Thursday, June 21, 2007

SFX Best Ten SF movies

Earlier, I blogged about SFX magazine's poll for the best ten science fiction movies. In reverse order, here are my thoughts about each movie:

#10 Back To The Future deserves to be in any list of classic SF movies. It is a wonderful example of good old-fashioned entertainment: action, adventure, comedy, great music and sympathetic characters. It brightened the lives of millions of fans and gave people a simple introduction to the paradoxes of time travel. The time-travelling DeLorean has become iconic, so much so that when the Doctor needed to explain to his latest companion, Martha Jones, the dangers of time paradox, he simply reminded her of Back To The Future. My rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

#9 The Terminator gave people a dystopian future with no hope but endurance, and a more sophisticated time travel paradox than that from Back To The Future. It also launched the careers of Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron into the stratosphere. The Terminator too has become iconic. My rating: 4 1/2 out of 5.

#8 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of those movies that, in my opinion, people love for what it represents rather than what it is. What 2001 represents is "grown-up science fiction" as literature, not mere entertainment. What 2001 is, on the other hand, is mostly dull, pretentious and infused with a religious mysticism that says nothing and goes nowhere. It is significant that the only memorable, sympathetic character in the movie is the murderous computer HAL. As a movie, it has some good moments: the use of classical music is stunning, and there are some iconic scenes, like the spinning antelope bone becoming a space station. 2001 tries hard to be faithful to a realistic view of space travel, but it succeeds far too well to make for a good movie. But for all of 2001's pretensions to hard science, it then turns into some of the softest, most nonsensical mysticism ever put into a movie. The mysticism of the movie doesn't even say anything: Stanley Kubrick, in particular, has virtually invited audiences to interpret the end any way they like. The problem with human film-makers trying to portray incomprehensible events is that they have to cheat: it isn't that the end of 2001 has meaning beyond human understanding -- if it were, Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke couldn't have written it, being only human themselves. The only way for human writers to portray something beyond human understanding is to make up nonsense and wrap it in pseudo-significance. So any attempt to make sense of (e.g.) the fetus in space is simply projecting his or her own hopes and beliefs into the movie. A fetus in space is mystic? So would be a chicken egg, and just as silly. 2001 is a study of contrasts: ape-man and space-man, the cold harshness of space and the richness of the classical score, the ultra-realism of the hard science and the ultra-dippy weenieness of the mysticism. The end result is some magnificent minutes but also some tedious hours. My rating: it might be a classic, but it isn't a good classic. 2 out of 5.

#7 Forbidden Planet is a bit of a mystery to me. I have seen the movie, perhaps twenty years ago or more, but I don't remember enough about it to give it a rating. I'm awfully suspicious though: virtually every review of Forbidden Planet mentions that it is based on Shakespeare's The Tempest. I guess that makes it "literature", and science fiction which has been treated as literature is, generally speaking, overly serious and not terribly good.

#6 Alien is more horror than science fiction. We might go to the stars, it says, but the Nameless Horror in the dark will have got there first. Scary and intense, with one of the most memorable and unique monsters in all of fiction. 4 out of 5.

Continued in Part Two, coming right up.

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