Sheppard is a jovial man and the kind of guy who is everyone’s friend, but just beneath the surface (though our intrepid hero Marshall O’Neil has a knack of breaking through that surface) is a special type of evil and menace.  The kind doesn’t care who he hurts (or kills) to get ahead in the rat race.  Carter Burke (from Aliens) without the expensive suit.  A blue collar worker with a black heart.
  1. T-1000 (aka “Liquid Metal” from Terminator 2).  Another villain that gives Vader a run for this money and easily once of the biggest menaces in movie history.   Casting a very long shadow over the entirety of the movie and actually made you think that Arnold (aka the T-800) was vulnerable.  (Which you have to admit is a neat hat trick to pull off!).  Completely steals every scene he is in and you never for a second think that he is anything less than the perfect killing machine.
  1. Corporal Hudson (“he’s Hicks sir, I’m Hudson”).  Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Game over man, game over!”, but bear with me.  Besides the fact, that he is basically a whiny coward who loses his cool in the worse way possible (“oh this is just great man, just great!”).  Besides the fact that he is really not a very good person (“Hey Vasquez, has anyone ever mistaken you for man?”).  Hudson is the character we all related to when we watched that movie.  We all wanted to be quietly heroic like Hicks. We all wanted to be smart and resourceful like Bishop.  We all wanted to be unrelenting and strong like Ripley.  But when we all watched that movie, the character we related to was Hudson because we couldn’t be Hicks, Bishop or Ripley.  He was the one who represented how we, as an audience, would have reacting if we found ourselves in that situation (“Sarge is dead man, let’s get the f___ outta here!”).  That is why he is so memorable.  That is why we still quote him incessantly to this day.  That is why he was so damn funny!  (None of his lines were funny because they were objectively funny lines; they were funny because as an audience he was speaking our truth.  We he says, “Game over man game over” we are laughing because we are saying “Yeah, no shit buddy, we are screwed here!”) That is why he has made such an impact on us as a character.  Almost ALL of the quotable dialogue from ALIENS that exists to this day comes from Hudson.  (The notable exception of course is Ripley’s “Get away from her you bitch!”). 
  1. Yoda (Empire Strikes Back only).  The puppet that acted better than anyone else in the movie.  (Seriously, can anyone argue with that fact?)  Endlessly deep, beautifully written, and with amazing dialogue made us all believe that we were dealing with a real entity.  None of us saw a bunch of rubber on the end of some guys arm.  None of saw a passable special effect.  We saw Yoda.  We saw a Jedi Master.  We believed he was real in every single frame of the movie.   Looking back now from the age of CGI it is still amazing how effective and REAL Yoda is in ESB
Honorable mentions (and frankly all of these deserve to make the top 10 but I had to cut somewhere):

1.      Agent Smith
2.      HAL 9000
3.      Riddick
4.      Sarah Connor
5.      Corporal Hicks
6.      Kyle Reese (The Terminator only)
7.      James Tiberius Kirk (from Wrath of Khan)
8.      Khan Noonien Singh (from Wrath of Khan)
9.      Mad Max (from The Road Warrior)
10.    Mr. Spock

I must say, I love that Bruce boasts such a passion for Outland (1981), a film I absolutely adore, and which I actually purchased this very week on blu ray, since my old laserdisc player is now defunct.  I can’t wait to watch the movie again, even though I must have seen it approximately fifty times.  I agree that it is criminally under-appreciated.

I also like the unconventional choice of Hudson from Aliens (1986).  He is a great character, and in any other movie, he would likely be THE GREATEST character.  But Aliens is filled with tremendous characters, including Ripley, Bishop, Hicks, Newt, Vasquez and Hudson.  How to choose?

Great list, Bruce!

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Film Characters: Duanne Walton

Reader Duanne Walton sends in his list of ten greatest science fiction film characters.  He writes:

"Okay. After much deliberation, here are my choices:

1. Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader (Star Wars saga)

2. Godzilla (Godzilla series)

3. R2-D2 (Star Wars saga)

4. Superman (Superman series)

5. E.T. (E.T. the Extra Terrestrial)

6. Spock (Star Trek series)

7. Klaatu (The Day the Earth Stood Still)

8. Colonel Taylor (Planet of the Apes)

9. Robby the Robot (Forbidden Planet)

10. The T-800 (The Terminator series)"

I love Duanne's list because he acknowledges the importance of Anakin Skywalker in the Darth Vader equation. 

I fully realize that the prequels aren't widely popular with my generation (though my son, who is six, loves them...), but one of the joys of marathon watching all six Star Wars film in one sitting is tracking the journey of Anakin, from childhood to adulthood, from fall to redemption.    The Star Wars saga is the saga of Anakin Skywalker, so it make sense that he should be listed as one of the genre's enduring characters, despite the fact he was played by a variety of actors, and seen at different ages (and in different guises).

Also, this is the first time that Robby the Robot has made a top ten list!   He also deserves his slot, I would say, considering how many people, of various generations associate the word "robby" with the word "robot."

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Film Characters: Ampersand

Reader Ampersand returns for our first Reader Top Ten List of Saturday.

Ampersand writes:

“Wow. This was an even bigger challenge than picking 10 films. I finally got a handle on it when I decided to limit my list to science fiction characters, as distinct from characters from science fiction films. So, good-bye Captain Kirk, Malcolm Reynolds, and R.J. MacReady, who are all great characters, but are essentially ordinary men facing extraordinary circumstances. And hello to:

1.      Mr. SpockStill the face of filmed sci-fi to many, he's followed a (*ahem*) fascinating arc from TOS through the original movies through TNG and finally into the reboots. Truly alien, yet genuinely human.
2.      King Kong (1933 version). I'm a sucker for tragic monsters, and Kong beats even Frankenstein's creation in this department. Plus, it's still possible to watch this 80-year-old (!) flick and forget that Kong is a special effect (something which I'm sad to say can't be said about the Peter Jackson version.)

(The rest of the list is presented in chronological order.)

Maria the robot, Metropolis. Created less than 7 years after the word "robot" was coined, but in many ways the template for so many "mechanical men" that followed (I'm looking at you, C-3P0). And Brigitte Helm is the very embodiment of Norma Desmond's "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!"

HAL 9000, 2001. Another tragic monster, and maybe the most human character in the movie.

Billy Pilgrim, Slaughterhouse-Five.  Simultaneously naif and sage. "Hello, farewell. Hello, farewell."

Ellen Ripley, Alien franchise. Interestingly, if she'd only been in the first two (best) movies, I would have had to disqualify her as per my above criteria (though she still would have been a favourite character). But her story in the 3rd and 4th movies push her squarely into sci-fi territory (and is the best aspect of those films).

Rick Deckard, Blade Runner. Of course he was a replicant ...

Dr. Brian O'Blivion, Videodrome. A good representative of much of David Cronenberg's early work, and eerily prescient for 1983: "The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye."

Sam Bell, Moon. Sure, there have been plenty of other explorations of the nature of identity. But I don't think many of them have brought as much humanity to them as Sam Rockwell.

Joe, Looper. Nitpick about the plot holes if you must, but how often do you get to see one character play anti-hero, hero, and villain in the same movie,and remain sympathetic in each role?

Once again, ask me again tomorrow and my list might change. And, once again, thanks to you, John, for letting us speak our piece (and incidentally, allow me to give a few shout-outs to movies that didn't make my last top ten list).

Ampersand, I am thrilled to see that King Kong made the list as a great film character.  The cinema has returned to him in two remakes, a Japanese incarnation, and even a sequel (King Kong Lives).  The noble beast, the champion of Skull Island, certainly deserves a nod.

I’m also excited to see the cinema’s earliest robot, Maria, make your tally.  There’s something to be said for “influence” when compiling these sort of lists, and no one can argue that Metropolis didn’t help to shape nearly a century of genre films. 

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Star Trek: The Animated Series: "The Infinite Vulcan" (October 20, 1973)

STARDATE: 5554.4

At the periphery of the galaxy, the U.S.S. Enterprise discovers a world with an incredibly advanced city on its surface.

Soon, the landing party (consisting of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy and Mr. Sulu) encounters highly-intelligent plant beings called Phylosians.  Their leader, Agmar, cures Mr. Sulu when he is stung by a dangerous (and ambulatory) native plant.

Before long, however, the Phylosians capture Mr. Spock and take him to their “master,” a giant humanoid named Dr. Stavos Keniclus 5. Keniclus is the clone of a scientist who lived during the time of the Eugenics Wars, and is presumed to have died some 250 years earlier.

Now, Keniclus desires to build a giant clone of Mr. Spock who can police the galaxy as a kind of genetically perfect law enforcement official.  He believes that this army of giant Spocks will represent a new “master race.”

But the creation of a giant Spock clone will bring death to the original…

Walter Koenig contributes the script to this week’s adventure on Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973 – 1974) and no one can accuse the man -- Mr. Chekov -- of not knowing his Star Trek lore.  

This episode features call backs to “Space Seed,” with the Augment nature of the villain from Earth’s past, as well as to “Is There in Truth No Beauty,” the episode that introduced the Vulcan IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations). 

The episode also remembers Mr. Sulu’s love of botany, and gives the Japanese helmsman more to do than simply sit at the helm and press buttons.

And, the resolution to the crisis involves a well-established Star Trek concept: the Vulcan mind-touch (or mind-meld), but this time applied by Spock's clone.  

Despite these terrific Star Trek details, “The Infinite Vulcan” is not one of the more highly-regarded episodes of the program, and that may be because of two prime factors. 

The first is that there is no reason why an army of Spock clones needs to be twenty-five feet tall.  How will they board spaceships, for one thing?   It’s a very juvenile concept: a “giant” version of Mr. Spock.  And Star Trek: The Animated Series was already battling the perception that it was made primarily for children, so this doesn’t help.

Secondly, “The Infinite Vulcan” never explains why, precisely, Dr. Keniclus considers Mr. Spock genetically perfect, and therefore superior to a man that he could create, using genetic engineering.
Come to think of it, Keniclus doesn’t even create or engineer any life at all in this episode.  He merely clones it and renders it gigantic. 

Furthermore, Spock is a mix of human and Vulcan DNA, but “The Infinite Vulcan” doesn’t explain why this genetic make-up is desirable or perfect.  What makes him ideal compared to Khan?  Is it his application of logic to every situation?  If so, that’s a learned behavior, not a genetic trait.

In other words, it feels totally random or arbitrary that Keniclus would capture Spock and determine him “perfect,” especially by his 21st century human standards.

These not inconsiderable problems of believability make “The Infinite Vulcan” less enjoyable, perhaps, than it could be. 

Yet the episode’s denouement -- which sees Keniclus re-directing his energy to saving the peaceful, intelligent and highly-advanced Phylosian race -- is absolutely Star Trek at its best.  The Enterprise doesn’t punish or kill Keniclus for his hostile actions. 

Instead, he is given a second chance, and therefore the opportunity for redemption…

Next Week: “The Magicks of Megas-Tu.”

Friday, June 21, 2013

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Film Characters: Eric Kennedy

Reader Eric Kennedy shares with us his list of top ten greatest science fiction characters.

He writes:

1. Luke Skywalker.  I am more a fan of Han Solo and the cool factor associated with Boba Fett, but Luke Skywalker was what made Star Wars when I was a kid.  As I got older, I appreciated the genius of Alec Guinness and the complexity of Darth Vader, but Luke Skywalker was Star Wars before it was over analyzed.

2.Snake Plissken.  John Carpenter took a Disney actor and made him into the quintessential anti hero.  

3. Roy Batty.  Such a great example of humanity, both bad and good.

4. Aragorn.  The big budget digital age epics brought a hero that goes largely unnoticed.

5. Dutch.  Predator was one of the biggest sci-fi action movies of 80s and starred the biggest star at the time.   A true action hero in a classic sci -fi movie.

6. Khan.  Underrated.  Sheldon Cooper's favorite villain will always be one of mine.  His maniacal thirst for vengeance is hard to equal.

7.Tony Stark/ Iron Man.  This is a B level comic hero that became the driving force of the current action/sci-fi movies, Robert Downey jr found the role of a lifetime, playing himself as a genius billionaire.

8. Ellen Ripley.  What more can be said that has not been echoed on many of the lists, but I prefer my Ripley yelling at Hudson if I get to choose.

9. Johnathon E. Rollerball was one of my favorite 70s sci-fi movies and I liked the individual vs the state/business aspect of a future society better then in the other "social commentary" films of the 70s.  

10. Max Rockatansky.  Mad Max may have put him on the map, but The Road Warrior made Mel Gibson a star.  And Max was more of an every-man then a hero trying to get by in an apocalyptic wasteland.

I am happy to see Dutch from Predator on this list.  I think that character represents one of Arnie's best performances.  Also, it's great to see Rollerball's (1975) Jonathan E. (James Caan) remembered.

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Film Characters: David Read

Reader and writer David Read is the author of our nest "top ten greatest science fiction film characters list," and he's got some great choices.

David writes:

1. Bernard Quatermass - Quatermass and the Pit

I love the mixture of compassion and steel that make up Quatermass, surely the ideal scientist!.  Andrew Keir did a much better job than Brian Donlevy at marrying the two, and this helps the film immensely.

2. R.J. MacReady -The Thing

Everything changes, everything is malleable, no one is who they seem. Except MacReady.. Unchanging.  he starts the film as a sullen uncompromising loner, and ends the film the same ... Well maybe the same. . . In a film of bleak desolation, the only light is the stubborn resistance he brings.

3. Dr. Ellie Arroway - Contact

At the heart of every SciFi fan is a dream of the WOW.. We may enjoy dystopian futures, ravenous aliens and epic laser battles... But in that moment as Ellie's space journey pauses and she hangs above a galaxy, the wonder and emotion in her eyes is so powerful, we would give anything to witness that reality.. to be a teenager reading Sci Fi for the first time and going... WOW

4. Darryl Revok - Scanners.  

I know people refer to it as the exploding head movie, but it's really the Michael Ironside movie.  If the good guy had been on par with the baddie, this would have been a great film.  Ironside owns the film, and seems to give Revok depth (certainly compared to Stephen Lack!) and one really can't help liking him.  One of the best eighties bad guys, and a great calling card for Ironside

5. Ellen Ripley - Aliens

You have to have Ripley, but only in Cameron's matriarchal masterpiece. Before, more passive than protagonist ... After, just tough, but for one movie... Perfection.

6. Arthur Dent - Hitch Hikers Guide

Ok, so the film is probably the least of the versions available, but Martin Freeman did a grand job in bringing the universes finest whinger to life... The future might be full of Ellen Ripleys... But I suspect there will be more Arthur Dents, confused every-men in need if a cup of tea.

7. Morbius - Forbidden Planet.

Villain or victim? Sci fi's Prospero deserves a mention.. The film still looks great today, and I remember as a kid how much his creature from the id scared me.

8. Maximillian -The Black Hole 

If memorable is a keyword here, the Maximillian has to be in my list.    I am not sure how old I was, but he scared the hell out of me an I had nightmares about red eyes and spinning blades.  I realise he is probably the only memorable thing in this somewhat tedious film, but this vil robot is burned in my memory

9. Sam Lowry - Brazil

If there is a future where the corporations truly are the gods of the planet, someone needs a conscience, a whistleblower, man unbowed, we need Sam Lowry more than ever.

10. Stella Star - Starcrash

If there are millions of alternate universes, I hope Stella is in one of them... After all, what would a universe be like without Caroline Munro...

David has some great choices on this list.  I love to see that Stella Star made the cut, but especially Quatermass...such an influential character on film and television.  And, I also really love that Maximillian is on this list as well.  That flying robot is a devil, and everyone who saw The Black Hole (1979) as a kid has been terrorized by the sight of that machine (and his whirring, propeller hands...) Maximillian is so frightening that even his maker, Reinhardt feared him.  A great, enduring, and unforgettable character.

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Film Characters: Gordon Roberts of Musings of a Sci-Fi Fanatic

Gordon Roberts' genre blog, Musings of a Sci-Fi Fanatic is one of my Internet reading addictions.  He covers the classic (like UFO, Space:1999 and Lost in Space) and the new, such as Fringe (which I'm still trying to warm to...), with great passion and insight.  He also introduced my family to a film my son loves: My Neighbor Totoro.

I am thrilled that today Gordon is providing his top-ten greatest science fiction characters list.

Here's Gordon:

" Runner Up:

Chewbacca (Star Wars; I made my own crossbow like weapon out of wood as a child.  Chewie rocked).

Private William Hudson (Aliens) and Chet Donnelly (Weird Science) (Bill Paxton nails these unforgettable characters with limited screen time - phenomenal)

The Top Ten:
10. Gamera (Gamera films; Let's kick things off with the other favorite big G and sci-fi mon-star)

9. Bowen Tyler (The Land The Time Forgot and The People That Time Forgot; Doug McLure is the man's man and B film action star) 

8. Wikus van de Merwe (District 9; Sharlto Copley may seem an unlikely choice maybe, but the character arc and performance is wonderful and rarely seen in a single sci-fi film)

7. Darth Vader (Star Wars trilogy; the perfect villain- the voice of James Earl Jones is heaven) 
6. Ellen Ripley (The Alien legacy - Sigourney Weaver was a powerhouse with a terrific arc)

5. Roy Batty (Blade Runner; "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe." Another perfect villain made perfect by Rutger Hauer)

4. Agent Smith (The Matrix trilogy; one of the best villains ever made and all thanks to Hugo Weaving)

3. Mad Max (Mad Max trilogy; Mel Gibson pretty much owns the screen in anything but the Mad Max trilogy amazes)

2. Cornelius (Planet Of The Apes films; There was something sensitive and just perfect about Roddy McDowall in this role; When I was a kid I wanted to be Cornelius)

1. Godzilla (the Godzilla films; and a character Godzilla is ... monster or not, plenty of personality there across a massive index)
It was fun putting it together.  Most of my choices yielded from film series giving the character a more generous character arc and depth, but there are a few exceptions.  All of them are immensely fun to watch over and over."

I would tip my hat to any top ten list that includes Doug McClure from the two Caprona films of the mid-1970s directed by the great Kevin Connor, but I absolutely love the fact that Gordon has selected Godzilla as his number one choice.  

I was watching Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) the other day, and it struck me again how Godzilla is the James Bond of his own film series, down to the title pop tunes, rotating villains, and his familiar personal characteristics.  Awesome choice.

I am also pleased to see Cornelius make a top ten list.  He's a great character who, perhaps, is too often overshadowed by Taylor, Zaius or Dr. Zira.

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Film Characters: Meredith Girard

My friend and reader Meredith Girard shares with the blog our first top ten list of SF film characters of Friday:

Meredith writes:

1) Wall-E
2) R2-D2 & C3PO
3) Huey, Duey, and Luey, from Silent Running
4) HAL
5) Khan from The Wrath of Khan
6) Superman (Christopher Reeves)
7) John Carter (from last summer's under-rated movie)
8) Spock (both incarnations)
9) Amelia Earhart (Night at the Museum)
10) Darth Vader

I love that John Carter gets a slot  I thought about including him as well, given how much I loved last summer's (underrated) movie.  

If I'm not mistaken, this list is also the first time that Khan appears on a list, which is a surprise, considering that the character has been elevated to the franchise's number one threat, seen in both Khan and Into Darkness.   

Also, I'm happy to see that Superman made the list, as he's on mine, as well...

Cult Movie Review: Somewhere in Time (1980)

Very often, it seems that science fiction films are designed and mounted with a hard technological edge. It's easy to detect why this is so, and I imply no criticism of the fact.  Part of the genre's bailiwick is the innovation of new tools and hardware, to carry us into space, through time, or just improve day-to-day existence here on earth.

Understandably, the specific visual nature of the cinema offers the perfect opportunity to showcase state-of-the-art special effects, fancy modern vehicles, bizarre costumes and colorful flourishes. And the movie -- a medium primarily of action and movement (hence the descriptor "moving pictures") -- also lends itself organically to physical conflict: car chases, fisticuffs, sword-fights and the like.

Yet the upshot of this fact is that it's much easier to imagine a science fiction film about laser swords, superheroes, and transforming robot armies than one authentically about the mysteries of the human heart. A reliance on instrumentation (the camera) results to a large degree in a genre medium about instrumentation (batmobiles, HAL, atom bombs, etc.)

By explicit contrast, stories of the heart are always more difficult to dramatize...and downright chancy. The looming danger in crafting a truly emotional and romantic genre film is that by necessity it appeals to the emotions, not the intellect. 

And, well, some hearts are irrevocably...cold.

To the cynical, mocking ear, sweet nothings and other deeply-held admissions of romantic affection -- shared between gazing and swooning lovers -- can sound alarmingly purple in perfectly-tuned stereo. These days, we love to say that such things are "campy" or "corny" if they make a direct appeal to the heart. Witness the backlash against Titanic (1997). Recall the accusing, snickering, pointed-fingers over Anakin's "sand" speech to Amidala in Attack of the Clones (2002). These days, it's so much easier to blow-up romantic leads like Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight (2008) than to write heartfelt romantic dialogue for them.

Why is this so? A couple reasons. But when it comes down to it, it may be this: love is a deeply personal thing, isn't it? An emotion shared between two; one not easily transmitted between the masses via a technological medium. Film, after all, is homogenized, collaborative...technical. As an audience -- as a mob even -- we are primed to laugh, shriek and gasp. But not necessarily, to open ourselves up; to peel away our defenses.

Yet by the same token, who can truly deny that the best movies in history -- like real love itself --transcend such barriers of the medium and seem...magical. How intellectual, for instance, is "chemistry" between two actors? How is that chemical relationship quantified in scientific terms? Film records it; film registers it; film captures it. But people (the actors involved) make it happen. Sometimes between the lines.

I raise this meditation on love and film in regards to Somewhere in Time (1980), the romantic film based on Richard Matheson's 1975 novel Bid Time Return

The premise is simply that a lonely, empty man, a writer named Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) falls in love with a photograph of a radiant, long-dead stage actress, Elise, McKenna (Jane Seymour). He becomes so consumed with her gorgeous, winsome image, in fact, that he actually hypnotizes himself into time traveling from 1980 to court her.

In other words, this science-fiction film is one romantic notion constructed upon another romantic notion, constructed upon another one. For some viewers in today's caustic pop culture, perhaps this is simply too much to accept.

Gazing across the vast swath of time travel films, the queue is replete with efforts that boast epic, earth-shattering concerns. 

What if the time traveler changes our past? 

What if history is altered? 

What if one action in the past changes everything that we have come to know? 

Indeed, this is the beauty, opportunity, and terrain of time travel films as a format.

Yet, Somewhere in Time differentiates itself from the temporal pack by brushing aside such cosmic concerns. Here we are simply drawn into another life; another world....all because of love. 

There are no explicit conversations in the film about paradoxes, about time machines, or about any of the time travel boilerplate we've come to expect from the sub-genre. Rather, this film asks us to ponder a love so powerful, so out of-the-ordinary, that it goes beyond the veil of our reality. This element imbues Somewhere in Time with some sense of the spiritual; of the longing for the impossible in our everyday lives.

A lush, impossibly affecting score from John Barry serves as our constant companion on this voyage to the distant world of 1912. The setting, a picturesque Grand Hotel, is romantic in and of itself, and the time period -- the last age of innocence and simplicity before the first "technological" war (World War I) -- also evokes feelings of innocence, simplicity and lyricism. It is a world without e-mail, social media, or television. Without cell phones or other modern distractions. 

Against this backdrop, a man of the present and a woman of the past fall in love before our eyes. And this is where you either accept the story the film wants to vet; or you denounce it as cheesy and corny.

And of course, some romance literature and film is legitimately cheesy. But that's because it's done poorly. I don't believe that's the case with Somewhere in Time

Specifically, director Jeannot Szwarc has crafted his film with a subtle sense of visual classicism. Many of his compositions, particularly one involving the lovers, a lighthouse, the ocean and a beached rowboat, evoke real paintings from the film's historical era. 

For another thing, Szwarc marshals his camera in a stately, anticipatory way. 

Anyone who has been separated from a lover for some length of time will know what I suggest by this. Just watch the scene (and camera work) involving Collier's first "real" view of Elise in 1912. 

We initially catch a glimpse of her in long shot -- in the reflection of a window-pane -- and then, as Collier pivots, we cut to this beautiful and stately moving shot -- over the landscape -- as an eclipsed female figure comes slowly into view, the sea roiling behind her. The build-up is deliberate and glorious, and if you've known love, you get it. If're reading the wrong review.

After this, we're into the meat of a star-crossed love story. It's well-written, but what we're ultimately left with here is a rousing soundtrack augmenting the unexpected yet genuine chemistry between the two leads. The late Christopher Reeve is at his goofy, innocent, sweet-hearted best. He was always wonderful and charming playing the fish-out-of-water, the man slightly out-of-step with his time...and such is true here. 

And Seymour, an ethereal, distant beauty, melts slowly and methodically, until she delivers a rousing, theatrical monologue about love that is likely a high point for the actress in the film, and in a career to boot. 

Again, if you think it's cheesy, just consider the venue (the stage) on which this soliloquy is presented. 

Once more, Szwarc has done something more than modestly clever regarding staging.  He has provided a jaded 1980s audience with an old-fashioned pronouncement of love, but through the appropriate artifice of the 1912 stage. Seen in that light, everything is as it should be.

I have concentrated in this review mostly on the romantic aspects of Somewhere in Time, and yet, in a sense that focus also does the film a disservice. Dig deeply into this movie, and you will find that it is teeming with ambiguities. 

For instance, ask yourself, where does the gold watch come from, originally? 

As the film opens in 1972, an elderly Elise McKenna gives a watch to young Richard Collier. She says the words "come back to me." After Collier has obliged, and traveled back to 1912, he gives the gold watch to she can one day again give it to him. It's a mind-bender, because the watch seems to originate...nowhere.  This idea is known in science fiction circles as the Grandfather Paradox.

Ask yourself too, what is the real role of Christopher Plummer's character, Robinson? He claims to know who Collier really is; and argues that Collier will "destroy" McKenna. 

In a sense, that's exactly what happens: when Collier is yanked back into the present, leaving McKenna behind...her career is ruined; she's depressed and lost. She never recovers.

So the question becomes: is Robinson a fellow time traveler (perhaps another man who has fallen in love with that photo of Elise?) or is he merely a worried theater agent, fretting about his meal ticket? 

To its credit, Somewhere in Time makes absolutely no comment on this debate; it lets you sift through the clues and arrive at your own conclusion.  Yet this is undeniably a facet of the film, an element to discuss and debate.

I remember when Somewhere in Time was first released, critics seemed to have a big problem with the idea that Collier had hypnotized himself into traveling through time. But today, after having read so much about quantum physics, I wonder why it is that we so readily accept the idea that a machine could do it but our brains can't. 

I mean, a time machine is always invented by the human brain in film, isn't it? 

Our mental abilities are the root creative force in both instances. But I very much like the idea here that it is the brain -- the dedicated, passionate, individual human brain --  that makes the leap without benefit of hardware or instrumentation.

If you've ever been in love, you feel like you can move mountains with your bare hands. 

So why not time travel too?