Science fiction is a pretty nifty genre. It enables us to explore what it means to be human, poke fun at governments, and explore what might happen if we take certain political, technological or socio-paths. Cinema refracts these potential tracts, streamlining them for a mass audience by making the storytelling seem bigger, shinier and more visceral.
Together, sci-fi and cinema can combine to help us analyze the human condition on an epic scale. Or, in the case of The Fifth Element, it can allow us to watch Milla Jovovitch with her kit off. But in theory, the 101 movies in this book could be the key to understanding humankind before you kick the bucket.
This colorful collection of essays hints at the lessons the genre can teach us: be kind to others, don’t let your base instincts take over, always question authority, never eat soylent green. All the most obvious films are included – yes, Forbidden Planet, 2001 and ET are all present and correct. There’s a concentration on more recent crowd-pleasers like Independence Day and The Matrix, presumably to appeal to an audience brought up on a diet of Will Smith and Keanu Reeves.
However, the book does its best to encompass a century of SF in a fresh, comprehensive way. The writing is serious without being staid. The choice of entries is obvious, for the most part (do I really need to watch I, Robot before I die?). Some picks are made because of their groundbreaking special effects – Tron‘s computer animation, The Invisible Man‘s matte process. Others are there for their cult appeal, such as Alex Cox’s Repo Man and John Sayles’ The Brother From Another Planet. Inclusions like Galaxy Quest show that SF isn’t just about soul-searching; it can be fun as well.
It’s not easy to take the sense of exhilaration movie-watching can bring and transfer it from the big screen to a little book. But editor James Harrison does his best, making good use of the first-release posters that accompany many of the entries. With their terse taglines and lurid colors, these illustrations are the book’s main selling point. It’s almost worth the cover price to own mini-versions of War Of The Worlds, Planet Of The Apes and Brazil posters.
The same can’t said for the film stills, which are occasionally soft or muddy. Even Children Of Men, the most up-to-date entry, is a blur. This and a few unforgiveable errors in the text lose the book a star or two. Worst example: did you know that A New Hope is episode VI in the Star Wars saga? Neither did we, but reviewer Mikel Koven apparently thinks so.
Proofreading goofs aside, 101 Sci-Fi Movies is a fun compendium of the rare and the blatant, with some little-known factoids thrown in. We learned that The Thing From Another World‘s North Pole setting was filmed in San Fernando Valley, Jabba the Hutt’s death was partly inspired by a Godfather strangulation, and Raquel Welch looks good in a wetsuit (okay, we knew that last one already).
101 Sci-Fi Movies You Must See Before You Die is out now.