Monday, March 26, 2012

My Top 25 Sci-Fi Movies of All Time - #3

My Top 25 Sci-Fi Movies of All Time - #3

by Ken Parker

Among my criteria of excellent Sci-Fi movies I include strong visuals, a soundtrack that envelopes the viewer and high concept ideas that are both thought provoking and exciting. So many movies on my list have elements from these but also may have great stories, top notch acting and just that magic touch. I am also a sucker for dystopian depictions and commentary on society of today. One thing that I may have not mentioned as a criteria in some Sci-Fi movies is realism. Not only do I like seeing a movie that could be real but when a film goes out of its way to sell the setting and ideas without going too far, I am happy. Movies such as Sunshine, The Abyss and 2010 are examples of this realism.

When a film takes place in the future it may be harder to sell the look of the film. You can certainly push your imagination to accept that a ship can travel faster than light or that time travel is possible. When a movie presents realistic settings, concepts and characters, that is when things can get very interesting. My final three films on my list all excel at realism. There is a look of each that could exist in the future. The concepts are within grasp of a possible future.

When a film bases some of its ideals in reality while expanding on the wonderous ideas of alien life, space travel and artificial life, it really hits a sweet spot for me.

3 – Alien (1979)

You give me a film that has an excellent characteristic or two it may be a film that I like. When a film has two or three superb elements than I start to think about putting that film on my top lists. When a film has many elements that are spectacular, it may make it all the way to the top.

IMDB Story Summary - The crew of the deep space mining ship Nostromo are awaken from hypersleep to investigate a strange signal from a nearby planet. While investigating the signal, they discover it was intended as a warning, and not an SOS. Written by Colin Tinto <>   

What is excellent about Alien is made up of so many things. Sure, the visuals are well done and the music matches perfectly but as I said in the intro, Alien is a film that takes place many years in the future and is set deep in space, be realistic. I love when characters don’t get along and make mistakes. They show their weaknesses and are not super human heroes. My final three films of my list show the flaws and fallibility of humans in different ways. In this case it is a mixture of the unknown, human error, complacency, fear and greed. This is all presented with several elements that I find to be well done in this film.

Real Setting – The setting of the ship is not white and gleaming. Nor is it so futuristic or alien. Instead it looks familiar, like it could exist. Dark and cluttered, the ship looks lived in and real, not a set on a stage. The space suits are bulky and barely movable but something that one could see working on a planet with that harsh of conditions. The setting is gritty and functional.

Real People – We do not have a crew of heroes. These people have a job to do but they are not out to save the universe. They are taken out of their comfort zones and must try to stay alive. Often the scenes in this movie have real performances, with the cast talking over on another and arguing. There is an obvious class struggle and division of workers. We see different agendas clashing at the worst moments. Mistakes are made, resulting in an ever spiraling out of control situation.

Unreal Aliens – The design of not only the alien itself, but the derelict spaceship are so incredible and wild. Contrasting the realism of the characters and the Nostromo includes a huge skeleton ‘Space Jockey’ and a room full of ‘leathery eggs’ and the truly alien Alien. You spend the whole time trying to focus on what is what with the design and have trouble comprehending the reality of it.

Tension – The slow moving pace of the story, couple with the music and the annoyance of the Nostromo crew in their premature wakening lulls the audience into a captivating interest in what is going on. The reveal of the spaceship, its interiors and escalating fears conveyed by Lambert begin the build up ending with the facehugger attack on Kane. The tension building is so subtle and yet so harrowing, it was hard to realize that it was happening. Could I have not breathed during the first 20 minutes of that film?

Horror – Shear horror is what this film is all about. I love horror films and want to be scared. It rarely happens these days but certain topics can do it. Possession and ghosts, done properly, can frighten me. Alien monsters, not so much. Unless that alien is onboard the Nostromo. The shocking attack of the face hugger creature and the even more shocking ‘birth’ out the chest of the crew member, Kane set the stage. From that point we only catch glimpses of the creature and even when we do see him, he blends into the background. That is all horror right there ladies and gentlemen. One by one the crew are killed. Sure, that is a popular motif in horror films but when its done so well as it is in Alien, one cannot help but scream. For what good it will do you.
The music by Jerry Goldsmith locks in the emotions and tone of each scene. Realism has no music but suspense, action and unfamiliarity are all given appropriate music to showcase what we see. The sound also is balance with the right familiar and unfamiliar.

The bonus of this film is that it is truly scary. There is no hope when you are that far out in space. As the advertising said, “No one can hear you scream in space”. The trailer, with its inhuman screeches is one of the best trailers in movie history and it is good to see the Prometheus trailer copying the concept.

Ridley Scott, a true visionary put the whole movie together. He must get the most credit just as Lucas gets credit for Star Wars. Scott’s style changes from movie to movie and adapts perfectly, in this case, to the tone and style of story telling.

Once we get this high on my list it is hard for me to determine why one film is higher than another. I am less likely to locate and discuss errors or problems with these movies either because there are none or, more likely, I do not see the mistakes or feel they are so insignificant, they are not worth mentioning. Instead I concentrate on the excellence of the film and everything about it. My final 4 films on my list, at one point or another, probably reached my #1 spot. A year from now these films may move around some more but for now this is how I feel about them.

Alien may be the least original of my final 4. It has elements from The Thing From Another World, Forbidden Planet and even Dark Star. The execution with “out of this world” designs and all the other elements mentioned before worked on such a high level.

I first saw this movie on cable TV - never seen it on the big screen
I have seen this movie 20 - 25 times on cable and home video
I just got this on blu ray and will be watching it soon

Not so much

One of the coolest toys ever!!

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