Friday, April 1, 2011

Battle of the Sci Fi Flicks: the 70s

Karen: Here we are, already in the 70s. Just like the 50s, this was a great decade for science fiction. The 70s start out with a lot of very cerebral, socially aware films. However, after Star Wars, we would see a ton of rip-offs all in the space opera-vein. Don't get me wrong, I love Star Wars, but it could be argued that its success resulted in the juvenilization of the genre. On the other hand, it also opened a lot of doors for more sci fi films to get made. Two sides of the same coin, really.
But regardless, there were so many good films in this span of years that I couldn't limit myself to just five. Again, I'm trying to pick out the best films, ones that hold up and are still influential today. I'm sure I'll be leaving someone's favorite out, so let's hear about it in the comments. Once more, in no real order, here are my picks.
1. A Clockwork Orange (1971): I'd have to say this is one disturbing film. Is it about the evils of behavior control? The need for change to come from within and not be forced upon one? The dangers of a totalitarian society? I don't know exactly, but I do know I could never hear "Singin' in the Rain" without thinking of this movie. It's a film that I'm glad I've seen, but not one I really want to watch again. Still, it had a real impact.

2. The Andromeda Strain (1971): I wasn't sure about including this flick, because I don't know that it's truly been influential or that popular. But it's always stuck with me -maybe because I went on to a career in science. The threat of the space virus, the race against the clock, it was all very exciting stuff, and certainly seemed plausible.

3. Soylent Green (1973): Charlton Heston's fourth science fiction features him as a detective in an over-populated dystopian near-future. As he tries to solve a murder, he discovers the secret of the little crackers the government provides the masses for food. In case the one person in the world who doesn't know the ending is reading this, I won't spoil it for them. This was Edward G. Robinson's final film, and he does a wonderful job in it. The scene with him at the euthanasia center, watching the surround-screen showing how beautiful Earth once was, and Heston crying, saying, "I didn't know" -that's a heart-breaker.

4. Rollerball (1975): In the future, corporations have taken over the world and Rollerball serves as a gladiatorial-style blood sport to appease the masses. Player Jonathan E. (James Caan) has become too popular however, and his unwillingness to retire drives the corporations to make the game increasingly more dangerous, in an effort to kill him. But rugged individualism is not so easily defeated. I don't think this film has attained classic status (although it was very badly remade a few years ago), but it still has something to say about the dangers of corporate power - or any totalitarian society for that matter.

5. The Omega Man (1971): Charlton Heston's third sci fi film is a rootin' tootin' action flick. I know, many people would say this film has its problems. And it does -the vampire-like Luddite bad guys are fairly ridiculous looking. The obsession with Christ allegories doesn't help either. But dang it, this is a very watchable and fun sci fi film! Based only slightly on Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, Heston's plight of loneliness comes across very strongly ("There is no phone ringing!!"). In some ways I prefer Vincent Price's Last Man On Earth, but that is really more of a horror film. Don't get me started on the Will Smith version.

6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): I really like the first 3/4 or so of this film. Watching Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfus) become completely obsessed with UFOs after an encounter is fascinating. His journey to Devil's Tower, and the parallel journey of investigator Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) is exciting stuff. It's when we get to the happy aliens and people bouncing out of the gigantic UFO that I feel a bit let down. But still, a heck of a film. Far better than Spielberg's E.T., which nauseated me to no end.

7. Alien (1979): It's really a horror movie set in outer space. The Nostromo is like a gigantic haunted mansion with nasty surprises springing out at us. The design of the Alien was terrifying and unique. It's been imitated (usually poorly) so many times now, that it might be easy to forget just how suspenseful and frightening it truly was when it came out. But this is a classic, no doubt about it.

8. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): This film has a nice slow burn until it hits full on paranoia and keeps that level high until the very end. There are some indelible images from this movie -the garbage trucks with the mysterious gray 'stuff' in the back, the pods and the pod people in their early stages, and of course, the final scene, with Donald Sutherland emitting a frightful wail. This is a film that stays with you.

9. Logan's Run (1976): I figured if I included Omega Man, I might as well include this film. Again, it has its problems. But it was big and bright and certainly captured my 12 year old imagination. We don't get a lot of background about how this strange, population-controlled society evolved, but then, this is really an action film. Although skinny Michael York would have to work with a personal trainer nowadays to be believable! The film had some great visuals, my favorite being the interrogation scene towards the end -"There_is_no_Sanctuary!" There's talk this is going to be remade, but I can't see why -it is such a product of the 70s, like disco. Who needs a remake.

10. Star Wars (1977): And here we are, to the big enchilada: the film that either made sci fi a popular, important genre or ruined it forever, depending on your mindset. But I love the film. There's no denying the enormous impact it's had. The visuals are still fantastic -I still get a shiver when that Star Destroyer passes overhead -and it's a classic tale of coming of age. Am I glad it exists? You bet!

Okay, I expect to hear an earful this time. Where's Star Trek the Motion Picture? What about the Apes sequels? Some of the films I considered and left off: Westworld, Silent Running, and the previously mentioned Star Trek. Some of my guilty pleasures made it, like Omega Man and Logan's Run, while I just couldn't bring myself to put Zardoz on the list, no matter how much I enjoy seeing Sean Connery in a red diaper. So let's hear it from you!


Edo Bosnar said...

Okay, I'll start off by chastising you for not including Star Trek, which is one of my favorite of the Trek films (disagree with all of the naysayers who claim it's too cerebral or boring). In fact, if I had to make a choice between Trek and Star Wars, I'd pick the former...
On the other hand, I'm totally with you on Rollerball and, especially, Andromeda Strain - it's one of those all-too-often overlooked gems (and like Rollerball, it was also rather poorly remade into a mini-series a few years back). In fact, I like your whole list - that is a damn fine collection of SF films!

Karen said...

Wow...only Edo? I really thought this list had some controversial choices and exclusions which would stir people up, but apparently not.

Well Edo, I debated about leaving STTMP off the list for some time. I think as a Trek film it has significnce, but I'm nt so sure it does as just a general scinece fiction film. I enjoy much of it (even more so after the effects were re-mastered a few years back) but it still does seem ponderous to me.

One thing I do like about many of these films is that they dealt more with social issues than with technology. Rollerball and Soylent Green in particular had a lot to say about our society -you could throw Silent Running in there too. I saw it again recently and it didn't hold up as well for me as those two films have. But people were worried about the environment, over-population, big brother, and all those things came out in the films. Of course we still have the same problems (although no one talks about overpopulation any more).


Anonymous said...

Tell you one thing I do miss - movie posters like the ones you've shown. Lush works by Peak, Castle, Chantrell etc made movies look exciting and enticing before you were even in the the risk of sounding like an old grump (as usual) they just don't do 'em like they used to.

(and I'd have included Zardoz!

B Smith

Karen said...

B Smith, I agree, I love looking at the old posters for these films. I may have to pick up a few. I already have lobby cards for Planet of the Apes, War of the Worlds, Forbidden Planet, Alien, and some others. But I'd love that Rollerball poster.

And I just couldn't pull the trigger on Zardoz, even though I am one of the few people who seem to have understood it! Most people I know who have seen it think it has no plot, but it does, just an extremely weird one.


Horace said...

While STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE has its issues, I agree with Edo that it should be on the list.

Having said that, I'll make a couple quick comments about ALIEN.

I saw ALIEN as a kid when it first hit theaters back in '79. To me, it was as mind blowing as STAR WARS. The design of the film, as Karen mentioned, is amazing. No film since has protrayed alien lifeforms and an alien atmosphere as convincingly as this one. Truly, one of the best art directed films of all time.

In addition to giving us an iconic monster, ALIEN gave us Ripley who broke the glass ceiling for women in horror and sci-fi. She wasn't a love interest. She wasn't there to cater to the men. She killed the Alien and saved herself without a man's help.

ALIEN also has the best trailer of all time. It's creepy without showing you the movie. Very different from modern trailers that show you everything.

Steve Does Comics said...

Karen, I think the reason you got so few comments is because it's all but impossible to argue with your choices. In that way, it's a compliment to you that so few people commented.

Off the top of my head, the only film I can think of that deserved a mention but didn't get one is Dark Star. I 'm not sure how it holds up today, not having seen it for almost thirty years, but at the time it had a certain appeal and its evil beach ball section was a classic sequence.

Anonymous said...

Superman: The Movie -- a man who can fly in space, lift tectonic plates, and travel thru time? Yeah, that's sci-fi right there. :-)

tharg said...

What Steve said! Very difficult to argue your choices - but would like to add the Trek Movie.

Enjoyed Disney's "The Black Hole" (1979) on the big screen but not up there with the mature cheese of "Logan's Run" :-)

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