1970
The Love War
1973
Sleeper
1974
Dark Star
1976
The Man who Fell to Earth
1977
Polygon
1978
La guerra dei robot
1982
Blade Runner
1985
Brazil

Fave Sci-Fi Films 1970–1989

Only a couple of entries; work in progress;

The ’70s and ’80s were not particularly good decades for science fiction movies.

After Kubrick’s A Space Odyssey, people scarcely knew what to do with a space sci-fi flick any more. For a long time, everything seemed simply out-classed in beauty and scope.

With a few bright exceptions, all 1970s space movies simply caved in to their own inadequacy as cinematography and as science fiction, and cashed in on the public's hunger for those things.

Monster movies, on the other hand, didn't show much slowdown. But is a monster movie Sci-Fi? Some people would call any monster movie a sci-fi movie. On the other hand, many sci-fi stories feature some alien being, playing the role of a monster, and sometimes the two genres are simply mixed. To me, vampires and ghosts are not sci-fi characters: these are supernatural entities.

To keep this on track, I have to draw a line, make an executive distinction. The thinking is this: typically, a monster story has an explanation. If the explanation is an attempt at a natural one, as opposed to a supernatural one, then it might be classed as Sci-Fi. More definitely, a sci-fi monster is explained by means of sci-fi themes, such as being from space, or created by some imagined scientific technology. However, if the sci-fi explanation has nothing further to do with the setting or plot, I'm going to disqualify the film as a sci-fi film. It's not enough just for the monster to be from space.

Another genre often intermixed with Sci-Fi is the "fantasy" story. Usually a fantasy is set in some fantastic place, with some characters who have some fantastic abilities. Many of these have nothing to do with science as such, and so shouldn't be called Sci-Fi.

Is it enough for a fantasy to be set on a planet other than Earth, to qualify it as Sci-Fi? What's the essential difference between a kingdom in a place that never was, and a kingdom that never was on a planet we never heard of? To classify such a thing as Sci-Fi, I look for naturalistic explanations: for instance, alien technology, alien biology, as opposed to magic and ghosts on an alien world.

That said, Ray Bradbury, who is generally regarded as a sci-fi author, wrote many stories about Mars, wherein the Martians are simply ghosts.

Another fictional form popular especially in the 1950s and '60s appeared in films intended to be educational, depicting space flight that was yet to happen, and scenes in space that were basically speculative. I prefer to reserve the term "science fiction" for works with some dramatic content -- as opposed to a simple scene of astronauts working on a space station, or standing on Mars.

++ must-see
+ good but flawed
OK interesting but not for everybody
- very flawed, some redeeming features
-- very flawed, for aficionados only

The Love War

1970

++

THX 1138

1970

+ bleak futuristic social commentary

The Omega man

1971

OK apocalyptic vampires

Silent Running

1971

+ space opera, robots, social commentary

Солярис
(Solaris)

1972

++ Star travel/psychosis

Slaughterhouse-Five

1972

++ Time travel social commentary

Soylent Green

1973

OK apocalyptic social commentary; whodunit?

Fantastic Planet

1973

++ animation, life and society on an alien world.

Sleeper

1973

++ comedy, dystopian future

Dark Star

1973

Dan O'Bannon as Pinback
Brian Narelle as Lt. Dolittle
Cal Kuniholm as Boiler
Dre Pahich as Talby
Alan Sheretz Bomb #19 voice
Adam Beckenbaugh Bomb #20 voice
Cookie Knapp computer voice

Produced by Jack H. Harris
Produced and directed by John Carpenter
Story and screenplay by John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon
Production design and special effects by Dan O'Bannon
Music by John Carpenter

++ space spoof

Vehicle: very cool-looking spaceship "Dark Star" travels by "hyperdrive".

Mission: Destroying unstable planets.

Aliens: a naughty beachball with webbed, clawed feet; some glowy lights that seem only to annoy Pinback.

This was a very low-budget film, but for the time, the special effects stand up very well. The exterior of the ship itself are depicted in several views, showing much more detail than most sci-fi of the 60s and 70s. The matte stellar backgrounds are reminiscent of Star Trek, while the detailed models and space walks are reminiscent of 2001.

Besides that, this movie has:

Don't give me any of that "intelligent life" stuff -- I want something I can blow up.

Westworld

1973

+ Robot social commentary

The Land that Time Forgot

1975

+ Edgar Rice Burroughs; dinosaurs

In Staub der Sterne
(In the Dust of the Stars)

1975


A Boy and His Dog

1975

++ post-apocalypse tongue-in-rosy-cheek

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

1975

++ Well, sci-fi themes are explored.

La guerra dei robot
War of the Robots

1978

--Cheesy even by 1970s standards. Except for historical interest, avoid.

Proceeds immediately to the romantic subplot, of which we are often verbally reminded, and which is clumsily presented as the excuse for several character's bad actions.

Mostly awful actors stumble torturously with their technobabble.

Platinum blond guys with dutch boy haircuts in golden suits come to abduct folks. (There are way too many platinum blonds in this film — at times it's hard to tell which platinum blonds are the good guys and which are the bad guys — oh —the bad guys are the ones in gold jumpsuits, as opposed to green or yellow jumpsuits.)

Earth crew is maybe mostly female; all pretty. One looks like she might be of Indian extraction, but has a platinum blond wig anyway. The girls participate enthusiastically, but the men are firmly in control (except for the bad guys who pervert the natural order.) Oh dear there's a Texan guy who is known by his space cowboy boots and thick accent, and maybe his big curly head of platinum-blond hair.

The only people the aliens abduct are promptly made the empresss and top scientist of the alien planet, and become all evily. Some time is spent in vain rationalization of this stupid twist --- in exhaustion the two fall into a steamy embrace. Maybe they hoped it would make sense on its own. The rest of the movie is a game of "who's going to be most evil in the end".

The earth crew destroys non-aggressive saucers that may be carrying abductees and rejoices when they effortlessly blow them up. Scenes of rejoicing-as-we-kill-and-destroy scenes are repeated many times. (Only near the end is it revealed that the dutch-boy haircut guys they were killing were in fact robots, but that didn't take any of the fun out of it.)

Space walk is extremely poorly done, a person on wires making like a druggy swimming in a withdrawal with a blurry background of lights. They have a big plastic bubble helmet to make it easy get lots of great smile-shots. (This, 15 years after everybody had seen the real thing.)

Alien space ships are toylike flying saucers poorly modeled on those of Space 1999.

"Anti-radiation space suits" appear to be motorcycle racing suits in nice colors; they have no helmets to mar facial shots.

Weapons are some kind of zapper pistol, pretty much the same weapon used by both aliens and earthlings. A light flashes and people fall down, or else if they miss it makes a ricochet sound. Earthlings are 100% better shots than the aliens. When firing the ships ray guns in space, a count-down seems to help, all the way from 10 --- there are a lot of count-downs.

The dutch-boy haircut guys bring out light sabers, a visual effect very similar to that of Star Wars --- except they go "clang". Unfortunately, they dutch-haircut guys are no better with the light sabers than with their zapper pistols: the crew immediately steals the light sabers, to used against them to great effect against their owners.

Some kind of computer, depicted as flashing lights, makes technobabble announcements in a monotone. The crew doesn't seem to interact with it or even hear it. Maybe it was a later addition.

Tribe of Adar on an asteroid wear old greek soldier hats and shabby capes, and have puffy eyes because their genetic makeup evolved to let them live in the radiation of their caves. They aren't very bright, and get enslaved by the dutch-boy haircut guys.

The dutch-boy haircut guys turn out to be the robots of an ancient race of people who look ancient, who are called "Anthorians" by the other aliens. Turns out they used science to become immortal but lost the ability to procreate and somehow need to harvest organs bla bla.

Electronic translator for talking to aliens; TV telephones on wrists.

Their almost-cool-looking rocket suffers badly from lazy exhaust smoke that rises faster than the rocket does. It needed a few more tries to make it not look completely stupid.

They evidently had a budget, but ran out of imagination early on. Basically, it's a mish-mash of Sci-Fi themes stylistically based on Space 1999, taking some elements from Star Wars, which had been released the year before.

The battle scenes are very repetitive and unconvincing. The attempts at romance are inane and unromantic; the sex scenes are clammy and icky. The sci-fi is really just fi with technobabble. The attempts at serious topics are childish, but the juvenile attempts at humor, often at strangely inappropriate moments, are really hard to watch.

Lots of jerky hand-carried camera work. (Reminded me of the horrible new Star Trek cinematography, which isn't much different.) There are a few dramatic sweeping shots too, unexpected in flicks of this caliber. It's at least an attempt to be interesting.

The will to make a space flick must be very great.

Pros: bright colors, very 70s sets. I rather liked the babe with short hair, who was almost like an 80s thing, (which is more my time period I guess.) There's really a lot going on in the film, mostly really poorly done. If the repetitions were cut back in the battle scenes, and the countdowns restricted to say, one, the film wouldn't have been nearly 90 minutes.

"It isn't that we enjoy killing; when our lives are in danger we mustn't hesitate." (But as I pointed out, they appear very much to enjoy killing.)

Alien

1979

++ v. scary monster movie, in a very elaborate space-travel setting.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

1981 series

++ comedy

Blade Runner

1982

++ future, android/clones, great until regrettable ending

Brazil

1985

++ beautiful hilarious political satire; dystopian future

Not so much sci-fi as soc-fi.

The Quiet Earth

1985 cinepro and Pillsbury studios

+ a big surprise in a very odd movie

Bruno Lawrence as Pinback
Alison Routledge as Pinback
Peter Smith as Pinback

Production Sam Pillsbury
Don Reynolds
Direction Geoffrey Murphy
Music by John Charles

Guy wakes up in a motel, like maybe with a hangover --- but it's worse than that. Nothing on the radio. Clock isn't working. Etc. And there's nobody around, anywhere.

It's a standard paranoid nightmare situation. But this takes it way farther than you're used to.

The acting is good, the production is good, and the idea is weird enough.

Liquid Sky

1983

++ drug-induced paranoid

Star Wars

1977

++ space action opera

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

1977

++ aliens arrive on earth

Полигон
(Polygon, or Firing Range)

1977

Written by Sever Gansovsky
Directed by Anatoly Petrov

+ animated short

Mind-reading tank weapon. Unusual animation technique.

Logan's Run

1976

+ dystopian paranoid future

At the Earth’s Core

1976

OK H.G. Wells knock-off

The Man who Fell to Earth

1976 RCA/Columbia

David Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton
Candy Clark as Mary Lou
Buck Henry as lawyer Oliver Farnsworth
Rip Torn as Dr. Brice

Directed by Nicholas Roeg
Based on novel by Walter Tevis

Bowie as a Howard Hughes figure who’s secretly a Martian. Perfect for the part.

Very tiresome period piece, struggling with the ethical and aesthetic issues of the early 1970s, but cannot break free. Doesn’t do justice to the book.

Lots of sloppy sex (often involving Rip Torn). Some very nice peeing.

Otherwise, very little sci-fi, beyond Bowie stripped of his human prostheses.

Parables:
Mars is dying.
Martians are sad, sensitive geniuses.
Lots of ’60s hip mumbo-jumbo…does that count as parables?


Mad Max

1979

++ post-apocalypse action

The Black Hole

1979

- pretty space drama. poor characters, bad ending

Saturn 3

1980

- pretty, space detective story

Dune

1984

- epic space opera

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

1984

+ science spoof

Repo Man

1984

++ black comedy, aliens

Cocoon

1985

+ alien visitation

Enemy Mine

1985

+ space aliens social commentary

Lifeforce

1985

- space vampires

Short Circuit

1986

OK cute robot

Cherry 2000

1986

OK robots social commentary