Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I saw 22 of 25 "classic" sci-fi films from the list on iO9

i09 posted a list of "25 classic science fiction movies that everybody must watch"

I had not seen:

1) Primer - never heard of it, so I'm calling shenanigans on "classic" here
2) Children of Men - came out at an awkward time, and I've meant to see it. Not sure anyone would call it "classic", though.
3) Moon - is really new and gets very mixed reviews (sorry, Jamie, its true). I think calling it classic is a stretch, but it is directed by Zowie Bowie (look it up), so that give sit extra sci-fi pedigree, I guess.

Mostly, the list doesn't feel very "classic". Firstly, its incredibly sparse on vintage film. Yes, "Forbidden Planet", "Metropolis" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" all still hold up remarkably well, and are instantly recognizable, but do we really need to jump from there to "Planet of the Apes"? You could fill the list with all kinds of stuff from the middle of the century. I mean: where the @#$% is Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, the most important sci-fi concepts of the 20th Century?

Not here, that's where.

And while I loved "District 9", its like time traveling to 1989 and declaring "Alien Nation" a sci-fi classic. And for goodness sake, Jamie is going to see "Inception" in the theater again this evening. Shouldn't something have had to make it to Blu-Ray before we declare it a "classic"? To use "classic", you need to point to more than classic tropes, you need to prove that the film endured and influenced other works.

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

I'd include:

1) Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein - Look, Frankenstein is straight up science fiction. It might be scary, but so is "Alien".

2) Fahrenheit 451 - if we're going dystopian future, why not include the one about the future that's rapidly becoming our present?

3) Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind - You included ET, but not Close Encounters? That's just wrong. Also, Richard Dreyfus + potatoes gave me ammunition for dinner table antics for years.

4) 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - Nuclear powered submarine in the 19th Century.

5) War of the Worlds - Steven Spielberg is an amazing guy, but his remake doesn't hold a candle to the 1950's original (or the terrifying radio drama that caused all that hubbub in 1938).

6) The Time Machine - I don't love this movie, but even I'll agree it should have been included

7) Things to Come - Straight up, if you want to use the words "science fiction" and "classic" and "list" in the title of your article, this has to be on it. The fact that this wasn't on the list tells me Charlie Jane Anders needs to get herself to a video store.

8) The Fantastic Voyage - If Raquel Welch in a white lycra suit cannot get you to watch a movie about people miniaturized and placed inside a dude to laser out a blocked artery... I cannot help you.

9) Godzilla (and its many sequels) - Man mucking with forces beyond his understanding creates 30-story, atomic flame spewing (yet adorable) bi-pedal engine of destruction. There is nothing not awesome or classic about our buddy Gojira.

10) About half of the Ray Harryhausen Catalog - When he wasn't making swashbuckling monster movies, he was making movies about giant monsters that would eat you alive in your car. 20 Million Miles to Earth is pretty darn good.

11) Omega Man - Seemingly missing the point of the original novel, which was remade with the novel's title but yet another ending, this riff on I am Legend is a wild ride of a post-catastrophe zombiefied world in which Charlton Heston is the last sane man on Earth. As it should be.

12) Marooned - This movie is totally depressing, but it is also fiction about actual science. And unlike Moon, it will be watched long after the last hipster has hung up their skinny pants and ironic sunglasses.

13) When Worlds Collide - This movie has been imitated so much, I have no idea if people even know about the original.

14) Them! - The original Atomic Age cautionary tale. Also: Aliens totally ripped this movie off.

15) A Clockwork Orange - This is technically sci-fi. It happens in the future and uses technology that does not yet exist.

16) Buck Rogers - There aren't any straight up Buck Rogers movies. I'm only aware of the serials.

17) Flash Gordon - The Star Wars to Buck Rogers' Star Trek, Flash Gordon is far more fantasy than sci-fi, but its impossible to ignore the influence of Flash Gordon.

18) Akira - Lately its become trendy to bag on Akira. @#$% those guys. Akira is @#$%ing amazing. I don't care if, like all anme from the era, it totally falls apart in the 3rd act.

Anyway, I could go on.

A very partial list of classics I haven't seen:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Destination Moon
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Rocketship X-M
Donovan's Brain

More recent sci-fi films that I think will endure?

Donnie Darko
28 Days Later
Total Recall (because I love Total Recall)
Jurassic Park
12 Monkeys
The Abyss

There are also films that are cinematic favorites that seem to have been ignored as they're not American:

La Jetee
City of Lost Children
Until the End of the World
Wings of Desire

So what do you think?


Fantomenos said...

Well, I got 19, and another opportunity to complain about "Forbidden Planet" not being available on NetFlix.

I 2nd most of your suggestions, esp Godzilla, I mean does it lose points for being too iconic?

Amy said...

I got 19 too. I've seen the three you missed out on. Primer is worth a watch (or a few). Moon is, well, come on, it's Sam Rockwell. I was actually disappointed by Children of Men given all its accolades. Great story and takes itself seriously, but at the same time is embarrassingly blatant with its symbols (there's a character named Key for chrissake!).

I’m surprised that On the Beach or Panic in Year Zero didn’t appear on your list right along with Them!. What about some Twilight Zone episodes? “To Serve Man” anyone? And, to your list of “More Recent but Will Endure,” I contribute Gattaca. Why does this film never get any love?

Also, I am sad that the craptacularly awesome The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is nowhere to be seen. That is some real tragedy

rhpt said...

DUDE! Primer is AWESOME. GO WATCH IT NOW. Then check out Wikipedia or some of the other sites that tries to explain it. You thought Inception was puzzling....

The League said...

...but I didn't think Inception was puzzling...

Anyway, I will absolutely look up Primer, but it just isn't a "classic". It might be cool and well liked (among a relatively small audience), but it isn't "The Day the Earth Stood Still". Yet.

I have not even heard of "On the Beach", but I have heard of "Panic in the Year Zero". Both have good casts. I'l definitely check them out! See... that's what this exercise is good for.

I'm not including Twilight Zone episodes (a) because its TV rather than movies and (b) I haven't really watched Twilight Zone since I was a kid. I loved it, but... I just haven't watched it in a long time.

Any failure to mention "Buckaroo Bonzai" is pure oversight as I was of the mindset that it wasn't great scifi, it was THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER.

Jason and I actually saw that one in the theater. Nobody else did, so you can imagine what it was like trying to explain that one to people at school on Monday.

"Its this guy whose half-Japanese, and he's a scientist and a rock star and a stunt driver, and he has all these sidekicks, and there's these aliens, and they partnered with John Lithgow who is evil and maybe German, and the good aliens are rastafarians, and..."

JAL said...

At least the author used the term "movies" and not "films". I have not seen Ghost in the Shell or (sorry) Planet of the Apes.

This is a strange list of "classics". The Incredibles, Children of Men, District 9 and Primer, do not belong on any list involving the work "classic", thought Primer is pretty darn good. I don't know if they are classics, per se, but I'd include Pi, Dark City, The Thing the Fly (Cronenberg) or either Solairs long before those others.

The Fantastic Voyage is more deserving than half of the movies listed and I very much like your inclusion of Frankenstein.

The list seems compiled from Google searches for "best sci-fi movies".

J.S. said...

I liked Children of Men for a number of reasons, not least of which was the excellent use of music in the movie (you don't see people use King Crimson in really cool ways in very many movies) and an homage to Pink Floyd (with the flying pig from animals appearing in the the background during one of the film's key scenes). I liked the movie for reasons aside from the music, though. It just seemed really believable to me. The list definitely skews toward more recent stuff, and I would argue that The Incredibles is much more a superhero movie than a sci fi one (and if you're going to start blurring those boundaries, there are some other movies that they might want to consider for the list...). And apparently I need to see Primer...

J.S. said...

I'm going to wander out on a limb and say that I really do think that District 9 is a latter day classic. Despite being a relatively recent movie, I thought it conveyed its messages effectively (and I thought the messages about xeonphobia and apartheid were pretty powerful) while managing to remain entertaining. If I made a list of 25 sci fi classics, District 9 would definitely be on it. (plus, the fact that it got an Oscar nomination DEFINITELY qualifies it as a classic. Right, Ryan?)

The League said...

I really liked "District 9", but as its so recent, I have a hard time using the term "classic". Again, classic suggests the film has survived its initial release and maintained a favored status among movie fans and critics, and it doesn't hurt if its inspires other creators.

"District 9" seems like it has a lot of potential, but we'll see what folks say in five years.

For right now, lets keep it queued in "movies that will likely endure".

Honestly, looking at the now mostly forgotten "Alien Nation" is the thing that gives me the most pause about the whether we'll all love the movie in a few years.

J.S. said...

I don't think that popular appeal over the test of time is the only way a movie can be considered a classic. Critical merit can also move a film into that category. We got a chance to see The Prowler, a movie that was all but out of print and which had largely been forgotten by much of the public, because a small handful of critics thought that the movie had artistic merit and deserved a shot at restoration. I'm not sure whether you'd call it a "classic" even now, but it's a good film, and people have written about it and are still appreciating it some 50 years after release, but not because the public was clamoring for it. Sometimes the strength of the work is enough to make it easier to call the movie a classic, regardless of the film's age. (that's why we have phrases like "modern day classic" or "instant classic"- and yes, I know that second phrase is overused by marketers, but I still think there are the occasional works that genuinely fit the bill for that description)
And District 9, by the way, received 4 Oscar nominations, including one for best picture. I'm not sure what your definition of classic is, but I find it nice (being a big fan of that movie) to know that curious film students 20 or 30 years from now will probably be sort of curious to see that film, if for no other reason than the fact that it was one of the very rare sci fi pictures to get a nod for best picture.
Alien Nation had interesting ideas, but the execution just wasn't very good (in terms of the acting), and ultimately large parts of the storyline were pretty trite (the idea of commingled alien/human cultures was good, but after that it just turned into a typical eighties era, cops busting drug dealers story). I thought that the execution and storyline employed in District 9 were much more powerful (something about placing aliens in townships in South Africa made the whole film much more unsettling than the much more Americanized viewpoint of assimilation that appeared in Alien Nation).

Amy said...

you know, I hadn't given much thought to District 9. I liked it, but I guess I was too grossed out in the beginning (when Wikus's body just starts falling apart -- yeah, I've seen nastier things sure... but those little familiar tidbits just sent me over the edge. I had too look away!) to really consider it as a "classic." I suppose I never fully recovered. However, these comments make me want to reconsider it.

Simon MacDonald said...

Sadly, I've only seen 16 of the 25 films on that list. Of course I haven't seen many of the more recent films as I just haven't been able to get out to the show that often. However, many of them are on my too see list like Moon, Children of Men and Inception. I really have to agree with you on Fahrenheit 451 and A Clockwork Orange they have to be on that list.

horus kemwer said...

How is Wings of Desire SciFi?

Sorry to see the hiatus on 2.0 - looking forward to a 3.0 reboot someday . . .

The League said...

Good question, Horus. It isn't. Its fantasy, at best. Looks like I went off the rails a bit there.