The Speculist: Stephen's Sci-Fi Countdown

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Stephen's Sci-Fi Countdown

Rotten Tomatoes has published a feature article that lists the 100 best reviewed science fiction movies of all time. As interesting as that article is, its not a true countdown.

What individual reviewer would have rated Star Trek: First Contact – fun popcorn entertainment - over the cinematic masterpiece Blade Runner? I doubt Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would jump to the number two spot on any single critic's list of best sci-fi movies. But both are true of The Rotten Tomatoes list. Their list is forcing comparisons out of data where comparisons were never intended. It's quite possible for a critic to gush about one movie and then point out the flaws in a second movie... and still think that the second movie is better than the first.

On the other hand, after walking through this list of 100 films, there were only a few films that I considered worthy of a "best of sci-fi" list that weren't mentioned. I was a bit surprised at the absence of Solent Green, Logan's Run, and The Truman Show, but those are omissions I can accept.

Because Rotten Tomatoes list is thorough, but strangely ordered, I decided to write my own countdown. I realize that this is a dangerous activity. I'll be forced into Apple/Orange comparisons that will reveal me as a complete noob to every single reader in ways that are unique to each. But its fun, so what the heck?

I'm only ranking films that I've seen within the last decade or so. Obviously there are many great films on the Rotten Tomatoes list that don't make my list. I'm sure I'll have to revise my countdown when I get around to seeing more of the those films. Also, I added some films that were not on the Rotten Tomatoes list that I thought were worthy additions.

When appropriate, I grouped film series together as one entry.

There were a few films on the Rotten Tomatoes list that I tossed because they don't belong. They are:

  • Escape from New York

  • Young Frankenstein

  • Ghostbusters

  • Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

  • Time Bandits

  • Time After Time

I enjoyed Escape From New York, but I wouldn't put it on a list of the best sci-fi movies. It's just not good enough. Young Frankenstein is one of the funniest movies ever made – a must-see. But a sci-fi / horror spoof – even one as good as this – isn't necessarily sci-fi. On the other hand I kept Galaxy Quest. It's a Star Trek spoof that somehow still qualifies as sci-fi on its own.

The last four just aren't science fiction. They're all fantasies. I don't mind mixing fantasy with sci-fi. Both Star Wars and Star Trek do that. But if you include the wonderfully weird (and 100% fantasy) Time Bandits, you might as well include Lord of the Rings.

And Ghost Busters? Those proton packs don't make it sci-fi. It's a comedy first, a fantasy second, horror-lite third, with maybe the slightest touch of science fiction. That said, if you somehow managed to miss seeing Ghost Busters, drop everything and go see it now.

Time After Time is a very good love story with time travel, but the method of time travel is more fantasy than sci-fi.

My countdown will mention three Phillip K. Dick stories that have been adapted to film (Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Total Recall). Two PKD films that don't make my list but are worth seeing are The Imposter starring Gary Sinese and John Woo's Paycheck. The Imposter lacked the budget to show us the universe it aspired to. Paycheck had the budget, but was trying too hard to be Momento.

On with the countdown! Enjoy:


44. Bicentennial Man

This was a personal favorite, but it was never a favorite of the critics. It didn't come close to being on the Rotten Tomatoes top 100.

I recommend it because it deals seriously with two themes - the impact of general AI and life extension. I don't necessarily agree with the conclusions that the film makes, but its worth thinking about.

I reviewed this film here.

43. Independence Day

This was a fun movie. It was also the film that put Will Smith in the summer blockbuster business. Film snobs who act like they didn't like Independence Day are either lying or have no sense of fun.

Captain Steven Hiller: I ain't heard no fat lady!

David Levinson: Forget the fat lady. You're Obsessed with fat lady. Just get us out of here!

This was an old fashioned movie in many ways. The evil aliens and the flag-waving machismo would have been at home in a 1950's sci-fi film. They work here because of the light tone of the movie. True to its title, this is the perfect Fourth of July summer blockbuster.

42. Robocop

This is probably the most violent film I saw as a teenager. Somehow this film's quirky sense of humor allows the viewer refuge from the gore.

One of the reasons I dislike the sequels is that they ignore the progress that Murphy makes in the first film reclaiming his humanity.

41. Flash Gordon

Come for the lava lamp visuals, stay for the campy fun. Go Flash Go!

40. Men in Black

The two Men in Black movies and Wild, Wild West were all intended to be similar, light sci-fi blockbusters. Only the original Men in Black is a complete success. It was fun summer entertainment from beginning to end.

Will Smith was good in Men in Black 2, but why didn't someone poke Tommy Lee Jones with a stick? He slept-walk through that entire movie.

An aside:

Wild, Wild West was a complete mess. Will Smith was charismatic as always. Selma Hyak was beautiful, but it would have been nice if she'd been given something to do in the movie. The bad guy was well-cast, but a slightly toned down performance would have worked just as well. In fact, the whole movie could have been improved by toning down the silliness and upping the danger. Steampunk in the Old West will naturally bring a smile to the face, but those elements could have been used in a more serious action movie.

Had Batman and Robin been the first Batman movie we never would have seen the Batman Begins reboot. Unfortunately that's what happened with Wild, Wild West. A franchise was killed before it ever got started.

39. Galaxy Quest

If you need proof that the Star Trek franchise is in trouble, consider this – this Star Trek spoof is better than any Star Trek movie we've had in over a decade. So, yeah, it's real important to the Star Trek franchise that the coming J.J. Abrams reboot not suck.

38. The Fifth Element

This is another film that didn't make the Rotten Tomatoes list. No deep questions here. This is just a fun action movie with great visuals. Bruce Willis is cool as always. Chris Tucker's Rudy Rod is hilarious. So's the bad guy.

37. Planet of the Apes

The original Planet of the Apes proved a hard act to follow... with both its sequels and its remake. The central mystery could only be revealed once. But what a classic movie moment that was.

36. Serenity

It's hard to understand how a show as great as Firefly could have been canceled. Fortunately we got this Firefly film. The big mystery was revealed and the main conflict was resolved.

According to Josh Weedon this was the last of Firefly. Serenity took the saga out with a bang.

35. AI: Artificial Intelligence

A sad and compelling Pinocchio story. Some say this movie is uneven because it was Stanley Kubric's vision brought to the screen by a very different kind of filmmaker - Steven Spielberg.

I really don't see the problem. The ending flirts with bathos, but pulls back just in time.

34. The Thing

John Carpenter's artic aliens scared me to death as a kid. This one holds up today as a premier example of horror / sci-fi.

33. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

A cautionary tale about a lone madman who terrorizes the world with advanced technology. 50's adventure sci-fi at it's best.

32. Innerspace

"I'M POSSESSED!"

This is a funny, funny movie that also manages to be a great sci-fi thriller. It took the daring route of putting the cool guy in the nerd. Both had to play against their weaknesses – the cool guy had to work out the technical problems and the nerd had to be the action hero.

31. Jurassic Park

As good as it is, this isn't a movie I've felt compelled to watch repeatedly. Maybe it's the lawyer getting eaten.

More than any other, this was the movie that announced the arrival of CGI in film. For better or worse, CGI has been with us ever since.

30. The Abyss

Great cast, great claustrophobic setting, and cool story. The theatrical version is superior to the various extended versions.

29. Starman

This movie is impossible not to like. It's a love story, but what did the alien love best - the girl or Dutch Apple Pie? Mars needs desserts!

28. Back to the Future

These films are light fun. The first film was an adolescent fantasy brought to life – if you had the chance to go back in time to make your parents cooler, would it work? The second movie gives us a glance at the future, an alternate present, and a retread of the night of the big 1955 storm. But it also serves the important function of getting us to the third movie – a western adventure where Doc Brown takes center stage. All three movies are good fun.

27. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Are there some things you'd like to forget? If you've made it to adulthood the answer is probably "yes." But what would we lose of ourselves if we really could forget those things?

26. Donnie Darko

"What's with the psycho bunny?"

Part of the greatness of the movie is that you'll never guess – about the rabbit or anything else - until the end.

25. Minority Report

This is probably the most believable future put on film since Blade Runner. The precrime plot was a bit far fetched, but the movie is thought provoking and mind binding in a Phillip K. Dick kind of way.

24. 12 Monkeys

This is a brilliant and weird time travel movie. This is a movie that it pays to watch closely.

23. The Mad Max series

Confession: I've tried to like the original Mad Max. But its budget of $500 (or so) definitely shows. Looking at it alone, I can't even tell that it was meant to take place after a nuclear war. And it's weird. Really weird.

I like the big-budget sequels better. Road Warrior is probably the best of the series, but I've never understood the hatred some Road Warrior fans have for Beyond Thunderdome. Each movie shows a continuing downward spiral of civilization. By Beyond Thunderdome the cars from Road Warrior have been mostly abandoned in favor of wagons and camels. Only Bartertown is reclaiming some technology. The conflict between Aunty Entity and Master-Blaster is elemental. It is the perfect metaphor for what's happening in this damaged world. Tina Turner had a ball with this role.

We almost had a third sequel - Mad Max Thunder Road. [CORRECTION: That's Mad Max Fury Road.] But George Miller went off and made Happy Feet while Mel Gibson cratered. Even if Gibson's nuts, there's no denying his talent as a filmmaker both in front of and behind the camera. Let's hope for a comeback.

22. Open Your Eyes

This Spanish language movie was remade as Vanilla Sky. Unfortunately, most critics consider Vanilla Sky inferior to the Spanish original.

There is a technology central to the story that I can't reveal without badly spoiling the movie. This movie is the most serious treatment of that technology in film.

Both the original and the remake are worthwhile.

21. Alien

Let me make this simple. The first two films in the Alien series are indispensable. The third and fourth movies are a waste of film.

20. Total Recall

If you haven't seen this, then "get your ass to Mars."

Some said that Arnold Schwarzenegger was miscast as a Philip K. Dick everyman. Maybe, but I can't imagine this movie without him.

We ought to set up a poll sometime – at the end is Douglas Quaid/Hauser awake... or dreaming?

19. Star Trek

Star Trek covered a major story arc in movies 2, 3, 4 and 6. Things that happen in 2 matter in 3, 4, and 6 and all the films are better for it. The "Next Generation" stand-alone adventures weren't as well received.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was thoughtful, artsy... and boring. Star Trek was never meant to be 2001: A Space Odyssey. The recent Special Edition DVD did improve the original movie considerably, and this first film gets credit for the great theme that has been reused ever since. Also, it reimagined Klingons as bumpy headed.

The less said about Star Trek V the better.

18. The Lathe of Heaven

This was an obscure 1979 PBS television film that exists now only because a viewer thought to videotape it when it was originally broadcast. Apparently PBS threw out their copies of this film when they hit a legal snag with a Beatles tune that was essential to the plot.

The obvious solution – use a cover of the tune – didn't occur to them at the time.

Fortunately the movie survived. If one man's dreams could alter reality, how could that be exploited? What would be the consequences?

There was an inferior remake in 2002.

17. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

A beautiful pulp past-future brought to amazing life via CGI. I reviewed this film here when it came out.

16. Forbidden Planet

Shakespeare's The Tempest set in space. The chauvinism gets a pass because its so quaint. The slow pace may be a little harder to forgive. Watch it anyway. This film has been beautifully preserved and is important part of sci-fi film history.

There are some plot similarities between this movie and The Black Hole. I don't think that Disney has ever acknowledged this fact. Instead they point to their own 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as the inspiration for The Black Hole.

15. Enemy Mine

The special effects in Enemy Mine were cheesy even in 1985. But the story of two enemies forced into an uneasy alliance still works. There is a key scene when the human character is being taught to read the alien's language with the alien's Holy book:

Davidge: "If one receives evil from another, let one not do evil in return. Rather, let him extend love to the enemy, that love might unite them."

I've heard all this before... in the human Taalmaan.

Jeriba Shigan 'Jerry' (Drac): Of course you have. Truth is truth.

14. Gattaca

I love this movie. It's not perfect, but it dares to take the issue of human genetic engineering seriously enough to ask some tough questions about where this technology will take us. Once this arms race gets started, how will unenhanced humans fare?

13. Iron Giant

Iron Giant is one of those kids movies that adults should make sure not to miss. Are we fated to a life dictated by our nature, or can we choose to be something more? The answer is heart-warming, and the 2D animation of 1950's Sputnik era is beautiful.

This was Brad Bird's first picture. His second was a work of genius called The Incredibles. And with Ratatouille we have a third amazing and wonderful picture. It is possible that Brad Bird is the best director working in film today.

12. The Matrix

The two sequels are okay, but the great reveal takes place in the original. It could have stood alone.

Parts of Anamatrix were surprisingly good.

11. Frankenstein (1931)

Although this film is not really scary to modern audiences, it's still required viewing for horror and sci-fi fans.

The film still works because of Boris Karloff's sympathetic portrayal of the monster. We're shown that horrible things don't require evil intent. A naïve Monster - or unthinking nature - can kill too.

10. Dark City

If you take away memory and all context, do we still have a soul? This was the deep question at the heart of this truly unique and satisfying movie.

9. The Terminator

How smart can a movie be whose title character is a killer robot from the future played by a monosyllabic body builder? Smarter than anyone would have guessed before the original Terminator.

And it's easy to forget that after the first movie many doubted whether a good sequel was even possible. But T2 is right up there with The Road Warrior and Empire Strikes Back as one of the best received sequels of all time.

Some people didn't like T3. In particular, many hated the fact that the message of T2 – "no fate" - was thrown out.

I don't think that it was. In the Terminator universe Judgement Day was postponed by the events of T2. If fate were all-powerful, postponement would be impossible. In a larger sense, if fate were all-powerful sending machines back in time would make no sense. It would be impossible to change events in the past if they were fated to occur.

I think the message of T3 is "there is no fate, but history has momentum." If the Wright brothers had decided to forget the flying machine idea and build motorcycles instead, I could ride a Wright Brothers motorcycle to the airport today. The airplane would have been invented in the first decade of the 20th century with or without the Wright brothers. This is not fate, but momentum.

In the first Terminator film Sarah Connor was left scratching her head because John Connor was the son of a time traveler sent back in time by...John Connor. This is not necessarily a paradox. In the pre-time-travel timeline, Sarah Connor must have conceived John Connor with someone else. The John Connor that resulted from Sarah and the time-traveling Reese must have been John Connor version 2.0.

The John Connor that experienced the events of T2 was version 2.1. Not a completely different John Connor, but a John Connor with different experiences from the John Connor v. 2 that sent the reprogrammed Arnold back to fight the T-2000. The John Connor in T3 would be version 2.1b I guess. Different from the John Connor 2.1 that was killed by the Arnold-shaped cyborg and, therefore, not fated to die that way now that he's been warned.

8. Dune

David Lynch's Dune is weird, and it takes liberties with the source material (the sound weapon is nowhere to be found in the books) but it's also a must-see.

There are several versions of this film floating around. We finally got the two best versions released in a single "Extended Edition" DVD. The extended edition includes Lynch's theatrical cut – which edits out so much that the viewer is left confused - and the longer, better edition that Lynch disowned.

7. The Prestige

The Prestige was my favorite film last year. How far can obsession drive you? The answer is fascinating, spooky, and mind-blowing.

If you've already seen it, check out my spoiler-filled review where I compared this film with The Illusionist.

6. Metropolis (1926)

About a third of this film is missing, but what has survived is absolutely incredible. We see cities with towers that rise to the clouds, flying cars dart in and out. There is an underworld of Morlock-like masses working to keep the city powered, and there is a beautiful robot messiah. The fact that this came out in 1926 blows me away.

It would be hard to overstate the impact that this film has had on sci-fi genre' in movies. It wouldn't be unfair to say that every movie that depicts futuristic cities - Blade Runner, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, The Fifth Element, Brazil – all have been inspired directly or indirectly by Metropolis.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey

This is a hard movie for some to get into. The long silences, the sparse dialog, and the general weirdness is too much for some. But the twin themes of AI ethics and human transcendence are worth the effort.

4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

"This means something."

The greatest UFO film of all time. It succeeds on all levels.

3. Star Wars

The first movie, A New Hope, is the classic movement of a young never-do-well to accomplished hero. Recently when my oldest son started whining about something I asked him if he'd "like to go to Toshie Station to buy some power converters." My meaning wasn't lost on him.

Then we got the incredible Empire Strikes Back – maybe the best sequel since Huck Finn. The Return of the Jedi wasn't quite as good, but those who dislike ROTJ forget how well constructed the third act was. We had three different adventures happening at once – Han on Endor, Luke on the new Death Star, and Lando leading an attack mission. That was great fun too.

Had the prequel trilogy been unrelated to Star Wars, people wouldn't have dislike them as much as they do. But for guys my age that grew up with the original trilogy, the prequel movies are a definite let-down.

The biggest missing piece is Han Solo. Instead of a hero-scoundrel, we get a spoiled brat Aniken, a devout preachy Obi Wan, and Jar-Jar. Meesa could really do without himsa.

That said, what movies are bigger events than Star Wars? Even with the lesser entries, together this saga deserves a high rank.

2. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

There's a country song about a cold hearted woman with the lyric "she never cried when Old Yeller died." Ditto E.T. If you didn't cry when E.T. had to say goodbye then you should check to see if you’re a walking heart donor.

1. Blade Runner

The original theatrical version had an extraneous Harrison Ford noir-style narration and a Hollywood ending. The quieter, downbeat director's cut is the masterpiece. The sets, special effects, and Vangelis theme lend just the right atmosphere to this thoughtful sci-fi film.

Who's more real – the replicants who want to live, or the humans who want them dead? Which is Deckard?


Probably the most beneficial part of the exercise for me has been identifying great sci-fi movies I haven't seen yet. These are the ones I'm going to check out first:

  • Pi

    This was a low budget thriller about... mathematics. Actually it looks like it's about secrets built into the fabric of the universe. It could be interesting.

  • Things to Come (1936)

    I've seen clips and heard raves about how groundbreaking this film was ever since I was a kid. I really need to see what all the fuss is about.

  • THX 1138

    Star Wars wasn't George Lucus' first sci-fi movie. This was. That alone makes me curious to see it.

  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

    According to Rotten Tomatoes the critics liked this remake better than the original that I saw.

  • Brazil

    Time Bandits revealed Terry Gilliam as an off-kilter genius. I have no idea what to expect with this.

  • Children of Men

    Phil recommended this film when it came out last year.

Comments

Cool list, but missing some great films, particularly Asian cinema and manga e.g.
Casshern, Natural City, and Ghost in the Shell (Sky Blue and Appleseed are also a contenders).

John Carpenter's They Live?

Being John Malkovitch should be in this list.

A Scanner Darkly is fantastic.

What about Strange Days?

Surprised X-Men aren't in here.

Oh, I would add in Cronos, although that's a bit more horror than sci-fi.

(Btw, watch Children of Men, incredible film. Definitely one of the best scifi films to come out in years. Pi is wonderful, too).

Futurefragments:

Ghost in the Shell 1 and 2 are definite contenders. Where in the countdown would you put them?

My manga viewing has been limited to the big ones like Ghost in the Shell. I don't know those other films.

Being John Malkovitch is fantastic. But its more fantasy than sci-fi.

I saw Strange Days in the theater, but never since. So it really didn't come to mind in writing this. Hmmm. Maybe.

The X-men - more fantasy than sci-fi.

I'm not sure I woudl call Pi scifi- but it's a great film. I believe the production budget was a little less than $50k.

Definitional issueas aside and leaving out the comic book superheros- I liked all of these:

Solaris, Repo Man, Clockwork Orange, The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, Fantastic Voyage, Island of Lost Souls, The Amazing Colassal Man, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Flubber, Andromeda Strain, Boys From Brazil, Tron, Scanners, Cocoon, Cherry 2000, Predator, Running MAn, The Abyss, Honey I Shrunk the kids, TImeRider Bicentennial Man, I Robot, The Island, The Cell, Frequency, Signs, The Fly, Akira


Great list, Stephen. Fun reading. Your thoughts on the time-travel paradoxes in The Terminator got me thinking about two movies. One of them, Primer, was on the Rotten Tomatoes list and is definitely worth a look. It's an independent film from two or three years ago in which a couple of geniuses finally do with time travel what we'll all know it would be perfect for -- they make money. But, naturally, that's just the beginning, and then things go terribly wrong.

The other one is Deja Vu, starring Denzel Washington, which was just released las last year. You get to the end of it and think that you've just seen an action movie with a pat ending, and then you start thinking about what must have happened in order for that pat ending to have come about -- a lot of stuff that is never shown, and only referenced in the most indirect way in the movie. I think Tony Scott wanted his movie to work on a couple of levels, but he might have done too good a job hiding one the levels from the audience.

The original Mad Max did not take place after a Nuclear war, that bit came later in the series. The original Mad Max is a brilliant look at a society that has become overly friendly towards the criminals and is on the verge of anarchy because of it.

Watch it again, it's very nicely done and has taken a place above Road Warrior in my own list.

MDarling:

I definitely should have included Tron. I'll have to update my list.

And I've always liked Frequency, but I'm on the fence about that one.

Phil:

I've never seen Primer or Deja Vu. I guess I need to add those to my "to be watched" list.

I've heard that I don't need to bother with Sandra Bullock's time-bending Premonition. That's a shame since I like her and it was filmed right down the road from my house. I'll probably watch it anyway so I can play that game "Hey I know where that is."

RJ:

The original Mad Max did not take place after a Nuclear war...

Oh. I was wondering about that. Thanks.

You're not the first to tell me that I've missed the boat on Mad Max. Sigh. I guess I'm going to have to give it another shot. :-)

Reg: GitS
Where would I put them?

I'd probably stick Ghost in the Shell 1 in the top 20 somewhere, just because of its importance in inspiring so much (e.g. Matrix). It'd be greedy to try and stick the second one in the list ;)

Casshern and Natural City are both live acting films. Sky Blue and Appleseed are both manga. All of them are great, particularly Casshern and Natural City. I'm a huge fan of oriental cinema, they do sci-fi far better than Hollywood IMO.

Oh, and something I didn't mention, but it should be on the list: Avalon. Awesome. Really thought provoking I though. Same guy who directed GitS (Oshii), but it's live acting, set in Poland. Really brilliant film.

What about eXistenz? Not sure if I'd put it in a top 50, but it's still pretty good.

Re: X-Men, hmm, if Flash Gordon's in there, shouldn't X-Men? Dunno if I would classify X-Men as fantasy; one of the main ideas is that human being are evolving. There's a lot of science used for the story. It's fantastical, sure, but supposedly rooted in science.

I was going to point out that the original Mad Max was before the nuclear war, but set in the downward spiral that lead to it.

However rjschwarz beat me to it.

So I'll say that beware there are two versions of that movie. The original and one that was dubbed into American because yanks can't understand the Australian accent (???)

So if you didn't get it, maybe you saw the dodgy dubbed version?

Oh. And Douglas Quaid/Hauser was dreaming. It was just too pat otherwise. (There's a good chance this was the case in Vanilla Sky too.)

And 2001? I was dreaming. But that's because I fell asleep.


Regarding Total Recall, I suspect that it was not a dream. (Funny, I never once thought that it was a dream after watching it dozens of times). I say this mainly because Schwarzenegger, in an interview, referred to Quaid as being "just this big program". Personally, I'd be disappointed if it were a dream; too much of a cop-out, IMO. Reminds me of those horrible novels that always get written at school and end with something like, "And he woke up to realise it was all just a dream".

Re: Terminator series

The first made sense, they had no data on Sarah Conner but it's hard to imagine SkyNet didn't have info on where the terminator hand was found. If you know that why not send the T2 back to help the T1 finish the job? Instead they warned her and brought about their eventual doom.

The machines are stupid. Those machines that do not know history are doomed to repeat it.

Re: Total Recall

Is the dream a cop-out if you consider that Quade is lobotomized in the Total Recall machine in an endless loop? More of a twisted nightmare. The entire movie is about the mind, and tricking the mind and the name is Total Recall (after the company) after all.

Schwarzenegger could have misunderstood, or things might have been left in flux until after editing and test screenings. I know Ridley Scott changed his own story regarding Blade Runner and Decker being a skin-job.

True. In fact you could be quite right: there's an interesting write up on Wikipedia about it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_Recall

"In the end Verhoeven states quite clearly in the special edition DVD commentary that Quaid is indeed on the table at Rekall living out a fantasy. He points out that the imagery on the screen at Rekall show the alien machine, the girl of his dreams that he asked for and a blue sky over Mars. Verhoven points this out as Quaid is going to sleep. When Quaid\Hauser is confronted by his wife & the Rekall spokesman, Verhoven is quick to point out that the spokesman goes on to detail the entire second half of the movie. Verhoven also says that the movie fades to white instead of the normal fade-to-black due to the fact that Quaid is lobotomized by the Rekall doctors at that point. Of course, Quaid himself notes that he dreamt about Melina before ever going to Rekall, which is true: in the first scene of the movie he has a dream in which he is climbing on the surface of the planet in a protective space suit, the glass helmet of which later breaks, turning his dream into a nightmare. He is climbing with a companion, but it is not Lori, whom he wakes up next to, but Melina."

Speaking of great sequels, Futureworld is good enough as to make Westworld worth watching. It raises the suspence from physical to psychological and fills in the holes in the backstory.

Hey, this isn't actually Kathy, this is Mary (her daughter, in case you forgot).I jsut got back from the cornerstone festival, where I experienced a plethora of fantastic old movies, and I have some things to add to the list. First off, I would add Robot Monster, simply because it's artfully, strategically bad. I mean, honestly, no one could unintentionally make a film that ridiculously awful and yet amazingly entertaining. It took skill and precision. Secondly, though The Incredible Shrinking Man is at times redundant, overly dramatic, and stupid (my favorite line is, "I came forward in an ecstasy of elation"), the very end makes all the meaningless babble of the rest of the film worth watching. It is a deep, profound theological statment that few other films have touched on. And I agree with what you said about Galaxy Quest. That movie is pretty much amazing.

What made the Terminator movies great for me is the very fact that there *is* a paradox that cannot be resolved.

In this first movie, we learn that John Connor would not have existed had he not sent his own father back in time. And the best line of that is when Riese talks about the picture of Sarah that John gave him and how he had memorized the lines of it, and how he had always wondered what she was thinking of at the time it was taken....and we learn in the last scene, if we are paying attention, that she was thinking of him!

What made the second movie so great is that we learn that not only would John Connor not have existed if he hadn't sent his father back in time, but the terminators would not exist either if they had not sent themselves back in time!

It's a *double* paradox. Sheer genius.

And the third was a pile of garbage.

Why are time movies "paradox" inducing? Back to the Future explained it pretty simply with non-linear time.

MikeD:

And that's my argument with the Terminator series. Provided that each trip spits off a new timeline, the series begins to make sense.

D. Vision:

Would T3 be redeemed for you by a T4 that took place after the bomb and showed a final visit back in time to prevent the war and stop the time travel? Because that's where I think they are ultimately going.

Any definite answer on the questions of reality/fantasy in Total Recall or whether Deckard was a replicant in Bladerunner tend to mess it up.

This sort of thing is best left ambiguous. A definite answer doesn't make you engage the movie as actively as ambiguity.

In answer to the cop-out question - there's no cop-out as long as there's an argument to be made on the other side.

The Dekkard as a Replicant thing is stupid. The theme of the movie is "more human than human" which is also the slogan for Replicants. That only really works if you compare Dekkard with the Replicants. They enjoy life, appreciate things and don't sit around drinking and whining and if you watch Dekkard that is more or less what he does. He doesn't appreciate life until he's nearly killed.

"Dekkard as a Replicant" is most interesting when the viewer speculates on whether Deckard knew or could know either way.
His girlfriend didn't know- and apparently couldn't. But he could know her status. Perhaps he was the next generation- and no one could tell at which point it should cease to matter. Except that he gets depressed.

Aside from the temporal consistency- almost- the best thing about Frequency is the baseball.

Seems unlikely Dekkard's boss wouldn't know he was a replicant.

Ok, here's my very late, late entry. Comments were broken for me earlier. Here's potential candidates that I haven't seen discussed yet. I may have overlap with the original Rotten Tomatoes list, but I currently don't have access to images (I'm downloading over a modem).

Pitch Black - good, fun sci fi adventure flick about some hapless travellers shipwrecked on an alien planet. The humans didn't have much in the way of fancy technology, but there was a nice depiction of alien life. Has vin Diesel in a great role.

Until the End of the World - amazing movie. This should place well on your list. If it doesn't, it's because you haven't seen it yet. A common complaint about sci fi is either that it's only about the technology or it's only about standard human issues with a thin veneer of glitz. This is a genuine sci fi story about human interest things that currently can only be discussed in a sci fi context.

Epoch - A sci fi channel movie with hints of "Day the Earth Stood Still" and a fairly sophisticated modern treatment with a realistic depiction of international politics. Mysterious mountain-sized object appears on the border of India and China. Fun and games as the US (on behalf of India) and China compete to seize and explore the object. Nuclear war is only the tip of this treacherous iceberg.

The Sphere - Decent Michael Crichton novel and great movie. Combination of several great things, first encounter scenario (and how one would go about it), a mysterious spaceship, and power beyond man's comprehension.

Stargate - Probably on someone's list. But a sci fi story based on Egyptian mythology is neat, and it's a great action flick too.

Re: Metropolis

Kino Video has a new(ish) DVD release of Metropolis - apparently they found the original German title cards (submitted to the German censors) and another reel of the film in some attic somewhere.

Anyway, it's been fully restored and re-edited to match Fritz Lang's original vision. If you haven't seen this version, you haven't seen Metropolis at all.

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