John Scalzi of Whatever fame has just added another title to his growing list of published works, a non-fiction volume called The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies. I haven't seen the book yet, but it sounds like a pretty thorough overview of the genre, including information on the origins and history of science fiction movies as well as lots of other stuff that fans should find interesting. However, as Scazi himself noted the other day, the part of the book that people will find most interesting is The Canon:
...the 50 science fiction films [he] deemed to be the most significant in the history of film. Note that "most significant" does not mean "best" or "most popular" or even "most influential." Some of the films may be all three of these, but not all of them are -- indeed, some films in The Canon aren't objectively very good, weren't blockbusters and may not have influenced other filmmakers to any significant degree. Be that as it may, [Scalzi] think[s] they matter -- in one way or another, they are uniquely representative of some aspect of the science fiction film experience.
John helpfully listed said Canon in the entry I've quoted. Not surprisingly, given the way the blogosphere feeds on its own young, some ambitious blogger immediately transformed the list into one of those memes where you bold the titles you've seen. Not being one to miss out on a good meme, let's take a look at how of these movies I can cross off the list:
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!
Back to the Future
Bride of Frankenstein
Brother From Another Planet
A Clockwork Orange
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Escape From New York
ET: The Extraterrestrial
Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (serial)
The Fly (1985 version)
Ghost in the Shell
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version)
Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior
On the Beach
Planet of the Apes (1968 version)
Solaris (1972 version)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The Stepford Wives
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The Thing From Another World
Things to Come
28 Days Later
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
2001: A Space Odyssey
La Voyage Dans la Lune
War of the Worlds (1953 version)
I guess these results are no surprise to anyone who's been hanging around this site for a while. And it probably also wouldn't surprise any of you to learn that many of these same titles appear on my personal list of all-time favorite movies.
Of the small handful of titles on this list that I haven't seen, several (Bride of Frankenstein, Gojira/Godzilla, 28 Days Later, and Things to Come) are ones I'd like to see. (I actually own a copy of Bride, but I've never gotten around to watching it.) At least one of them -- The Stepford Wives -- is something I think I saw a long time ago, but don't really remember. Oddly, given my vast mental storehouse of useless trivia, there are a couple movies here I've never heard of: The Damned, Alphaville, and Delicatessen. And I must admit that although I know about Solaris, I have zero interest in seeing either film version of that story. Blame a really bad lit-class experience with the original novel, which bored me into a mushy grey stupor.
Finally, I would be neither a blogger nor a science-fiction fan if I didn't indulge in a little griping about some of these titles. Although they may indeed be significant or representative of some aspect of the genre as Scalzi asserts, I've never understood the fuss made over Akira, Ghost in the Shell, or Brazil. The first two left me cold because they're anime -- that's Japanese animation, for the uninitiated -- and I don't care much for that stuff. That always seems to surprise people when the subject comes up, as if my interest in science fiction and comics naturally means that I also love "Japanimation" with the heat of a thousand suns. Sorry, not the case.
I've tried to like anime. I really have. But I don't. I really don't. Every frame of anime I've ever seen (with the exception of a couple of TV series I remember fondly from childhood) has left me with a vaguely baffled sensation similar to the one you experience when you're really hung over, or if you haven't slept well for several nights. At the risk of sounding ignorant or culturally intolerant, I think anime is weird. Partly it's the way the characters are drawn with huge eyes and bushy shocks of physics-defying hair; partly it's the peculiar visual conventions that suggest movement when nothing in the frame is actually, you know, moving. But mostly it's because, on some deep, fundamental, ineffable level, I just don't get it.
And then there's Brazil, a movie of which, again, people always seem to assume I'd be a big fan. Well, I know I've seen it, I know I found it agreeable enough, but it absolutely failed to make any kind of impact on my psyche. I sort of remember that it was kind of like 1984 fed through a Monty-Pythonizer, but I couldn't tell you who the characters were, what they did, where they did it, what they were wearing when they did it, or anything else about this film. It is as if the movie washed across my forehead like water and just kept right on going, leaving no mark whatsoever on the obstacle it encountered during its journey elsewhere. No impression at all.
Come to think of it, Contact was the exact same way. I saw it, liked it well enough, don't remember a damn thing about it, and am frankly amazed that Scalzi thought enough of it to put it on his list. I guess the cliche is true and there is no accounting for taste...Posted by jason at October 19, 2005 05:56 PM