I am what you would call a sci-fi geek and I in no way shape or form deny that, as watching science fiction throughout my life has taken me down the path that I am on. Sounds a little dramatic? Not really. I am a writer and film director and, with my love for sci-fi, started off my writing/directing skills at a young age making… you guessed it… sci-fi stories and films! (terrible ones at that!)
So I was thinking back to the films and television shows I used to watch as a kid, wondering which were the ones that that stayed with me. It could have been that I loved them as a child, but have never watched since, or newer stuff that has inspired me. It could be sci-fi that I watch over and over again until the misses gets so sick of it that she shoots me with a phaser at close range on disintegrate.
Check it out and let me know if you are the same type of geek that I am!
Of course right? No self proclaimed sci-fi geek would be anywhere without Star Trek right? I have my dad to thank for this one. He’d watch re-runs of the original series on a Sunday and, loving the excitement of a cool spaceship, galactic adventures and pretty women, I eagerly watched along with him. 25 years later and I’m the biggest Star Trek fan I know. I had an argument with a friend who works in the same office the other day about which direction the communicator used to flip. He shouldn’t have even tried, bless him!
After Kirk and crew came The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, Enterprise and all of the films. Some were better that others. I love them all for different reasons. I think the one reason why Star Trek has stood the test of time is because of the hope it brings us for the future. Few science fiction shows show a future earth in such a good light. No war, hunger or disease, no rich or poor. A world I’m sure we’d all like to live in. As for the tech… you only have to look at today’s technology to see how much it has been influenced by Trek.
The best Star Trek episodes were the one’s that made you think and question when it had finished. As a writer/filmmaker I always try to keep this in mind. If you can get the crowd still talking about it, debating it, questioning it, then you’ve made a winner!
Cartoons are a huge part of any kids lives. I remember rushing back home from school and sticking the TV on to watch children’s hour, with Philip Schofield and Gordon the flippin Gopher in the broom closet! And back when I was growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s there were some amazing sci-fi cartoon series!
‘Thundercats’ (1985-1989) was, and is still, such an amazing cartoon and one of my all time favourites. Their world destroyed, they are forced to move to a new planet, Third Earth, where their leader, Lion-O, must learn to become a man and protect his people from the evil that lurks there!
Others from around that era, such as ‘Masters of the Universe’ and ‘Defenders of the Earth’ had similar themes of good vs. evil with strong, heroic characters and villainous bad-guys who you loved to see get their butt kicked each episode! Towards the end of the 80’s and early 90’s introduced this group of pizza eating, mutated turtles to our screens. This era of cartoons changed the format slightly – although still stories of good vs. evil, the good guys weren’t the chisel jawed heroes we were used to. Good guys started getting more personality and the episodes became full of comedy and attitude.
Inspired by these cartoons from my childhood, I used to draw. A lot! I would make my own characters and adventures – every time I was developing my own imagination and creativity, jumping along those stepping stones to what I would be when I was older.
For a time, especially in the 2000’s, cartoons became slightly stale and far too ‘safe’. I was worried my children would never get the same epic sense of adventure out of cartoons that I did. Thankfully, in recent years, cartoons such as ‘Adventure Time’ have popped up that challenge the boundaries between children’s and adult’s entertainment.
Everyone has the films they used to watch over and over when they were growing up. I always remember going to our video rental shop with my mum and dad and always getting the same two films. ‘Short Circuit’ and ‘The Ewok Adventure’ (I know, I know, but I was a kid – I knew no better!). They were films that made me laugh and I never got tired of. I found ‘Short Circuit’ so clever and wanted to have a robot just like Johnny 5. ‘An Ewok Adventure’ had it all for me at that age – space ships, magic, monsters and odd little bear creatures that were really cute. It was ‘An Ewok Adventure’ that got me loving the fantasy genre (but that’s another story).
‘Back to the Future’ is probably one of everyone’s childhood films. The idea of time travel amazed me and for a long time, maybe still slightly now, I believed that my bed was a time machine that took me to lands past and present when I was all tucked up in it. Then somehow I remember coming across the 1980’s space opera, ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’. Yes it was cheesey, yes some of the acting was a bit hammy (especially ‘The Waltons’ John-Boy, Richard Thomas). However I was amazed by the aliens, their ships and the epic story that brings them all together. I also loved that characters that would be bad guys in other films, were actually the heroes in this.
I couldn’t write a bit on Sci-Fi without mentioning ‘Star Wars’. As a child I watched ‘Star Wars’ and enjoyed it, but it was only when I was about 12-14 that I became a big fan and that was mainly due to the toys. ‘Star Wars’ had one of the best marketing plans in existence and, now part of Disney, that is sure to continue. Another classic story of good vs. evil with some great characters and effects. These days I enjoy ‘Star Wars’, more for it’s nostalgic effects than anything else.
So sci-fi was with me from an early age. It was becoming a big part of my life and I didn’t even know it!
Far too young, I discovered the merging of science-fiction and horror. The blame lies with Britania Film Club. If you don’t know Britania, it was a club that you ordered films through a booklet they sent out each month (it also had Britania Music Club). Now my parents signed up to it, more for me than anyone else, without realising that I could easily order films that I shouldn’t have been watching.
One of the first I remember getting was ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1978) with Donald Sutherland. My mind was blown. Here was a story of alien invasion unlike any I had ever seen. These aliens actually grow new versions of people in plant-like pods! It terrified and excited at the same time and had an ending like nothing I had ever seen!
Others I saw included ‘The Thing’, ‘Alien’ and ‘The Fly’. Needless to say I had some sleepless nights (even in my time machine bed!).
I loved the visual effects used in these films – aliens and monsters – that were so realistic you could actually believe that they existed. Even now these films look great. I think, growing up watching films with visual effects is what turns me away from films with heavy, unnecessary CGI.
Horror and Sci-fi are a great blend of genres when used correctly. For in space no one can hear you scream. As we all just found out in ‘Gravity’… but I’ll come to that later on…
Just as I’d given up hope and believed that all aliens and monsters were horrific, nasty beasts that wanted to suck off my face and impregnate me, a friendly little guy called ‘E.T.’ popped up, followed quickly by other friendly sci-fi characters including the robot-like aliens in ‘Batteries Not Included’.
How can anyone not love ‘E.T.’ and not cry at the end. He is the loveable alien that we all wished we could meet, connect with, free frogs with and almost die for. The great thing about E.T. is that he shows the good in children and how unselfish they can be. He is the best in all of us and brings out the best in us all.
Films with a positive attitude, showing how great the human race can be, told through stories about aliens and robots. These are films that will always make you smile and I have a huge soft-spot for any film that can accomplish that.
TV when I was a teenager was great. There were loads of great shows on, many had the prime dinner time slot – 6pm weekdays on BBC2. Great science fiction such as ‘Quantum Leap’, about a man shifting through time in other people’s bodies, and the ‘Quantum Leap’ inspired ‘Sliders’, about a group of people shifting through alternate dimensions. Both had strong stories about people doing what they had to in the hope that they can return home.
Sci-Fi merged with comedy in the mighty ‘Red Dwarf’ which, at the time, was one of the most refreshing programmes on British television. Telling the tale of the slob Lister, the last human alive, surrounded by ridiculous characters alone in space. It was clever, it was witty and it was fun. It was sci-fi presented differently, in a way that everyone could enjoy.
Late nights, watching rubbish on Channel 5, I stumbled upon ‘Lexx’. Very strange, very sexualised, very entertaining sci-fi series that never got the credit it deserved. It was similar in feel to ‘Farscape’, another brilliant show hat challenged the sci-fi norms.
Then we have ‘The X Files’. What needs to be said. At its height it was possibly the greatest thing on television. This was real science fiction. Set today, following normal people, exploring amazing tales of aliens and monsters and odd goings on. Ultimately, with ‘X Files’ and most of the other sci-fi shows I used to watch, it was down to great writing that made them popular – the freedom to be able to create stories in other worlds and about other beings, but relating them to us and our human existence. And at the end of each episode, we long for the next!
In my late teens I began to discover old BBC science fiction, such as the old ‘Doctor Who’ series and ‘Blakes 7’. I LOVE ‘Blakes 7’ for the concept of the show. Yes, the acting is appalling and the sets are wobbly and look like they’ve been made in your friends garage. Plus the aliens are so ridiculous that it’s almost hard to take them seriously. However, the writing again is second to none. Any good filmmaker knows that it all boils down to the writing. Take away all the special effects and money pumped into making the shows, it is the writing that makes it great. American sci-fi was great too, such as ‘Buck Rogers’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica’.
Still in my late teens I discovered Japanese films, the ‘Godzilla’ films being one of these. Godzilla was the ultimate monster – a giant beast that smashed through cities and destroyed all in its path with its fire breath (he must have had a heavy night on the vodka!). Comical to watch of course, but that’s why it is loved by westerners.
Now twist shock endings don’t come better than ‘Planet of the Apes’. Here’s one of those films that is always on my favourite film list. A world ruled by apes where humans were treated like slaves. Full of action, adventure and the fighting strength of humanity, plus Linda Harrison in that tiny fur costume! How could it fail? What always amazed me was the costumes, the masks and prosthetics and how ‘Planet of the Apes’ actually made you believe that this world, with these intelligent apes, was real!
“Get you stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape!” Had to be said!
I remember reading ‘The War of the Worlds’ when I was younger and thought it was one of the best things I’d ever read. H.G. Wells was a genius sci-fi writer. The 1953 film didn’t disappoint either – the imagery of the spaceships, firing their deathly rays, stuck with me forever. Another film about humanities struggle for survival against all odds. I still love films that feel as though we cannot win and have to struggle against our doom, like ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ and ‘Deep Impact’.
Another sci-fi classic, although very different, caught my eye as a teenager. ‘Barbarella’. I saw this on TV late one night and once again my mind was blown. It’s camp, it’s cheesey, it’s sexy and it’s ridiculous and that is why I love it! Jane Fonda in a multitude of skimpy outfits, exploring the galaxy and her own sexuality, trying to stop the evil Druant Durant. Along the way meeting a number of wild characters – it really has to be seen. I have always wanted to make something similar, but don’t think in today’s society it would be possible! ‘Barbarella’ changed the way I looked at science fiction and taught me that sci-fi can take you places you never even thought possible!
The 90s gave us some terrible clothes and some terrible music but some great science fiction films! Let’s start with one of the greatest – ‘Jurassic Park’. I saw this at cinema about 3 time and each time I was a awestruck and gobsmacked as the last. Adventure, humour, excitement and dinosaurs! Doesn’t get better than that. The great thing about ‘Jurassic Park’ is that it still looks amazing now. In an age when CGI looks dated after just a few years (see the ‘Star Wars’ prequels), it is brilliant how a film from the 90’s still looks so great!
‘Independence Day’ was the perfect film for me in 1996 and is still enjoyable now. Roland Emmerich can always be counted on for destroying iconic buildings (such as the white house) and putting the human race under threat. Yes, it copied other alien invasion stories, but Jeff Goldblum is in it. Enough said. Another Emmerich classic in the 90s came with ‘Stargate’. A brilliant story about a portal to another world where our old Egyptian gods still rule. Stargate was so popular that it has spawned a million spin-off TV series.
‘Fifth Element’ and ‘Starship Troopers’ gave us tongue-in-cheek sci-fi with epic proportions. ‘Fifth Element’ used colour and costumes in a way that is rarely seen whilst ‘Starship Troopers’ highlighted the results of war.
A few sci-fi films have recently stood out for me. The first in ‘Inception’. The reason ‘Inception’ is so good is that it challenges the viewers, makes us concentrate and think about the story. And best of all, as a fimmaker, it proved to me that creativity is still possible in the beast that is Hollywood! Anyone that says they ‘didn’t get it’ must be watching something different as I find ‘Inception’ very easy to follow as long as you’re paying attention. Or maybe people have become so accustomed with the way films are spoon fed to us, that we find it hard to understand anything new.
‘Wall-E’. What can be said that we all don’t know already? Pixar are brilliant at making stories that make us happy, make us sad and make us question. ‘Wall-E’ challenges our current lifestyles and shows how we could end up if we keep down the path we are on. And it looked amazing! Rarely has a mainstream animated film looked so good, dealt with issues that are a reflection on today’s society and was a classic love-story told through the eyes of a robot!
As already mentioned, I loved the original version of this, so when I heard that ‘Battlestar Galactica’ had been remade I was very intrigued. However I didn’t get to see it until quite recently but I’m very glad I did. The first mini-series that was made, that had two long episodes, I’ll be honest, I found really boring. ‘Why had they done this?’ was something that crossed my mind a lot. Starbuck… a woman? CG cylons? Too many questions, why, why, why? But, from the recommendation of a friend I ploughed on and I’m so glad I did. At the end of its 4 season run I can safely say it is one of the best sci-fi series I have seen. True, some episodes were better than others, but I loved that it challenged our spiritual beliefs as well as our faith in mankind. Fracking so say we all!
There are very few TV shows that I could watch over and over and over. Star Trek is one of them. The other is ‘Lost’. Maybe it’s the exotic locations, the superb cast, the questions, the mystery, the reveals. Maybe it’s a combination of them all. ‘Lost’ ticks all of my boxes. I do believe it was a game changer for television. People were beginning to be allowed to express their creativity through TV shows thanks to ‘Lost’. There has never been anything like it, before or since. I connected with the characters in ways I didn’t think possible – through their back-stories and the events happening to them on the island. The lines between foe and friend were blurred and, as in real life, no one was perfect. If I were stranded on an island and could only take one thing to watch, it would be ‘Lost’. And that is all there is to say about that one.
Now it’s nearly the end of 2013 and a little film has hit our screens called ‘Gravity’. Not technically science fiction, I felt like this had to be mentioned. There has never been a film like this before. ‘Gravity’ has changed the way that films, especially films set in space, will be made forever. What we have seen in ‘Gravity’ gives me great hope that this is an exciting time for sci-fi.
That brings me to the end of my tip through sci-fi. Science fiction that has inspired me, made me a dreamer, made me scared and made me want to reach for the stars (except for ‘Gravity’ which makes me never want to become an astronaut ever!). So I may be a geek, but I’m a geek and I’m proud. I know what happens if I travel at 88mph in my DeLorean that has been fitted with a flux capacitor. I know never to play the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42 in the lottery. And I know, in a dangerous situation, never to wear my red shirt.
Have I missed any great sci-fi from this list? Probably. There are hundreds of other great sci-fi films and TV series out there – these are just the few that sprung to mind when I was writing this. If you think of any, please let me know in the comments!
So here’s to sci-fi. May it live long and prosper!
Writer/director at Berry Productions