Monday, December 14, 2009

101 Sci-Fi Movies You Must See Before You Die

I can’t die yet!!

I recently received this book as a Christmas gift from my friend John and I’m enjoying it very much. Each of the 101 movies gets a four-page spread including the original one-sheet (that’s theatre-talk for “poster”), a still from the film (that’s movie-talk for “single frame”) and a combination of a brief summary and critical analysis (that's high-brow talk for "nitpicking to death." Ha! No, actually most of the critical deconstruction is really quite insightful and shows a much deeper knowledge of film history than I have, to say the least).

This book served to remind me that I don’t watch movies critically. I watch them to be entertained. Case in point – I loved TRON as a kid, and still pretty much do. I think it tells a great story (the rebellion of the oppressed against a totalitarian state, where the belief in higher ideals (the users) gives them a power that the soulless (literally!) and brutal dictator (the Master Control Program) can’t overcome or obliterate. It’s got a guy with magic powers (Flynn), a heroic champion (Tron), and it does it all in a completely unique and original (at the time, anyway) environment – the virtual world (before it was even called the virtual world). The review of TRON in the book, however, is pretty much one big put-down, which I suppose is because a) it lost a ton of money and b) it didn’t actually have all that much computer-generated graphics, even though it touted them as a key feature. About the only thing the editors and I agreed on is that TRON belongs in the 101 best sci-fi movies, which I suppose is enough. I’m going to continue to re-watch it because I think it’s a great film in its own right.

But despite the book’s editors’ views on TRON, I think it’s a great read. There are little trivia facts about many of the movies, and it’s fun to look back to the beginning (the early 1900s) and follow the history of Sci-fi films right up to the modern day (or thereabouts – the book has a publication date of 2009, but there aren’t any movies in it beyond 2006. I suspect this is because the editors originally assembled a book titled “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die,” then chunked that book up into “Sci-Fi,” “Gangster,” “War,” and a couple of other categories. I, too, would like to write one book and then live off variations of it for several years thereafter. Bravo!).

What’s also really neat, or at least coincidental, is that the night before I was given this book, I sat down, flipped through my “TiVo Suggestions” and discovered that it had recorded the original 1951 version of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” which I had never seen. I know, right? There aren’t too many mainstream sci-fi movies in the book that I haven’t seen, but I’d missed that one and had always wondered what it was about. Well I watched it, enjoyed it (Klaatu barada nikto! Which phrase, incidentally, is hanging on the wall of Alan’s (Bruce Boxleitner) cubicle in the movie Tron. Ha! Maybe I should write one of these books. Actually that’s not a terrible idea – I’ll need to add it to my list of possibilities) and couldn’t wait to read all about it in my new book the next day.

And, as it happens, I’ve seen 53 of the 101 movies listed. Of the remaining 48, around 15 of them are foreign films that I’m sure are quite lovely, but that I really have no interest in seeing (and my wife, with whom I watch all my movies, would have even less). So I’ve got just over 30 movies left to see, them I’m home free. Well, except for all the films I’m missing from all the other “Movies You Must See Before You Die” books in the series. I suppose I’ll just have to hang on a bit longer.

I’m 2/3 of the way through the book and plan to read it cover-to-cover. If you’re a genre film buff or just a movie fan in general (like me), you could do a lot worse than picking up one of these books and diving in. Thanks, John!


  1. Michael - So glad that you finally got to see "The Day the Earth Stood Still" - I loved it the first time I saw it and I thoroughly enjoy it again whenever it pops up on the tv...another black and white goodie.

    Your book from John sounds pretty good. Hang on to it until I come back home.

  2. Hah, "hang on to it" she says. As if I don't still have every book I've ever owned!