Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sci-Fi Movies That Influenced Me, The 80's


Continuing where my previous post left off, lets delve into the 80's—the era where I was actually old enough to watch most of this stuff when it came out instead of seeing it second hand, years later. In compiling this list, I realized just what an impressive body of work was put out during this time. Man, its good to be a Sci-fi buff these days. As before, my intention is to just write a bit of a blurb about each movie, how it impacted me and how it might be used in a Star Wars setting (where applicable).

1980's
Battle Beyond the Stars
This one is a rather laughable attempt to duplicate the success of Star Wars. I remember distinctly where I saw this one—at my Uncle Fred's house in Tempe Arizona. It was the movie of the week—and even then, I thought it was pretty bad. The overall concept was interesting—but of course it was, since they ripped it off from another successful movie (in this case, the Magnificent Seven, which had in turn taken the idea from Seven Samurai). Some of the ship designs were interesting, too—and the special effects were... okay (good enough, anyway that they were later recycled in several other low-budget sci-fi flicks). I guess the first thing that made the movie so ridiculous to me was casting John Boy Walton as the heroic lead. Ugh. George Peppard was the Han Solo figure, though I think he really can't act, and his cowboy accent was annoying. Sybil Danning played a space valkyrie (hubba) and strangely enough...Robert Vaugh played...pretty much the same guy he did in the Magnificent Seven.  It had a lot going for it, maybe, but none of it came together. Still, it would make a good Star Wars adventure (the Seven Jedi? The Magnificent Seven Rebels?). Oh and P.S. Was it just me? or did the hero's ship look like it had boobs?

Flash Gordon
Extremely campy though it may be, Flash Gordon entertained the heck out of me and it still does. Oh, its horrible, from its corny dialogue to its bizarre costumes (lizard men with eyes inside their mouths!?). But for me, it was so bad it was good. Plus, I love the overall 'pulp' idea of the movie: one man comes to a 'lost' planet, and with the aid of his friends turns the entire course of their world around. It would make a great Star Wars adventure—with Ming as the despotic ruler of remote star system. Oh, and I just have to say—Princess Aura was hot. Bad, yes. But hot.

Escape from New York
Though not technically a post-apocalyptic movie, it shares many of the qualities I like about them—hero (or in this case, anti-hero) wandering the wastes of a once great civilization. I'm not a huge John Carpenter fan, but I liked this movie a lot, however corny it is. Duke of New York, baby! A Number One! As far as Star Wars goes I could easily see the Empire turning an entire, defunct planet into a prison. Imagine having to break in there—or be forced to.

Heavy Metal
I saw this movie in the tiny movie theater in Eagle Butte South Dakota (before it burned down). It was rated R (for a reason) but these were the days when that stuff wasn't monitored so closely—especially not by dinky theaters in little backwater towns. So in I went and...holy crap, did I get my money's worth in this! Nudity! Sex! Violence! Nudity! Violence! Okay, so it was all cartoon and wasn't really a very good movie, but it still made quite an impression. One of the characters in the movie (Ard, the gay immortal guy) was actually the inspiration for one of my favorite recurring Star Wars villains—Lord Qar, the narcissistic, nihilistic Sith Lord. 

The Road Warrior
We had just gotten cable television—and with it HBO. I was perusing the guide book that we got every month and noticed this gem along with the 'GV' notation next to it. Graphic Violence. This was the first movie I ever saw that had 'GV'. By today's standards, its all pretty tame, but at the time it was kind of shocking to me. It also pretty much cemented my love of post-apocalyptic movies. Would make a fun Star Wars adventure, to get stranded on a remote world and be involved in a beat-up landspeeder battle with desert raiders.

Outland
High-Noon in outer space. Yep. That pretty much sums it up. It wasn't particularly action-packed, but it was well done—capturing that gritty 'lived in' look of movies like Alien. In fact, in my mind, I consider the two to be in the same 'universe'—though I'd imagine Outland may be set a few decades or so before Alien. The movie also brought to the forefront my love of the term 'Marshall' when applied to science fiction. That and 'Ranger' just sound cool to me. The plot is a bit low-key for a Star Wars adventure, however.

Blade Runner
It was stylish, it starred Harrison Ford, it had killer robots and a futuristic atmosphere like nothing anyone had ever seen before. It had all these things, and yet I am rather indifferent towards this movie. It just wasn't what I was expecting. There really wasn't a whole lot of action in it. To me, it came off as all 'flavor' and very little substance. Yes. I know it was a take on film noir movies, but...well, I guess it just fell flat with me. I give it an A for style and a C for everything else.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
There was a time in my life (when I was 12-13) that this was my absolute favorite movie—even moreso than Star Wars! (gasp!) But then I grew out of that. Don't get me wrong. I still like the movie a lot, but viewed through more mature eyes, it doesn't hold the 'us kids against the adults' allure that it used to. I also recall thinking it was cool that the kids were playing D&D in the movie—and I wanted a winged D&D hat like that one Mike's friend wore! But I have since come to the realization that D&D isn't cool. Alas, it never will be. And I'm okay with that!

Megaforce
Hokey to the extreme and starring Barry Bostwick (wtf?) in his awesome 80's headband, this movie nevertheless stands out in my mind from the period. I knew it was bad at the time, but I enjoyed watching it for the horrific spectacle. Flying motorcycles and dune-buggies with lasers. You just don't see that kind of thing anymore...hmmm, though it does bear a striking similarity to 'Team America: World Police". Funny, that.

Tron
Coming out at what was the height of the video arcade craze, Tron tapped into the imaginations of millions of boys my age. At school we would play 'deadly disk's with the frisbees. After school, we would run to the arcade to play the game. As with many things, hindsight reveals that things just aren't nearly as cool as they were when you were a kid—but I STILL love the look of the movie, especially the light-cycles and the tanks. As far as translating into Star Wars goes? Well, probably not so much.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Awesome. From start to finish. To me this movie made Star Trek cool. I had always been mildly interested in the TV show (the older I got, the more I appreciated the imagination of it), but this movie seemed to combine the 'intelligent' aspects of the show with awesome action and waves of nostalgic emotion. I dare any true Trek fan to say they did NOT cry when Spock died. I've always considered taking a New Republic era Star Wars setting into something like Star Trek—with the Republic fleet growing and exploring as they rebuild the galaxy. In fact, one of the game supplements (Darkstryder Campaign) has this kind of feel to it. As long as you don't throw too much Trek into your Star Wars, I think you can maintain the heroic fantasy mood with a space exploration based campaign.

The Thing
Though technically a remake of 'The Thing from Another World', this movie is really only similar in that it is set in the Arctic and there is an alien. John Carpenter twists the tale from there, turning it into a psychological horror story as the alien infects and assumes the form of base personnel—leading to waves of paranoia and distrust. The creature itself hideously mutates everything it touches—from dogs to human beings. This is a good, scary movie with a rather ambiguous ending, but I still like the original better (even if it is comparing apples to oranges). This is another easy convert to Star Wars, though its tone may be just a bit too dark 'as written'. 

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone
Another guilty pleasure of mine. It was originally released in 3D and has all the gimmick shots of something that was (i.e. characters always seem to be pointing things at the camera). But...you know? This was actually a lot better than a lot of the other schlock coming out at the time. I loved the main character of 'Wolff'...who was a tough guy, yes, but realistic in his fallibility and practicality. And oh, almost forgot...Molly Ringwald? Yep. She plays the spunky sidekick in this. The plot could be made into a great adventure for a bounty-hunter type person. 

Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn
Though it shared a lot of the same elements of Spacehunter (including the cheesy 3D effects), this was a much, much worse film. About the only things it had going for it were: 1) The hero had a cool vehicle. 2) The hero was a 'Ranger'—and I love that term. And 3) A very young Kelly Preston. Rowr. Other than that? Wow. Doofy. As a general plot, however, there is something to salvage. Miners come under attack by local 'nomads' stirred up by a mysterious messiah figure. The powers that be send in the heroes to stop the revolt. It's workable. Oh, and interesting side-note? Jared Syn (the bad guy) is never destroyed in the movie. He escapes. I guess: "Metalstorm: The Escape of Jard Syn" just didn't sound cool enough.

2010
In my book, this is a much better movie than 2001. Great special effects, an interesting story and some unique plot points (the nature of 'humanity', as found in HAL-9000 for instance). But like the first movie, I was left confused as to just what happened in the end. I guess I need to read the novels, but...wtf was the space baby? Oh, and wouldn't a new Sun in the solar system seriously screw with the Earth's environment? Oh, and seriously.. wtf is it with the space fetus!?

Yor, the Hunter from the Future
Oh. My. God. Yes it is as bad as the title makes it sound. Worse even. The theme song is terrific. And its amazing that even in a movie about cavemen, 'actor' 'Reb Brown' manages to get into a laser-fight in the middle of an industrial complex. And yes, of course people fell over railings. This falls under the 'so bad it is good' category.

The Adventures of Buckagroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
This was another 'milestone' movie in my psyche. I first watched in on a youth uroup trip when I was a teenager. We were staying at a friend of the church's house in Minnesota for a long weekend... like four or five of us, including my older sister and my friend Bill. This was one of the videos we rented while we were there. Bill and I decided to stay up late and watch it...and holy crap, it was bizarre. It was made even moreso by the fact that at one point in the movie, Bill commented to me "Man, this is weird". Not two seconds later, in the movie, one of the characters turns to his buddy and says. "Man, this is weird". And so it was that the cosmic bond between Buckaroo and myself was forged. This is a cult classic and deservedly so. It has more quotable lines than most anything I've seen since (with the possible exception of Arm of Darkness): "Wherever you go, there you are." "It's not my god-damn planet, monkey-boy!" "John Big Boo-Tay TAY!" "Why is that watermelon there?" The 'mythos' of the team continued from the movie, however, even appearing (semi officially) in the Battletech Game). I still love the film...and I am unashamed to say that I own a Banzai Institute T-Shirt. But then, I'm a self-admitted geek.

Dune
This was the first video that we ever rented from 'Kay's Video World' in Eagle Butte South Dakota. In fact, this was the first video we ever rented (there were no other video stores for about 90 miles). It came with its own glossary of terms to help bring the uninitiated (like me) up to speed. While I liked the overall 'feel' of the setting (noble houses vying for power in a corrupt galactic empire), the execution left something to be desired. The effects were bad, even for the time. The acting wasn't great. And the director, for some reason, decided to further complicate the story with something that wasn't even in the books—all the 'weirding module' nonsense. I recall that they spent the largest part of the budget for this movie on sets. And it showed. They were spectacular, but without any substance in the plot, the whole thing just fell apart. About the only good things I took from this film were the cool design of the Still Suits and the name Patrick Stewart. I remember clearly looking up the name of the guy who played Gurney Halleck—and it was Stewart. And I thought to myself at the time "that guy was good, wonder if I'll see him again". Heh. For me, the whole 'Tapani Sector' supplement to Star Wars captures the feel of Dune, but without a desert planet—i.e. the warring nobility and political intrigue.

Ghostbusters
This only loosely qualifies as Sci-fi, but it was an awesome movie anyway. It is also notable in that it was for the RPG of this game that the D6 system was first realized. And what a wonderful realization that was. I won't go into any greater detail here because I could gush about Ghostbusters all day. 

The Ice Pirates
As with many movies on this list, this one is a bad one. And yet, I enjoy it. Strangely enough, it reminded me of an RPG adventure the first time I watched it. What with all the quirky characters and anachronistic jokes. I don't really know why, but it did. As far as the humor goes, it is mostly bad—but I did like the robots in this movie. I also liked Mary Crosby. Rowr. I don't care if she shot J.R. or not! I wold have forgiven her! Strangely enough, the plot probably could be worked into a Star Wars adventure—with the characters rescued by an Imperial noble to go after her long lost father—while being pursued by Imperial rivals. Just goes to show you that even some of the worse 'cheese' can hold some nugget of a good idea.

The Last Starfighter
Love this movie! Special effects are WAY dated now, but the Gunstar remains one of the coolest starships ever created. 

Night of the Comet
A passing comet somehow turns most of the world's population to dust. Of those left, most are stricken with a disease that makes them flesh eating zombies. Yeah, that's a pretty bleak setting, and yet this is a kind of boppy 80's movie, complete with a musical mall shopping montage. All in all, I realized it was a bad movie, but it was better than some others in the genre, so it stood out.

Runaway
Magnum P.I. vs. Gene Simmons and his army of mechanical cockroaches. Well, that's basically it. Overall, I enjoyed the movie—though I have to question the design of a 'tracking bullet' that moves slow enough for a man to outrun. What I did like was the 'near-future' aspect of the setting, with robots and technology worked in to 'average' life—so much so that the cops have a special branch designed just to deal with robots. Makes you wonder if they have something like that in the Star Wars galaxy? Droid Cops?

The Terminator
Wow. Just wow. This movie scared me and thrilled me and grossed me out. The concept was original and mind bending (what with all the time paradoxes and end of the world stuff). The special effects haven't held up too well, but the movie itself remains a classic in my mind. Kyle Reece (and his actor, Michael Beihn) became instant heroic icons for me. I would love to work a terminatoresque plot into a Star Wars setting—a malevolent AI tries to brew up war between organic races, even as it infiltrates their societies with cyborgs. Yeah, it wouldn't have the whole 'end of the world and time travel' aspect to it, but it would be fun.

Enemy Mine
I must have watched this movie every time it came on HBO. Looking back on it, it was pretty low-key and emotional as sci-fi movies go—about the relationship between a man and an alien—and later, between the man and the alien's child. Having grown used to kind of stupid sci-fi movies (Metalstorm, Ice Pirates, etc.) this one was a nice surprise. It would make an interesting scenario for a Star Wars pilot, too—though in a campaign you probably wouldn't want to maroon your players for years...

Lifeforce
Halley's Comet is actually a home to space vampires. Huh. Who'd have thunk it. For the most part, I didn't much care for this movie. It wasn't particularly well directed or acted. What I DID love was the ending of the movie—where all of London is caught up in an apocalyptic swirl of zombie destruction. It had a feeling of chaos and desperation on a grand scale—with characters in seemingly 'secure' bases suddenly realizing that half the people there are infected. It was one of the first films to spark what has become an obsession of mine: the vision of the Zombie apocalypse on a large scale.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Loved the Road Warrior and the sequel didn't let me down. I liked the way things changed between movies as well—with technology and civilization deteriorating even further into primitivism. 

Starchaser: The Legendof Orin
A very, very thinly veiled copy of Star Wars—complete with lightsabers (an 'invisible sword') a Han-Solo-esque smuggler, a Vader-ish cyborg bad guy, etc. etc. Not a great movie and not particularly great animation. What I did find redeeming was the central idea of an evil droid master using humans to toil in mines so it can build up its own droid army of conquest. In fact, I used this idea in a couple of adventures.

Aliens
My absolute favorite movie—even moreso (on a single movie basis) than Star Wars! I know! Blasphemy! But this one has just the right mixture of scares and laughs and emotion and thrills and action and drama. It stands head and shoulders above the rest of the Aliens franchise and all the other low-budget movies trying to copy it. Why do I think so? Because it is a horror movie that lets you get to KNOW and LIKE different characters before killing them all off. It allows you to care about them rather than just view them as monster chow. Plus most of the characters are actually SMART in their actions, thus making their demise more scary as they 'did what I would have done' in most instances, and they're still in trouble.  Corporal Hicks stands as a symbol of the hero I most like—quiet, competent and unassuming, but a complete badass when he has to be. Hudson was one of the best comic relief characters EVER, especially playing off against the gung-ho Vasquez (going against type here, the toughest marine is the smallest). Burke the corporate slime is a GREAT villain. He didn't start as a moustache-twirling bad guy. In fact, I kind of liked him. But when the stuff hit the fan, he showed his true colors. I could keep gushing, but I won't. Suffice it to say that it was a great movie and I incorporated all kinds of elements from it in the 'Otherspace' adventure series.

Star Trek IV
This was the movie that began the 'even numbered Star Trek movies are good' phenomenon. And yeah. It was good. A Star Trek comedy. Who would have thought! Okay, so maybe the whole 'alien probe threatens to destroy Earth' thing had been used before (in Star Trek 1) and maybe the time travel thing had been used a lot before (how many episodes did they do that?), but.. come on! 'Where do they keep the nuclear wessels!?' and 'Oh. A keyboard. How quaint.' and of course the 'colorful metaphors'. It was great fun for fans of the original cast.

The Hidden
I doubt if too many people remember this movie—about a shapeshifting, murderous alien crashing on earth and being  hunted by an alien cop in disguise as a human. It was pretty low-key, actually, but it spawned quite a few copycat movies and a TV show, I think. I liked it because it combined sci-fi and a 'buddy cop' movie. Would be a fun idea for a Star Wars plot, too—going to a 'primitive' world and teaming up with the locals to hunt down a deadly escaped prisoner.

Predator
One of the better Arnold movies of the 80's. A fun and scary original idea. I wish I had gone into the movie with less knowledge though, because I love how they started off playing it just like any other 'commando' movie of the day, then suddenly it turned into horror as the big tough commandos were taken down one at a time. This is another great candidate for conversion to Star Wars—though some of the 'oomph' would be taken out by the fact that 'aliens' are the norm in the Star Wars galaxy. 

RoboCop
A classic dark-near-future story. Yeah, it was hyper-violent and bloody, but it also had dark humor thrown in with that (the TV commercials and shows were great—loved the 6000 SUX. I'd buy that for a dollar!). Not a whole lot of Star Wars conversion potential, but fun nonetheless.

The Running Man
Overall, this wasn't that great of a movie. It was all just so campy and not particularly well acted. But it was fun enough to watch, and it would make an awesome Star Wars adventure—Rebels forced to play in a death-sport on a tyrannically ruled imperial world! 

Alien Nation
Another alien-buddy-cop movie. I enjoyed it well enough for that concept, but the rest was kind of meh. Never did get into the TV series at all.

The Blob
This remake of the original scared the crap out of me. The violence and gore were amped up considerably. I mean you had people getting their heads pulled into sink drains. You had others getting grabbed and folded in half and many, many more being horribly and painfully dissolved. Gah. I find it difficult to watch this movie even today. 

They Live
Again, I'm not a huge John Carpenter fan, but I liked this movie. The idea of the world being run subliminally by aliens was an interesting one—as was the idea that you could see through it by wearing special sunglasses. I loved the central implication that all the yuppies and rich snobs were actually aliens. This movie also had Rowdy Roddie Piper. Hell yeah. Loved his line, too: "I came here to chew bubble-gum and kick ass. And I'm fresh out of bubble-gum." I loved the fight scene between him and the other dude, too—one of the longest and most brutal alley fight scenes ever (and lovingly duplicated in the South Park 'Cripple Fight' episode. Good stuff.

DeepStar Six/Leviathan
I lump these movies together because they came out in the same year and were essentially the same thing: Underwater base discover horrible monster who proceeds to kill everyone. Yes, both were 'Alien' rip offs. Of the two, I think Deep Star Six was the 'better', but neither were all that great. Still, when you compare them to a lot of copycat movies...well, they're a bit better, and certainly better than the crap they make for sci-fi channel these days.

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