Friday, April 8, 2011

Battle of the Sci Fi Flicks: the 80s

Karen: This is it, sci fi fans: my last entry on the best, most influential sci fi films from decades past. Today we look at the 80s, the post-Star Wars decade, which ushered in a lot of big budget science fiction extravaganzas. But that doesn't mean that many of them weren't pretty good films. Again, in no particular order, are my picks for the top contenders:

1. Robocop (1987): A high tech Frankenstein story, with cartoonish, over the top vio
lence, satirical humor, and an excellent performance by Peter Weller. Set in a dystopian near-future, where crime is running rampant, police officer Alex Murphy is killed and brought back to life as a law enforcing cyborg. Gradually he begins to rediscover his past and become more human. A fun movie. The sequels were far below the original in every way.

2. Star Trek II:The Wrath of Khan (1982): I may have left Star Trek the Motion Picture off our 70s list, but I would never dream of leaving this film off. Not only the best Trek film of all, but a great movie, period. Captain-excuse me, Admiral Kirk struggles with growing older, and reconciling with the choices of his past. Ricardo Montalban creates an unforgettable villain in Khan. We finally get some terrific space battle scenes. And of course, we see Spock make the ultimate sacrifice. That was the first time I ever cried watching a film. An all around classic.

3. Aliens (1986): If Alien was a horror film in space, its sequel was a war film in space. Instead of just one incredibly lethal alien to deal with, Ripley and a group of marines are faced with perhaps hundreds of aliens. An exciting, action-packed film, which still had its share of thrills and chills. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is probably still the greatest female action hero of the cinema. Stan Winston and crew gave us not only the humanoid alien like we had seen in the first film, but a gigantic queen alien that was a live effect -no CGI or animation! Truly an impressive sight.

4. Blade Runner (1982): A film noir with a science fiction setting. The
re's now several versions of the film floating around, but the essential look and feel of the film -probably the most significant qualities of the movie -remain unchanged. This is a bleak vision of the future, with people detached from their emotions, and only the androids seem truly human. All the themes we saw from the 70s are echoed here -the Los Angeles of Blade Runner is ecologically and socially devastated, despite all the shiny technological marvels. Definitely Rutger Hauer's best film, and he delivers one of my favorite lines of all time: "All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain."

5. The Terminator (1984): Arnold's greatest role without a doubt. This film felt fresh and exciting when it came out. It crossed over science fiction, action, even horror boundaries, as the unstoppable cyborg carried out a relentless pursuit of young Sarah Conner. The Terminator itself (the exoskeleton) was a simple yet perfect design. Arnold is excellent as the emotionless machine sent from the future. I think I prefer him in a role with minimal talking!

6. The Empire Strikes Back (1980): Widely considered to be the best-made of the Star Wars films, and I won't argue with that. As a kid I left the theater stunned -what would happen to Han? How could Vader be Luke's father? What did it all mean?! There were so many great sequences -the search over Hoth, the battle on Hoth, the asteroid chase, training with Yoda, the duel between Vader and Luke, "I love you!" -"I know." It was agony to wait for the next film. But in retrospect, a perfect middle part to our story, as our heroes meet their darkest hours. A classic -big time.

7. The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2) (1981): I must have seen this about 6 times at the theater -often with only three or four other people sitting there in the dark -and maybe a couple of dozen times on video. This film just blew my mind; I had never seen anything like it. The sheer ferocity, and mayhem - it felt like something I shouldn't be watching. So of course I loved it. Set in yet another dystopian future, Road Warrior reset the bar for car chases - their amp went past 11 and up to 20! Of course, it was also appealing due to its young star, the pre-maniac Mel Gibson, who was beautiful even in all his dinged-up leather glory. Unfortunately it bred a multitude of poorly done imitations; but the original still holds up well -just forget about Thunderdome, though.

8. Predator (1987): Another action/sci fi film, where Arnold gets to be the hero this time, as a soldier taking on a deadly and cunning alien hunter. This movie might be the flimsiest of the lot here, but it succeeds at what it sets out to do: be an exciting action film. It also has a fun cast, with not only Arnold but Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, and crazy-looking Sonny Landham. The Predator itself was a unique creation, another beauty from effects man Stan Winston. I re-watched this a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

9. The Thing (1982): One of the few remakes that acquits itself very well. John Carpenter's version of the Thing is radically different from Howard Hawks' version (also on our 1950s list), as it goes back more to the John Campbell story, "Who Goes There?" The invading creature is capable of actually taking over and assuming the form of any biological entity. The film overwhelms with both the sense of paranoia and the horrific,almost nauseating forms the thing takes on. Rob Bottin created some of the most bizarre creatures ever seen in this movie. This is a film that will stick with you once you've seen it.

Honorable mentions: Star Trek IV, Return of the Jedi, The Abyss.

OK: let the debate begin!


Horace said...

Despite no E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, I like the list. E.T. made a boatload of money, but what's it legacy? Reese's Pieces?

BLADE RUNNER and THE THING weren't well recevied when they came out, but they're revered today.

A lot of favorites on this list. BLADE RUNNER my favorite here.

Horace said...

Karen wrote: "Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is probably still the greatest female action hero of the cinema."

No doubt.

Anonymous said...

Just watched ROBOCOP this weekend, man, I forgot how gory the ending wonder is was such a hit when i was a kid.

Wrath of Khan was/is the ONLY Star Trek ANYTHING I have ever enjoyed. Still holds up as a great flick. However, I still haven't checked out the recent reboot movie, which i heard is good.

As a kid, I would certainly have picked ROTJedi. I was 9, so i had no animosity towards the Ewoks, and still think they're okay.
Nowadays, I'd have to say a TIE between EMPIRE and Jedi. I just love the Jabba's palace scene too much.

Time Bandits was a less-known 80s favorite of mine, played on HBO a lot back then.

cool topic


Edo Bosnar said...

What?! No Star Trek V? - I'm kidding, I'm kidding...
Seriously, though, another great selection. I especially agree with Blade Runner. It's probably my favorite SF movie of all time (and that refers to both versions I've seen - the standard cinematic release and the director's cut). Hell, it's one of my favorite movies in general. And as opposed to all of the other movies based on Philip Dick's works, this one actually does justice to the source material.

Karen said...

Horace: Yeah, what IS E.T.'s legacy? I just never liked the thing. too cutesy for me. That's about the time I felt like Spielberg was really trying to hard to manipulate viewer emotions, rather than just make a good movie.

Starfoxxx; I just couldn't put Jedi up there. I LOVE the parts with Luke and Vader, they save the film for me.

Edo: you know, I really am a Star Trek fan, and if ST V is on TV, I will stop and watch it. there are parts I enjoy, in every Trek film.

I still enjoy Blade Runner but the last time I saw it I thought it dragged. Although it may have been the company I was with. Still, I love the overall style and Roy Batty is one of the great film antagonists -I can't call him a villain.


Doug said...

Just curious, Karen --

Had you not seen Old Yeller, Brian's Song, or Love Story before you saw Wrath of Khan?


Karen said...

Doug -
I was a real tough cookie as a kid.

Now though, I cry at Hallmark commercials.


The Lassiter said...

I'm adding the first Poltergeist to the list. That movie scared me on the same level as The Thing remake.
That Clown doll scared me more than anything else.
My little brother had that same clown and wouldnt part with it.

jefsview said...

I saw all of these at the theater, and The Thing is by far the best. It's just visually amazing, and carpenter really pulled out the best from his actors -- everything worked.

Bladerunner does drag. Visually, it's stunning, and I love Rutger Hauer's subtle performance. But the film has always been a slow burn.

If we were to add in other genres, then I would seconded Poltergeist. But I would add 2 o3 three other films to the list like Greystoke -- The Legend of Tarzan, and Excalibur, and raiders of the Lost Ark. But those are more fantasy or pulp inspired.

Perhaps you should do a list of alternate genres, like horror/fantasy.

david_b said...

In college (or Active Duty in Germany..) most of the '80s, I saw 'Blade Runner' on campus at a special preview before it's official opening. Had these awesome black T-Shirts being given away, but yes, despite the nice murky, noir-influence of 'Runner', it wasn't cut well.., so the pacing wasn't good.

Most of the 80s movies were too cutesy or disappointing for me, much like 'Jedi'. I thought '2010' was a gutsy move, and worked pretty well, as long as you weren't expecting another '2001'. The only mentioned ones I really liked were 'Empire' and 'Aliens'..

I distinctly recall thinking all throughout 'Jedi': "Gee, that'll be a toy, and that'll be a toy, etc.. Couldn't wait for it to end, much more into old Doctor Who at that time.

Never saw 'ET', actually turned down and offer to see it for a buck on a Sunday afternoon.

As for the Trek franchise, loved 'Khan' at the time (but now sick of..), now preferring 'Search for Spock' more (THAT ending makes me cry..). I applaud Harve Bennett's approach for the sake of sustaining the Franchise, but personally still prefer ST-TMP.

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, I'm with you on being a complete and utter Trek fan. Heck, like I mentioned before, I even love the first movie right up there with "Wrath of Khan" and "Undiscovered Country." But I found pretty much nothing redeeming in ST V. I've only seen it twice: first time in the theater (with my brother - I remember we were saying 'WTF was that?' afterward), and then once more on video just to make sure it was really that bad - and indeed it was...

david_b said...

Oh, I actually enjoyed parts of ST-V myself.. I LOVED the camping scenario which bracketed the film.. I thought, FINALLY, we're treating these guys as 'real people'. 'Course I HAD to run out last year and buy the Kraft plastic Marshmellow container. WAY too cool..

I just didn't like how Shatner showed the secondary characters, essentially as buffoons.

Loved Spock's line at the end: "Captain.., Not in front of the Klingons.."

Anonymous said...

Aliens is superb, esp. the revised cut with Ripley & Newt’s back stories. It becomes a different film.

Predator can be on the list, but solely, as you say on the strength of the eponymous beastie himself. Great design & effects.

I’d include Jedi. The end sequence where our heroes are down on the planet, everyone else is having a full on war in space and Luke & Vader are mano-a-mano ALL AT THE SAME TIME is superbly handled, cutting all the time between the one, the few and the many. The only piece of bad narrative was that the resolution was taken out of the hands of the protagonist.....or so it seemed at the time. Little did we know !

Karen, you didn’t mention any of the fun ones, so I’m throwing Back to the Future onto the table. Even the sequels were fun.

Altered States – remember this? Ken Russell undoing evolution on William Hurt.

To this day, I’ve never seen Dune. Any good?

A lot of Stephen King is on the cusp of sci fi and the 80’s were all King. I’d pick the Dead Zone.

I have to mention Dreamscape as a guilty pleasure. Dennis Quaid as a telepathic dream spy.

Brainstorm – Natalie Wood’s last film. Nasty little idea about recording people’s experiences as they die and playing them back.

Superman 2 was pretty well received, I remember.

The Thing is just jaw dropping. One of those films that was so shocking that he got away with humour and still didn’t dilute the horror. When the guy says ‘you’ve got to be ‘#&%ing kidding’ the entire audience exploded with laughter. Carpenter should get honourable mentions in the 80’s sci fi genre for Starman and the first half of They Live which was superb. And, of course, Escape from New York but I guess that’s just ‘futuristic’ not really sci fi.

No Cronenberg? Scanners. Nasty, nasty idea. Videodrome ?

No love for Tron, then, even in a post-modern, rose-tinted-nostalgia kinda way ?


Chim Brouer said...

I choose Aliens, because its still an elegant movie and it started a new genre of bad-ass female action heros.

What about Escape from New York?

Chim Brouer said...

.. and yes Cronenberg too !

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