The Sci-Fi Seven: 1960s-1970s
The 60s and 70s were great decades to be a science fiction fan. From that time period came experimental classics that marked a shift from the black and white pictures of the 50s.
Let’s take a look at seven films that have impacted the childhoods of multiple generations.
Released in 1976, Logan’s Run is a perfect example of 1970s cinema. Though it’s set in 2274, the costumes and the behavior of the actors betrays the time period in which is was produced. Flamboyant clothing, skirts, and men with long hair were staples of pop culture at the time, as was an interest in dystopian societies.
Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Logan’s Run looked to the future, and some of its theoretical predictions for society were pretty troubling.
The film is about a new order for the human race: when you reach the age of 30, you are killed. This was done so that society could live in a “perfect balance” without overpopulation or the loss of resources. Some of these people, including the main character, Logan 5, try to escape from authorities when it’s their time to die.
The film takes a bleak look at the future of human society. Though it’s unlikely that anything as drastic as this will ever be done, it’s still quite eerie that certain governments over the years have sort of had the same thing on their minds through eugenics, genocide, and sterilization.
PLANET OF THE APES
“Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”
Okay, so this one is a classic. Released in 1968, Planet of the Apes was quite a shocker for audiences, as nothing quite like it had ever been attempted before.
This was due in no small part to the fact that the legendary Rod Serling co-wrote the script with Michael Wilson. It does feel at times like an episode of Serling’s TV series, The Twilight Zone, but we can’t give him all the credit – Planet of the Apes was actually based on a novel by Pierre Boulle.
We all know the story by now – astronauts crash land on a planet to discover that apes are actually the rational life forms, with humans serving as animals. The film was a strange commentary on animal rights, prejudice, and the idiocy of violent conflict (this is especially revealed with the twist ending – “You blew it up!”).
Aside from being set on a future Earth, Planet of the Apes was ahead of its time in several areas. The special effects, cinematography, and other production values are vastly greater than most other movies of the decade.
Two elements are especially important to the film’s near total perfection – the direction by Franklin J. Schaffner and the music by Jerry Goldsmith.
In 1979, audiences became very, very afraid of outer space. Just as Jaws incited a mass fear of open water, Ridley Scott’s Alien reminded the public that space isn’t even close to friendly. Even if there weren’t actual hostile extraterrestrials, it’s still a sickening void in which it would be easy to suffocate, burn up, or freeze depending on the planet.
Alien showcased this theme quite nicely, combining awe-inspiring visuals with a bleak, nihilistic setting.
The film is quite lonely – the Nostromo’s crew of 7 seem completely cut off from the rest of the universe. It’s easy to see that they’ve been in space too long, as they seem really stressed out from the moment they wake up from hyper sleep. But it gets incalculably worse when they discover the most deadly creature in the universe.
Featuring downright amazing special effects, palpable tension, and disturbing jump scares, the film is a great example of craft filmmaking.
Released in 1975, Jaws could be considered the first summer blockbuster.
What’s interesting is the fact that the shark is only shown in the movie for a total of four minutes. The suspense generated by the pacing and the music are what actually made it so unbelievably terrifying to watch.
Jaws is a testimony to Steven Spielberg’s brilliance as a filmmaker. The people are definitely the most important element to the plot, and the way the characters are portrayed is very believable.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
Spielberg is such a master movie maker that nearly every list of sci-fi greats includes not just one, but two or more of his works. Close Encounters of the Third Kind ranks highly in the minds of fantasy buffs due to the sheer power of its storytelling.
Released in 1977, the film centers on a mysterious alien force that stirs up worldwide panic, just from the fact that it exists. The film seems scary at times, as we are not sure until the end whether the aliens’ intentions are good or bad. And just like Jaws, Close Encounters is strongest where characterization is concerned.
The film’s best actor is the lead, Richard Dreyfuss. His scenes are emotional, gripping, and authentic. The aliens’ presence on Earth causes his character, Roy Neary, to seemingly lose his mind along with many other earthlings. As in his other movies, Dreyfuss plays the character so well that he could be called a maestro in the world of drama.
And guess what? He was in Jaws, too. It would seem that Spielberg only works with the best of the best. The greatest example of this is John Williams, the legendary composer who scored many Spielberg films including Jaws, Close Encounters, and Jurassic Park.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
2001: A Space Odyssey may be one of the trippiest and most complex movies of all time. The casual viewer may find it unnecessarily long and drawn out, but sticking around the whole way through is immensely rewarding to say the least.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick and released in 1968, the film is about several things all at once – the history of mankind, the origin of thought, the progression of space flight, and the rise of artificial intelligence.
The movie opens with some of man’s ape-like ancestors discovering a monolith from an alien race. Fast forward millions of years, and we see mankind once again encountering this strange artifact on the moon. A group of humans, some of them in suspended animation, venture out into space on a secret mission directly connected to the monolith.
Later on, a computer called HAL starts to think on its own, which is very bad news for the men in the ship. Mankind has always been fascinated with the idea that machines could someday overshadow us, and though this is a major plot point in a lot of films, none of them are as poignant as this one. Also put on full display is the cold loneliness of space, a theme shown in Alien and countless other films.
Groundbreaking special effects and a solid story make 2001 a masterpiece. The best part about the movie is the ending, which can be a little hard to understand and is open to interpretation.
STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE
The original Star Wars is a masterpiece. Sure, it’s not some French subtitled film that sweeps up all the awards for dramatic performances or artsy-fartsy cinematography, but there can be no question that it’s a work of art.
Inspired by Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, a book highlighting the common themes throughout mythology, George Lucas sought to tell an old story in a new way. It’s more fantasy than sci-fi, complete with a princess, a dungeon (okay, trash compactor), a labyrinth (Death Star), a wise old guide rendering supernatural aid, and a young boy discovering a power he didn’t know he had.
It totally changed the way we look at movies, and everything in its wake has tried to live up to its glory. The later (and recent) Star Wars films had better performances and visuals, but they still don’t seem nearly as fresh or as urgent as the original.
Best villains, best heroes, best everything – it’s the definitive sci-fi movie, and a milestone in filmmaking.
Which of these sci-fi movies is your favorite? If you’re looking for even more history in this fan-favorite genre of film, check out Sci-Fi Seven: Films of the 1930s-50s.