Readers review best SF film books

(Editor’s note: In  the recent https://rdhgreatstories.com/2019/01/19/authors-books-differ-on-top-sf-film post, the picks of outstanding SF films by the authors of “Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That Are Out of This World,” “Top l00 Sci-Fi Movies” and “101 Sci-Movies You Must See Before You Die” and this writer were listed.)

Following the posting of a story about three books authors’ choices for the outstanding/best/favorite science fiction movies of all time, we asked a couple dozen people what they thought about the lists and what they might add or subtract.

We received some fascinating responses:

Joel Zakem, a currently retired attorney, is  a longtime SF enthusiast who has been attending conventions for more than 50 years.

“Even though I have not seen any of the books, I will make a few observations. None of the lists appear to have mentioned ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ which, in many ways, is a stronger film than the original,” Zakem said. “On the TCM list, I would not included ‘Barbarella’ and I thought ‘Terminator 2’ (mentioned in both other books) is a better film than the first one.

“Other than that, I have no real problem with what TCM included, but I would have added ‘Quartermass and the Pit’ and ‘The Road Warrior.'”

Zakem said that he would not have included Star Trek  and isn’t sure he would have included any Star Wars movies, even though he says they are important.

Keith Bradbury, owner of the  Who North America store in Camby, Indiana, said he was disappointed that “Tron” wasn’t included in the TCM book.  “I consider it to be one of the best Sci Fi movies because it contrasted faith vs. statism in a computer context,” he said.

Others he felt worthy of inclusion were “The Island” and “They Live.”

Bradbury said, “I do agree with much of the list. If I were going to do a rundown of my favorites (skipping the Flash Gordon serial), I would go: Metropolis, Things to Come, Forbidden Planet, Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Tron, They Live, The Island, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Logan’s Run, Planet of the Apes (original ONLY), Interstellar, 2001 (off the top of my head).”

Leanna Rogers, a nurse, said,  “I really enjoyed your writing on this. I especially enjoyed that you included a lot more modern Sci-Fi films as well.

“I feel like the two lists that are compared really glossed over sci-fi films from 2000-present. I also really enjoyed the segment about era specific sci-fi and how the films’ themes reflect the fears/concerns of the times in which they were made, especially for young(ish) fans like myself who didn’t experience those eras firsthand.”

Rogers said if she were adding films one would be “Battle Royale” and a  “Scanner Darkly. “I believe it wasn’t very well received so it might not be as iconic as the other films on this list … I’m biased because I love Philip K. Dick.”

Brian Culp, longtime SF enthusiast and former newspaper editor, questioned the  way “The Matrix” was listed.

Culp said, “I  have a hard time with the TCM people including ‘The Matrix,’ but not the full Matrix series (assuming that is the case). The first one can stand alone, but it is really helped along by the other two installments.”

Mike Rittenhouse, a musician in the band Five Year Mission and the owner of Hero House, said, “I believe I have the ‘101 Sci Fi’ book. And I agree that there are many films that are included/not included that I disagree with.

“But, in the end, it is just an opinion by the author. Not a definitive list. I find it interesting that the first book you mention completely overlooked Star Trek. Seems like a blatant use of author’s opinion vs. common opinion. Overall, an interesting article about the difference in books and opinions.”

Tracy Canfield, a published science fiction author and linguist capable of translating and speaking Klingon,  said, “I’m glad Schneider mentioned ‘Primer’ – it’s rare to see hard SF in movies, and Primer is a great film from beginning to end. I’d also include Shane Carruth’s second film, ‘Upstream Color,’ on my list of great SF movies.  … I recommend Upstream Color, but I have to warn you, it’s a lot of work.”

“Gattaca” is a great science fiction film too, she said.

” I wonder, though, if I’m thinking about this a little differently than De Forest (author of the TCM book) – if I were making a list of great science fiction films, I’d be thinking of films where the science fiction is great and not necessarily great movies where the science is just there to make exciting things happen (‘Jurassic Park,’ for example). …

“At the risk of contradicting myself, I might include ‘The World’s End’ on my own personal list. It’s a science fiction film by Edgar Wright and Sean Pegg, who are better known for movies like Shaun of the Dead. …’Dark City’ is a wonderful movie that didn’t seem to make anyone’s list. It would certainly make mine, though.”

Canfield said she would pick “Looper” over “Arrival,” which she says “has an equally implausible premise, and a distractingly weird idea of what linguistics is. …

“If I were making a list, I’d include a movie none of the other authors did: ‘Being John Malkovich.'”

Dr. Robert Pyatt, a college professor in South Dakota and presenter of fascinating science-related programs at science fiction gatherings, said, “I think the TCM book needs to define science fiction. Is Frankenstein sci-fi? The horror crowd would disagree.”

Wendy Carson and John Belden, co-hosts of PlaysWithJohnAndWendy.com, issued a combined response to the lists.

“I agree that it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to come up with a top-100 science fiction films of all time list,” they said.  “All I can do, in seeing the attempts cited, is list some ‘what-abouts.’

“If we can list Charlton Heston’s ‘Planet of the Apes’ and ‘Soylent Green,’ what about “Marathon Man,” the original film version of “I Am Legend.”…

“The ’80s had more than just Star Wars knockoffs. ‘Enemy Mine’ should be counted among the greatest SF films of all time — two excellent actors at the top of their game, and a timeless message. If you looked beyond the comicbook-pulp fun of the original ‘RoboCop,’ there was timely and biting social satire that elevated the whole work. ‘Alien Nation’ was such a great allegory that it was spun off into a TV series.

Carson and Belden said the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Rock and Rules,” “Heavy Metal” and “The Black Hole” deserve consideration.

“And despite SF gadetry, no one is mentioning ‘Ghostbusters’ or ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.’ And let’s also note that if it weren’t for its MCU ties, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ would definitely be on the lists. “

Dan Carroll, director of media engagement at Dragon Con, said, “I am not one to impose my views on someone else’s list. I mean…lists should always be about favorites…not ‘best'”

Martin Ross, a retired journalist, said, “I liked the Gerani/Schneider list better, but then I’m a big fan of ‘50s-60s British sci-fi/horror, especially the Quatermass films, Five Million Years to Earth, and the original Village of the Damned (TMC’s preference for the sequel was a head-scratcher).

“I’m glad they also added more obscure oddballs like ‘Primer’ (I’m a sucker for time travel, though not always a found footage fan — the Statue of Liberty scene in ‘Cloverdale’ being an exception). …One of my personal favorites, though a bit slow in places, is ‘The Medusa Touch’ with Richard Burton, which leans toward horror but that offers a couple of semi-blower apocalyptic sci-fi touches.”

 

David Ross, actor, movie maker and former library director, said, “Some of my favorites are usually not the most popular or acknowledged, but I have no real argument with those chosen since Sci-fi has such wide fringe areas and people’s opinions may differ from mine, but I don’t care enough to argue. …

” I do think that George RR’s ‘Nightflyers’ movie was not as bad as the critics said. I actually found it more engaging than the Sy-Fy channel’s big budget interpretation.”

John T. Adams, a longtime association executive and former newpaper editor, said, “I haven’t seen all the films you mention, but I agree with you about the omissions of some of the more recent films. But maybe they’re too recent to make any of the published lists.

“I think one of the landmark films, since you mentioned the Cold War, is ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still,’  which is forward looking for its time. The alien is a good guy (not a space invader), and after failing to detain him the Americans mount a chase through D.C. and try to kill him. That’s not a typical Cold War plot. …

“If a flying saucer arrived today, would we try to shoot it down? Of course, there’s always ‘Men in Black’ and ‘Independence Day,’ where the aliens ARE the bad guys. And don’t leave out the zombie movies. Instead of the undead running down the streets, think of a horde of Mexican rapists, murderers and gang members. One could argue the zombie movies are inherently racist because we demonize The Other. “

Author John F. Allen said, “I think the choices are appropriate for their eras, although, I agree with certain ones you mentioned, which were excluded.”

Randy Porter works at IUPUI and has been very involved in SF-related events for decades including Gen Con.

Porter says he thinks a film has to be at least 20-years old to be considered a classic.

One of the films on the lists that caught his attention was “The Forbin Project.”

Porter said, “I haven’t seen it in forever. I love it. It would be worth a remake.”

“La jetee,” a short film that chiefly uses still images and narration to tell its story, is listed in two of the three books.

“It’s better than the ’12 Monkees’ remake,” Porter said.

Other films that Porter might put on his favorites list include “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Buckaroo Bonzai,” “Demolition Man,” Ghost in the Shell” (Japanese/UK verion), and “Dune.”

“My favorite right now is ‘The Fifth Element,” Porter said.

“Delicattessen” and “Zog” also are worthy of attention, he said.

Porter would like to see more movies where science isn’t the bad guy.

“There are few movies where science isn’t the bad guy,” he said. “In Hollywood, the idea seems to be that technology is bad. Most people writing movies in Hollywood have no experience in technology.”

For many people, SF films, however, have been increasingly impressive.

Canfield said, “Even if I disagree with some of their picks, I think we’re living through a wonderful time for science fiction movies. When I was a kid, science fiction movies were rare – and, looking back, a lot of them were terrible.”

 

 

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Authors’ books differ on top SF films

The question of what are the best science fiction films is frequently the subject of heated debates between academics, SF fans and people who just like movies.

Last May, Turner Classic Movies entered the fray with “Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That Are Out of This World,” a beautiful 280-page book by Sloan De Forest with an introduction by the legendary Roger Corman. There are plenty of outstanding illustrations in this helpful volume.

I have several differences with some films that are included and some that are excluded. The book “Top l00 Sci-Fi Moves” by Gary Gerani and Steven Jay Schneider’s “101 Sci-Movies You Must See Before You Die” agree with much of what’s in the TCM book, but also have some major differences.

Before getting into that and other debates, here are the films selected in the TCM book by eras:

1902-1936: A Trip to the Moon, Metropolis, Frankenstein, Island of Lost Souls, The Invisible Man, Things to Come.

1937-1950: no films selected.

1951-1959: The Thing from Another World, The Day The Earth Stood Still, It Came from Outer Space, War of the Worlds, Them!, Gojira (Godzilla), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Forbidden Planet, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Fly, The Blob.

1960-1968: The Time Machine, La jetee, These Are the Damned, Alphaville, Fantastic Voyage, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barbarella.

The human stars of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Photo by Ronald Hawkins.

1969-1970: none.

1971-1979: THX 1138, A Clockwork Orange, Silent Running, Solaris (original Russian version), Sleeper, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Logan’s Run, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien.

1980-1981: none listed.

1982-1987: E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Blade Runner (2011 final cut), The Brother from Another Planet, The Terminator, Back to the Future, Brazil, Robocop.

1989-1992: none listed.

1993-2000: Jurassic Park, The Matrix.

2001-2016: A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Wall-E, District 9, Arrival.

A close read of the list will show that the films reflect the times in which they were made. The first group of films reflects fears of the future and the hope that humans will grow wiser.

The dark period of 1939-1950 is indicative of a serious time when the world was engaged in a terrible world war and then the rebuilding of the devastated parts of the planet. These serious times were real, not SF.

The cold war that dominated the 1950s (and would continue for decades) and the fears of nuclear war and xenophobia became fodder for SF films during that decade.

Nearly all of the 50 films are notable in a variety of ways, but while we like the humor in some of the TCM picks, we see better examples of it in movies such as Galaxy Quest, a near perfect spoof of Star Trek. And, by the way, not a single Star Trek movie is listed, not Wrath of Khan, not First Contact nor Star Trek XI, J.J. Abrams first crack at Trek, in the TCM book.

In their books published several years before the TCM book, authors
Gary Gerani (GG), author of “Top 100 Sci-Fi Movies,” and Steven Jay Schneider (SS), editor of “101 Sci-Fi Movies You Must See Before You Die,” agree with many of the picks in the newer book. However, they disagree with some picks and list others not in the TCM book.

With that said, I have several differences with some films that are included and others that are excluded from Gerani’s and Schneider’s book.

I am not going to list all of the films they don’t include in their lists, but in the list that follows we’ll list the titles they included that aren’t in the TCM book. We’ll designate each authors picks with their initials and if both pick the same movies we will state that it is a choice of “both.” One distinction that should be noted here is the Gerani is a British writer and Schneider is an American scholar.

The list:

A Trip to Mars, SS; Aelita, SS; Paris Asleep, SS; When Worlds Collide, both; Invaders from Mars, both; It Came from Outer Space, both; Journey to the Center of the Earth, both; The Amphibian Man, SS; Robinson Crusoe on Mars, both; The 10th Victim, SS; Fahrenheit 451, both; Seconds, both; Who Killed Jessie, SS; Quartermass and the Pit or Five Million Miles to Earth, both; Slaughterhouse Five; both; Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, both; Fantastic Planet, SS; Soylent Green, SS; Westworld, SS; Dark Star, both; Stalker, SS; Time After Time, SS; Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, both; Flash Gordon, SS; Scanners, SS; Escape from New York, SS; The Road Warrior, both; The Thing (1982), both; Tron, SS; Videodrome, SS; The Final Combat, SS; Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, SS; Repo Man, SS; 1984, SS; Dune, both; Starman, SS; The Quiet Earth, SS; Aliens, both; Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home, SS; Robocop, both, Akira, SS; The Navigator, SS; Tetsuo — The Iron Man, SS; The Abyss, SS; Total Recall, SS; Terminator 2: Judgment Day, both; Ghost in the Shell (Japan-UK), SS; 12 Monkeys, SS; Independence Day, both; The Fifth Element, SS; Men in Black, SS; Gattaca, both; Starship Trooper, SS; Open Your Eyes, SS; Pi, SS; Galaxy Quest, SS; Signs, SS; Code 46, SS; Primer, SS; I Robot, SS; The Host, SS; Children of Men, SS.

Quartermass

Also, Crack in the World, Doctor Cyclops, Conquest of Space, The Giant Behemoth, The Man from Planet X, The Crawling Eye, The Day of the Triffids, The Man with X-ray Eyes, Unearthly Stranger, It! Terror from Beyond Space, The Humanoids, Red Planet Mars, 2010, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, X–The Unknown, Rocketship XM, Mysterious Island, Rodan, World Without End, Creature from the Black Lagoon, First Men on the Moon, This Island Earth, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, Predator, The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Minority Report, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, The Power, Gorgo, Rollerball, I Am Legend, Quartermass II — Enemy from Space,War of the Worlds (2005), On the Beach, The Creeping Unknown — The Quartermass Experiment, Altered States, Destination Moon, The Andromeda Strain, The Man in the White Suit, The Fly (1986), Voyage to the End of the Universe or Ikarie XB1, Colossus — The Forbin Project, Star Trek XI (J.J. Abrams’ first Trek movie), and Village of the Damned, all GG.

Ikarie XB1

Do I agree with everything in the two alternative books? No way. Some belong, some don’t and there are a few in Schneider’s book that I haven’t seen yet.

Some of the differences I have are a result of this story being written some time after the three books.

2017 Oscar Best Picture winner

Among others I would consider worthy of consideration are The Martian, Avatar, The Shape of Water, Gravity, Inception, Interstellar, Ex Machina, Blade Runner 2049, Inception, King Kong (both the original classic and the 2005 version), Contact, Sunshine (2007), Cocoon, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Man from Earth, The Hunger Games, The Adjustment Bureau, and others too numerous to name.

I credit the authors for the extremely hard work it took to put together their books. Science fiction is a nearly impossible large subject. Yet, I can’t hardly wait to see what the folks on other worlds are writing about us.

William Shatner, aka Capt. James T. Kirk. Photo by Ronald Hawkins.

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LOC 2018 film registry selections listed

The winter holidays season is a time of many delights, despite what one’s spiritual and/or religious beliefs are.

One of our favorite events, however, is the annual announcement each December by the Library of Congress of 25 films that are being named to the National Film Registry.

Some of these films are well-known award-winning titles, some are highly respected rarely seen titles and others are landmark productions reflecting the times they were made and changes in American culture.

The 25 films just named to the registry include one dealing with alcoholism (Days of Wine and Roses), sexual norms (Brokeback Mountain), the Vietnam War (Hearts and Minds), and the emergence of African-American filmmakers.

There are musicals on the list two including Academy Award-winning best picture My Fair Lady and the Gene Kelly-Frank Sinatra film On the Town.

“Monterey Pop,” 0ne of the best rock music movies ever made, is added to the list. It took place before Woodstock and some of the concert performances filmed are vastly superior to those of the festival that happened later.

For those with a hankering for science fiction and horror films, there are two added this year: Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” and Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”

Lots of film making giants are reflected in this list including Spencer Tracy (Bad Day at Black Rock), Walt Disney (Cinderella), Paul Newman (Hud), Orson Welles (The Lady from Shanghai), and Alfred Hitchcock (Rebecca).

This is the sort of list that makes one want to learn more about film, particularly about titles that aren’t widely know.

So, take a look at the list and then, if you so choose, watch some of those you don’t know much about it. We recommend it.

Films Selected for the 2018 National Film Registry 
(alphabetical order)

  1. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
  2. Broadcast News (1987)
  3. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
  4. Cinderella (1950)
  5. Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
  6. Dixon-Wanamaker Expedition to Crow Agency (1908)
  7. Eve’s Bayou (1997)
  8. The Girl Without a Soul (1917)
  9. Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy-Headed People (1984)
  10. Hearts and Minds (1974)
  11. Hud (1963)
  12. The Informer (1935)
  13. Jurassic Park (1993)
  14. The Lady From Shanghai (1947)
  15. Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
  16. Monterey Pop (1968)
  17. My Fair Lady (1964)
  18. The Navigator (1924)
  19. On the Town (1949)
  20. One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
  21. Pickup on South Street (1953)
  22. Rebecca (1940)
  23. The Shining (1980)
  24. Smoke Signals (1998)
  25. Something Good – Negro Kiss (1898)

‘Shape of Water’ truly deserving Oscar winner

Each year after the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture is announced, I immediately buy it, if I don’t already have it in my collection.

I didn’t see “The Shape of Water” in a theater, but my 4k copy arrived today. And tonight, March 21, I was treated to true cinema magic as this wonderful fantasy/science fiction/love story that even weaves a little sinister government “big brother” conspiracy into this amazing movie. And there’s a magical, musical segment that fits perfectly into this film.

Set in 1962 in Baltimore, we finally have a movie in which the creature has a happy ending. This film is almost an extension of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” but it is so much more.

I have a list (chiefly in my head) of movies that I call “Ronald” movies. They have a certain almost magical spirit that is so uplifting and inspiring.

The “Ronald movies” include Frank Capra’s “Lost Horizon,” “Field of Dreams” and “Cinema Paradiso.” There are others, but I am adding  “The Shape of Water” to that list now.

2017 Oscar Best Picture winner,

Thank director/co-author Guillermo Del Toro, actors Sally Hawkins (no known relation), Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer and Doug Jones, an amazing artistic team and others for creating one of my all-time favorite Academy Award Best Winners.

Having finally seen and written about the most recent winner, we’ll be continuing our posts about the previous best picture winners soon.

Waiting to discover more about new Trek series

Two episodes aren’t enough to determine whether one should continue to buy “Star Trek: Discovery” from CBS All Access for $5.99 per month, but there are several indicators that make watching at the least next few episodes an attractive idea.

The first two episodes show promise, but also raise serious issues for some Trek enthusiasts such as at least one major variance with Star Trek canon.

While the first episode aired on CBS’ broadcast outlets, the second is only available from CBS All Access online service. In addition to Star Trek, nearly the entire catalog of old and new CBS programming is available through the subscription service. This writer didn’t sign up for the service for the other programming, only the exclusive online availability of the new Star Trek.

Probably the first thing that viewers will notice is that they won’t see the Discovery in either of the first two episodes. The action occurs outside the spaceships and  inside the U.S.S. Shenzou and a Klingon ship. You will see a multitude of Federation and Klingon ships in battle scenes, but they are part of the ensemble in support roles for the central antagonists.

From the first,scene, it appears Klingons will play a major if not dominant role in the new series. The new series begins with a fierce speech by a Klingon chieftain trying to rally the other tribes, getting ready to deal with the humans. In his words (translated in subtitles), the most dangerous words are, “We come in peace.”

The Klingon ship is inside Federation territory.

While patrolling Federation space, the Chenzou encounters an object of unknown origin in the same vicinity. Commander Michael Burnham, a human raised by Vulcans, persuades her captain to let her take a space walk to find what the object is.

While on the surface of this object, Burnham encounters a Klingon and the result is a death. That death leads to a violent conflict between the two enemy empires.

Upon her return to Chenzou, Burnham is treated for exposure to massive levels of radiation. She, however, runs from her bed to warn the captain that the Klingons are coming and the Federation ship should attack before it is attacked, employing a strategy referred to as “The Vulcan hello.”

A conflict develops between Burnham and the captain, longtime friends on the starship, and Burnham is sent to the brig.

As the battle ensues, Burnham finds herself in deeper trouble. By the second episode, Burnham is tried and convicted and locked up.

If you haven’t seen the first two episodes, I’ve already given you several spoilers, but I will hold back on sharing other tidbits.

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There are other items of note. One is the clear violation of Trek canon by the use of holograph technology. This show takes places before The Original Series and in the Trek timeline follows Star Trek Enterprise. On the timeline, the Next Generation followed the Original Series.

There was no use of holography by the Federation before the Next Generation. If one checks out the relatively new “Star Trek Encyclopedia” by Denise and Michael Okuda, there are lots of listings for various types of holographic imaging.

There are, however, no uses of that technology by the except by the Romulans in two Enterprise episodes. In “Babel One” and “United,” the Romulans used holographic projectors to create skins for ships  that would make them appear of any design. And that’s it until  Next Generation. …

The technical prowess of the new series is undeniable. Yet, many questions remain that need to be answered.

One concern about the new series is the role of Klingons. Michael Dorn, who starred as the Klingon Worf, reportedly had pitched a series idea to CBS about Klingons.

I certainly hope this series isn’t just about the conflicts with the Klingons. There is so much to explore and discover in the universe before the Original Series.

I guess we will start to discover that as we watch the future episodes.