Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Science Fiction in the Movies: "The Satan Bug" to "The Matrix"

I made a list of relatively memorable science fiction movies from the mid-sixties to the present, for another post. (June 30, 2009)

Yesterday, I started writing about space aliens and killer robots: and added to the list. I went back, today, and fleshed it out with brief descriptions of these exemplars of science fiction / speculative fiction in the movies.

See if you can spot a common element:
  • "The Satan Bug" (1965)
    • Germ warfare kills lots of people
    • "...very well made. It is more germaine [!] now than when it was made 42 years ago.
      (IMDB.com synopsis)
      • Looks like "germane" is the new "relevant"
  • "2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
    • A big black artifact and
      • Ape-men
      • Spaceships
    • Insane computer kills crewmates
    • One of my favorite films
    • Not much of a plot
      • But the sets were well-thought-out
        • Up to that time, a rarity in science fiction films
  • "Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
    • Massive supercomputer is built
    • Takes over the world
    • Somewhat plausible, given a willing suspension of disbelief
  • "The Omega Man" (1971)
    • Germ warfare
    • Charlton Heston
    • Zombies
  • "Westworld" (1974)
    • Killer robots
      • A whole resort full of killer robots
    • Moderately well-thought-out, in my opinion
    • No zombies
  • "Zardoz" (1974)
    • Far future with humanity split into
      • Brutals
      • Immortals
    • H. G. Wells' Eloi and Moorlocks, anyone?
    • Nitzche quotes
  • "A Boy & His Dog" (1975)
    • "A post-apocalyptic tale based on a novella by Harlan Ellison. A boy communicates telepathically with his dog as they scavenge for food and sex..."
      (IMDB plot summary)
    • What, when they have each other?
  • "Logan's Run" (1976)
    • A nice, neat, orderly society
      • Where life is groovy
        • Until you hit 30
        • Then you die
      • Well, you can't have everything
    • Then a crazed cop kills the master computer
  • "Star Wars" (1977)
    • Princess
    • Comedy-relief robots
    • Blasters
    • Spaceships
    • Light sabers
    • Evil emperor
    • Farm kid
    • Wizard
  • "The Swarm" (1978)
    • Killer bees kill lots of people
    • And make a nuclear reactor 'go critical'
    • Billed, at the time, as
      • A serious warning about the dangers of nuclear energy
      • And who says movies aren't educational?
  • "Quintet" (1979)
    • "During a future ice age, dying humanity occupies its remaining time by playing a board game called 'Quintet.' For one small group, this obsession is not enough; they play the game with living pieces ... and only the winner survives."
      (IMDB plot summary)
    • I'm not making this up!
  • "Mad Max" (1979)
    • Set in a "dystopic future Australia"
    • Cop
    • Biker gang
    • Vendetta
    • No zombies
      • The way those bikers looked, who needs zombies?
  • "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" (1981)
    • Set in a "dystopic future Australia"
    • Cynical drifter
    • Small community
    • Bandits
    • Still no zombies
  • "The Terminator" (1984)
    • Evil computer mastermind
    • Determined killer cyborg
    • Threat of nuclear apocalypse
  • "Night Shadows (1984)
    • Toxic waste turns small town citizens into mutant flesh-eating zombies
    • A movie with a message
  • "Steel Dawn" (1987)
    • Yet another post-apocalyptic world
      • Warrior
      • Desert
      • Settlers
      • Gang
  • "Hell Comes to Frogtown" (1987)
    • A nuclear/biological war killed all the men
      • Except this dude named Hell
      • Who's held captive by women
    • And there are these giant mutant frogs
    • Really: I'm not making this up!
  • "The Matrix" (1999)
    • Humanity makes an artificial intelligence
    • That takes over the world
With a few exceptions, like Star Wars, the settings aren't all that pleasant. And Star Wars is set "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."

Looking for a bright future in science fiction movies? Try the Star Trek franchise, or go back before, say, 1955.

Like "Things to Come" (1936). It's post-apocalyptic - for a while. Then wise scientists build an Art Deco utopia where everybody wears really uncomfortable-looking clothes. I'm not on the same page as the underlying philosophies of that film, and admit that it's not all that realistic. But: "Hell Comes to Frogtown" is?!

I don't think I'll live to see an end to this currently-fashionable notion: that to be taken seriously, you've got to show the future as just simply awful.

It's like that period in country music, where I got the impression that a song's popularity could be measured by the suicide rate of its fans.


  1. Might want to look at the grammar and train of thought here:

    "There are a few exceptions, like Star Wars, the settings aren't all that pleasant."

    --Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

  2. Brigid,

    Thanks! You'd think I'd have caught that - I started with one sentence, ended with another, and forgot to go back and clean up after that little derailment.


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