Saturday, November 16, 2013

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Films of the 1970s: Brian O'Rourke


Reader and friend Brian O’Rourke gives us our next reader’s selection of the top ten science fiction films of the 1970s.

Brian writes:

“JKM, thanks for another opportunity to voice my favorite genre films! It's been a busy week of travel and work -- I almost missed your call for readers' picks -- so I haven't had much of a chance to explain my choices, but, yes!, Woody Allen makes my list of favorite '70s sci-fi films!”

My list, in ascending order:

(10) THE BROOD (1979)

(9) WESTWORLD (1973)

(8) TIME AFTER TIME (1979)

(7) STAR WARS (1977)

(6) THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975)

(5) A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

(4) SLEEPER (1973)

(3) INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978)

(2) CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)

(1) ALIEN (1979)

And just because it’s a 1970s list, I’ve got to throw my vote in for the absolute worst science fiction movie of that decade: STARSHIP INVASIONS."

Brian: That’s a great list, and I agree with you about Starship Invasions. That film is terrible.  It’s funny to think that Robert Vaughn was in one of the best films of the decade (The Mind of Mr. Soames) and one of the worst (Starship Invasions). Talk about running the gamut of 1970s genre cinema!

Also, it’s great to see The Stepford Wives make another list.  That film is exceedingly well-made, and the social commentary is sharp.  I’m also happy to see Time After Time make the cut!

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Films of the 1970s: Josh McCormack


My friend and reader Josh McCormack presents his list of top ten greatest science fiction films of the 1970s next.

Josh writes:

“10. King Kong - Not the best "Kong" film. Hell, not even the best remake. But, thanks to my father showing it to me at a young age, it gives me fond memories

9. Dark Star - John Carpenter's directorial debut grows on you the more you watch it. It has a unique sense of humor, and the special effects are poor, but you can still see the immense effort put into all of them.

8. Escape from the Planet of the Apes - A very entertaining (and witty) entry in the "Apes" saga. But it also contains one of the most depressing endings in science fiction cinema.

7. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes - Not only the most underrated. "Apes" film, but one of the most underrated movies of all time. A beautiful, dystopian, design (matching the likes of "A Clockwork Orange" and "The Road Warrior"), Roddy McDowall's greatest performance, and a chilling, destructive, finale makes this the best of the sequels.

6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Though I still think "E.T." is Spielberg's crowning Sci fi achievement, this film is a masterpiece in its own right. It also features one of the best John Williams' scores EVER!

5.Westworld –A s a nine year old boy, this was the only film in which I felt such an odd mixture of wanting for there to be a place like this and thanking god it doesn't exist. It also kind of felt like an odd introduction into slasher movies. Yul Brynner's robotic 'Gunslinger' acts like a Michael Myers or Leatherface at times.

4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers - Yes, there was indeed a time when remakes were just as good, if not better than the originals. This 1978 Philip Kaufman remake of the '56 classic,deserves just as much praise. Great performances, odd atmosphere, and a terrifying twist ending make it one of the greatest remakes of all time.

3. Alien - Five sequels, a prequel(?), and countless rip offs, yet Hollywood can never quite match the near-perfection of Ridley Scott's 1979 Sci fi horror masterpiece. Led by a strong, believable cast, HR Giger's brilliant creature design, and a powerful score from Jerry Goldsmith makes this the gold standard of Science fiction/ horror crossovers.

2.Superman:The Movie - No matter how many dark sub plots, distracting explosions, and "Avatar" style dragons Zack Snyder throws at me, he'll never make me forget how much I love Richard Donner's lovely, warm, adventurous, 1978 epic. Christopher Reeve IS The Man of Steel. I don't know what else to say. His performance is almost too great to put into words. But luckily, the rest of the cast does fantastic as well. It's a loving, caring, but never boring super hero film, that more super hero flicks need to take notes from. Try all you want, but no one can replace this gem.

1.Star Wars -Well...duh. It's the movie that made me love film. I was raised with it. The film, and the rest of the franchise is embedded in my DNA. It's the, very hard to find, perfect film (Even though, the follow up is better). Without "Star Wars" I don't know what I'd do, it's that important.

Honorable Mention- Godzilla vs. Megalon: A thought provoking, and satirical look at...NAH! I'm just kidding. It's an extremely stupid Godzilla movie that happens to be my favorite of the franchise and a guilty pleasure. It's final fight, is stupid, non-stop, fun. Why you be hatin' Mr. Muir?!?!

Hi Josh, I love your list!  I love Megalon as a monster (or my son would kill me…), I just don’t love Godzilla vs. Megalon overall as a movie.  My problem with it is that even though it is a lot of fun, Godzilla only puts in a cameo appearance, and Jet Jaguar does all the heavy lifting.

But otherwise, I just want to say that it warms my heart to see King Kong (1976) on this list.  I think all my readers know that I consider it a great film, and one with a rich subtext about the Energy Crisis of the decade. It’s a fun film to hate on, but I prefer it (immensely) to the 2005 remake which was, approximately, about nothing.

I also love that your list includes Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, also my favorite of all the apes sequels. It’s a radical, hard-core, unapologetic film about how social change can, sometimes, only come through violence.  There’s nothing easy or cheap about the film, and you are so right to tag the visuals.  The film really seems to be taking place in a future city…one with lots of shopping venues.

Brilliant list!

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Movies of the 1970s: Jeremy Meyer


Reader and friend, Jeremy Meyer, provides us our first list of Saturday, for the top ten greatest science fiction films of the 1970s.

Jeremy writes:

"A wonderful decade to look back on, but unfortunately such backward glances are bittersweet. It seems unlikely now that any major studio would throw financial muscle behind some of the weird and wonderful ideas present in 70s sci-fi, and it may be that such bold and ambitious projects are solely the domain of the indie community in 2013. 

10. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) [Lucas] - Star Wars put science fiction on the map for big studios, and proved that there was a vast public appetite for space battles and foreign worlds outside of Star Trek. While not the definitive Star Wars movie for me, (a title firmly in the hands of The Empire Strikes Back) A New Hope was a colorful and electrifying space fantasy, anchored by the charismatic performance of Harrison Ford and myriad wonderful locations.

9. Fantastic Planet (1973) [René Laloux , Roland Topor] - Surely a contender for the strangest feature-length animation in history, Fantastic Planet is an LSD-induced phantasmagoria examining in beautiful but often brutal fashion the issues of racism, aggression and technological rebirth. The dynamic between the enormous, cerebral Traags and the reckless abandon of the tiny Oms is wonderfully drawn and made all the more poignant as the film hails from Czechoslovakia, a country which had been in the thrall first of Nazism and then Stalinism.

8. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) [Steven Spielberg] - There is definitely a case to be made for Spielberg having created more iconic science fiction images than any other director. Close Encounters and E.T. in particular have been absorbed into the public consciousness to such a degree that they are as close to canonical as the genre gets. This is Spielberg at his best; spellbinding visuals and a genuine knack for knowing intuitively just what it is that makes certain moments memorable.

7. The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) [Roeg] - Rarely has there been a more audacious picture from a mainstream studio. Paramount Pictures were willing to back Roeg after the success of 1973's Don't Look Now but lived to regret their decision, refusing to release Roeg's finished work. A cocaine-addicted David Bowie is perfect as the stranded alien Thomas Newton, barely having to act to seem detached, melancholy and thoroughly strange. Rip Torn and Candy Clark are both wonderful as well, but in truth it is Roeg's cinematography that is the real star, oscillating between serenity and paranoia as Newton's motivation to save his family is gradually eroded by the modern evils of sex, drugs and television.

6. Sleeper (1973) [Allen] - A slapstick tour-de-force from the masterful comic pairing of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, Sleeper is the funniest the future has ever been. Miles Monroe (Allen) goes to hospital for a routine operation and wakes up 200 years later to find himself in an incompetent and disintegrating police state, where naturally he somehow manages to change the world order and win the girl. Part homage to the silent era and part gentle satire of modern sensibilities, Sleeper is easy to overlook but difficult to forget.

5. Silent Running (1971) [Trumbull] - Dern's descent into quiet madness after thrice committing murder is impressively realised, as is the subtlety of the plot which was apparently lost on many critics at the time. Commonly pigeonholed either as an environmental parable or a condemnation of eco-terrorism, Silent Running is actually neither. Lowell commits terrible crimes for wonderful reasons and is immediately filled with regret that not only drives him mad, but also causes him to inadvertently repeat the sins of those he blames for his predicament. Lowell damns mankind for misusing resources and unbalancing ecosystems in hedonistic fashion, yet his misuse and eventual destruction of the droids proves him just as bad as the rest of humanity. Few genre films before or since have possessed such depth.

4. Alien (1979) [Scott] - Set the bar so high for science-fiction and horror that is has never since been equaled. Alien is perfect in almost every respect; it boasts one of the great feminist heroes of cinema in Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley, courtesy of H.R. Giger it has a monster that is stunning and terrifying in equal measure, and courtesy of director Ridley Scott is has an atmosphere of claustrophobia and dread that is almost palpable.

3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) [Kaufman] - Wonderfully cast with Sutherland, Nimoy and Goldblum each excelling, Kaufman's adaptation of the paranoid 1956 classic was perfectly updated with oozing body horror and almost unbearable tension. Originally an allegory for McCarthyism, the remake manages to find equally fertile ground post-Watergate with the US once more a country deeply divided and full of distrust. The final scene is one of the most effective in film history.

2. Solaris (1976) [Tarkovsky] - Tarkovsky is revered as one of those rare directors whose pictures aspired to transcend the medium and be seen as true art, and Solaris is one of his finest efforts. The best science fiction attempts to use a potential future as a lens to bring aspects of the present into focus, and that is exactly what Solaris achieves with its extra-terrestrial examination of how we perceive reality. That it is quietly beautiful and expertly paced is merely a bonus.

1. A Clockwork Orange (1971) [Kubrick] - Translating Burgess' complex novel onto the screen was not a task achievable for any director, but Kubrick succeeded here in a way perhaps no-one else could have. His dystopia drips with cynicism and darkling imagination, which combined with Burgess' extraordinary dialogue and McDowell's typically unhinged performance creates a world and a film like no other. Crime and punishment have never been given a more thorough nor a stranger examination. 

Jeremy: This is a great list, and I am happy to see Solaris make another reader's tally.  That film is an amazing, one-of-a-kind film, and I always see something new in it when I watch it again.  

But it is also awesome that your list features two titles that haven't appeared on any lists thus far: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and Sleeper (1973).  

I love your description (even if bittersweet...) of the 1970s sci-fi cinema, and these titles are perfect representations of what seems missing (save for indies...) in the genre today.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975): "River of Flames" (November 29, 1975)



In “River of Flames,” Jeff and Bill see a hologram of Judy, who asks them to meet with the Under Dweller leader, Krador.  

When they do so, Krador warns the humans that the “Below World” could be doomed because a nearby volcano is erupting and lava, if unchecked, will bury their reactor room.

Meanwhile in Ape City, Dr. Zaius and the Ape Senate must make a crucial budget decision.  Should they devote new funding to scientific research, or to weapons?  

Urko makes the case for weapons, while Zira and Cornelius do the same for scientific research.  Zaius decides that if Urko can capture Blue Eyes (Bill), the army will have its funding.

With their laser drill in hand, Bill and Jeff attempt to save the Below World of the Under Dwellers. 

When they fail, however, they get an unlikely assist from Urko!



There are some amusing touches in “River of Flames,” the seventh episode of Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975).  

In one scene, two apes discuss a new movie that they heard was good…The Apefather, and in another Urko blunders into saving the Under Dwellers.  He shells a mountain in an attempt to kill Bill and Jeff, but instead creates a “vent” for the lava, and saves the Below World.

The episode also marks a turning point for Krador, leader of the Under Dwellers, and the humanoids.  Bill and Jeff agree to help the leader only if they get to take Judy (or Oosa) in return.  Krador agrees, and at episode’s end, acts as a friend to the humans.  Thus, the Under Dwellers are no longer quite the threat to the astronauts that they had been, previously.  Judy, however, promises to return to Krador when the time is right, when the "prophecy" (that she will lead them...) must come true.

Otherwise “River of Flames” is pretty predictable stuff, and a bit of a “runaround" episode.  

The astronauts lose their laser drill, and then recover it.  They tangle with Urko again, and once more get the better of him.  


Then, finally, Urko gets his hat handed to him by Dr. Zaius in the Senate Council.  At this point, in fact, Urko is in danger of becoming a buffoon more than a credible threat.  The series was meant for young eyes, on Saturday mornings, and that fact is made clear from the fact that there is no real menace here, other than the volcano.

Next week: “Screaming Wings”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Land of the Lost: "Day for Knight" (October 19, 1991)


In “Day for Knight,” a portal opens in the land of the lost and deposits a young knight in the middle of a battle between the Porter children and Shung’s Sleestak underlings.  Balin saves Christa’s (Shannon Day) life, which makes Kevin (Robert Gavin) feel both jealous and inadequate. 

Meanwhile, Shung (Tom Allard) determines that he must possess Balin’s sword, or “magic blade.”

Balin, who considers himself a “dragon slayer,” soon reveals the truth to Kevin.  He’s but a lowly squire who appropriated his knight’s armor for a night, when he went through the portal. He is not any braver than Kevin, and in a battle with Scarface, Kevin proves his mettle.

When the portal re-opens, Balin returns home…



“Day for Knight” opens with Kevin’s "dream" fantasy of rescuing comely Christa from Scarface, using ridiculous martial arts moves.  The dream is embarrassing enough, but then Kevin wakes up to find Tasha lovingly licking his face.  It’s an…icky way to open the episode, for sure.


After that opening, “Day for Knight” settles into a story that should feel familiar to all fans of the original Land of the Lost (1974 – 1977).  

In that series, many episodes featured a visitor from another time period becoming stranded in the pocket universe for the duration of the episode, and then departing before the end credits.  In the original series, Native Americans, Union Soldiers, hot air balloonists, military pilots, and even sailors (The Flying Dutchman) found their way into the land before escaping to greener pastures.  In the 1990s Land of the Lost, the first human visitor is Balin, a young knight.  At episode’s end, the portal just miraculously opens beside him and he is able to return home, thus leaving the Porters behind.

Why can’t something like that happen to the Porters, one wonders?  

This is the first time since the series began that a portal has opened up, and Kevin can’t go through it because he’d be trapped in the wrong time, but also because he’d be leaving his family behind.  Still, it would be nice if there was some kind of rhyme or reason to the appearance (and re-appearance) of the portals in this version of the mythology.  In the original series, portals often opened as a result of fiddling with Matrix tables in pylons, but here it seems totally random, and Balin is one lucky guy, for sure.  Getting to the right portal at the right time must be one in a million...

Of course, there’s no guarantee that this is his portal either.  Maybe Balin arrives on the other side of the portal in the Porter’s era…


As was the case in previous stories, this episode features the Sleestak as the buffoons/comic-menace of the week.  For some reason, Shung becomes obsessed with getting possession of the knight’s sword, which is a pretty weak motivation for his involvement in the drama. Shung already has a crystal blade with mystical powers beyond human comprehension.  Why does he need a steel blade from the Middle Ages?

“Day for Knight” isn’t the worst episode so far, to be certain, but it isn’t exactly tightly-constructed, either.  

The portals work arbitrarily (obligingly depositing and taking away the guest star while leaving the main cast stranded permanently), the Sleestaks are as ineffective as usual, and Kevin’s fantasy about Christa is cringe-inducing.  What this episode does establish is that, in some sense, Land of the Lost is attempting to update the original source material while telling the same brand of story.


Next Week: “Kevin vs. the Volcano.”

Friday, November 15, 2013

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Films of the 1970s: Duanne Walton



Reader and friend Duanne Walton provides his list for the greatest science fiction films of the 1970s.

Duanne writes:

"First of all, John, I got your Sci-Fi Movies of the Seventies on my Kindle, and I love it. Fun and thought provoking as always, and invaluable in helping me put together my list. And these are all "my" choices, not anyone else's. Of course, that can change at any given moment.
 
Anyway, let's begin:
 
10. Flesh Gordon. You get very interesting looks from people when you tell them you watched a porno for the stop motion effects.
 
9. Ssssssss. I first saw this one years ago on the CBS Late Movie. It was rarely shown back then and I sometimes wondered if I’d hallucinated it. It’s a really good movie (despite its' flaws) and one of Universal’s overlooked gems. The makeup is very effective.
 
8. Food of the Gods.  I begged my brother to take me to see this, but he refused. He saw it and swore the hero (I'm presuming he was talking about Marjoe Gortner) looked just like me. Years later, I finally saw it on Valentine's Day 1980, on Chicago's Channel Seven 3:00 Movie. And Gortner looked nothing like me! The next time I saw my brother, I promptly read him the riot act. And he'd forgotten all about it.  That said, this does hold a special place in my heart. I do love a good schlockfest.
 
7. Fantastic Planet. I'm an advocate of this movie pretty much the same way you are for The Blair Witch Project. One of the most bizarre movies ever made. You thought Yellow Submarine was trippy? This one out-trips Yellow Submarine!
 
6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's been a while since I've seen this, But I remember watching the Special Edition every time it aired on HBO. It's better than Goofy Golf!
 
5. A Clockwork Orange. It loses its' visual punch after Alex gets arrested, but still very good. Viddy well, brother.
 
4. Escape From the Planet of the Apes. A classic case of mood whiplash.

3. Alien. A perfect blending of Sci-Fi and horror.

2. Superman. You'll believe a man can fly, and that superhero movies can be good.

1. Star Wars. What hasn't this movie had an impact on? Every seventies Sci-Fi movie that came after it pretty much rode on it's coattails. For better or worse, The Force will be with us - always.

And there you have it."

Duanne: First, I want to thank you for supporting my book.  I appreciate that very much, and it pleases me to no end to know that you are enjoying it.  

Secondly, I love a list that finds room for Flesh Gordon, Sssssss, AND Fantastic Planet.  

Such strange movies to be one in decade, and yet there they are.  I really battle with Sssssss.  Parts of the film are downright genius, but the ending is abrupt, and I feel like the reveal at the end is a bit of a let-down. But parts of that movie (Strother Martin!) rock beyond all measure  

I also agree with you about the virtues of Fantastic Planet.  It's a trippy, visually magnificent film that capitalizes on many of the ideas that had been roiling in the genre since Planet of the Apes in 1968.   


Next Week is Doctor Who Week


Join me next Monday through Saturday in a celebration of the momentous fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who.

I'll be blogging about the renegade time lord all day, every day, and covering my favorite serials from every Doctor era.

Allons-y!

Reader Top Ten: Greatest Science Fiction Films of the 1970s: Bruce Nims


My friend and regular reader Bruce Nims provides us the first list of Friday afternoon.

He writes: "Another great topic.  Here is my humble list and as always, not in any particular order:"

1.      Andromeda Strain - There are so many good things to say about this movie that I honestly do not know where to start.  But one thing that has always stood out about this movie is how realistic it all feels.  The sets are absolutely compelling and the characters are all very smart people working on a very difficult problem.  It's so rare seeing smart people actually doing smart things instead of the movie just telling us a character is smart and then they proceed to do completely stupid things for the entire movie.  (Not naming names here, but there is a very recent movie that completely falls into this trap.  J  ).  Also fascinating is the time the movie spends on showing the research of the organism (which normally would be the most boring part of any narrative like this) and do it in a completely compelling and surprisingly exciting way.  (I was pre-med before I switched careers and worked in a research facility and this movie is one the reasons why I originally choose that path).  I still get chills when the probe video camera zeros in on Andromeda (the organism) and you see it start to grow.

2.      Alien – One of the best Sci-fi movies of any decade period.  About as close to a perfect movie as you can get in my humble opinion.  Just one of the rare movies where everything came together and the whole greatly exceeded the sum of its parts.  Amazing sets.  Amazing creature design.  Amazing score.  Amazing special effects.  Amazing acting.  Amazing directing.  And many, many, many layers of Sci-fi themes in this movie all working seamlessly together.  Man against the unknown.  Man against technology.  Man against the faceless bureaucracy.  How small and insignificant man truly is in the universe.  There is a reason why this movie still resonates all these years later.

3.      Star Wars – I know a bunch of people say this isn't a "real" science fiction movie (whatever the hell that means) but that is complete bunk.  This was one of the first "gritty" sci-fi movies (something I think has been forgotten) and because of that, had a very realistic and lived in look that pretty much everyone else has been copying to this day (except for the Star Wars prequels for some odd reason).  Everything was dirty and lived in (except for the death star, but that was a brand new space station).  This movie confidently showed you its world and it felt real and more importantly, you felt that there was a whole universe beyond the scope of the movie.  (In fact, this illustrates one of the major problems with the prequels.  The prequels continued to return over and over again to the same locations (and characters!) of the original and thus made the universe feel smaller.)  Plus you had an epic story of good versus evil, following the classic hero's journey from farm hand to savior of the kingdom (err planet).

4.      THX -1138 – A great movie on many levels.  Extremely heavy and depressing but with a very uplifting ending (in my opinion).

5.      Star Trek:  The Motion Picture -- I know this movie gets a lot of hate but it's completely unwarranted in my opinion.  This movie is the closest in spirit to the original television series but on a much grander scale.  The production design and special effects are gorgeous (though the effects are showing their age).  Lots of good character development (and I mean lots).  Another movie that has many layers and a lot to discuss once you get past the visuals.

6.      Close Encounters of the Third Kind – One of Spielberg's best movies in my opinion.  For most of its running time Spielberg keeps a careful balance between mystery, drama, humor and legitimate scares and then ends on a surprisingly uplifting note.  Additionally, the movie benefits from having an epic feel.  The 
spaceship design of the aliens was also a high point of the film.

7.      Westworld – A GREATLY underappreciated gem of a movie.  This movie was the original Terminator (before James Cameron expanded upon that idea).  Much like the Andromeda Strain the movie spends a lot of time looking at the detailed aspects of the technology (in this case a futuristic amusement park).  I'm a sucker for technology getting away from its creators and I think this is one of the best versions of the theme.

8.      Phase IV – This is an odd movie in a lot of ways.  Sometimes I think its complete genius and sometimes I think it's just too odd for its own good (especially the ending).  However, one thing I can say without reservation is that this movie is very unsettling.  Man with a complete arsenal of the latest technology is helpless against a horde of highly intelligent ants.  Yes I said ants.  However, this movie elevates this seemingly insignificant threat into something to be completely feared through some incredibly ingenious filming of actual ants doing some pretty incredible things.  Basically it’s a siege movie, but it a siege movie where the enemy is using its intelligence against you instead of brute force.  And what a scary intelligence it is.

9.      Rollerball – A great movie about the perils of televised violence and the manipulation of media to influence and/or subjugate a population.  Like Death Race 2000, this movie was way ahead of its time and foresaw the rise if reality TV.

10.  Mad Max – At the time it was considered one of the most violent movies and was shockingly controversial.  Watching it now I think most people will wonder what all the fuss is about, but that doesn't change the fact that it’s a visceral thrill ride.

Honorable Mentions:

1.      Fantastic Planet
2.      Soylent Green
3.      Death Race 2000
4.      Logan's Run
5.      Superman

Bruce: A fantastic list, and I'm glad to see more votes for Phase IV (1974) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).  In terms of the former, I love your description regarding the seeming insignificance of the ants versus the power they actually wield.  In terms of the latter, I totally agree with you regarding character development for the beloved franchise characters.

Your honorable mentions are also great.  I think this is the first mention of Death Race 2000 (1975), a really great film that competed with Rollerball (1975) back in the day, and had a lot in common with it.

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.

Reader Top Ten Greatest Science Fiction Films of the 1970s: The Sci-Fi Fanatic


Friend and blogger extraordinaire, The Sci-Fi Fanatic, Gordon Roberts, starts off our Friday with a great list of his top ten science fiction films of the 1970s.

Gordon writes:

“Great decade and I love that you really limited the scope of this list John.   Thank you.  Clearly, no pretensions here. I'm not venturing into high art in some cases but just insanely incredible, fun art of the classic science fiction variety and no less convincing in their sincerity.

10. Godzilla Vs. Hedora (a.k.a. Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster) (1971). Director: Yoshimitsu Banno. The only film to be directed by Banno on a Godzilla feature not to be directed by Ishiro Honda or apprentice Jun Fukuda from the Showa period of films. Underrated and brilliant good fun.

9. Space Amoeba (a.k.a. Yog Monster From Space) (1970). Director: Ishiro Honda. 
He steps away from his baby Godzilla and comes up with a good, old-fashioned Toho, fantasy monster romp. The famous Akira Kubo and Kenji Sahara are in the cast and it's a blast. Played often in heavy rotation on Saturday Creature Double Feature out of Boston, MA in the 1970s. The 1960s and 1970s were a rich period for Toho and these two aforementioned pictures are proof of that.

8. Escape From The Planet Of The Apes (1971). Director: Don Taylor. 
A film centered on two of my favorite characters from the franchise. The late, great Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter shine. With Ricardo Montalban thrown in for good measure, honestly, you can't go wrong with this exceptional installment in the series.

7. Terror Of Mechagodzilla (1975). Director: Ishiro Honda. 
The final installment for the Godzilla Showa period sees the return of Honda on directing shores for his final outing for the Big G. Akihiko Hirata also appears. Hirata and Honda collaborated on the classic Gojira (1954). To be clear that I'm not completely in the tank for Toho and Godzilla pictures several are conspicuously absent from my list simply because they are fun if not classic. Godzilla Vs. Megalon, Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla, Godzilla Vs. Gigan and even Gamera Vs. Zigra (1971) and Gamera Vs. Jiger (1970) do not make my list. So there.

6. The Omega Man (1971). Director: Boris Sagal. 
The father of Sons Of Anarchy's Katey Sagal directs one of those classic dystopian tales of apocalypse and implements the mood and decay of the 1970s era to great effect. There's a terrific vibe throughout the picture based on Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. I still like it better than the Will Smith vehicle of the same name.

5. The Land That Time Forgot (1975). Director: Kevin Connor. 
A fantastic and fun film based on the terrific work of American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950). The B-movie doesn't get more classic than this science fiction fantasy. Wonderful stuff. At The Earth's Core (1976) and The People That Time Forgot (1977) are good but not this good. I also positively adore Connor's Warlords Of Atlantis (1978) a picture drawn very much fromt he same mold as The Land That Time Forgot.

4. The Island Of Dr. Moreau (1977). Director: Don Taylor. 
Taylor makes my list twice. This is just a terrifically entertaining picture starring Michael York (Logan's Run) and based on the 1896 novel by H.G. Wells. It's a stunning morality tale and something remarkably different from other science fiction pictures of the period. I'm also a fan of the underappreciated 1996 adaptation from the late John Frankenheimer.

3. Star Wars. Director: George Lucas.
Along with Planet Of The  Apes, such backyard play was had. Nuff said.

2. Alien (1979). Director: Ridley Scott. 
The start of a beautiful love affair with Scott and the alien franchise. Like David Bowie sang, I was Loving The Alien.

1.Space Battleship Yamato (1977). Director: Toshio Masuda.
Space Battleship Yamato, the series, and Tatsunoko's Gatchaman were influential on my love of all things anime. Not only was Starblazers (the American version of Space Battleship Yamato) terrific, but this film was a standout highlight in retrospect putting it all together. Masuda and Leiji Matsumoto's Farewell To Space Battleship Yamato: In The Name Of Love (1978) is another winner along with the third in the trilogy, Be Forever Yamato (1979). The original picture actually outsold Star Wars in Japan. Just saying.

I actually just ran out of room. What a decade! But I wish I had room for Jack Smight's Damnation Alley (1977), Jun Fukuda and Toho's fun The War In Space (1977), Kinji Fukasaku's Message from Space (1978), The Spy Who Loved Me (sort of sci-fi) (1977), Moonraker (1979), Mad Max (1979) and The Black Hole (1979) - all pictures I just love. Heck I even loved those Witch Mountain films.

What a period of filmmaking in science fiction!

Honestly, my pictures may not be classic in the purest artistic sense, but for me these were ten of the most powerful and influential films in my young life. I'm going against the grain here and well, these were films I had such admiration for as a kid. They may not be perfect but they were classics to me.  I stand by them.”


Gordon:  First of all, I love any list which name-checks Katey Sagal and Sons of Anarchy. 

My wife and I are addicted to that show: it is fricking amazing, and deserves the adjective “Shakespearean.” The entire scenario seems very Hamlet, with Jax in the role of the prince, Gemma as Gertrude, and Clay as Claudius, the usurper on the throne.  We are just about finishing-up season two, and binge watching the whole run.  I used to think Mad Men was the best series on TV, and had no idea what I was missing still I was introduced to SAMCRO.

Okay, back to Sci-Fi: Your list is amazing.

 My favorite Godzilla film -- Godzilla vs. Hedorah -- made the list, which is great.  It’s right in step with its era (and films like No Blade of Grass, or Z.P.G.) in that it makes a strong environmental argument at the same time that it tells a great story, and features a great villain. 

I’m also thrilled to see one of my very first movie loves, The Land that Time Forgot, make the cut.  It’s an underrated film, and a great one.  

Also, I have an admiration for The War in Space (1977), a film I watched for the first time recently (while writing my book), and have come to admire for its qualities as a pastiche.