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Film Appreciation... Science Fiction


For an overview of the science fiction genre click here.

"Le voyage dans la Lune" (1902)
Also known as "A Trip to the Moon" and "The Astronomer's Dream" in its American and British releases. This early silent film by master artist and film pioneer Georges Melies is considered a classic by many film buffs. Although it runs for only 3 minutes this whimsical fantasy really focuses on an astronomers dream. This is often erroneously considered the first American Science Fiction film because of the multiple international copyrights it holds.

"Metropolis" (1926)
This classic Science Fiction Silent film is one of my all time favorites (for more information check out the review in the silent films section of this site). Unparalleled in its scope and ingenuity Fritz Lang's Herculean project took over 360 days and 60 nights to film and at a cost of over 2 million dollars remained the most expensive film in the history of the German cinema until "Das Boot" in 1980.

Click here for more information about "Metropolis".

Click here to take a test over early silent films, including "Metropolis."

"Flash Gordon" (1936)
The great Buster Crabbe stars in this enduring adaptation of the 1930's comic strip. This thirteen part series is the best of the Science Fiction serials of the thirties that purportedly inspired both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg when they were crafting the original "Indiana Jones and The Raiders of The Lost Ark".

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951)
The Day the Earth Stood Still may not be the best science fiction film ever made, but it is important because of its atypical message. Friendly aliens were rarities when this film was first released during the height of the cold war scare. Klattu warns humans to stop being stupid, or we will be destroyed.

Click here for more information about "The Day the Earth Stood Still" Click here to take the "The Day the Earth Stood Still" Practice Test

"The Thing" (1951)
Author Michael Crichton once referred to this as the best Science Fiction film ever made (high praise from the guy who gave us "Andromeda Strain", "Jurrassic Park", "Sphere", and "Eaters of the Dead"). Producer Howard Hawks' adaptation of the John Campbell story of an arctic expedition that runs afoul of a blood sucking alien is often credited (or blamed - depending on who you talk to) with launching the evil monster tries to destroy humanity films that were so prevalent in the 1950's.

"War Of The Worlds" (1953)
Producer George Pal and director Byron Haskins' landmark adaptation of the H. G. Wells classic novel War of The Worlds focuses on the invasion of the earth by Martian war machines. Barre Lyndon's screenplay is strong and the films climactic ending which features ruined buildings amidst a deserted city is beautifully done. If you enjoyed "Mars Attacks" or "ID4" you should check out this film, it may not be as slick as these contemporary films but at least you will know where they got many of their ideas.

"Them" (1954)
A classic 1950's film that does the unthinkable, holding science responsible for the monsters it creates. How can you describe this film without giving away too much - lets just say atomic testing, and giant critters exact their revenge on mankind. This features Edmund Gwenn, James Whitmore, James Arness and a cameo by a very young Leonard Nimoy.

"20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" (1954)
This film, which won Oscars for its special effects and art direction, launched Disney's distribution arm Buena Vista. The film features James Mason in a wonderfully measured performance as the tortured genius Captain Nemo in this adaptation of the Jules Verne novel. Love that Giant Squid!

"Plan 9 from Outer Space" (1958)
Unspeakable horrors from outer space paralyze the living and resurrect the dead!

Click here for Twyman's review of "Plan 9"
Click here for Alaine Reschke's review of "Plan 9"
Click here for the writing assignment for "Plan 9"

"2001 A Space Odyssey ": (1968)
Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece was undoubtedly the most influential Science Fiction film of the 60's. Certainly this film raised special effects to a new level. This visual tour du force adaptation of Arthur C. Clark novella is a landmark in the history of the cinema. By combing classical music and the most dazzling and innovative special effects since "Metropolis" Kubrick creates an amazingly realistic portrait (according to both American and Russian astronauts) of life in space. Ultimately this film is not so much a narrative (a fact that will put off some viewers) as the philosophical musings of two visionaries (Clark and Kubrick) about man's place in the universe. If you need to have things spelled out for you and you are looking for gruesome aliens you should probably avoid this film. If you enjoy a film that treats its audience as if they have an intellect and are capable of using it, or if you simply enjoy a film that encourages quiet contemplation and meditation you will love it. This film proves once again that when it comes to visual composition nobody does it better than Kubrick especially with help from Douglas Trumball.

Star Wars (1977),
The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and
Return of the Jedi (1983)

"Like "Birth of a Nation'' and "Citizen Kane,'' "Star Wars'' was a technical watershed that influenced many of the movies that came after. These films have little in common, except for the way they came along at a crucial moment in cinema history, when new methods were ripe for synthesis. ``Birth of a Nation'' brought together the developing language of shots and editing. ``Citizen Kane'' married special effects, advanced sound, a new photographic style and a freedom from linear storytelling. ``Star Wars'' melded a new generation of special effects with the high-energy action picture; it linked space opera and soap opera, tales and legend, and packaged them as a wild visual ride." (-Roger Ebert, the Chicago-Sun Times)

Click here for more information about "Star Wars"

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977)
"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is a classic motion picture that manages to capture that sense of wonder that is cinema at its best. Indeed the film manages to capture a dreamlike emotional quality better than virtually any other Science Fiction film - with the possible exception of the Spielberg classic "ET". Much of the credit for this films effectiveness goes to Richard Dreyfuss performance as a classic Spielberg character, whose obsession leads him to become more than the sum of his parts. Watch for a cameo appearance by Dr. J. Allen Hynek as the pipe-smoking observer at the dramatic meeting with the aliens. Hynek a noted author (The UFO Experience) served as a technical advisor on the film. Also watch for noted French director Francois Truffaut in his final film appearance as a scientist who is sympathetic to Melinda Dillon and Richard Dreyfus' plight.

"Alien" (1979)
Riddley Scotts "gut wrenching" saga of a group of interstellar miners who encounter a vicious alien creature that is intent on using them as an incubator is nothing short of mesmerizing.

Click here for more information about Alien.

"Blade Runner" (1982)
Futuristic film noir adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?".Riddly Scott ("Alien"), directs a suitably enigmatic cast that includes Harrison Ford (as a trench-coated futuristic Sam Spade), Rutgar Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah, Sean Young and Joanna Cassidy.

"ET The Extra Terrestrial" (1981)
Variety described this as "the best Disney film Disney never made" and truer words may never have been spoken. One of the most financially successful films of all time ET is this generations "Wizard of Oz " a timeless classic that appeals to adults and children. The story is deceptively simple; a fatherless boy finds and befriends an bandoned alien who heals as he is healed. Spielberg's achingly optimistic counterpoint to "Poltergeist", Spielberg said that if "Poltergeist" was a representation of his nightmares then "ET" was a representation of his childhood dreams. In this film Spielberg manages to convince all of us that those we love will always be "right here."

"Star Trek: First Contact" (1996)
You didn't really think that I wasn't going to mention the most successful (putting aside the Star Wars Trilogy) Science Fiction franchises around did you? The usual rule with Star Trek films is the even numbered films are always pretty darn good! This one is no exception to that rule. Like its even numbered predecessor "The Wrath of Kahn" (featuring the original Enterprise crew and deliciously villainous Ricardo Montaban) this features a great villain (the Borg - any similarities to Robert Bork are purely coincidental) and the best comedy in a Star Trek film since "The Voyage Home"(you remember - "save the whales"). Jonathan Frakkes (who also plays Will Ryker in the film) shows a deft hand as the director of this movie managing to capture the essence of what makes Star Trek effective on the small screen - strongly developed characters with well defined relationships who unite to save the universe from the bad guys. The film also features strong performances from Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard), Brent Spiner (Data),Alice Krige (the Borg Queen), Alfre Woodard (Lilly), and James Cromwell (Zeffram Cochran) and spectacular special effects.

"Men In Black" (1997)
Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith and Rip Torn - it doesn't get any better than this! Aside from one of the keenest opening sequences on film, this delightful screenplay focuses on the men in black who supposedly show up following the appearances of UFO's and other unexplained phenomenon. Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith are dazzling in this buddy film that explains all of that lost time that Mulder and Sculley seem to be so concerned about.

This film was so financialy and criticaly successful that they are currently planning a sequel. The working title for the film is (remarkably enough) "Men In Black 2", never let it be said that Hollywood is even remotely original!

Click here for more information about "Men In Black".


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