Science Fiction Films
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Kubrick's Science-Fiction Classic:
The most celebrated, mystical and transcendent of all space films up to that time was one that visualized space travel with incredible magnificence and seriousness. Kubrick's respectable, influential film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (with less than 40 minutes of dialogue), based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel, restored legitimacy to the science-fiction genre. The impressive film featured an incredible opening enhanced by Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra, a 'Dawn of Man' sequence, majestic views of outer space and drifting space stations, enigmatic monoliths, the breakdown of a malevolent HAL super-computer (with Douglas Rains' voice), an astronaut's journey to Jupiter (paralleling man's own growth of intelligence), a hallucinatory light show trip through space, and a cryptic ending featuring a super-being space fetus. Kubrick's film won the Oscar for Best Special Effects in 1968. A sequel was produced sixteen years later, director Peter Hyams' 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984).
After 2001's success, Hollywood produced many more space adventure films, including John Carpenter's directorial debut film and parody - the unusual sci-fi satire Dark Star (1974), about the crew of spaceship Dark Star on a ten-year mission to destroy planets in deep space. More serious science-fiction films, Robert Wise's Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and Robert Zemeckis' Contact (1997) with Jodie Foster examined further space journeys, contacts with alien life, and metaphysical questions about man's place in the universe.
The Planet of the Apes Series (1968-1973) and After:
A popular, clever, mostly successful and serious five-film series of classic simian films about apes that have evolved into an intelligent society, derived from Pierre Boule's novel Monkey Planet, originated with Planet of the Apes (1968). The first film in the series depicted a post-apocalyptic, post-nuclear futuristic planet (Earth) - revealed in the film's startling conclusion by a half-submerged Statue of Liberty. Its advanced make-up techniques reversed the social positions of intelligent humans and brutal apes to slyly criticize racial stereotypes. It also examined the effects of technology upon humankind. Four sequels appeared over the years, plus a live-action and animated TV series, and a recent feature film remake:
Other 70s-80s Science Fiction Films:
Other futuristic films were produced in the 1970s and 1980s, many with the effects of technology run amok - whether it was faults in human-tinkering technology or social engineering, or robot theme parks with aberrant androids. The dystopic films included Silent Running (1972), from Douglas Trumbull (special effects creator for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)) in his directorial debut, a sci-fi environmental story about the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. A monk-robed, hippie ecologist named Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) decided to refoliate a destroyed Earth with the last surviving vegetation on an orbiting space station/greenhouse called the Valley Forge. [The film's anthropomorphic drones or robots named Huey and Dewey inspired the R2D2 robot of Star Wars (1977).]
Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's science-fiction masterpiece Solaris (1972), a rebuttal to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), portrayed a water-dominated planet (with a huge, fluid-like brain for an ocean) that was disrupting the minds of cosmonauts on an orbiting space station. [The film was remade twice: Paul W. S. Anderson's Event Horizon (1997) starring Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill - a standard horror film about a spaceship that opened a gateway to Hell, and Steven Soderbergh's similarly-titled slow-moving Solaris (2002) with George Clooney as the investigating psychologist.] Soylent Green (1973) provided a view of deprivation in 21st century life in the year 2022 where dying people on the over-populated, ecologically-unbalanced planet were made into human food ("Soylent Green is people").
Director Mike Hodges' Terminal Man (1974), a Michael Crichton-based thriller with George Segal, featured a violence-prone scientist implanted with a malfunctioning computer chip. L. Q. Jones' cult film A Boy and His Dog (1975) was advertised as "an R rated, rather kinky tale of survival." It was set in the post-apocalyptic year of 2024 in the wasteland of the SW US and told of the survival of an 18 year old scavenger named Vic (Don Johnson) and his telepathic talking dog named Blood. The story involved a subterranean "Downunder" society intent on using VIc as a "sperm bank" to impregnate 35 women before being terminated. And Bryan Forbes' creepy cult classic The Stepford Wives (1975), adapted from Ira Levin's 1972 novel, provided a savagely-chilling view of perfect, 'ideal' suburban wives (docile android/robotic replicas) created by anti-women's lib husbands in the upscale town of Stepford, Connecticut. [The feminist satire was remade almost 30 years later by director Frank Oz, The Stepford Wives (2004) as a dark comedy, with Nicole Kidman as the Katharine Ross character - an automaton housewife and TV executive, and stars Matthew Broderick (as Nicole's husband), Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, and Glenn Close.]
In writer/director Michael Crichton's technophobic Westworld (1973), a black-hatted, programmed android-cowboy robot (Yul Brynner) at a computer-controlled vacation resort of the future - a high-tech Disneyland for rich vacationers (on the island of Delos) with three worlds: Medieval World, Roman World and Westworld - rebelled, went beserk, and murdered customers. Robots could be identified by raised ring formations circling the finger joints of their hands. This influential film presaged many future films with its creative themes and story elements: a resort park (Jurassic Park (1993)), artificially-intelligent cyborgs (Blade Runner (1982) and The Terminator (1984)), and pre-packaged virtual experiences (Total Recall (1990)). Its lesser sequel Futureworld (1976) portrayed another scheme of Westworld's scientists to create more clones - android world leaders. Death Race 2000 (1975) told the story about a 21st century cross-country car race with points scored for killing pedestrians.
Michael Anderson's hip sci-fi classic Logan's Run (1976) presented life as hedonistic in the 23rd century inside a sealed domed city following some kind of catastrophic disaster. Michael York played the role of a black-clad 'Sandman' with orders to kill anyone who 'ran' toward 'Sanctuary' after they turned 30 years of age, rather than facing a ceremonial 'carousel' rebirth. And the imaginative and claustrophobic Demon Seed (1977), taken from SF author Dean Koontz' novel, expanded the menace of 2001's HAL computer by presenting a super-computer Proteus IV that sexually terrorized its creator's wife.
Disney's sci-fi adventure Tron (1982) was set inside a computerized videogame, where the designer/creator battled his own computer games. It was one of the first films to use extensive computer-generated graphics. In director John Badham's sci-fi fantasy WarGames (1983), young computer-game player/hacker Matthew Broderick accidentally broke into one of NORAD's military computers (WOPR - War Operations Plan Response) and played a 'simulated' Global Thermonuclear War. And in the sci-fi cult film and cautionary romantic fantasy Electric Dreams (1984) with a music video style, a nerdy architect's empowered home computer named Edgar (voiced by Bud Cort) fell in love with the guy's own upstairs neighbor and cello-playing girlfriend Madeline (Virginia Madsen) - and became threatening. The film featured songs from Giorgio Moroder ("Together in Electric Dreams"), Boy George and Culture Club, and ELO's Jeff Lynne. The comedy/sci-fi film The Last Starfighter (1984), the first film to feature realistic CGI effects, depicted an expert video game player (Lance Guest) recruited by an alien-mentor named Centauri (Robert Preston in his final film appearance) to participate in an inter-galactic battle. Peter Hyams' socio-political Capricorn One (1977) hypothesized the problems of faking a flight to Mars on a soundstage in a television studio. And Hyams' outer-space film Outland (1981) consciously patterned itself after the plot of the classic western High Noon.
John Carpenter's sci-fi action film Escape from New York (1981), produced in the days before CGI special effects, told of a ravaged 1997 Manhattan Island with the US President held hostage and Kurt Russell (as one-eyed, anti-hero mercenary Snake Plissken) to the rescue - it was followed by the inferior sequel Escape from L.A. (1996). Cops and cyborgs (robots with human bodies) battled in the cult, film noirish, thought-provoking SF classic from Philip K. Dick's classic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep; Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) starred Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, an ex-LA detective (a futuristic Philip Marlowe) tracking down and retiring rebel android 'replicants' (semi-human) in the Los Angeles of 2019, over-populated by Asians. The film's superior production design depicted a perverse, bleak, post-apocalyptic future. In Sergio Martino's grim post-nuclear tale 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983), a leather-clad survivalist named Parsifal (Michael Sopkiw) was given a mission to rescue the last fertile woman on Earth - in Manhattan.
Similar films featured cyborgs as crime-fighting cops of the future in industrial wastelands, such as in Paul Verhoeven's first film RoboCop (1987) (a variation of the classic Frankenstein (1931)) and its lesser, imitative sequels in 1990 and 1991. A year earlier, an endearing, adorable, sophisticated robot named 'Number Five' (Johnny Five) appeared in director John Badham's Short Circuit (1986). Paul Michael Glaser's The Running Man (1987), set in the year 2017 in a world run by an evil government, found Arnold Schwarzenegger as a framed cop (Ben "Butcher of Bakersfield" Richards) condemned to participate in a violent TV game show (hosted by actual game show host Richard Dawson) that mocked pro-wrestling, celebrity competitions, game shows, and other forms of reality programming.
Late in the 1970s, Star Trek - The Motion Picture (1979) (and its many film sequels about the starship USS Enterprise and its crew) rode the popular wave of the cult television series of the 60s. Another slick, epic-sized adventure film with many sequels was Superman (1978), starring a handsome and romantic Christopher Reeve as the film counterpart of TV super-human George Reeves. Futuristic cartoon, comic-book superhero characters became swashbuckling sci-fi films, including Flash Gordon (1980) and the dark Batman (1989). The Right Stuff (1983) and Apollo 13 (1995) turned the fictional devices and processes of early science fiction into fact-based reality.
'Sci-Fi' Films with Revolutionary Visual Effects and Set Design: in 1982
Seven films revolutionized film set design and visual effects, and have become some of the most influential science-fiction/supernatural films in recent film history:
Various British/Foreign/Non-American Sci-Fi Films:
One of the best British sci-fi contributions was the most controversial, Joseph Losey's These Are the Damned (or The Damned) (1963), a complex and grim, allegorical film about radioactive children raised at a secret government installation in an experiment gone awry. Francois Truffaut's first color and English-language film, Fahrenheit 451 (1967), with a score by Bernard Herrmann, adapted Ray Bradbury's classic science fiction book to the screen, and foretold a futuristic world where books and reading materials were banned and destroyed by groups of Firemen with flamethrowers, including Montag (Oskar Werner).
Stanley Kubrick's followup to his 1968 space opera was A Clockwork Orange (1971) - a violent, political allegory about mind control and freedom of choice adapted from the Anthony Burgess novel. It told the story of chief droog Alex - a rampaging anti-hero character (Malcolm McDowell) who was rehabilitated by institutional, aversive shock-treatment torture ('Ludovico therapy') in his perverted, altruistic futuristic society. Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), starred rock star David Bowie as an alien who became trapped on Earth while on a mission. German director Wolfgang Petersen's Enemy Mine (1985) featured two mortal enemies marooned on an alien planet - as symbols for political combatants (USSR and the US): a reptilian-like Draconian (Louis Gossett, Jr.) and an earthling pilot (Dennis Quaid), who are forced to overcome their prejudices in order to survive.
A post-apocalyptic, nihilistic trilogy from Australia's George Miller contained both film noir and western genre elements in its sci-fi tale, reminiscent of Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai (1954), Sturges' The Magnificent Seven (1960), and the Sergio Leone "Man with No Name" spaghetti westerns. The films were dark, desolate and grim in nature and set in a scorched-earth Australia with scarce supplies of water and gasoline:
Director Michael Radford's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), a remake of the original 1956 version by Michael Anderson (with American stars Edmond O'Brien as Winston Smith and Jan Sterling), was the second (and definitive) adaptation of George Orwell's nightmarish novel about a dystopian, totalitarian society named Oceania, with John Hurt and Richard Burton (in his final role). [1984 also existed in a 1954 BBC version with Peter Cushing - adapted by Quatermass' Nigel Kneale. Its influence was also demonstrated in Apple Computer's famed TV advertisement aired in 1984, and filmed by Ridley Scott.] The words "Big Brother", "thought-crime", "thought-police", and "Orwellian" have since become commonplace terms.
Terry Gilliam's visually imaginative black, sci-fi comedy Brazil (1985) also envisioned a nightmarish oppressive bureaucratic world of the future, as did George Lucas' THX-1138 (1971) and Woody Allen's comedy spoof Sleeper (1973).