Bad SciFi Movie Night

A year or so ago, I posted up on Facebook that I had finally gotten a chance to watch Tron, and asked people what movies were worth looking into. The response was overwhelming, and I've come up with a long list of films that I should watch, along with some of my own research into cult classics and gems from the science fiction / fantasy genres. When Megan moved in to my apartment, we began what we jokingly referred to 'Bad SciFi Movie Night', running with the idea that most of the films from that time period are bad films.

It's entertaining, that whenever I post up something about Bad Scifi Movie Night, there's an inevitable flood of replies that the films that I'm watching *aren't* bad. It's true: while there have been some films that I've come across that have been hard to get through, most are outstanding. So, here's an explaination to what I can point to.

So far, Megan and I have run through an excellent list of films:

12 Monkeys, 2001, 2010, Alien*, Aliens*, Alien Nation, Batman, Blade Runner*, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind*, Dark Crystal, Dune, Enemy Mine, 5th Element*, Forbidden Planet*, Jason and the Argonauts, Gattaca, Highlander, Last Starfighter, Logan's Run, Omega Man, Outland, Planet of the Apes, Predator, Silent Running, Starship Troopers, Supernova, Soylant Green, The Thing, Tron, Total Recall and Westworld. (* indicates that I'd already seen and owned it, but rewatched it.)

Of those, there's some real classics that I've really, really loved: Alien, Alien Nation, Omega Man, Outland, Silent Running and Soylent Green. Others, I didn't like: Enemy Mine, Dark Crystal and Supernova. Win some, lose some.

What I'm enjoying about this watch-list is that it's an excellent opportunity to go through some of the roots of science fiction classics. Movies such as Alien, 2001, Blade Runner, Forbidden Planet and a couple others are real classics in the genre that have absolutely shaped the films that come after it. Part of this came out of my love for the film Moon, by Duncan Jones. In some of the interviews and commentaries that I've read/listened to, he's cited films such as Silent Running and Outland as direct inspirations for his first, brilliant film.

As a historian, my instincts are to look at the roots of what form the present. The films of the 1950s through the early 1990s form the basis for movies and popular culture of today - it's easy to recognize the phrase 'Soylent Green is People!', but it's also important to see some of the roots and themes of the stories from these movies. Understanding the past is important to understand the present, especially in something such as popular culture.

So, while Bad SciFi Movie Night is titled as such, it's not reflective of the quality of the films that we're watching: if anything, the films that we've gone through are just as good - better in some cases - than films that are coming out today.

In Time

In Time Movie Poster

Over the past year or so, I've begun to go through the incredible backlog of science fiction movies that I've missed, coming across such gems as Soylant Green, Logan's Run, Omega Man, Silent Running, amongst others. Coming out of In Time, I found myself comparing it to the films of the 1960s and 1970s, when the filmmaker's message was key, dominating the characters and story. Andrew Niccol's latest film keeps close to some of the traditions of the past, as well as some of the surrounding visuals, to deliver a solid, interesting and thoughtful science fiction movie.

Set a hundred and fifty years into the future, people don't die of natural causes. The human body has been engineered to exist at our whim. To counter over population, you've got a 25 year head start, where the countdown clock kicks in. Nobody ages over 25, but if you don't replenish your stocks, you've got a year to live as the clock on your arm starts counting down. Currency has become time: it's become the currency of the world, in a literal twist on the phrase time is money.

It's also highly Darwinian. The smartest or those with a good job stay before the countdown hits zero. Those who don't, die. It's a highly dystopian system, where the rich get immortality and the poor pay the ultimate price. Will Salas, a worker staying just ahead of the clock, gets very, very lucky when he saves the life of a man who has over a century on the clock, transferring the time over before committing suicide. Salas snaps when his mother dies within moments of being saved at the last minute. (The puns here are endless.) Taking the time that's been given to him, he goes to the wealthy side of the country (a time zone), and begins to undermine the system, aided by the daughter of one of the wealthier members of society. What ensues is a Bonnie and Clyde sort of story, with all the hallmarks of a blockbuster science fiction movie, with car chases, countdown clocks and an excellent looking cast.

The first thing that really jumps out at me was the fun world that Niccol has set up. There's a lot of little references and clever world-building here, from the names of the locations to the differences between the rich and the poor: the former have time on their hands, while the poor run from place to place, in a hurry because they really don't have time to spare. Watching Gattaca the next day, I found myself wondering if that film could be a forerunner to this one: a glimpse of what came before.

This is a film about the idea that people have time on their hands, about the rich verses the poor and a very unsubtle look at how the capitalist system works. As Charlie Jane Anders said in her review of the film, it's landed in theaters at the perfect time: the Occupy Wall Street movement has been in the streets for just over a month, while right wing politicians and their supporters (arguably the more pure pro capitalist of the political spectrum, at least in American politics) have openly talked about letting people die if they can't make it on their own. It's not a movie that pulls punches, and it plays to the strengths of the genre, telling a story that's really about the present day, just taken out of context a bit.

In this horrific world, the system allows people to die who are essentially no longer useful to society. The rich, in the glimpses of the lives that they lead, have all of the usual excuses: they're lazy, unmotivated, ignorant, or merely unable to cut it in the world as it exists. They have their supporters who believe wholeheartedly in the system, who have a legitimate point of ensuring that the system stays in place, because the world, as a whole is stable and accepted by all involved.

The problem is, as the mighty come down to minutes on their clocks, they realize how much the cost of the system is. They've never had to worry about putting food on their table, or whether they'll make it home. They don't have to worry about a system that's designed to squeeze them out with higher costs of living in a society designed only for the purpose of keeping the small few at the top alive and comfortable. This film lands right on the tone of the political culture in the country.

There's problems with the film to be sure, but they're problems in that it's a film with a budget and designed to bring people into theaters. The cast, guns and car chases certainly don't hurt the film as a whole, and in the end, make this a well rounded piece of entertainment, one that's direct and overt, but worth paying attention to nonetheless. In Time isn't the best science fiction film that I've seen, but it's got the style and pluck of some of those old classics that still hold up because they focused on the ideas over the visuals. I can't help but think that this one will be looked at the same way, somewhere down the road.

At the very least, the film provides an easy out for a last minute halloween costume: 13 numbers on your arm in glowing green ink or paint. Before you pass out, you can even zero yourself out, and remain in character!