Is truly great cinematic science fiction really rare?

In a column at the Guardian today (“Why Hollywood can’t get the hang of science fiction“), Damien Walter, always an astute observer of trends in the speculative genres, claims there are only two truly great SF films, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner, because these are the only ones that avoid the Hollywoodistic reduction and simplification of ideas that almost invariably occurs whenever SF is translated into cinematic terms. “You may,” he says, “disagree with this statement. You would be wrong.”

Now, I’m certainly not going to disagree with him about his choice of these movies, because they’re both indisputably works of genius. They’re like pure mythic meanings from the depths of the psyche that have been channeled directly onto the screen (an assertion by which I don’t mean to obscure the reality of the awesome work — mental, imaginative, and manual — that went into making them).

The trailers alone convey this:

So yes, definitely, these rank among the elite, and I adore them, as any SF cinema fan with any sense of real taste necessarily does (he said fascistically). But I do, in fact, disagree with Damien when he calls these out as the only great SF films, because I can immediately think of another film or two or four that belong on this exalted list. See the clips and trailers below, a couple of which came to mind thanks to input from my Facebook friends when I posted a link to Damien’s piece there.

That said, I do think it’s indisputable that Damien’s overall point is on-target. The films that validly meet the criterion he lays out make for a minuscule and rarefied list indeed. Here’s hoping he’s also right when he speculates that we may be looking ahead to an age of real cinematic SF excellence, as portended by, e.g., the recently announced return of Blade Runner director Ridley Scott to Philip K. Dick territory with a BBC TV adaptation of Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, and also by the appearance in recent years of several “smaller scale, lower-budget productions such as District 9 and Moon [that] have succeeded in capturing some of the unique energy of SF and have proved with their success that audiences are not satisfied with the trappings of SF alone — they want the ideas at its heart.”

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD, GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES, and HORROR LITERATURE THROUGH HISTORY.

Posted on October 15, 2010, in Arts & Entertainment and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What about Metropolis? The Thing? Alien? Invasion of the Body Snatchers? A Clockwork Orange? Planet of the Apes? Dark City? I think the guy’s off his rocker.

  2. These are some great films, Matt. Thanks for suggesting them, and giving us an excuse to watch excerpts and trailers from them again.

    While I appreciate the author’s desire to set a high standard for good science fiction, I fear he set the bar too high so that some great films have been overlooked. I must include Planet of the Apes (1968) in the list, and perhaps Alien if one considers that sci-fi and not horror (perhaps a hybrid?), not to mention a few gems from the past like both versions of The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

    I also find it interesting that the two of your excerpts from YouTube came out recently with District 9 and Moon, an indication of the current strength at times of science fiction contrasted in general with contemporary American horror.

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