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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.


Jun. 21st, 2007 08:44 am (UTC)
It's always very enlightening to read (either books or select journals like this)

I agree with most of the quoted films here, but what really disturbs me is the fact that all really good sf (and fantasy) movies are quite old (exceptions like LotR included). Newer movies are numerically rare and overburdened with CGI effects, leaving no room for either character evolution or a real description of the world outlined. I, for one, am very interested in hints at what keeps the world I see on the screen running (not much time for the director to get them in in 120 minutes worth of movie-time, of course).
A good example is Bladerunner, while watching you get a good impression of the world that is outside the main story.

The director of the remake of Raumpatroullie Orion (german classic 50s sf series) said in an interview that for a modern audience you have to show a fast pace. The original series had a spaceship launch scene that went on for over 3 minutes, the remake had to cut it down to about a minute or so because the audience wouldn't watch a launch for a longer time without falling to sleep.

While movies nowadays really lack in terms of world detail, the TV-shows make use of long storylines, good examples are Battlestar Galactica and Firefly, but also the imo underestimated Dark Angel series. Sadly those incredibly rich stories seem to impede the popularity, which means they get dropped after one or two seasons, or don't get the finale they deserved like Babylon 5.
My greatest hope at the moment is that Battlestar Galactica won't die on the way to earth (or somewhere else).


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

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