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.


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.


Starbase Indy guest stunt star discusses thrills, falls

When one sees a current picture of Sandy Gimpel, it’s hard to believe she was once one of the scariest creatures in science fiction history.

A fourth degree black belt holder who has been a karate instructor,

Sandy Gimpel is fourth degree black belt holder.
Sandy Gimpel is fourth degree black belt holder.

Gimpel is an actress, stunt person and stand-in. She will be one of the guests Thanksgiving weekend at Starbase Indy at Wyndham Indianapolis West.

Gimpel appeared in the first Star Trek pilot and then, more famously, was the salt creature in the first episode of Star Trek that NBC broadcast 50 years ago.

This year’s Starbase Indy will have a representative of each Star Trek television series, including Gimpel. It will be her first trip to Starbase Indy, she said.

In “The Man Trap,” the first aired episode of the of the original series, Gimpel is the M-113 creature, more commonly referred to as the “salt vampire.” The creature could change its shape to appear as anybody, but in its natural form was the “salt vampire, which Gimpel suited up to play.

In an interview, Gimpel said her involvement with Star Trek began because she “was a dancer and got a call from central casting to go on an audition for the show to work in costume because I could move well and got the job.”

Gimpel’s first Star Trek part was as a Talosian in “The Cage,” creator Gene Roddenberry’s first Star Trek pilot. NBC rejected it, but “The Cage” was later incorporated into the first-season, two-episode “Menagerie.”
It has been 50 years since the first episodes aired and after three seasons it was canceled despite efforts by its fans. But Star Trek wasn’t due to just fade away.

“I had no idea that Star Trek would become so great,” she said. “We just work, go in and do our job and go home, never thinking ‘OMG I just worked on an amazing show.’”

Despite going where no one had gone before, she didn’t appear at her first Star Trek-related convention until this year.

“Actually, the 50th anniversary convention in Las Vegas last August was the first one I have ever been at as a guest or visitor,” Gimpel said.

According to, Gimpel has 115 stunt performer/coordinator credits and 34 credits as an actress in what is still a very active career. It is one role, however, that fans want to know about.

The M113 creature also known as the "salt vampire"
The M113 creature also known as the “salt vampire”

“Most of the questions are about the salt vampire costume and was it hot or heavy to wear,” she said. “The fans are incredible, so nice and amazing to talk with. They are so interested in what I do for a living and very gracious.”

At Starbase Indy, she will be signing pictures for fans and taking pictures with fans. She’s also scheduled to participate on several panels where she’ll talk about the salt vampire and the Talosian characters.

Recently, Gimpel has appeared in an “Agent Carter” episode and has a stunt involvement in the soon-to-be-released “Why Him” film, which stars Zoey Duetch, Bryan Cranston and James Franco. She’s also working on a Disney television show and other TV shows.

In some fans’ minds, “Star Trek” and “Lost in Space” were competing science fiction shows, but she appeared in “Lost in Space” first. And that’s where her stunt acting career began.

“I went on an audition to stand in for Bill Mumy on ‘Lost in Space’ and because of my dance background, they asked if I would like to do the stunts for him, if I would go to the gym and train with stunt coordinator Paul Stater three days week.

“Of course, I said yes and did the show for 2-1/2 years and have never stopped doing stunts since.”

Stunt working can be quite hazardous, but she hasn’t suffered major injuries, she said.

“I have been very blessed not to have major injuries, only a couple of broken ribs and ACL replaced on my knee,” she said. “Cuts and bruises don’t count.”

Asked if she prefers acting or stunt work, she said she loves doing stunts, but has been “very blessed lately to be able to do the stunt acting role along with the stunt.”

Sandy Gimpel
Sandy Gimpel

In addition to “Star Trek” and “Lost in Space,” Gimpel has been involved as an actress or stunt performer in a long list of shows including “Airplane,” the original “Battlestar Galactica,” “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers,” “The Truman Show,” “My Name is Earl,” “The Bionic Woman,” “Criminal Minds,” “Reno 911,” “CSI” and “Six Feet Under.” This year’s Starbase Indy will have a representative of each Star Trek television series, including Gimpel.

“I think the Girl Scout fights in Airplane may top them all as an acting and stunt role,” she said. “I can’t forget the live event for the BAFTA (British Academy Film and Television Arts) Awards with Sasha Baron Cohen and him pushing me off the stage in a wheel chair in front of every big actor in the business and no one knew it was no one knew it was not real.”

For more information about Starbase Indy, go to


Westworld offers graphic android adventure

The new Westworld series on HBO is an artfully done, but graphic look at a resort where the fun is about robotic shoot ‘em ups and intimate pleasures and then what happens when things start to go wrong.

This 10-part first season follows Michael Crichton’s 1973 “Westworld” and 1976 “Futureworld” movies and the short-lived 1980 “Beyond Futureworld” series.

This new incarnation is just for adults, much more graphically violent and erotic than the previous movies and TV show.

The 10-part, first season series has two big name starts in Ed Harris, who is the mysterious “Man in Black,” and Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Robert Ford, who created the fantasy resort decades ago.westworld-photo-2

The other lead roles, however, are Evan Rachel Wood as android Dolores Abernathy, Thandie Newton as an android Old West “dance hall girl,” Jeffrey Wright as a programmer, and Sidse Babett Knudsen as an executive who has a secret relationship with the programmer.

As usual, HBO’s producers and directors have done a masterful job in putting this series together. There is what we have come to expect in westerns, too, with a rowdy saloon, a dusty main drag, wanted posters and gorgeous scenery outside the town.

The show quickly introduces us to wealthy fun seekers who are either seeking the “thrill” of killing androids and intimate pleasures without facing any consequences, just a big bill. The androids include a farmer, the pure farmer’s daughter, sheriffs, gun slingers, gamblers, and bartenders. The human counterparts are the resort’s executives, programmers and android builder/repair people, and the tourists who have a variety of aspirations while on vacation including being a hero, a murderous villain, having intimate encounters and just enjoying the beautiful wild west vistas.

The twist is, however, that not everything is the way it is supposed to be. Westworld’s co-founder died years earlier, according to Ford. And the androids are behaving oddly in some cases, not the way they were programmed.westworld-photo-3

Of course, the essential truth is no imperfect creature, i.e. any human, can create a perfect being.

The series is a brilliantly done science fiction tale, but if you are turned off by lots of flood and erotic scenes this show isn’t for you. It will be interesting, however, to say what the next six episodes bring.

The fifth episode on HBO will premiere at 9 p.m. Sunday with lots of opportunities to watch it over the next few months on the various HBO channels and elsewhere.westworld-photo-1


A peek into the worlds of SF, fantasy stars,writers and more

All photos by Ronald Hawkins, except the ones he’s in.

William Shatner at Wizard World Comic Con, 2015. Photo by Ronald Hawkins.


Gillian Anderson in Louisville.

Dean Cain

captain-jackJohn Barrowman

Colin Baker, the sixth Doctor of Doctor Who.

Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor of Doctor Who, at Dragon Con 2015.

Terry Jones of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and more



Lou Ferrigno with Ronald Hawkins.

Brent Spiner, aka Data.



Ronald Hawkins, left, with author George R.R. Martin.

Zahn Hawkins at InCon
Author Timothy Zahn, left, with Ronald Hawkins at InConJunction 2015.


Jake Lloyd, 2015.

Adam Baldwin

Jenna Coleman

Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullyea of 2001:Space Odyssey.

Carrie Fisher