My Top 20 SF Films-Extra!-The Star Trek series

I’ve ran down my top 20 SF films over the last month or so, but as I promised there’s one last bonus blog on the subject that I wanted to separate from the main list as it really is something of it’s own.

This is the Star Trek series of films…

I grew up like many kids watching Star Trek on TV on the BBC in the evening, and like many kids fell utterly in love with this very American, though at the same time, Humanist vision of the future. When as a bright-eyed 12 year old I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture I was in awe.

Like a lot of the blockbusters of the 70’s, my memories of this is queuing in the cold, or the snow in Glasgow with one  or my parents, but in this case both took me because they too loved Star Trek. My dad loved Kirk and Bones, while for my mum it was all about Spock.

So they took me to the ABC cinema in Sauchiehall Street on a dark winters night to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I’d been nagging them for months that I wanted to see it the minute I saw an ad for it on the back page of various Marvel Comics of the time.

I couldn’t wait. I wanted to see this more than any of the other blockbusters of the time, bar one, but I’ll get to that one another time but that night I remember vividly. We got the bus into the city centre, walked the short distance from the bus stop to the cinema and joined what was already a huge queue in the snowy winter cold. I remember being upset we wouldn’t get in but both parents convinced me we were early enough to get a good seat, and true enough as the queue grew behind us I became convinced we’d get in but I wanted to get near the front.

After what felt like an eternity, we got in and the three of us, (well me dragging my parents behind me) legged into into the vast theatre, strode down near the front by the aisle (I still sit in the same position if possible today when going to the cinema) and I positioned myself between both my parents. My dad vanished to get some ‘snacks’ via the cinema bar, but returned in time for  the performance to start.

This is where I need to point out that in 2013 the cinema going experience is akin to a quick knee- trembler round the back of the bins. In 1979 it was like falling in love for the first time, not to mention it was the working class version of going to the opera. Films still had intermissions. Cinemas were glorious places of red and gold. Men and women in sharp suits guided you everywhere. It smelled of excitement, and of course screens were huge.

So we sat in our seat near the front by the aisle. A large cup of something fizzy in my hand, the lights dimmed, and the trailers and adverts ran. This still transfixed me though I wanted the main event and my heart sank as the lights came up, only for the screen to get wider, and wider as the main event came nearer, then the lights dimmed and the overture played…

See, this was part of the experience. This was the build up. Listening to Jerry Goldsmith’s still amazing score in the dark with several hundred impatient but obviously excited people, and then the film began….

A few hours later I’d seen my heroes return. I was tired, but I wanted chips and to talk about how awesome it was. Yes it didn’t have fights or anything but I didn’t care as the thing was simply majestic. I knew both my parents liked it too as they were talking to each other about it as I dozed on the bus home with my chips.

That night I went to bed exceptionally happy. It was simply a joyous night and for that night, I’m always going to love that first Star Trek film. As I was writing this I went to stick the DVD, but FilmFour was on and oddly enough, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was just starting. I watched it again with those same happy memories I’ve always and will always, have.

It’s my favourite of all the films because of this. There is however a close second.

A few years later things were a bit crap. My mother had died recently and I was 15 with a body full of raging hormones and a brain full of a lot of problems as I tried to make what I could of what was an increasingly depressing situation. One amazing lovely summers day I decided to go for a long walk and ended up walking along past the same ABC cinema which was showing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

I went up, checked the times and saw I could make the next showing easily so in I went. got myself a ticket for what was a pretty empty cinema because, well, it’s a beautiful summers day in Glasgow. Those don’t come along often. However a few dozen other people joined me, possibly because the ABC was air-conditioned or they were fans, either way I wasn’t alone but I decided to position myself in the third row from the front as there was all the room in the world there.

The lights dimmed, the trailers and ads ran, and then the lights came up with the screen getting wider, which is what I expected, but it continued to get wider, and wider and wider. Then I remembered this was in 70mm and the ABC was one of the few screens in the city which could show 70mm prints. The screen was massive. Imagine the biggest screen in today’s multiplex’s and double it, and you’re about halfway there.

I was in the third row.

When the film started my eyeballs were wide open for the rest of my time at the cinema watching what is in my mind, the single best film featuring starships in combat. Forget about anything else, this is about a battle of mind and will, not to mention it’s about heroism. It’s about not lying down when it seems like you’re staring defeat in the face. It’s about dealing with death and moving on.

This is immensely cheesy but those couple of hours watching one of the most enjoyable films you’ll ever see helped me through a very bad time. It gave me the strength of mind to go on. For that reason I’ll love this film.

One thing though, sitting three rows from the front of a film being shown in 70mm is an experience and a half. Imax has nothing on this!

By the time Star Trek III: The Search for Spock rolled into cinemas, I was more settled in life for a while. I was doing my exams at school, and had fell in with the comics scene in Glasgow and had picked up friends outside of school.

Star Trek III is the sort of film that would never be made today. It’s fun. Nothing too dark or broody. It’s a bunch of old friends trying to save another and in the meantime they have an adventure and fight baddies. It’s simple but not simplistic. It’s good, bit not a spectacular effort compared tot he first two but it’s huge fun.

Again let’s skip a few years to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

This is just a joy. Like Wrath of Khan I saw this at a dark time. I didn’t know what I was going to do with life, and frankly I needed cheering up. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home did that perfectly. It’s utterly impossible not to watch this film and come out smiling with a positive attitude to, well, everything.

This film captures what Star Trek’s enduring message is. Humanity sometimes fucks up but we’ll sort it out, and we’ll do it by sticking together. It’s a bit 1960’s and in today’s Hipster ridden cynical age, seems childish but I’ll take inspiring humanity over empty cynicism any day of the week.

By the time Star Trek V: The Final Frontier came out, I’d moved from Glasgow to Leicester. It’s also a terrible film, but not without it’s enjoyable moments. That’s the best I can say about it so let’s move on…

In the early 1990’s I was firmly stuck in the limbo of the East Midlands, and it’s here on a day out in Nottingham with a friend Roz, that I saw Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

This is the last film with the full original cast which as the years goes by is something that’s increasingly sad as your childhood heroes pass away slowly one by one, but this film gives them a fantastic farewell as it again drives home the message of humanity and decency that Star Trek should be telling us.

See, we need positive science fiction. Dark, dystopian SF is fine but we need something to aspire to rather than being told we;re all rapists, cannibals and murderers really. We need something like Star Trek to say that with all our problems, we have something to aim for, or simply we can be better than this.

Star Trek VI gives our heroes a great farewell, in a great story. It’s a fitting end and although on TV there was still Star Trek: The Next Generation to keep the flag flying, though everyone knew that the next film along in the series would see the Next Generation crew take their place.

That film was Star Trek: Generations.

Now I like Generations. Yes, it’s an awful film in places, but I spent a glorious Sunday at a cinema in Leicester with Roz and some other friends watching all seven films in a row, though there were a lot of people taking a drinks and food break during Final Frontier.

This was a passing of the torch from the old crew who people of my age grew up with, to the Next Generation crew who people my age came to love because it was Star Trek after all, but really it’s a film of some good scenes wrapped round a bad film.

Star Trek: First Contact proved to be the Next Generation film most people were waiting for.

When this one came out I was still living in Leicester,which meant any escape was to be welcomed, so a crowd of us piled into the cinema for opening night, including one chap who took his Trek love so far he stuck a Mars Bar on his forehead and had to put up with it melting for the first part of the film.

There’s cosplay for you!

I like First Contact a lot. It’s not really Star Trek but it’s a harmless enough action film that makes you switch off your brain, which sadly starts to become a trait with Trek films from here on in.

At this point I skim over the cinematic nightmares that are Insurrection and Nemesis. Though I do think Nemesis is at least a better film (just) they really aren’t worth wasting time over like I did when I paid money at the cinema to sit through them both.

After Nemesis, Star Trek as a cinematic experience was pretty much dead. That is until 2009 when J.J Abrams Star Trek came out.

This is how modern American blockbusters should be, even if it’s not really Star Trek. It’s still the sort of fun, fairly mindless space action film that passes for SF these days, but it’s so well made and at times, genuinely affecting.

It’s a film that’s meant to be just enjoyed. Best to treat it that way and it won’t insult you too much!

And this takes this blog to 2013 and the latest film, Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Now some fans hate this film. I don’t, apart from the ending. It’s conrtieved beyond belief but otherwise up til then it’s a  solid action adventure film. Ok, again it’s not especially Star Trek, but it’s a fun film which passes the time.

Sadly, this is what Star Trek has become. It doesn’t give you an experience or make you think but it does allow you to pass a couple of hours now and at least enjoy those few hours. There are films there which don’t do that. These now at least are entertainment.

I’ll always go back to those first few films though, with the first two especially meaning an awful lot to me. Those films are always going to be a tough benchmark to beat, and hopefully one day someone decides to do a smart Star Trek film that isn’t all about the shooting and stuff.

So there you go, I’ve done my top SF films. I’ve poured my heart out about Star Trek and lived to tell the tale, and I’m going to carry on doing a few more Top 20 lists. Next time, my Top 20 Comic Books films…….

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My Top 20 SF Films-1-Brazil

I’ve recently dived into doing ”best of’ lists, so as I’ve explained, I’ve decided to do my top 20 SF films. This is my personal list, so feel free to disagree with it and of course, you’ll be horribly wrong.

Previously at # 20, The Matrix19, Seconds, 18A Boy and His Dog17Sunshine16Dark Star15Rollerball14 Altered States13, Close Encounters of the Third Kind ,12Forbidden Planet11The Star Wars Trilogy10The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension9Dark City, 812 Monkeys, 7, Starship Troopers6The Day the Earth Stood Still ,5, Videodrome, 42001: A Space Odyssey, 3Alien/Aliens and 2, Blade Runner.

Number one is probably a surprise to some, it’s Terry Gilliam’s amazing Brazil.

Brazil

Why Brazil and not some of the other more obvious films on my list? Well, it’d have been in the top ten for sure but I watched it again a month or so back after not having seen it in probably a decade or so, and had forgotten that this is probably one of the most imaginative films you will ever see.

Yes it owes much to George Orwell’s 1984, and other dystopian fiction, but it also owes much to the imagination and talent of the great Harvey Kurtzman, one of Gilliam’s early employers and clear inspiration of his work, and obviously through that of Monty Python. In fact there’s dozens of various sources Gilliam liberally borrows from in the film, strains it through his eyes and out comes what is still a remarkable bit of SF that is, and considering the well-documented struggle Gilliam had in getting this out there it’s all so more remarkable for it.

Brazil is a tale of a man fighting against the horrible bureaucracy of a repressive state while at the same time dreaming of clouds, beautiful women and flying. Most of us have dreamed of flying or clouds, and a fair chunk of us dream of women so Sam Lowry (played by a splendid Jonathan Pryce) sails through life trying to make his life easy but after seeing the girl from his dreams his life falls apart as he comes into contact with what the state deems terrorists (a cameo from Robert DeNiro when such a thing meant something) in a plot that has terrible reminders of today, let alone the 1980’s when this film was made.

This is a film where you can sit down and take a lot from it. It’s not a film that disappears from the memory from the darkly comic opening to the sad, dismal ending that’s so terrible that America got a santised happy ending initially. A happy ending isn’t what this film needs as the ending as it should be is perfect. It’s horrible, but it can’t end any other way.

Brazil is my favourite SF film. Every time I see it, I feel like I’m seeing it anew. It’s really that special a film for me. That’s why this film is at the top of my list.

So that’s it for my list, or is it? I’ve got one more special bonus blog to make about my Top 20 Sf films….

 

My Top 20 SF Films-2-Blade Runner

I’ve recently dived into doing ”best of’ lists, so as I’ve explained, I’ve decided to do my top 20 SF films. This is my personal list, so feel free to disagree with it and of course, you’ll be horribly wrong.

Previously at # 20, The Matrix19, Seconds, 18A Boy and His Dog17Sunshine16Dark Star15Rollerball14 Altered States13, Close Encounters of the Third Kind ,12Forbidden Planet11The Star Wars Trilogy10The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension9Dark City, 812 Monkeys, 7, Starship Troopers6The Day the Earth Stood Still ,5, Videodrome, 42001: A Space Odyssey and 3, Alien/Aliens.

At number two it’s another Ridley Scott film, Blade Runner.

BladeRunner

 

This is simply a classic in any genre. It’s one of Harrison Ford’s best films and it changed not only how films look after it was released, but other aspects of modern society including how we build cars and design buildings. I struggle to think of any other film of the last 30 years that’s had such an impact, and of course it’s still the best version of a Philip K. Dick story you’ll see.

What makes Blade Runner what it is, is a perfect storm so Scott is the perfect director, the designers are astonishing, the effects stand up miles better than anything CGI can vomit up and the performances are some of the best Scott got out of his actors, especially Rutger Hauer’s tortured Roy Batty.

This is a film I wore out two VHS copies from watching it too much. My spiffy DVD box-set of every version ever made is still going strong but then again, this is supposed to last longer so I expect it to have turned into dust by 2017.

As a piece of SF it’s essential. It deals with big ideas about humanity, our future and how we deal with machines who might become smarter than we are. In 1982 that seemed far- fetched even for SF, but now it’s becoming more and more prescient the more we see artificial intelligence becoming more advanced, while robotics  and computing leaps forward in such advances on an almost daily basis. This film speaks about the future we live in now which is extraordinary though sadly, we don’t have pleasure bots or live Off-World.

Yet.

By 2019 I demand pleasure bots and life Off-World.

And here we are. Next blog in this series is my favourite ever SF film. Anyone got a clue what it is?

My Top 20 SF Films-3-Alien/Aliens

I’ve recently dived into doing ”best of’ lists, so as I’ve explained, I’ve decided to do my top 20 SF films. This is my personal list, so feel free to disagree with it and of course, you’ll be horribly wrong.

Previously at # 20, The Matrix19, Seconds, 18A Boy and His Dog17Sunshine16Dark Star15Rollerball14 Altered States13, Close Encounters of the Third Kind ,12Forbidden Planet11The Star Wars Trilogy10The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension9Dark City, 812 Monkeys, 7, Starship Troopers6The Day the Earth Stood Still ,5, Videodrome and 4, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

As we enter the top three, it’s a double bill of Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s superb sequel, Aliens.

A-0017_Alien_quad_movie_poster_l

Alien is one of my favourite SF films (and it also works as a horror film but stick with me here) because it presents a working future world, an alien planet and a species so totally alien to humans. It builds all this up so well that it provides a base for the horror film that breaks out around 45 minutes into the film. Without the world-building for the first part of the film we would be watching any B Movie for the 1950’s with a man in a rubber suit going ‘ARRRRGHHH’ at actors in jumpsuits.

The beauty about Alien is that it’s a bit like that but it spends the time, and more importantly money on exceptional talent to create what we’re seeing on screen in front of us, so by the time we get to that scene with John Hurt we’re sold. Once we see the monster in it’s shadowy glory we’re fascinated and scared silly at the same time because this really is about making sure we’re thrilled, but scared.

I love the film obviously, but it took me a while to see it. I was too young to see it initially at the cinema, though I do remember the queues snaking round the Odeon in Glasgow that seemed to last for weeks and weeks. The first time I saw anything of Alien was an edited Super 8 version (in the past before VHS or DVD this was often the only way anyone not stupidly wealthy could own a film)  at a SF convention in Glasgow. Then I saw it on VHS, then on TV and from then I’ve seen it on a big screen at the cinema several times. I suggest taking the chance to do the same if you can.

Alien is almost perfect. It was however only a matter of time before a sequel pulled up and ruined it for everyone. Well, thankfully that bit is wrong….

Aliens is James Cameron’s excellent sequel. It doesn’t attempt to remake the original as many sequels do, no, he makes his own film which is the first real SF combat film that was rooted in real world battles.

I was at the opening of the film at Glasgow at the very first performance on the first afternoon with the rest of the lads (bar one or two) from the legendary comic shop, AKA Books and Comics. It was to this day an astonishing experience as we were all pumped up for this film after months of being teased by what little information and footage sneaked into the UK. This was before the age of internet spoilers so you really did walk into films not quite knowing every single thing which is going to unfurl itself onscreen in front of you. This was the case with Aliens.

After eventually leaving the cinema after toying to stay to watch the next performance (you could stay in an watch the film again back in the day) we decided to go out, get something to eat, and grab the stragglers who missed the afternoon performance so we could go back for the Friday night show, and this ended up being one of the best night’s I’ve ever spent in a cinema. The crowd were brilliant. They reacted at the right bit, and the tension in the air, especially at the end could be boxed and sold. As for the final victorious ending I’ve never had such a feeling of relief, and of course, exhilaration as then. Well, it’d be a few years til I did but that’s a story for another time…

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen both films. Every time I do they still seem as fresh as a daisy, and that’s the sign of a great film, and of course, a great sequel.

Next time, we go on the hunt for Replicants….

 

My Top 20 SF Films-4-2001: A Space Odyssey

I’ve recently dived into doing ”best of’ lists, so as I’ve explained, I’ve decided to do my top 20 SF films. This is my personal list, so feel free to disagree with it and of course, you’ll be horribly wrong.

Previously at # 20, The Matrix19, Seconds, 18A Boy and His Dog17Sunshine16Dark Star15Rollerball14 Altered States13, Close Encounters of the Third Kind ,12Forbidden Planet11The Star Wars Trilogy10The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension9Dark City, 812 Monkeys, 7, Starship Troopers6The Day the Earth Stood Still and 5, Videodrome.

At number four it’s what many consider not just one of the greatest Sf films ever made, but one of the finest films ever made. It’s Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001

 

For year’s this was to me a perfect SF film. It’s thoughtful, smart and it doesn’t attempt to speak down to the viewer at all in any way which even back in the 1960’s was amazing, but now it’s astonishing. Though this is as much Arthur C. Clarke’s vision as Kubrick’s, not to mention the army of people involved with making this classic.

When I was growing up this was always proclaimed in magazines I’d read that this was the best of the best, so when I finally saw it one wet summers day in a now long gone cinema in Glasgow’s Renfield Street during one of it’s many re-releases during the 1970’s I was blown away. The images in it were, and are amazing. They still are even in an age of digital effects because they feel real, and ok, the film is cold and detached. Some of it has even dated badly in places, but it’s superior to 99% of film SF produced since it because it’s dealing with massive ideas in a way few films want to because the audience don’t have the patience to deal with it anymore.  This is after all, a film where not a word of dialogue is spoken for the first 30 minutes or so of the film.

I should also say that if you do get the chance to see this on a big cinema screen then do so. It’s a film that loses something on a TV screen, even a giant one so if you can get to see it where it was meant to be seen as there’s so much detail, not to mention impact lost. That said, it’s a film that if you’ve not seen then you really bloody well should as it really is one of the best films of any genre ever made.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a hopeful, positive film about the future of humanity that says we’re capable of more, and better things. Don’t get many films like that in today’s cynical times.

Next time, in space, nobody can hear anything actually because sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum…..

My Top 20 SF Films-6-The Day The Earth Stood Still

I’ve recently dived into doing ”best of’ lists, so as I’ve explained, I’ve decided to do my top 20 SF films. This is my personal list, so feel free to disagree with it and of course, you’ll be horribly wrong.

Previously at # 20, The Matrix19, Seconds, 18A Boy and His Dog17Sunshine16Dark Star15Rollerball14 Altered States13, Close Encounters of the Third Kind ,12Forbidden Planet11The Star Wars Trilogy10The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension9Dark City, 812 Monkeys and 7, Starship Troopers.

At number six, it’s the only version of The Day the Earth Stood Still worth watching.

the-day-the-earth-stood-still

 

Why is director Robert Wise’s film so good? It’s simple; it’s just a perfect morality tale told within a SF context, but unlike a lot of other 1950’s American SF films, it’s critical of America. It’s hardly Marxist cinema but for a film at the height of the Red Scare to turn it’s eye upon it’s own country is remarkable, but then again this is still a remarkable film because it’s ultimately a pacifist film with a humanist heart.

The plot is simply that an alien representing a loose collective of alien civilisations comes to the Earth to warn us about our war-like ways, and to sort it out or else Michael Rennie is going to set his robot Gort on us and then we’ll be fucked.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a blissful film. I can remember being gripped by it the first time I saw it as a boy when the BBC used to show of 1950’s films in the timeslot where Eastenders now lurks. This ended up being somewhat of an education for me as they’d often show old SF films, and this was one of them so that every since that evening in the 1970’s I’ve loved this film though we don’t talk about the remake. Ever.

There is no better 1950’s SF film. This is as good as you can get.

Next time, long live the new flesh….

My Top 20 SF Films-7-Starship Troopers

I’ve recently dived into doing ”best of’ lists, so as I’ve explained, I’ve decided to do my top 20 SF films. This is my personal list, so feel free to disagree with it and of course, you’ll be horribly wrong.

Previously at # 20, The Matrix19, Seconds, 18A Boy and His Dog17Sunshine16Dark Star15Rollerball14 Altered States13, Close Encounters of the Third Kind ,12Forbidden Planet11The Star Wars Trilogy10The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension9Dark City and 8, 12 Monkeys.

Are you ready to fight the bugs? At number 7 it’s Paul Verhoeven’s mentalist SF satire based upon the book by Robert Henlien, it’s Starship Troopers.

Image

 

This film has a reputation as being gung-ho nonsense from people who don’t seem to have watched it properly, let alone paid attention to modern history, but the film itself is more than a SF action film. It’s a razor sharp satire of American culture, especially it’s fixation with the military and how some see a life in the military as making someone a ‘real’ citizen. Starship Troopers points out the laughable holes in this, while pointing out how close to fascism this is which is something Verhoeven would have lept at due to the fact he grew up in the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands.

Starship Troopers tells the story of good look American actors not realising they’re in a pisstake playing it seriously as they fight bugs. Only the likes of Michael Ironside seems to realise it’s a film about what happens when a fascist military state invades another culture and the war that inevitably breaks out as the invaded culture defends itself against the invaders. This is why the film took on a special relevance during the second Iraq War when Bush’s America started to look more and more like the world of Starship Troopers with perpetual war against ‘the enemy’. Watching the film again in 2004 or so it struck me how incredibly brilliant a satire the film is.

However you can just watch it as a straightforward action film, or you can open up your brain a bit and let the full fun of the thing overwhelm you.

With the trailer, I’ve searched long and hard (well, for five minutes) to find the British trailer with Blur’s Song 2 as background music, because it’s a ton better than the boring American one.

Enjoy…..

Next time as we get near the top five, we stand still….