david smithAs I mentioned in my first blog, one of my passions is a love for movies. I watch at least 5 movies every week and have done so for the past 20-30 years. While I’m a huge fan of science fiction, the reality is that I’m just a plain old-fashioned movie-nut. For this blog I’m going to try to focus on just science fiction. In particular, I want to talk about the seminal movies that have really stood out or affected me over the years. I’ll go in chronological order, and see if you can see how the themes changed over the decades.

I fell in love with movies at a very young age (in the very early 1960s) and some of the movies that I saw as a very young boy also helped to shape me into the very strange person that I grew up to be. I particularly like movies that make you think, or that change the way that you look at the world. This is one of the key things that science fiction books and movies can do. I’m also a huge fan of a singular scene in a movie that sticks with you forever. For example, when I first saw the final scene of the original ‘The Fly’, I knew it was going to mess me up for years to come. That movie is a great combination movie – science fiction with a good detective story. It’s a combination I’m particularly fond of. A final word on ‘The Fly’ – don’t bother with the 1986 remake with Jeff Goldblum.

Spoiler Alert!

‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ is another childhood favourite of mine. It’s a wonderful parable about world peace, or else. To this day I still remember the all-important phrase “Klaatu barada nikto”, just in case I need to save the planet from a killer robot. Here too you can forget about the remake with Keanu Reeves.

When I turned 14, the movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ came out. The space scenes done in operatic style were incredible and really brought to life the concept of a space opera. It also represented science fiction movies growing up, at least to me.

Just two and a half years later, I was a very young freshman at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, when I saw ‘Night of the Living Dead’ by the recently deceased George Romero. It’s the father of all zombie movies. I remember leaving the movie only to have some smart-asses from the previous showing jump out of bushes just to scare the living s#t! out of us. While not traditionally considered as such, zombie movies do have an important trait shared with science fiction; they make you think about a scenario. I’ve had huge family arguments discussing who would save the other from the first wave, and why someone wouldn’t go back to rescue what should be a loved one! We all would like to make it to at least the second wave, and realize that none of us would survive beyond that. I proudly wear my T-shirt that says “When the zombies come, I’m so tripping you” to work all the time.


Would you go back to get your loved ones if there was a zombie apocalypse?

I was already in graduate school when in 1978 Star Wars came out. That was another big game changer. The combination of the key themes from King Arthur with science fiction, space fights, and the best villain of all time: Darth Vader. It opened a whole new realm of great stories. The number of times that I said to my son “I am your father” and the years of torturing him and his siblings with Star Wars and my love for science fiction in general cannot be underestimated. Rather than discuss further here, I’ll probably devote an entire blog (or more) to the Star Wars Universe and the absolute geniuses at Walt Disney who purchased that universe and all the trillions of dollars they’ll be making mining it (not just movies, but videos, theme park rides, and toys).

The following year saw another classic that redefined where the genre could go. 1979 brought Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ to our screens, combining great science fiction and intense survival horror with a truly iconic movie monster, the Alien itself. It also has another all-time classic scene when John Hurt starts to have stomach problems on board the spaceship. The second in that series, directed by James Cameron, was also an outstanding movie. It introduces the concept of a kick-ass lead female character in Sigourney Weaver as Ripley (which started in the first movie but was then more fully developed in the second).  Each director who takes on an Alien movie has presented of a unique vision to the story, however, at this point I’m so sick of that universe that I wish they’d let it die, unlike Star Wars, that will live forever.

In 1982 one of my favourite directors of all time, Stephen Spielberg directed ‘E.T., The Extraterrestrial’. If you don’t love that movie, you simply have no heart. The combination of the divorced mother (something Spielberg pulled from his own life) and seeing the world through the eyes of a child make that such a memorable movie. I will have to devote an entire future blog to Spielberg’s contributions to science fiction movies.

Then in 1984 (a perfect choice of a year), James Cameron developed a concept from Harlan Ellison into an outstanding movie, ‘The Terminator’. First, they hired the perfect person to play that role. Hard to believe but at that point in time, the Arnold was just known as a bodybuilder. The best part of the movie, aside from being an exciting non-stop romp, was the time travel and all its associated contradictions. Again, I’m a huge fan of using time travel in science fiction stories and Harlan Ellison was brilliant in how he developed this concept into such a wonderful story. The second movie was also fantastic (and also continued the concept of a kick-ass lead female character with Linda Hamilton), but after that, I felt that the concept was overused and started to get boring, but that’s just me.

In 1999 the Wachowski brothers came out with ‘The Matrix’. That movie just blew me away for many reasons. The fights between Neo and Morpheus were incredible. The most impressive scene was towards the end when Neo is dodging bullets. I remember even my wife going “wow” when we first saw that happen on the screen. I almost wish they didn’t make the second, and certainly the third Matrix movie, and seeing Neo as Christ at the end of the third, just made me want to hurl.

2009, the year we finally got to see James Cameron’s opus, ‘Avatar’. I forgive him for pretty much stealing the story of ‘Fern Gully’, as the combination of the scenes using 3D to the best of its capabilities and a kick-ass exciting story make that film one that I’ve seen over 30 times! I can’t believe we’ve been waiting for so long for the underwater sequel, but you know I’ll be there at the Imax screen when that baby comes out!


Jake’s avatar and Neytiri. One of the inspirations for the look of the Na’vi came from a dream that Cameron’s mother had told him about / San Francisco Chronicle

Every other movie that I’ve mentioned in this blog are movies that I’ve loved. However, it isn’t always a prerequisite of a science fiction movie to be loved, and I thought I’d mention one that is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but yet one that has left such an indelible imprint on my brain that try as I might I’m unable to get it out of my mind. That movie is the 2009 movie from the decidedly insane director, Tom Six called ‘The Human Centipede’. In this movie a deranged surgeon (Dieter Laser) plans to make his morbid fantasy come true by suturing three people together through their gastric systems. If you haven’t seen it (but you have a strong stomach), I’d encourage a viewing. Again, it’s a horrible movie and a disgusting one at that, but you’ll never forget it. You can forget the sequel, as the first one does all the damage that you’ll ever need. (Editor’s note: Just going to jump in here and say you shouldn’t watch ‘The Human Centipede’. Take David’s word for how horrible and disgusting it is. Save yourself the unpleasantness.)

So, I’ll stop here, rather than rant and rave on interminably. In my next blog I’ll talk about one of my frustrations with the movie making industry and that’s their total and complete inability to do a decent job with most great science fiction or fantasy stories. There are some exciting and notable exceptions, such as the incredible job that Peter Jackson did with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but, by and large, Hollywood (and Bollywood and other woods) have totally mucked up the great and vast science fiction that is available out there, and I’m pissed!!

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