Thursday, September 12, 2013

Favorite SF Films

This is a list of my favorite SF films.  It is not a list of Ten Best SF Films or anything as grandiose as that.  Some of these may be included in Best SF Film lists created by others, but I suspect quite a few won't make it, for one reason or another.

They are in alphabetical order, so the sequence does not indicate any preferences on my part.  These are my favorites, three of which I own:  Blade Runner, THX 1138, and The Man from Earth.  I will probably get my own copies of many of the others when the opportunity and cash availability coincide favorably.

2001: A Space Odyssey
Screenplay by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick and adapted from a short story by Arthur C. Clarke, "The Sentinel."  One of the few SF films that actually has an idea other than drooling BEMs invading Earth and lusting after scantily-clad human females.  I suspect this film appears on several Best Of .  .  . lists.  Spectacular special effects, HAL 9000, and the theme of the further evolution of the human species are the major characters here.

A Boy and His Dog
Adapted from a short novel or a long novella (pb copy available has 90 pages) by Harlan Ellison.  I haven't read the work, but I just found out about it and have ordered it.   It would be interesting to compare the two works.  It's a post-apocalyptic tale of the adventures of a teen-aged boy (a very young Don Johnson--pre-Miami Vice) and his telepathic dog, Blood. 

Sigourney Weaver,  the Alien, and special effects and straightforward plot.  While the plot, an alien gets aboard the spaceship and proceeds to eliminate crew members is not new, the special effects and the design of the space ship make this one a standout in the genre.  And, Weaver as Ripley strikes me as being unique as a strong, intelligent, and competent female in a genre that is normally male-dominated and the females are generally relegated to being hapless victims who always need rescuing.

I've seen the sequels, and while they are good, they strike me as being more of the same: Ripley vs. the alien.  From what I've read, the alien was inspired by two aliens encountered in A. E. van Vogt's novel, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, a starship sent out on an exploratory voyage.  In addition, Gene Roddenberry in an interview said this work was the inspiration for Star Trek.  If so, this would make van Vogt's novel one of the most influential novels in the genre.  

Blade Runner
This film also, no doubt, makes many Top Ten SF Film lists, and rightfully so.  Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a cop who specializes in eliminating replicants (androids).  He is burned out and has to be forced into this one last assignment, destroying 4 or 5 replicants who have made it back to earth.  His problem is exacerbated by his feelings for Rachel, another replicant.   Considerable debate has emerged about Deckhard's status:  is he human or a replicant?  Riddley Scott, the director, has said he is, but after viewing the film a number of times, I have to disagree.  The link will lead you to my comments about the five versions of Blade Runner.     See my post about the five versions of Blade Runner.

Man from Earth
I found this film a welcome change from the usual run of SF films characterized mainly by special effects and cartoon characters.  Put simply, it's about a man who tells his friends one afternoon as he's packing to leave for places unknown that he's actually 14,000 years old.  He has to leave because people are beginning to notice that he hasn't aged in the ten years that he's been there.  There are three ways we can take an announcement like this, and his friends react the same way.  One response is that he's telling the truth.  That is immediately rejected by all.  The other two are that he's lying to  or that he's delusional.  In the film we see how his friends struggle to decide which of the two it is.
See my post on this film.

Watch the complete version which runs close to 2 1/2 hours.  It will be uneven in parts because after they had spliced together about 2 hours of film and digitally remastered it, another 30 minutes was discovered in South America.  That version was owned by a film collector who had died and left his collection to a film museum.  So, there will be about two hours of digitally remastered film interspersed with about 30 minutes of unrestored film   You will instantly see the difference. 

It is a romance and a sociological critique about a city which has only two classes:  the bosses and the workers, or as Maria puts it, the head and the hands.  The conflict is caused by the lack of a "heart" to mediate between the two contending forces.  It is one of the films I intend to make part of my personal collection one day.

Star Wars IV: A New Hope
The best of the six episodes still.  Episodes V and VI are considerably better than the three later episodes.  IV had a plot and interesting characters with the best special effects at its time.  While the special effects became more spectacular in Episodes I, II, and III, Lucas forgot the basic fundamentals of story telling:  interesting characters and a plot.  Instead he substituted action scenes to make up for the lack and hoped nobody would notice it. Most comments that I heard suggested he failed.  There are stories going around that Episodes VII, VIII, and IX will appear sometime in future. It will interesting to see what happens.  

The Day the Earth Stood Still  (1951 version)
This is the first SF film that far surpassed the level of SF films I had seen up to that point.  It is loosely based on a short story by Harry Bates, "Farewell to the Master."  It has an idea that was frightening, at least to me.  The alien confederation had given to machines the power of life and death over not just a person, but an entire species.  Gort was authorized to commit genocide if it so decided.  The alien ambassador Klaatu, played marvelously by Michael Rennie, brought a warning from the alien/galactic federation--humans were too violent to allow them loose in the galaxy, so it must change or be destroyed.

I found this frightening and confusing (and still do).  Why not just quarantine the planet?  If Gort had enough power to nullify all electrical systems, it certainly could prevent space ships from leaving the solar system, or even leaving Earth.  We have simple-minded bloodthirsty types in this country whose only solution to international problems seems to be encapsulated in the dictum--"Nuke  'em back to the stone age.  That'll solve the problem once and for all."  That seems very similar, to me anyway, to the alien federation's thinking also.

Them  (1954)
My favorite creature feature--giant ants brought about by, surprise, radiation from tests of nuclear weapons.  James Arness  is an FBI agent called in by the police to investigate several mysterious killings.  Edmund Gwenn is a scientist called in to help with the investigation, and, of course, he brings with him his beautiful, single daughter as his assistant. The story begins in the New Mexico desert and ends in the drains under Los Angeles.  Great fun.

THX 1138
A very early Lucas film and probably not to many viewers' liking.   While the plot is not very complex, we are given two interesting characters,  with an excellent performance by Donald PleasenceRobert Duvall turns in a very good performance also.  The setting and the cinematography are the stars of the film.  Setting a significant part of the film in an all white backdrop was risky, but it worked well, creating a bizarre environment that emphasized the alien culture and the contrast to the still recognizable human feelings and emotions of the characters.

How many of these are on your favorites list?   Which ones weren't included?   Let me know as I may have forgotten about some of them over the years.


  1. I have yet to see THX 1138, but it sounds interesting. Two I'd add are Gattaca and AI: Artificial Intelligence. It's been many years since I saw A Boy and His Dog. I didn't really love it then, but I was in my late teens at the time. Maybe I'd like it better now.

  2. Two more to add:

    The Thing (1982) and The Terminator (1984)

  3. I've seen Gattaca and AI; in fact I posted a review of AI some time ago. Both were interesting, as well as Terminator.

    Was the first version of the Thing or the second. I didn't care for the second, for some reason.

  4. This was the color version with Kurt Russell, not the remake from a few years ago. Some consider The Thing horror, some consider it SF.

  5. I was thinking of the first version that came out in 1951, a black and white version--The Thing from Another World. It starred James Arness as the monster. Even though I like Kurt Russell, I preferred the first version. I haven't seen the third one.

  6. Enjoyed your commentaries on the films. I also really liked Blade Runner. it was one of the first sci-fi films I saw because I wanted to and didn't just go to accompany my husband who was a huge sci-fi fan. I also agree about Alien. Liked the first movie, but did not care for the others. Same for The Terminator.

  7. Maryann Miller,

    Thanks for the comments. I also enjoyed the first Terminator more than I did the succeeding ones.

  8. Though I haven't seen some on your list, I still enjoyed reading about your faves. I love lists. :)
    I've yet to sit through BLADE RUNNER - it seems every time I sit down to watch I just wind up walking out of the room or doing something else. I must get over that. Too many people love this movie. There MUST be something to it!

    I loved THE MAN FROM EARTH, Fred. So I would definitely add that to my list. Also 2001 A Space Odyssey and The Day the Earth Stood Still - classic.

    But I'd add: THIS ISLAND EARTH, the original THE THING and a couple of others. I think I'll make up my own list too, Fred. You've inspired me.

  9. Yvette,

    Yes, I liked the original version of The Thing--The Thing from Another World (1951) better than the second one. Putting it in color seemed to take something away from it.

    I'd forgotten about "This Island Earth" when I made up this list. Oh well, maybe I'll do a second list of favorites some day. Have you read the novel on which _This Island Earth_ was based? _This Island Earth_ was written by Raymond F. Jones and published in 1952.

    1. Didn't even know THIS ISLAND EARTH was based on a book. Though I don't read much sci/fi - I'll definitely look for it.

      NO COLORIZED VERSIONS OF ANYTHING!!! I love the original THE THING (From Another World)

  10. Yvette,

    Iknew about it because it was a monthly selection from the Science Fiction Book Club, and I was a member at that time. So, when the film came out, I had to see it.

    Black-and-white is better at creating a frightening, terrifying atmosphere than color.