Thursday, January 7, 2010

Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade

As it always is this time of year, we are inundated with Top 10 lists. Since it is 2010, we are also getting Best of the Decade lists (not going to listen to the argument that the decade actually ends December 31, 2010). So it wasn’t a surprise when I read a Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade list at BSC Review. As my film noir cred has gone up, my sci-fi cred has gone down. I haven’t seen many of the movies, but they sound like they’re up my alley (the great Children of Men makes the list). One of the things that caught my eye was this paragraph at the end of the list:

A few interesting observations. None of these were high-budget films; several were made for about $5 million, and most […] for no more than $40 million. While some of them have recognizable actors, none of them have big stars who are a box office draw on the strength of their name alone. Yet, somehow, all of them are all quality films from a movie production standpoint–they are well-directed, well-acted, well-written, well-designed, well-constructed movies. They blow their big-budget counterparts out of the water in pretty much all of those ways, and to me that just sort of implies that SF is best left to those who truly love it, not those who are just trying to capitalize on a current trend.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that since these movies were made cheaply (by Hollywood standards), the creators had to focus more on story than spectacle. The classic sci-fi stories – both books and movies – are allegories. They always focused on the human elements, not the wiz-bang, golly-gee technology elements. Sci-fi movies from the 1950’s were all veiled stories about fear of atomic energy, communism, anti-communism, or anti-anti-communism. They mirrored our modern world, but in a fanciful setting that allowed the creators to say things they probably wouldn’t say in a modern story.

Another reason these movies may resonate is because the creators have to do more with less. I’m reminded of a quote from the great director Orson Welles about the theatre. He said, “I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won't contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you. That's what gives the theater meaning: when it becomes a social act.” Since the creators don’t have the resources for an all-out spectacle, they leave certain elements to the audience’s imagination. Sometimes what we come up with may be ten times more powerful than all the computers in Hollywood can render.

Perhaps that’s the heart of all good storytelling. Focus on story and character. Let the audience fill in some of the blanks. Make them an active participant. Not only sci-fi, but all movies will benefit from these ideas.

(In case anyone’s interested, two of my favorite sci-fi movies from the decade are Children of Men and Minority Report).

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