A Golden Decade of Science Fiction Films
Ah, Sci Fi! I love me some really good Sci Fi films and books! Films like Tron, Blade Runner, Alien, The Terminator and Live, Die, Repeat (which was so good it had two names-The Edge of Tomorrow being the other one). Films like Passenger, Fantastic Voyage or The Hunger Games. Cheesy ones like They Live, or scary ones like The War of the Worlds. Classics existing in both film and print from Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G.Wells and Arthur C. Clarke. Dystopian, utopian. Bad aliens, good aliens. Things which could come to be, things which have, things which might never be. They are all great fun and just what we as a nation need right now: a chance to escape from this sci fi drama which is playing out before our very eyes right this very minute.
So read on, escape with me for a while as I share a few of my favorites from over the years!
Beginning in 1968, there began what I consider to be the Golden Age of Sci Fi films. Films which I enjoy to this day, films I have shared with my newly minted 16 year old son. I saw many of these in the immediate time they were released, some at the theater, others on TV. All of them made an impact on me and continue to do do to this day. For the most part, my son feels as I do, thus proving that sometimes the acorn really doesn't fall too far from the tree.
I am going to go through a few of them now, sharing my thoughts on them. Feel free to comment on if you like them, or if you do not. And if there are others you enjoyed more from any time frame. For me, my love of Sci Fi begins in the 1960's with Star Trek and by the end of the decade I was firmly entrenched as a true fan.
And in today's crisis, after writing a few articles detailing my thoughts on what we now face I feel a little levity and lighthearted fun is in order!
Damn what a year that was for Sci Fi! There were films in the genre before this, but a couple of these made history, a history which still remembers these films today and probably will forever, I guess. The one which stands out the most to me is...
Planet of the Apes! Starring Charlton Heston, this film is an adaptation of Pierre Boulle's book La Planète des Singes. While the 1968 film differs somewhat from Boulle's book (Yes, I do own it and have read it thank you very much!) it, to me, begins a modern approach to Sci Fi in a way that leaves all other films of the genre far behind, and changes the landscape for all that come after it. It is shocking, it is scary, and it depicts a very real possibility that we can and could destroy our race and civilization if we do not watch what we do.
The film was such a success that it spawned what might be the first of what came to be known as "sequels". Four other films followed, a cartoon, comic books, television series, a re-imagining and then a reboot which became successful in its own right more than forty years later.
Who doesn't feel the frustration and anger that Taylor, played by Heston, feels in that final scene on the beach? Who wouldn't cry out and curse and pound the sand in sheer devastation as he learns the truth of the planet he is now on? It might be one of the most powerful endings in movie history.
Spoiler alert! (If you haven't seen this, shame on you!)
1968, Part II
And then there's that other little film you might recall from the same year. Not that it has had any impact on our culture or history, no not at all.
2001: A Space Odyssey.
Whoo boy, what a year that was! 2001 and Planet of the Apes?! The theme song is so recognizable and has been used for countless instances over the years, and HAL is synonymous with computers to this day. Hell, they think HAL was used as a way to imitate IBM! Change the letters one forward, one at a time and you get...never mind.
The sound, the music, the drama, the possibilities, this film has it all. How many children over the years saw this film and began to dream, to dream of the stars, the endless stars. Of going up into space and then having something terrible occur in something you have to trust. It almost feels like the ultimate betrayal from the computer. But our hero recovers and sails off into the unknown. Who wouldn't love that?!
To this day, when I sit down to watch it I have to have everything just right, in place because I will not move for the duration of the film. Don't ask me to do anything, I ain't gonna do squat until its over!
1969, Part III
Dear God, another one!? Yes, although this one isn't truly a Sci Fi film, it is close enough and besides, the weight it has in the industry and the shadow it has cast over the intervening years is easily large enough to warrant its inclusion here.
George A Romero's Night of the Living Dead. The original scary as hell zombie film, one that continues to haunt people to this day. Every single zombie movie made over the years owes its existence to Romero and this classic. Every. Single. One.
Shot in black and white, and all the more scary and realistic for it, this classic shows us in its non-sensational manner what we might expect if a zombie apocalypse came to be.
Consider what Roger Ebert said of this film at the time:
"The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying ... It's hard to remember what sort of effect this movie might have had on you when you were six or seven. But try to remember. At that age, kids take the events on the screen seriously, and they identify fiercely with the hero. When the hero is killed, that's not an unhappy ending but a tragic one: Nobody got out alive. It's just over, that's all."
This film affected everybody who saw it and it still has the ability to affect us today. That is the mark of a classic film.
If you had to pick just one of these to watch, would it be:
We have entered the next decade, and have taken a few steps along the path of what Sci Fi will eventually become. Sci Fi is of course short for Science Fiction and the next film on my list mixes in a healthy amount of Science.
Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain. Starring a bunch of people you know their faces but not their names, this film is another low key, never too exciting but nonetheless holds your attention until the end masterpiece in which Mankind is attacked because of something it does; in this case send out a probe to try and find a biological weapon which might be used against our enemies.
We never learn.
This has a tight script which is brought to life by actors who mix in just the right amount of drama as the plot leads you along, one step at a time until...
Shit hits the fan! Yes, the bio-weapon escapes and Mankind is threatened. One man must halt its mutation and the utter destruction of our race.
But from start to finish this well crafted film carries more of a scientific, it could really happen plot than you might expect from a film a half a century old. And the processes required to enter the facility strike me as being both plausible and probable. This film is what first introduced me to that most amazing author Micheal Crichton, and the realization of just how many of his works have wound up as films is truly mind blowing. Just to name a few: Jurassic Park, Disclosure, Timeline, and Congo.
Staying in 1971...
Another gifted author is behind this one, and it has been made into not one, not two but three feature length films! If I give you a name, can you figure it out? Richard Matheson! Need another hint? How about the three men who played the lead in these films?
Now you know, right? In this case, we are going with Heston and The Omega Man. Heston plays the role first brought to the screen by Price, and would be later by Smith, as the Last Man on Earth. Every other being is some kind of a cross between a vampire and a zombie, a living, lifeless existence which the hero is bound to destroy. Or, in Smith's case, save from themselves. The book, I Am Legend, is a wonderful read and I highly encourage you to seek it out.
I love Heston, whether he is Moses, Ben Hur, Taylor or whatever. He is a consummate actor and gives himself to the role, dragging you into it whether you want to be or not. You are consumed by the role he plays, whatever it may be and this film is no different.
A side note here; I've already listed two of his films from this era and almost listed another but won't go into detail on the third. 1973's Soylent Green gets a nod here for the dystopian future it details, Heston's flawed hero and the wonderful final screen appearance by screen legend Edward G Robinson.
Which of the three films do you prefer?
Another Michael Crichton masterpiece is next. It spawned a sequel and years later a re-imagining in television series form.
Dear me, when I first saw this I was struck by how amazing Yul Brynner was, and when he, playing the robotic gunslinger, "comes to life" and shoots James Brolin, well, I was hooked. Scared shitless, but hooked. The casualness of what leads up to the shooting, with Richard Benjamin having already shot Brynner twice, and his disgust at having to face him again (after a long night of drinking and brawling) is perfect, followed by Brolin asking if he can "kill" him this time. Then we see that not all is as it seems, and the tag line really comes into play.
"Nothing can go wrong".
Well, it does; in a big big way.
Brolin's reaction to being shot is one of the best I have ever seen; the way he hits the ground and the shock which is evident on his face when he gets back to his feet, then when he hits the ground again, and then that moment when he is seen kissing the dirt in death is as powerful a death scene as I can recall. To me, it is absolutely perfect. Benjamin's utter shock at what has taken place, the realization of what is really happening as it crawls across his face and Brynner's small smile which never reaches his eyes is amazing.
Brynner is absolutely perfect as the cold blooded machine gunslinger, his eyes flat as a viper's. His expression almost never changes, and his continuing pursuit of the living is what led to Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator character a decade or so later.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, you see here just how much Arnold is influenced by Yul's portrayal of a killing machine which is single minded in its pursuit of what it deems is it purpose.
Nothing can go wrong...or can it?
I absolutely love, love, love Logan's Run! I cannot say how many times I have seen it over the years, more than a hundred surely. And every time I sit spellbound at the colors, the characters, the story line. I have the book as well and read it about once a year. It never gets old.
Another future story but this time, you are only allowed to live for a certain amount of time. In this case, when you turn 30 years old, your time is up and you must die in Carousel. Oh, people think you get reborn but you don't.
Logan is a Sandman, a person who seeks out and kills runners, those who choose to run for freedom rather than enter Carousel. He infiltrates a group of people who help runners with the help of a young woman and "runs" to find Sanctuary. Along the way he learns the truth and seeks to change things. We do not know how successful he is, but at least his people now have a choice.
Starring Jenny Agutter (A Werewolf In London), Roscoe Lee Brown (The Cowboys, and man, does he have a great voice!) and Peter Ustinov (what a truly great actor), along with a very early (pre-Charlie's Angels) appearance by Farrah Fawcett, this is a wonderful and entertaining film.
We reach the end of my Golden Decade here, and the final two films I won't go into great detail on. I think you can recognize them, and if you don't...
Where in the hell have you been!?!?
Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
These two films took what the previous decade's films had built up, and then went where the industry and genre had never gone before. After them, there was no turning back, no room for cheesy or half thought out Sci Fi films any longer. The bar had been raised by an order of magnitude. If Planet of the Apes was defining of its time, these films were defining of the genre and the century.
Close Encounters is a love story of what we would like to expect if we get the opportunity to make contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence, and Star Wars (NOT Episode IV: A New Hope!!) is part of perhaps one of if not the most successful group of films in our history. From it has sprung any number of spin offs, comics, cartoons, whatever. It continues to evolve as a universe all its own and has a following like few others.
But when they came out in 1977, our world was rocked by a one two punch that knocked us out! I don't know if we have recovered yet.
Others from this decade worth mentioning
There are others from this ten year time frame that I must mention in passing. Films such as 1969's The Valley of the Gwangi, that stop action classic which tells the story of a dinosaur running amok in our modern world. Wait, that sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Then there is 1977's The Island of Dr Moreau, starring Burt Lancaster and Logan's Run's Michael York; another book made into a film, and one which has been remade again since its release.
And finally, although no one can seriously call it a classic in the truest sense, I must mention 1978's Attack of the Killer Tomatoes for its cult status of a horror/Sci Fi/spoof film (and stupid fun) which actually spawned sequels! And who among you knew that the singer of that wonderful title song was the drummer for Pearl Jam? Think the band ever let him live that little bit of trivia down?
Did I go too far by including Attack of the Killer Tomatoes?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Mr Archer