Tuesday, January 08, 2013
The rather high placement here and the trumped-up "trilogy" idea both are the result of bitterly fought negotiations on the part of me with my 11-year-old self, who threatened to blow up not just this project but all of Facebook and most of the known universe if he didn't get his way. He will tell you that he had to sacrifice separate rankings, This Island Earth, and the #1 slot, but I think I overheard him telling a reporter rather smugly that he's happy that he got 98% of everything he wanted.
I know I have my gaps here as everywhere, but sometimes it feels like science fiction is the one film genre that just keeps bringing me out, over and over again, like Charlie Brown poised to take the run and kick that football Lucy is holding for him. I seem to keep chasing it down even in the face of continual disappointment, and I am fiercely devoted to the things I like (I just rewatched the Abrams reboot of Star Trek the other night, for example, and was wowed all over again).
All of that starts with three movies from the '50s, whose views of aliens from outer space stake out an intriguing range—Nazi masters of blitzkrieg war, Communists invading a soft underbelly, and Gandhi-like figures of evolutionary advancement. These various positions effectively chart a map for the majority of science fiction movies that were to follow over the next half century and beyond, at least those involving aliens from outer space.
There's a theremin for atmosphere in The Day the Earth Stood Still, courtesy of our old friend Bernard Herrmann (his third and final stop in my top 10), who was the first to use what would later become a cliché of the era. Here it never sounded better. Other aspects of the picture now may seem fairly cheesy, but the story and direction are solid, and Michael Rennie is almost pitch-perfect as the alien trying to deliver the message of peace to a backwards species.
There's the insane sound effects and light show of the invading forces in The War of the Worlds (examples in the clip at the link), whose relentlessly grinding force and overwhelming power can still make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and just about devastated that 11-year-old self of mine. ("Did not," he would like to add here. "It was cool!")
And there's the paranoia and creeping terrors afforded by the ever-faceless aliens in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, all done up noir-style by Don Siegel, with angular patches of black shadow and nighttime scenes falling across his frame like bad weather passing through. The fact that the central premise didn't make much sense only made it more scary, emphasized by the subtleties of the changes in the possessed combined with the certainty of those who knew them that they had changed.
Of the remakes, which I tend to avoid as a rule, I've only seen Spielberg's 2005 reworking of The War of the Worlds, which wasn't bad. (I also finally caught up with Orson Welles's 1938 radio broadcast version of that story, a different beast altogether and more interesting, of course, for its status as one of the great pranks of the 20th century.) Phil picked the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers for this list at #42 and I know there's also an Abel Ferrara remake out there too; both are now in my Netflix queue. And, last, I'm still waiting to hear one good thing about the Keanu Reeves remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still before making any plans to see it.
The Day the Earth Stood Still: Titles w/ theme music [video deleted]
The War of the Worlds: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." [video deleted]
Invasion of the Body Snatchers: "I went to sleep, Miles, and it happened."
The War of the Worlds: Orson Welles complete radio broadcast
Phil #3: The Godfather I & II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972/74) (scroll down)
Steven #3: Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967)
Well, this, of course, was a giant put-up job and fraud, shamelessly indulged, and I knew it and weirdly reveled in it (ha ha ha!). It started as only Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the experience of which was a formative experience one deep dark 3 a.m. New Year's Day morning when I was approximately the aforesaid 11 years old. Then I decided that pick by itself needed some shoring up. I didn't want to go beyond three, hence the exclusion of This Island Earth from 1955, one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. The John Boehner riff, on the other hand, was one of the easiest, given that the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations had just concluded about the time this was originally published. But you do have to wonder what Boehner currently thinks about that 98% figure, now that I mention it. Also too, I finally saw the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and can see why people like it more. I like it too, just not more than the original.
And in the category of shocking gaps: Bonnie and Clyde. For years I thought I had seen it, but when I finally got a look at it shortly after Steven's review, it was so unfamiliar (except for some extremely familiar passages) I had to decide either I had never seen it all at once together or I have some very strange kind of amnesia. (Haven't ruled out the latter yet as I have somehow had the experience twice now with All About Eve.)