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The Best Science Fiction Film of All Time?

So, it's been thirty years since we first saw STAR WARS. Hard to believe.

Amidst all the hype and hoopla of this anniversary, I keep seeing people calling STAR WARS "the best science fiction film of all time." Uh... really? I don't think so. The original STAR WARS was a good movie, and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was even better (Leigh Brackett wrote that one, so there's good reason), but RETURN OF THE JEDI went downhill, and you really don't want to get me started about those three wretched prequels. Even the original triad hasn't aged as gracefully as one might have hoped. It has become apparent that much of the charm of the first movie came from the novelty of seeing favorite tropes from classic SF books realized on the screen for the first time... but that charm wears off on repeated viewings, and once it does you realize that neither the story is, well... not all that it could have been. You also realize how much retrofitting and backfill has gone on since the movie's first release. I don't care what Lucas says, I will never believe that Darth was meant to Luke's father from the outset, or that the romantic pairing was always supposed to be Leia and Han (it is plainly Luke and Leia)... and damn it, Han shoots first!

Never mind about all that. STAR WARS is what it is, and it had a profound effect on both SF and on film, for both good and ill... but it is not even close to being the best SF movie of all time.

What's better? Try 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Try THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Try the first ALIEN, or even better, ALIENS (but never mention the third installment in my presence). Try CHARLIE (the film version of the classic "Flowers for Algernon"). All worthy. Try George Pal's wonderful adaptation of H.G. Wells' WAR OF THE WORLDS (a better film than the Spielberg remake, in my opinion), or Pal's version of THE TIME MACHINE (a MUCH better film than the really truly abominable recent remake).

The best, though?

MGM, 1956. Leslie Nielson, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Robbie the Robot. FORBIDDEN PLANET. Also known as the Tempest on Altair-4. Inspired by Shakespeare, in turn it inspired Gene Roddenberry, who borrowed heavily from it when coming up with STAR TREK. State of the art special effects (for 1956, admittedly), gripping story, some fine performances (especially by Walter Pidgeon, whose performance as Morbius beats anything ever seen in any of the STAR WARS films). Unlike STAR WARS, this is a film that only grows richer every time you watch it. A monster that makes sense, characters with a little psychological depth, science that isn't just empty technobabble, a sexy heroine, a tragic hero, the awesome caverns of the Krel... FORBIDDEN PLANET has it all.

Winner and still champion.

The best science fiction film of all time.


May. 30th, 2007 10:09 pm (UTC)
Okay, yes. Forbidden Planet. That's a movie that I never really think about, but which I really loved when I watched it as a kid. Great film. I should go see if my dad still has a copy....

Really, I get the impression that most people just don't know how to make a good SF film. There are all of these stories out there with great potential, then someone tries to make a movie, and it hits rock bottom about 1/3 of the way through. I don't know what that's all about.

Single most abyssmal thing I can remember seeing was probably Supernova. I actually walked away from that. And I've been waiting on Ender's Game for YEARS, hoping it would renew my faith in SF movies, but so far that doesn't seem to be going anywhere...at all.
May. 30th, 2007 10:23 pm (UTC)
I really, really doubt that Ender's Game will be done right. I hope, but I think it's a doomed hope.
May. 31st, 2007 12:23 am (UTC)
Card has been working for years, pretty much since the novel was written, to make sure that if an Ender's Game film is done, it will be done right. He has gone over all the contracts that have been brought to him with fine tooth-combs and discarded any that weren't completely acceptable, he has come up with several screenplays for it himself and is working on another last I checked... In short, the author himself is completely dedicated to a GOOD Ender's Game movie, and is micromanaging to make sure that this happens.
Which, of course, doesn't mean it will wind up actually being good, but at least it inspires some confidence.
I don't know, if their original creators had been consulted more, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen might have been better, but V for Vendetta would have sucked, so it's hard to tell.
I was about to cite the good adaptations of the Harry Potter books to movies, then I realized that if you start with pap books, it's not hard to wind up with a movie that's at least as good as the books.
May. 31st, 2007 01:34 am (UTC)
I agree that Card is definitely trying to make the script, at least, as good as it can be. I've followed it as much as I could since...oh, wow...since I was in high school, which was almost 10 years ago, come to think of it. So, yeah, it's been quite a while since the Ender's Game title showed up in Cinescape along side Indian Jones 4 (ahem) as an upcoming film. So I definitely have faith in Card. It's everyone else I'm worried about.

I agree, too, with what you've said of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V for Vendetta (which, incidentally, is the only graphic novel/comic book inspired movie that I have REALLY liked. In fact, I think V was just about the only movie I liked from the year it came out, period). League had a lot of potential and some decent actors (I know Peta Wilson can act, at least) so I just don't know what happened there. And since I haven't read the entire graphic novel, I'm not really in a position to say. >_>

By the way, your icon is the BEST.
May. 31st, 2007 01:28 am (UTC)
Oh, you have that fear, too, do you? Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one.

At least at this point Haley Joel Osment is far too old to play Ender. That's a bit of a relief.
May. 31st, 2007 02:14 am (UTC)
Eh, with child actors I find that the director is often more important than the child.

(mind if I add you?)
May. 31st, 2007 02:34 am (UTC)
That's very true. Much like how an actor can only do so much if the script is outright bad.

(by all means, yes!)
May. 31st, 2007 03:09 am (UTC)
Right, like, say, the Star Wars prequels. Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman are not bad actors, but... ugh.

May. 31st, 2007 03:19 am (UTC)
Oh, indeed. Likewise, Ewan McGregor. I think I spent most of the third Star Wars prequel with my hands over my face. Couldn't handle it.
May. 30th, 2007 11:11 pm (UTC)
Supernova...... jesus, I rented that.

What the hell were they thinking?
May. 31st, 2007 01:26 am (UTC)
THAT is the question. God...James Spader, we expect so much more from you!

And to think I watched it with my parents. How horrifying. =O


George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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