Friday, May 22, 2009

Sci-Fi Movies That Influenced Me

The Star Wars movies were arguably one of the greatest influences on my life. They formed the basic mythos of my imagination—opening up all kinds of new worlds to a kid who loved to draw and (eventually) to game. It was through these games that I met the best friends of my life. And it is through the games and our shared love of such things that my best friends remain that.

All this having been said, Star Wars was not the only movie to capture my imagination. In fact, as I began to construct my own version of the Star Wars galaxy, a lot of different movies helped to shape what might be in it and the kinds of themes that might be explored. The following is a list of those movies and maybe a short blurb about each and how it affected me. I'm not sure in starting this post how long it might be, so... bear with if I have to break it up.

King Kong
First saw this as a kid, and even though I was scared, I loved it. I've seen it numerous times since (and even own a copy). To me, its a classic adventure story—about a lot more than just King Kong himself. Skull Island, with its various dinosaurs and monsters, really struck a chord with me and still does. The re-release of this movie was just as great as the original, though quite a bit sadder. Some day, I'd love to do a 'lost planet' type adventure along the lines of Kong.

The Thing from Another World
Easily one of my favorite movies. Yeah, its got a lot of that hokey 50's sci-fi feel to it, but the dialogue is remarkably snappy—combining scares and comedy into something that is head and shoulders above most of its contemporary 'flying saucer' movies. One of my favorite scenes from this movie is when the soldiers are preparing to make their last stand against the Thing. The reporter among them asks worriedly. "Seriously though, what if it CAN read minds." One of the soldiers replies grimly. "Then its gonna be REAL angry when it gets to mine." Classic. I've used this plot before in an adventure—though with a bit of a twist. It happened in an isolated archaeological base, where scientists started getting killed. I hardly remember the details anymore, so it may be time to recycle this idea.

When Worlds Collide
I first caught this movie as part of a late night 'End of the World' marathon. Considering the title, I was expecting all kinds of cheesy laughs—but I found something a lot more poignant, frightening and even a bit 'realistic'. Long story short, the earth is about to be destroyed. Small group of people see it coming and struggle to build a rocket to take them to another world before it happens. I'm not sure at the adaptability of this into a Star Wars setting, unless you do something where the characters become trapped on a 'primitive' world doomed to destruction...hmmm. Not bad.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
I really have no deeper reason for liking this movie other than it having one of Ray Harryhausen's awesome animated killer lizard. The scene where it eats the cop is awesome. Giant monster rampaging through the Coruscant cityscape? Perhaps an escaped Sith experiment—thawed out from one of the Emperor's old vaults? Hell yeah.

The War of the Worlds
This won all kinds of awards for special effects, but they don't really hold up that well. It is also full of cheesy 50's goodness—with the 'manly scientist hero' seeming to be an expert on...well, just about everything, including the ladies. Yeah, its campy. But it also has a nice post-apocalyptic feel. This (and the re-imagining of the movie) gave me the inspiration to have the Nagai in my own campaign be suitably brutal in their world conquering—and to use big walkers.

Giant ants invade the sewers of a major city. The army goes into the tunnels to fight them with bazookas, tommy-guns and flamethrowers. All kinds of awesome. Conversion wise this could easily be turned into an 'infestation' of alien bugs on a major colony world or something like that.

Gojira (aka Godzilla)
Okay, so its not as well done creature-wise as the Beast from 20,000 fathoms. But it was THE first BIG monster movie and it created its own genre. The message of 'Nukes Are Bad' is a bit heavy handed, but.. umm, I can forgive the Japanese for that. They have reason not to like them.

Forbidden Planet
A true classic in every sense of the word. It has elements of cheesy 50's, but with a solid and very thought provoking plot. It has a memorable monster, special effects that STILL hold up (considering what they were) and it provided an icon for the entire genre in the form of Robby the Robot. Plus? Leslie Nielsen. It is so impossible to take him as a serious actor anymore, so when he's playing the 'tough captain', I can't help but giggle a little. This would make an awesome Star Wars adventure—and you wouldn't have to change much at all—just put rebels or republic guys in place of the starship crew and there you go.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
This movie scared the heck out of me. It is still chilling to think about—everyone you know suddenly turning against you. A truly amazing invasion and paranoia story. It would make a rather insidious threat against the Star Wars galaxy too.

The Black Scorpion
Scientists and engineers go to mexico to help rebuild after earthquakes (or something like that). The quakes have unearthed a cave full of gigantic bugs. One of them, a huge, black scorpion escapes and terrorizes the country. Another giant monster movie made awesome by Harryhausen's animation. And another easy translation into a Star Wars adventure.

The Giant Claw
This movie has the most ridiculous giant radioactive vulture monster you will ever see. I have yet to see the entire movie, but even from my first glimpses of the movie as a kid, it has stuck in my memory as gloriously goofy. As far as translating it into Star Wars goes.. ummm, probably best not to.

The Incredible Shrinking Man
Though it may not translate well into a Star Wars adventure, this movie really got my attention when I first saw it on TV as a kid. It both fascinated and terrified me. Yes, it would be cool to be small enough to play with all my toys at their own scale (or so I thought) but.. yeah I wouldn't trust my cats not to 'play with me' to death. Nor would I like it when I got small enough to be menaced by spiders. Creepy.

The Blob
This is another movie that really scared me. The nature of the creature (able to go anywhere) and the horrible method of its killing (engulf and dissolve) along with the fact that most weapons are useless against it? Terrifying. I bet it must have been even more terrifying to be sitting in the theatre watching the scene where it eats everyone in the theatre. The re-make of the film scared the crap out of me too. Plus the violence and dissolving was disgustingly graphic. A great sci-fi monster and yet another great monster that could be used in Star Wars.

The Fly
The whole scene with the human-headed fly screaming for the spider not to eat him. GAH. Scarred me as a child (why did my parents let me watch these things!). The story of the human scientist with the fly head was scary and poignant. And though the remake of the film in the 80's was disgusting, I think it captured the terror of the situation even better (and more 'realistically' if that's even applicable). The idea of slowly turning into something is horror at its worst (best). Wonder if the Imperials ever did any experimentation with teleportation...or even hybridization.

It! The Terror from Beyond Space
There are a lot of people that point to this one as the inspiration for Alien. And I can really see that. But my goodness is this one hokey. It is just the kind of 50's movie I love for being so bad.

Journey to the Center of theEarth
I love Victorian Era/Turn of the Century settings. And I love action-exploration movies. This one is both. Though its special effects may be dated (that's putting it mildly), it still has a lot more charm than any of those atrociously bad Doug McClure movies.

Mysterious Island
Harryhausen Strikes again! Giant Crabs... Giant Killer Birds...Giant Bees! And then you throw in a bunch of civil war era guys and gals...and pirates... and captain Nemo—complete with ray guns! How freaking awesome is that. I especially loved the fact that most of the aforementioned critters were subsequently cooked and eaten after being slain. Mmmmmm. Giant Crab Meat. And really? Not a bad idea for a Star Wars adventure. A group of rebels manages to break out of an Imperial prison camp—taking a couple imperials along for the ride. They wind up crashing on a planet that turns out to be the private genetic testing-ground of a mad scientist guy. Hell yeah.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Yes. Its just a little goofy. Especially when you look at the theme song by Frankie Avalon (who also starred in the movie). But the submarine was cool and Barbara Eden was hot. I never did understand why the heck they would have an open shark-tank inside a submarine though, especially when you consider how steep an angle the Seaview was seen surfacing at. Wouldn't all the water from the tanks just go sloshing around in the chamber? Along with the angry sharks?

The Day of the Triffids
A wonderfully inventive little apocalyptic movie about an asteroid storm that blinds most of the earth and deposits upon it nasty, poisonous, mobile, man-eating plants (triffids). Some of the scenery in the movie was quite chilling—and I can see where it inspired Danny Boyle in 28 Days Later. The whole waking up to find out there's been an apocalypse is a great cinematic trick. Not a whole lot of conversion potential in this one, though, unless maybe the characters were sent to help rescue a planet stricken by this event...

The Last Man on Earth
One of the earliest adaptations of 'I Am Legend'. This stars Vincent Price (awesome) as the last survivor of a disease that turned all humans (and dogs) into vampires! It is also probably one of the most faithful adaptations, in that Price actually finds out that he's become the 'Monster' in the movie—feared by the Vampires as he preys upon them during the day, when they are asleep and most vulnerable. Though the remake of this with Will Smith had some stunning visuals and interesting ideas of what the world would look like after this, I was kind of 'meh' about the plot in that. It was still better than The Omega Man though.

Fantastic Voyage
This was a movie that my father introduced me to during a TV movie festival in New Jersey when I was a kid. Man did it make an impression! White Corpuscles eat the bad guy! Holy crap! That scared me! The submarine was awesome, as were the special effects of the journey through the body. I still LOVE this movie—and even moreso after I was old enough to appreciate Raquel Welch. Rowr. Only thing better than that is Raquel Welch in a tight wet-suit. Oh! this had that, too! Overall? This may be a bit too 'campy' of an idea to pull off in a Star Wars setting—at least for me.

Stunning visuals but overall boring. I loved the realistic representation of what space flight might look like, but other than that? Meh.

Okay, so this movie was one of those incredibly weird and decadent 60's movies. Of course it was messed up. It was French. However, Jane Fonda was mighty pleasing to the eye. 

The Green Slime
From this incredibly goofy looking monsters to the horribly stilted acting to the insanely goofy theme song, this movie was bad! It is a guilty pleasure of mine, though, and as far as translating into a Star Wars setting, it would be very easy to do. 

Planet of the Apes
A true classic—though as a kid I found it depressing. It was part of that whole movement towards 'downer' endings that was popular in the late 60's and early 70's. Still, it was wonderfully imaginative with a visual style that greatly appealed to me (and no, I'm not just talking about the mute girl Nova and her skimpy outfits). From the design of the space ship Icarus to the architecture and clothing of the was just cool. And translatable? you bet—party crashes on remote planet...of the Apes! Done. Oh, and p.s. NEVER name a ship after Icarus. It never ends well. 

The Valley of Gwangi
Cowboys and Dinosaurs. Take a moment to let that sink in. Yeah. Feels good, doesn't it? Looked good, too. A great adventure movie about a lost valley and the cowboy circus rodeo that tries to exploit its prehistoric inhabitants. The special effects were top-notch for the day and hold up reasonably well. Plus? I was a huge dinosaur fan as a kid. Still am. In a Star Wars setting, you could translate this into a kind of monster-hunt scenario.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes
This movie scarred me emotionally. Not only do both heroes die horribly in the end, but one of them actually uses his last, dying breath to destroy the entire planet! NOT what I was expecting the first time I saw this as a kid. 

Escape from the Planet of the Apes
ANOTHER depressing movie (and one that...doesn't make a whole lot of sense). How the heck did the apes salvage and rebuild the ship.. and.. how did they go back in time and...gah. Anyway, it was sad but memorable.

Fantastic Planet
I saw this animated movie late one evening on an old show called "USA Night Flight". It was truly bizarre. But then, it was French. It was all about primitive humans living on a planet inhabited by gigantic, blue humanoids—and about how one human learns their advanced ways and sets about unifying the rest of his kind (who were treated as vermin by the aliens). The animation style was odd, but intriguing and the scenes of little humans getting stomped on by alien kids for 'fun' was creepy—as was the death of those same kids, pulled down by spiked ropes hurled by the humans. How freaky would it be if bugs suddenly turned against us like that? Needless to say, I didn't mess with any ants after seeing this show.

I've only ever seen this movie in bits and pieces (never once all the way in one sitting). I was more impressed by the concept than by the execution of it. The idea of an immersive theme park REALLY captured my imagination. Who wouldn't like to live a fantasy for a little while? And.. well, okay, when I hit puberty, the thought of fembots was also intriguing. But if you're a Futurama fan, you know that such things are ultimately a bad idea! Turns out to be a bad idea in this movie too, when the bots go berserk and start killing everyone. I wonder how much inspiration the 'gunman' in this movie had on Terminator. As far as a Star Wars conversion of this movie goes? Hell yes! A planetary theme park run amok!

Logan's Run
Could this movie have been more 70's? I mean, my god, everyone looked like pre-disco and Farrah Fawcett even made an appearance. Still, the whole idea of this society of under-thirty year olds was interesting (and at the time, 30 sounded really old to me). The discovery and exploration of the post-apocalyptic world outside the city was great, too—and actually, it was the short-lived TV show based on this that first brought the movie to my attention. It doesn't translate well into a Star Wars adventure, but it is interesting nontheless. Plus the name Logan is cool. I named my cat that.

Damnation Alley
So I'm beginning to notice a trend in my tastes—apocalyptic movies appeal to me. Not sure why exactly, but the exploration of a shattered and 'lost' world just captures my imagination. As far as that goes, Damnation Alley was kind of a poor example. The acting and plot was... well, bad. But for me, the true star of the film was the "Landmaster" a gigantic armored, articulated bus. Man, if I survive an apocalypse, I want one of those. Or maybe two. The giant Scorpions were cool, too—as were the man-eating cockroaches. Oh, and as an interesting side-note, this film was made at the same time as Star Wars—and IT was expected to be the blockbuster for that year. Heh. Right.

Empire of the Ants
A bad, bad movie. From acting to plot to special effects. But nevertheless ads for it on TV scared me as a little kid—seeing Ants the size of horses crawling around on top of houses? Yeah. Scary. Well, to a 7 year old it was.

King Kong
Ah yes. Poor Kong. To be re-made in the 1970's. Alas. The special effects weren't quite up to snuff and the acting wasn't either. Still, its enjoyable enough to watch. But my god, Jessica Lang could NOT act in this movie! She didn't need to, though. Just throw some skimpy outfits on her and there you go. The 'interactions' between her and Kong ranged from laughably stupid to uncomfortably explicit. Gah.

Another milestone in my movie-going career—and in two ways. First of all, I first saw Wizards on a VHS tape in the early 80's. It was one of the first videos I ever saw. And secondly, it was like no other movie (cartoon or otherwise) that I'd ever seen. The art was psychedelic and incredibly violent. The story merged science-fiction and fantasy. There were mutants and Nazis and elves and faeries. It was just too cool for words (at least at the time). Plus it had two of my favorite cinematic moments. One was the whole "Fritz, get up for gods sake!" schtick. But the other was truly legendary. When brother wizards finally face off at the climax of the movie, I was all set for a titanic magical battle. And then, suddenly, the 'good guy' pulls a gun from up his sleeve and just shoots the bad guy dead while uttering the immortal words: "I'm glad you changed your last name you son of a bitch." Classic.

Never saw the whole movie before, but I still remember seeing part of it as a late night movie on network TV. Another post apocalyptic movie, this one had awesome killer dirt-bikes and whistling lightsaber-like swords! Coming after Star Wars, this made it cool to my young brain.

I was much too young to see this movie when it first came out. But that didn't stop my fascination with it. I can still distinctly remember talking to another kid close to my age (8 or 9) who's parents let him see it (stupid parents). Though he told me a somewhat broken version, I knew I wanted to see it. I was in my teens, however, before I finally got up the nerve to do so. And it was worth the wait. It was a truly frightening film—and a unique one, from the 'grungy' look of the ship to the realistic way the characters spoke and 'talked over' each other. That it was believable made it all the more horrific. And even now, the special effects and the alien itself stand as 'believable' as any CG work done today (and better than most, in fact). I've already talked a lot about how the Star Wars adventures Otherspace and Otherspace II mimic the feel of Aliens and its sequels, so I won't go into it again except to say that's one of the reasons I like it so much.

The Black Hole
This is another of those movies that, looking back on it, really wasn't as good as I thought it was at the time. But again, we're talking something that came out after Star Wars—in those three long years before Empire. I was looking for anything even remotely star-warsy. And this fit the bill, from laser-fights to plucky droids, it was a great movie for a nine-year old (or so). It is also very easily converted into a Star Wars adventure with very little modification: Exploration team stumbles upon 'ghost ship' run by a mad scientist and his droid henchmen. Oh, and p.s. What the hell was with the last few scenes of the movie, with all this symbology of the villain roasting in hell, encased in the body of his android. A bit freaky for what was essentially a kids flick.

This movie pretty much represents all that was bad about the Bond franchise during this era—though I admit that at the time, the laser-battle in space seemed pretty cool to me. Oh, and Bond films? Yeah, just about ALL of them could be used as adventure source material for Rebel or Republic intelligence agents. Agent 001138 anyone?

So yeah, this is a huge post, so I AM going to break it up. I'll return later with the Sci Fi movies of the 80's and up!


  1. Dude, this post isn't about movies that influenced you. You just wanted to list all the ancient crappy movies you've seen.

  2. Pfft. This is the 'cream of the crap'. If I listed all the WORSE movies I've watched, I'd be here forever.