So I was watching The Empire Strikes Back the other day. Why? Because it was Tuesday. I mean, do you really need a reason to watch The Empire Strikes Back? Anyway, I saw something that I’d never noticed before. Just before Han gets lowered into the carbon freezing chamber Chewbacca freaks out. After all, Han isn’t just his friend – Han spared Chewie’s life. He owes Han a life debt. (That’s a big deal for Wookies.) He starts knocking over stormtroopers and howling at the top of his lungs, trying desperately to rescue his companion. Boba Fett raises his blaster to shoot Chewbacca but Darth Vader calmly places his hand on Fett’s arm and lowers the blaster down. Wait…what? Why would Vader care if Boba Fett shot Chewie? This is the guy who gleefully crushed the throats of various admirals for the slightest mess-ups! Come out of hyperspace too close to Hoth? Throat crush. Make fun of the force? Throat crush. Drink the last of the orange juice but put the container back in the fridge? Boom. Throat crush. Up to this point in the films Darth Vader has been nothing but pure evil. And yet, there he was – benevolently saving Chewbacca’s life. That’s huge, right? Where did this mercy come from? We’re not supposed to see that side of Vader until the very end of Return of the Jedi! That’s one of the many amazing things about the Star Wars movies. Even now, over 30 years since it’s release, I can still find something new in the film.
In preparation for the 21st annual Science Alive – the one magical day of the year where the Main Branch of SJCPL is taken over by all things science – I thought it was high time I ranked my all time top five favorite science fiction movies. But I ran into the same problem as last year* – my all time top five favorite science fiction movies list is pretty dull. Three of the top five were filmed a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. And I haven’t flushed out the complete list yet, but there’s a very good chance that the other two in the top five involve a DeLorean and some high-grade plutonium. But then I had a genius idea. Why not limit my list to the top five science fiction movies of the last twenty years? That way I can avoid writing endlessly (again) about Star Wars because no Star Wars movie was made in the last twenty years. That’s right. You read that correctly. No Star Wars movie was made in the last twenty years. I choose to live in a world where Jar Jar Binks never existed. HE NEVER EXISTED!
*I ranked my top five science fiction television shows instead. You can read the list here. If I was redoing the list this year, Dr. Who would be moved up a spot. Even after a disappointing first part of Season 7 it still moved up a spot. That’s how good of a show it is.
For the record, I love fantasy movies too – but there is a big difference between the two. Wired magazine sums it up nicely: Sci-Fi movies have the future or space or technology as their primary theme. Fantasy movies have the supernatural or magic or myth as their primary theme. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Well Rob, which category does Starship Troopers fall into?” Ha. Trick question. Starship Troopers is neither science fiction nor fantasy. It’s nonfiction*. That’s right. It really happened.
As that news flash sinks in, here are my top top five favorite science fiction movies of the last twenty years. Agree? Disagree? Let me know. As always, click on any of the links to check on the availability of the movie at SJCPL.
Thrilling. Exciting. Thought provoking. It’s hard to believe that the original plan was to turn the Philip K. Dick short story into a sequel to Total Recall! What’s really amazing is how the future imagined in Minority Report looks oddly familiar now. Three years before production on the film began, Steven Spielberg brought together sixteen future experts to brainstorm what the year 2052 would look like and it feels like his experts were a little ahead of schedule! Arguably the smartest big-budget blockbuster ever.
It’s easy to look back at The Matrix now and poke a little fun. Especially when you consider the sheer ridiculousness of the two sequels. (I’ve still never watched the third one all the way through. Why bother?) But even now, 13 years later, The Matrix holds up. It’s impact on film and pop culture is immeasurable. And even more impressive, it made Keanu Reeves look really, really cool. At least…for a little while.
Children of Men is a movie of juxtapositions. Full of hope and faith and fear and despair. Beautiful and bleak. Uplifting and absolutely terrifying. Children of Men holds you intensely for two hours and stays with you for days. It’s a crime that Alfonso Cuaron has not made a movie since. (Children of Men was the third film in an impressive 1-2-3 run by Cuaron following Y Tu Mama Tambien and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – aka the best Harry Potter film.)
I can vividly remember driving home in the back of my family’s bright blue Mazda mini-van after seeing Jurassic Park. There was a thunderstorm coming. The air was thick and the trees lining 8th Street in Murray, Kentucky were swaying back and forth. I was convinced – convinced! – that a Tyrannosaurus Rex was going to burst through those trees, rip off the top of the car, and eat me for dinner. I’ve watched the movie at least once a year since and I’ll be first in line in the summer of 2014 when Jurassic Park IV comes out. Heck, I’ll be first in line this summer when they re-release Jurassic Park in 3D!
(By the way, every year there is an impressive collection of memorabilia at Science Alive from Jurassic Park. Well worth your time.)
It takes a special movie to beat Jurassic Park. Wall-E isn’t just a special movie though, it’s a masterpiece. It’s perfect. A wonderful romantic comedy. A sidesplitting silent film that would make Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton proud. A scathing social critique. Wall-E is not just my favorite science fiction film of the last 20 years; it’s one of my favorite films of all time. It was the first movie my daughter saw in the theater and when it was over she started crying. “Wall-E!” she pleaded. “Come back Wall-E!” And the thing is, I felt the exact same way.
Science Alive is Saturday, February 2nd from 10:00 – 4:00. Mark your calendars! And if you have a chance afterwards, swing by the Sights & Sounds Department on the 3rd Floor and look through all of our DVDs, CDs, Video Games, Audiobooks, CD-Roms, and more!