A Trip to the Moon/Le Voyage dans le Lune 1902 Silent (accompanying music) No titles. Inspired by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells fantasies. Directed by Georges-Jean Méliès. The film disappeared into obscurity after Méliès’s retirement from the industry, then was rediscovered around 1930. An original hand-painted print was restored in 2011. The site has several restored versions. Méliès was one of the father’s of cinema and the first to offer creative special effects. This is his best known and most technically complex piece. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_M%C3%A9li%C3%A8s
With much fanfare, a group of top-hatted, morning-coated scientists embark on a trip to the moon in a small rocket. (An image of the ship hitting the moon in its eye has become iconic.) They explore, camp, are taken prisoners by green moonmen, and escape-inadvertently bringing a native along for the ride. The populous celebrates their return. The use of women is particularly striking. Historically and aesthetically fascinating. Méliès turns up as a vibrant character in the terrific film Hugo, a love poem to cinema by Martin Scorsese. The first is free with Amazon Prime, the second rentable.
Flash Gordon Rocketship 1936 A feature made of the series. Directed by Ford Beebe, Ray Taylor. Earth is doomed by a planet speeding towards collision, it’s only a matter of time. Hero Flash Gordon (Buster Crabbe) whose father notes “gave up his polo game to be with us at the last” and love interest Dale Arden (Jean Rogers) parachute out of a plane in winds of atmospheric change. They land just feet away from the scientist Zarcov (Frank Shannon) who’s built a small rocket ship to try to stop annihilation. Will Flash help? “I’ll take a chance…if Dale can come too.”
The trio land on Planet Mongo becoming prisoners of Emperor Ming (Charles Middleton made to look like Fu Manchu). Air is breathable. Inhabitants speak English. Ming decides he’ll marry Dale, that Zarcov may be of use (he changes the planet’s trajectory fairly quickly, but the ruler still plans to destroy earth), and that Flash will face their version of gladiatorial challenges. Ming’s scheming daughter Aura (Pricilla Lawson) wants the strapping blonde for herself and interferes at every turn.
A dethroned prince, an evil High Priest, and two planet armies come into play (one with wings, both wearing brief, ersatz Roman costume. “Your majesty, an enemy rocket ship is approaching.” “Stop it with the melting ray. Be Gone!” Of course, everything comes out in the end. Because this is made up of smoothly spliced together segments, the film is nonstop peril and action. Separate and further episodes are also available. Look and plot are a hoot. Make popcorn. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Invasion of The Body Snatchers 1956 Adapted from the novel by Jack Finney. Directed by Don Siegel. “I’m not crazy! I’m a doctor too!” Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) hysterically shouts at an examining psychiatrist. Told in flashback, we find a small California town beset by a mass phenomenon of people suddenly insisting their loved ones are not who they say they are. (This actually exists: “Capgras delusion is a psychiatric disorder in which a person thinks a friend, spouse, parent, or other close family member has been replaced by an identical imposter.”)
The doctor’s waiting room empties as fast as it filled. Neighbors smile and say they’re fine. Friends discover a body in their home that appears to be an unfinished version of one of them. Arriving with his date, Bennell (and Becky Driscoll -Dana Wynter) is “for the first time really scared.” When the thing opens its eyes, the couple flees to the doctor’s house. Worried, Bennell sneaks into Becky’s, finds a duplicate in the basement and carries her home. Both duplicate bodies have disappeared by the time authorities check for them. From here, things happen rapidly.
The hero discovers his greenhouse is full of pods opening to reveal partially formed humanoids he oddly hesitates to destroy. One by one, townspeople are replaced. The new population mobilizes. Trucks of pods are disseminated. Bennell drugs himself and Becky to stay awake (replacement happens when you sleep). They go on the run. Except for a melodramatic score and the cliché of Becky falling when chased, this one holds up. It’s tense all the way through.
Preview audiences couldn’t follow the film and laughed in the wrong places. In response the studio removed much of the film’s humor, “humanity” and “quality,” according to producer Walter Wanger. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Invasion of The Body Snatchers 1978 Directed by Philip Kaufman. With Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy. Unlike many remakes, this one really works. Right from the beginning when interplanetary spores float into San Francisco creating webs, we’re held by the insidious progress of what’s going on. Color, the contemporary setting, effects used to manifest the pods and recognition of conspiracy theories add to impact. Original star, Kevin McCarthy appears in a pivotal cameo as do Robert Duvall and the first film’s director. Free with Amazon Prime.
The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 Based on the science fiction story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates. Directed by Robert Wise. A flying saucer lands in Washington D.C. Emerging from it, Klaatu (Michael Rennie in predictable metallic jumpsuit), shadowed by a large robot, declares he comes in peace. As he opens a small device, a trigger-happy soldier shoots and wounds him. Klaatu tells officials he needs to address leaders of all nations at once and is told flat out that political climate won’t allow such a thing. The alien then wants to come among and study us. He’s told “no.”
Going by the name Carpenter, the alien escapes and taking residence at a boarding house run by Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) with her son Bobby. When asked who the greatest living person is, Bobby takes him to family friend Professor Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) – who’s not home. Klaatu finishes a mathematical formula on the blackboard as his calling card. He later meets the professor expressing concerns for human mishandling of nuclear capabilities.
Bobby tails the visitor back to his ship. He convinces his mom of Carpenter’s identity and benign intention. “We” manage to kill Klaatu, but the robot revives him with advanced equipment. When the film studio objected to the character’s resurrection and unlimited power, a line was written in that specified revival was only temporary and “that power is reserved to the Almighty Spirit.” Rent on Amazon Prime.
The War of the Worlds 1953 A loose adaptation/modern retelling of the H.G. Wells novel moved to contemporary California. Directed by Byron Haskin. When a comet-or-something comes down near a small town, atomic scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry – cardboard acting) just happens to be fishing nearby. A local fire department puts out burning brush. Forrester shows up the next day to find men left to guard the glowing rock have been turned to ash by a three-eyed, cobra-looking periscope/weapon rising from a green spaceship. (Popular space color.)
The scientist meets USC Library Science instructor, soon-to-be-love-interest Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson, a fine hysterical screamer whose hair, lipstick, and stocking seams never look amiss). U.S. Marines naively assume tanks are sufficient to take down the intruders. Command tents are set up. Sylvia serves donuts and coffee. All over the world similar landings occur with some places reduced to infernos. Shooting begins. Forrester and Van Buren escape in a small plane (good time to be in the air, right?) just as a squad of fighter jets are also reduced to dust.
They crash near a farmhouse, make eggs, have close up contact with an E.T., and make their way to his lab where other concerned scientists gather. Equipment is loaded onto trucks which are ransacked in Los Angeles riots. Massive destruction occurs. Forrester tears around looking for his now girlfriend. The end is abrupt and low key. Sir Cedric Hardwicke narrates. Something of a hoot. Very different than the book. The disintegration by spaceship ray effect took 144 separate matte paintings to create. Rent on Amazon Prime. As to the 2005 remake, the less said the better.
Forbidden Planet 1956 Directed by Fred M. Wilcox. Twenty years ago, an expedition landed on planet Altair IV. The entire company perished except philologist Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pigeon) and his wife who, before herself succumbing, had given birth to daughter Alta (Anne Francis). When starship 357-D approaches the planet to check on survivors, Morbius assures Commander John J. Adams (a very young Leslie Nielsen) he needs no assistance and further, if the ship lands, he can’t guarantee safety of the crew. The Commander insists.
Upon landing, Robby the Robot arrives to transport Adams and Lieutenants Jerry Farman (Jack Kelly) and “Doc” Ostrow (Warren Stevens) to Morbius. The four men lunch at what looks like a ranch house with decidedly updated sliding doors and unending gizmos. Morbius shows off Robby, whom he built. The curious Alta appears in a mini dress. She’s never met a man. In fact, her only company is Robbie. At first opportunity, Farman makes a move on the naïve young woman, but it’s Adams who will end up with her.
An important piece of the ship’s equipment is sabotaged by something invisible that leaves large footprints. Men start to be attacked and killed. Morbius shows the officers to an inner sanctum explaining Altair IV’s former, extremely advanced race. The range and wealth of information he’s just beginning to translate would unalterably affect mankind. It’s the doctor’s intention to send it piecemeal back to earth in accordance with his own judgment. The Commander disagrees.
They prepare to leave taking equipment, when the beast appears at the residence and its source is discovered. Thoroughly entertaining. This was the first science fiction film to depict humans traveling in a faster-than-light spaceship, the first to be set entirely on another planet in interstellar space, and one of the first to create a robot with personality. Rent on Amazon Prime.
2001 Space Odyssey 1968 Inspired by Arthur C. Clark’s story “The Sentinel.” Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Noted for its then scientifically accurate depiction of space flight and pioneering special effects, this overlong, existential film has been analyzed ad infinitum in terms of evolution, A.I., technology, extraterrestrial life, symbolism of the ancient monolith and the film’s intended tone. A scientific expedition leaves for Jupiter in a ship “managed” by a computer system with singular personality called HAL 9000 who turns out to have his own agenda. With Kier Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977 Directed by Steven Spielberg whose dissatisfaction with the ending led to the longer, Directors Cut. Surely you’ve seen the film several times by now, though possibly not this version. Bless Spielberg for offering optimism in a genre that saw very little of it. French scientist Claude Lacombe (director Francois Truffaut) and his American interpreter David Laughlin (Bob Balaban) find a squadron of WWII planes in the desert that disappeared 30 years ago in The Bermuda Triangle.
Three year-old Barry Guiler is taken by aliens from his mother Jillian (Melinda Dillon) who spends the film trying to get him back. Electrical maintenance worker Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) experiences a close encounter and becomes obsessed by subliminal messages causing him to create the model of a mountain. There are sightings and inexplicable compulsions all over. A group of disparate people, including Jillian and Roy who meet and join forces, are compelled to go to the desert where it turns out a ship will land. An all together wonderful film. Rent on Amazon Prime.
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