Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Blahblahblah Family DVD Guide: Part 1 Science Fiction

OK, out shopping over the weekend and I came across a piece of gold in a bargain bin. The Sunday Age/Sun-Herald Family DVD Guide, marked down from $29.95 to $3. Flicking through it I was amazed at the array of terrible opinions held by the reviewer and thought it would be a fun feature on the blog every now and then.

The blurb states that it is "the ultimate family dvd guide with suggested viewing for every member of the family. Whether you're after a film for a family pizza night, a teenage slumber party or want to impress the love of your life, this user-friendly guide will help you find the perfect DVD."

I can just imagine the scene now

Him: "Hello my love, I stopped by the video shop on my way home, thought we'd get dome Chinese delivered and put our feet up"
Her: "Oh wow, I was having second thoughts about our relationship but now you've brought home Hidalgo let's make a lifelong commitment to each other. How ever did you think to rent that?"
Him: "Rob Lowing in my new DVD guide gave it 4 stars and called it solid entertainment that will have both of us cheering on a horse"
Her: (Thought bubble, Viggo is rather delicious)

So, here's what we're gonna do: Leah is gonna pick a chapter, and I shall attempt to appraise the selections and offer some replacements. First chapter selected is Science Fiction. (note: the book has a separate chapter for comicbook/superhero types which could easily be considered sci-fi and it also dedicates a sub-chapter to Star Wars so when you find yourself as shocked and amazed that there is no mention of the holy trilogy of sci-fi film as I was then that is why)

I guess it was almost inevitable that she would choose this chapter first, we're becoming sci-fi geeks as the months fly by, led by my fascination with those Grandmasters Asimov and Heinlein and more recently cyberpunk creator William Gibson.

The Guide lists:
Alien vs Predator (***)
Back To The Future Trilogy (****)
Blade Runner (*****)
Code 46 (***)
Escape From New York (*****)
I, Robot (****)
Johnny Mnemonic (***)
Metropolis (*****)
Minority Report (***)
Pitch Black (****)
Serenity (****)
Stargate (****)
T2 (*****)
T3 (****)
Day After Tomorrow (***)
Fifth Element (*****)
Hitchhiker's Guide (***)
The Island (***)
Man Who Fell To Earth (****)
War of the Worlds (***)

It's not comprehensive, it's not particularly imaginative and it's got quite a few shocks in there.

T3 with 4 stars? Perhaps I was alone in thinking that that movie was awful?

I wasn't a fan of Minority Report or The Island but giving them the same 3 star rating as the truly abysmal Johnny Mnemonic is more than a little harsh. I'm not suggesting that either of those movies deserved much more than a "for fans" recommendation but that the Keanu film should have been given a "miss" recommendation.

And on that subject why have a book of recommendations if you're going to take up valuable space with your opinions on what's terrible? I love to rant and frequently have to reel myself in from writing a negative post instead of a review of something I enjoyed but I'm pretty sure you should get as many 5 star movies as possible in a book like this.

The inclusion of the classic Metropolis feels like a nod to film history more than a recommendation but giving it 5 stars and a "must see" rec may be selling his audience short. What does he say about this masterpiece from Fritz Lang? "Hardcore movie buffs (that's me and probably some of you) will stampede to get this restored version of the famed 1927 movie. There are gaps in this black and white silent story (black & white! silent! I'm not watching this movie!) of a rich man who falls for a factory girl in a brutal, futuristic society (cue for all those Jason Statham fans to tune back in.) But outstanding visuals and the rich remastered score make this a treat to watch."For me that's not exactly a go out and see this movie level of review.

So he's listed 20 films in his sci-fi chapter, 8 of which he doesn't even think many people will enjoy. So lets remove them and Terminator 3 as well because that feels like a paid for inclusion.

That leaves 11 films, of which I haven't seen Escape From New York, Serenity and The Man Who Fell To Earth so I cannot judge. So my challenge is to recommend 9 science fiction films currently available on DVD. I won't lie to you, at this point that sounds like a daunting task.

A few rules I shall place on this:
1. Movies that have become a part of the public consciousness will not be included. If you need a guide to tell you whether to watch these movies then you've been living under a rock.
2. Movies that are primarily another genre such as comedy or romance will not be included. If you flip to this section chances are you aren't looking for a comedy or a romance.
3. Must have been released at the cinema longer than 2 years ago, otherwise you'd just hit up the new release section of your local video store. I shall use 1 June 2009 as the cutoff date.
4. Animation and films not in English will be discounted for pretty much the same reason as other genre.

First things first - I do love Hitchhikers myself and would always recommend it to fans of Douglas Adams or non-fans but as it's already been labelled as "for fans" by The Guide I shall have to think outside the box.

So straight up I will cut The Matrix and Men In Black from the shortlist as well as all of the Alien movies and the original Terminator. If you've got to this point there's a fair chance you have seen or decided not to see these movies already. The reboot of Star Trek falls in to this category as it is my experience that minds are made up on Star Trek, so that includes all of the old films too.

Movies reluctantly cut due to being too new are District 9, Pandorum and Gamer. Despite my constant cries bemoaning the dearth of quality science fiction films getting released I think these three getting cut for being too new is a slap in the face. As it is for one of my favourite movies of recent times, Moon, which should be seen by everyone.

Comedies such as Ghostbusters and Galaxy Quest are science fiction based but I cannot tell the good people who buy The Guide to go watch them for their science fiction content. This also applies to the Bill & Ted movies.

Such quality animated films as Akira and Ghost in the Shell must be moved to one side and perhaps I am underestimating the readers but A Scanner Darkly is going to have to count as an animation for these purposes. I would love to get more people watching City of Lost Children but it's in French so no can do.

With Metropolis already in the list there's not a huge amount of room for old school classic movies so I am thinking I should try to not pick so many. Narrowing down to the original Day The Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, 2001, Fahrenheit 451, Soylent Green, Logan's Run, Omega Man, the original Planet of the Apes. I am immediately inclined to dismiss 2001 for being too odd for most audiences and the two films that have recently been remade (despite both being appalling) as I can't imagine most casual viewers wanting to see those stories again despite them being much better. I'm gonna only pick one Charlton Heston movie - Soylent Green over Omega Man - and then Logan's Run as my other classic pick as it's one of my personal favourites.

7 to go. Paul Verhoeven made three kickass sci-fi films in English; Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers. I loved all of them for different reasons but I'm gonna go for Total Recall for the Arnie effect and Starship Troopers not least because it's the best adaptation from a Heinlein or Asimov book (I, Robot does not count) but also because both of these films stand up on repeat viewings as being extremely enjoyable. So that leaves 5...

I'm giving at least one pick to a family film but do I pick Tron or The Rocketeer? Instinct says The Rocketeer because of that recent Tron sequel but I'm just not sure.

Terry Gilliam has made some great fantastical science fiction films, there was always going to be one space on this list for him.Twelve Monkeys beats out Brazil for accessibility in my opinion so to keep one Gilliam film on the list the one that is most watchable gets the nod. And if you're told that there's a movie with Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt you will turn in to the man from Del Monte.

I'd love to add Wim Wenders' Until The End of the World but only because I really want to see that movie sometime not because I know it's great. So I'll leave it off for this edition. With 3 picks left I'm gonna have to throw another Arnie movie in to the mix, The Running Man sure it's not for everyone but this is a popcorn movie with a message that is relevant even today.

The prevailing theme of these picks has been action. Action movies galore. But science fiction is much more than that so my last two picks are going to be less about action more about science. So despite my love for Dark City and Repo Man they will not make the list. Which leaves me with a 4 film shortlist and only 2 spots left in the book.


This task is tougher than I imagined. I thought it would be difficult to find 9 but actually it's been difficult to narrow it to 9. I'm gonna pick Gattaca because I think I was always going to pick Gattaca. It's a thinking man's movie that is impressive in its idea and impressive in its execution. The there is Primer. The most un-action science-fiction movie there is. Whilst this film will twist your brain in knots even on the second viewing you'll also come away having enjoyed it (not all of the people and not all of the time.) There should be room for tiny indie films in these lists, broaden people's horizons with them, don't you think?

And that concludes the juries deliberations, the Science Fiction chapter of The Blahblahblahfamily DVD Guide will contain the following:
Back To The Future Trilogy 1985 (****)
Blade Runner 1982 (*****)
Escape From New York 1981 (*****)
I, Robot 2004 (****)
Metropolis 1927 (*****)
Pitch Black 2000 (****)
Serenity 2005 (****)
Stargate 1994 (****)
T2 1991 (*****)
Fifth Element 1997 (*****)
Man Who Fell To Earth 1976 (****)
Rocketeer 1991 (****)
Twelve Monkeys 1995 (*****)
Gattaca 1997 (****)
Primer 2004 (****)
Running Man 1987 (****)
Total Recall 1990 (****)
Starship Troopers 1997 (****)
Soylent Green 1973 (****)
Logan's Run 1976 (****)

Agree or disagree with the choices I've made? Do any of the original cut 9 actually deserve higher ratings thus keeping their place in the guide? Leave me a comment, let me know. I'd prefer to cut Serenity and The Man Who Fell To Earth until I've seen them but that would go against the rules. It's especially tough when I look at all those films that I had to leave out.


  1. Really good post this Toby. A brilliant read.

    The original list IS a bit of a shocker if I am honest. The last blahblahblah one is rocking though.

    Thanks so much for putting this together. Brilliant

  2. thanks buddy, it was a lot of work but enjoyable to write so it's nice to know that people have enjoyed reading it too. you agree with my deductions?

  3. This. Is. Win.

    Great post Toby :D

  4. So far you've put the book to shame. I look forward to you dissing it's content in future posts. If I may also make a recco? It's a film you've probably already seen but it should fit nicely into your 'thinking sci-fi' section: Cypher (2002). A pinch of action, a dash of intrigue, well acted and Lucy Liu. Thoroughly enjoyable.

    Good work Toby :D

  5. Interesting post! That book sounds ridiculous, glad you're there to set it straight. I don't like the idea of excluding animation and foreign films from the "sci-fi" category but I guess that's what the book does?

    Good choices for your list! Personally I would definitely have BRAZIL since it's one of my all-time favorite movies (but less accessible than TWELVE MONKEYS, you're right) and probably DARK CITY, BUCKAROO BANZAI, TANK GIRL, VIDEODROME, DEATH RACE 2000, THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT, BARBARELLA... Surprised CLOSE ENCOUNTERS isn't anywhere but is that one of the "public consciousness" ones? I only just saw it recently but it definitely is one of the best-known science fiction films.

    I watch (and love) so much sci-fi it's ridiculous, I'd never be able to make a short list!

  6. Duke - Thanks a bunch. Next post is gonna be tough. I think sci-fi was an easy place to start at. Horror and adult drama on the other hand....

    Simon - Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed. Whilst Cypher was good (better than Equilibrium for example) it still doesn't come close in my opinion. What would you replace with it?

    Alex - Thank you, you should see what he's said about Kill Bill if you think this is ridiculous!

    Like you I love sci-fi so this was quite difficult, I haven't seen too much of the older stuff so steered clear, which for these purposes worked out just fine. Animation and foreign cinema have their own micro chapters in the original guide so I will come to them eventually I guess.

    As for Close Encounters, yes it is in the public consciousness BUT also I don't remember liking it so it just slipped my mind when writing!

  7. That was great read Toby, and those are some tough decisions, there is no way I would be able to stop at 20.

    Also congrats on finally being added to the LAMB.

  8. BT - i know right, one of the more difficult things i've ever attempted in a filmic way. possibly more difficult that making a film. thank you

    Alex - i checked out the trailer for buckaroo banzai on your recommendation, i can't wait to see it now.

  9. There is no way that I would ever be able to limit a list of recommended science fiction movies to only nine, so cheers to you for taking this on.

    At first I was noticing all your picks were sci-fi, instead of science fiction, but then you had your thinking man's picks. It was good to have some of those movies included.

    A couple of movies not referenced in the post that you may want to check out sometime are The Man from Earth and Children of Men. They are both science fiction, not sci-fi.

  10. hey chip - nice recommendations, ive been meaning to give children of men another go and any recommendations for real science fiction is always welcome. got any more?

  11. "got any more?"

    Toby - My apologies if you feel this is spamming. I wrote a short commentary on the difference between "sci-fi" and "SF" and then reviews of some classic science fiction movies - three of them real SF. It was titled Before Star Wars. You can find it here:

    I still need to write the After Star Wars follow-up piece. It will probably be coming in a week or so.

  12. i had a feeling you were tipsfromchip chip but as your name doesn;t link anywhere i couldnt be certain. i'm grateful for the link. i may have actually read the post already but i'll definitely go back to it in the morning.