Friday, March 25, 2011

Battle of the Sci Fi Flicks: the 60s

Karen: We're back for more cinematic debate, this time centering on the greatest science fiction films of the 1960s. Honestly, I'm more comfortable with genre films from either the 50s or 70s, so I may mis-step here. While it was easy to come up with a bunch of 50s films off the top of my head, with the 60s, I struggled a bit. But I think we've got some winners here. So in no particular order, here are my picks for the best of the 60s.

1. The Planet of the Apes (1968): It was pure allegory, and a bit goofy at times, but what a fun and exciting film. Things that immediately stand out are the spectacular crash sequence at the beginning, the amazing make-up designs of John Chambers,the fantastic soundtrack, the bizarre architecture of the Ape City, and of course the shocking closing scene. There are also splendid performances here from Charlton Heston, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, and Roddy McDowall. By far the best of all the apes films, and a classic.

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): I've always had mixed feelings on this film. While it was certainly visually compelling and far more intellectual than most science fiction films, it also drags quite a bit, in my opinion. Still, it's ambitious and spectacular. There are so many different -yet interrelated -things going on here: the evolution of man, the rise of artificial intelligence, and man's journey to connect with another intelligence. The film also ushered in a new era in special effects, with its incredibly detailed spaceship models and new filming techniques.

3. Fantastic Voyage (1966): Some would rank this as outstanding simply for the presence of Raquel Welch, but let's look at the rest of the film, shall we? A submarine-like ship and a crew are micro-miniaturized and injected into the body of a Soviet scientist who is defecting, but due to an assassination attempt, lies in a coma with a blood clot in his brain. The real selling point of the film are the wonderful visuals as we travel through the human body. It might not stand up to close inspection today, but I recall being completely enthralled with it when I first saw it.

4. Five Million Years to Earth (1967): This British film is also known as Quatermass and the Pit. I absolutely love this film, although it's a bit hard to describe. It involves the discovery of a buried alien spaceship, and these same aliens messing around with the evolution of human beings, species memories, psychic phenomena -there's so much more to it than that. It's smart, and scary at times. I wish I could get a copy of this on DVD. If you have a chance to see it, do it!

5. Day of the Triffids (1962). Another product of Great Britain, this film is sort of like a zombie film but with the zombies replaced by huge, ambulatory plants. I'm not kidding. It sounds hokey but believe me, these plants were pretty darn frightening. Actually, the zombie connection is even more appropriate when you consider that both 28 Days Later and the recent Walking Dead TV show essentially stole the beginning of Triffids - where the protagonist wakes up in a hospital room, alone. In triffids however, there is an even more interesting twist: our hero is one of the few people alive who can still see. The plants arrived on our planet during a tremendous meteor shower, which also had the effect of blinding most of the populace. As in zombie films, society has begun to collapse and the survivors are fighting it out amongst themselves, with the plants coming off as a lot less threatening than our fellow men.

OK, what do you think deserves to be on the list? What film did I overlook?


Steve Does Comics said...

Looking at Wikipedia to see what came out in the 1960s, it's a positive Brit-Fest. I'm not sure why but it seems Hollywood was otherwise engaged for about ten years and for once it was left to Britain to carry the sci-fi flag in that decade.

Here's my faves:

"Quatermass and the Pit" is one of my favourite movies of all time, so that definitely gets my #1 vote. I remember seeing it for the first time when I was about ten, and even the title sounded scary. It seemed like the BBC showed it pretty much every Christmas when I was a kid.

I have good memories too of "The Day The Earth Caught Fire" - although I've not seen it for about twenty years, so don't know how it stands up these days.

There's the "Midwich Cuckoo" inspired "Children of the Damned" and "Village of the Damned". I can never remember which is which, so couldn't say off the top of my head which was the best but I know at least one of them always impressed me when I was a kid.

I've always loved "The Time Machine".

Both Thunderbird movies have their charm.

There's a really odd little movie called "The Night Caller" about aliens kidnapping glamour models, and of course there's "Night of the Big Heat" about alien invaders on a Scottish island.

I also have to give a vote for Peter Cushing's first "Dr Who and the Daleks" movie. Admittedly my love for it owes more to nostalgia than to it actually being any good but, even now, it always grabs me - especially the Daleks' love of lava lamps.

david_b said...

I think 'Fantastic Voyage' works because of the eerie electronic music and the great effects. As a kid, I found '2001' a beautiful, yet long drag.. Now it's simply a very elegant cinematic experience, much like ST-TMP (1979) and even it's step-child Space:1999.

It's like a fine wine, where the vast visuals convey the artistic intent of Kubrick on Clark's story more than the screenplay.

I find both Apes and 2001 immediate cultural benchmarks for all future sci-fi excursions to be measured against, primarily because both were made with enough allegories to effectively work on so many levels.., far away from the "rocket ships and laser guns" type movie.

"Barbarella" anyone..? Just kidding.

Anonymous said...

I think Planet of the Apes is one of the best sci-fi films of all time. Under it's low-budget sets and decidedly un-apelike apes, there's a great story there.

Heston did a couple of other great sci-fi flicks: Omega Man (the second film adapation of "I Am Legend") and the immortal Soylent Green.

Mr Blue Genes said...

I've heard nothing but the highest praise for "Quatermass and the Pit" over the years, and I really struggle to understand what I've missed. I've seen it four or five times, and what I recall is about 2 hours of psychobabble until Satan appears (completely non-sequiter) and Quatermass kills him by hitting him with a construction crane. Completely nonsensical.

Anonymous said...

Karen – I really like the 2nd apes film. It’s not better than the first, but normally sequels massively let down the originals, which Beneath didn’t. Also, I think it was the first time I saw a film with unknowns in the main roles and the star doing a cameo (apparently Heston would only do it if they killed him, thereby stopping any further sequels....if only he knew what was coming!)

David – I loved Barbarella. Admittedly it’s more like a pop video than a proper film, but envelopes were pushed!

Likewise 2001 – you have to sit and watch it with a different head on and commit to its differentness.

Steve – we were talking on the 50’s list about that series of films that the BBC showed in the mid 70’s, which was the first time I saw a lot of sci-fi. The 4th film in that series (don’t ask me how I know) was ‘Visit to a small planet’ ....Jerry Lewis as a slapstick alien. I’m not claiming that it’s a classic sci fi, but I remember being amazed that it was possible to make comedy sci fi film. I’d never seen anything like it. MIB here we come.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars – I haven’t seen this since I was little, but I remember being enthralled by it. Anyone see it? Any good?

I’m assuming since no-one has mentioned Silent Running that that was 70’s.


Karen said...

Hi folks, lots of good comments today! Just some remarks:

Steve: I almost put Time Machine on the list, but I just couldn't pull the trigger. I love the stuff with the Morlocks, but otherwise it doesn't do much for me.

Eric: we'll get to more of Chuck's film's next time. The 70s had a lot of good sci fi!

Mr. Blue Genes: Admittedly it has been many years since I last saw 5 Million Years, but it all made sense to me. My recollection is that the aliens genetically altered some human beings in an effort to save their dying race. These people had limited psychic abilities. These aliens were also the source of our ideas of satan and demons. Unearthing the craft activates something, which causes the humans with this genetic alteration to start culling the normal humans.The giant alien image that appears is a psychic manifestation and the source of the signal. One of the heroes 'shorts it out' by using an iron crane. Anybody else got anything to add to this?

Richard: 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes' is my second favorite Apes film. It is very under appreciated. I liked the expansion of the Apes' world and thought the mutants were interesting. But I know many who can't stand it. To each his own I guess.


Edo Bosnar said...

Definitely agree with 2001 (never found it boring) and Planet of the Apes. The others I've either not seen or seen parts thereof, but really want to see.
I really liked Time Machine from 1960, which is my favorite cinematic version by far. Otherwise, I'm also having trouble remembering if I've even seen enough sci fi films from the 60s, except the rather bad ones. In that regard, david_b, Barbarella's a masterpiece compared to say, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, or that Disney film where a computer is downloaded into Kurt Russell's brain. What was that called? Something about tennis shoes...

Steve Does Comics said...

Karen, your summary of Quatermass and the Pit is pretty much perfect and, given how wide-ranging and convoluted writer Nigel Kneale's thesis was, a masterpiece of conciseness.

Doug said...

All I recall about "Fantastic Voyage" is that I saw it when I was 7 or 8 and it made me sick to my stomach. I'm not generally the squeamish type, so it could have been something Mom had fixed for dinner. But I'm telling you -- they weren't too far into the voyage and I was praying to the porcelain god.

I, too, love Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Man, first time I saw it I think I hid my eyes when the mutants took off their masks. Yuck! It wasn't until years later that I realized that Natalie Trundy had roles in the last four Apes films. Tim Burton's a fool for trying to remake Planet of the Apes. He had a fairly different-enough thing going until he tried to copy the ending. Bad choice to try to emulate one of the greatest endings of any film. It still has impact after all these years.


Fred W. Hill said...

The only movie I actually remember seeing in the '60s (I was born in 1962) is Planet of the Apes -- my family was living on a navy base in Japan when that came out and one night, while my dad was on duty, my mom took me (age 6) and my two younger brothers (Terry, 5 and Don, only a few months old) out to see the movie. The torture scene proved too scary for Terry and me to handle that night. I remember even the walk home through the base after dark, with hardly anyone else around, seemed eerie. A few years later, Terry and I sat through all 5 Apes movies at a cinema in Salt Lake City. The follow-ups were fun and had their own creepy aspects, but that first one was the stand out.
As for 2001, I think it wasn't until sometime in the early '80s that I first saw that one, on tv. Visually compelling, and naturally I'll always associate Richard Strauss' "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" with that scene of primitive men going homicidal with a bone which then transforms into a space ship. Still, for goofy sci-fi kicks, it just can't compete with talking chimpanzees and gorillas dressed in leather and holding rifles!

Will said...

How about "Robinson Crusoe on Mars"? It's been a long time since I've seen it, but it was much better than you would think from the title.

Anonymous said...

That Disney movie with Kurt Russell was "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" or "The computer in Tennis Shoes." He played the same character in a sequel called (IIRC) "Now You See Him, Now You Don't," about an invisibility formula. And "Night of the Big Heat" was shown on TV as "Island of the Burning Damned" or "Island of the Burning Doomed." I saw it when I was a 16-17 and have been a Jane Merrow fan ever since.

Anonymous said...

"Robinson Crusoe on Mars" was not bad.

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