Tuesday, April 27, 2010

#4 of the Top Five Stand Alone Sci-Fi Movies

The Celluloid Highways #4 pick - INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (Don Siegel, USA, 1956)

Jack Finney’s novel (serialised in Collier’s magazine) became one of the keynote American science-fiction films when it was adapted for the screen by Daniel Mainwaring and brought to visual life by journeyman director Don Siegel. Siegel was a director of outstanding generic utility, putting his hand to most genres in his long and esteemed career. This would be his only entry in the science-fiction genre, but it has proved to be among his most important and pervasive films. Its importance lies in that fact that every successive generation has taken the themes established in Siegel’s film and applied them to the socio/political concerns of the day. The Phillip Kaufman remake in 1978 for example updated the themes of the original for the post-Watergate generation, but undid itself by overstating the paranoia. Siegel’s film has a greater subtlety and builds its paranoia slowly and surely. The disturbing aspects of the tale slowly creep up on you, in a manner similar to that experienced by Dr. Miles J. Bennell (Kevin McCarthy). Bennell is initially at least the skeptical expert, a man of science and rationality who seeks logical answers to the strange changes in behavior that have been directed to his attention. Science-fiction films of the 1950’s often took the side of either the logic of science and its experts or the brute efficiency of a military response. Here both institutions are found wanting, the military being all but invisible and science being ineffectual. Instead the citizens of small town America who have been duplicated by alien beings who are able to duplicate exactly our cellular structure are able to establish a rule of thumb that deceives outsiders and leads to the hounding and eventual demise of our heroes. What truly makes this film a terrifying statement is the manner in which it dramatizes the nightmarish (but logical) extension of community and consensus - a town of faceless automatons without a single bone of radicalism in their bodies. If one film sums up the uncertainties of 1950’s American then Invasion of the Body Snatchers is it. A truly radical and in places subversive example of science-fiction.

The Film Connoisseur's #4 pick - METROPOLIS (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927)

Fritz Lang’s masterpiece of German Expressionism is still one of my all time favorite science fiction films of all time. Metropolis is on this countdown for more then one reason. First; its production values. This film was the most expensive silent film ever made! And you see every single penny up on screen. There is genuine artistry in the way this film was brought to life. Intricate miniatures, detailed mate paintings, hundreds of extras and elaborate sets are part of the combination that brought the futuristic vistas of Metropolis to life. One look at the scene where all the workers are slaving away at the “M-Machine” lets us understand the awesomeness of the visuals that Fritz Lang conjured up with his vision. But, this films merits don’t only include technical ones. Yes it is an astonishing film to look at, and yes it has been influential on everything from Star Wars to Dark City, but one of the reasons I hold this film in such high regard is that, like any good science fiction film, this one is a mirror of society. It addresses important themes that mirror the suffering that the working class was going through during the dawning of the great depression. The films themes speak of the unification between the work force and its employers. One can’t exist without the other. In the film, Freder, the son of a wealthy business man, sees the suffering that the poor people are going through and decides to join their ranks and work side by side with them. Even though it was made in 1927, and it is a silent film, its images are too powerful to ignore or forget. It was a film that was way ahead of its time, every time I watch I wonder how the hell they shot such an amazing film in 1927, when visual effects where in diapers. The existing print of this movie has many scenes missing, but thankfully, a lot of it was recovered! It was discovered in a film vault in Buenos Aires! Kino Video (the same guys who released the existing copy of the film) is going to be releasing a new cut of this film, with 25 minutes of footage that had previously been considered lost forever! So be on the look out for that. Metropolis remains a timeless classic that every true lover of films should see at some point.

Metropolis (Restored Authorized Edition)Invasion of the Body Snatchers


Unknown said...

I'm a big Don Siegel fan (his version of THE KILLERS is amazing!) and loved what he did with Jack Finney's story. His adaptation is actually quite faithful and I the performances he gets out of the people who have been taken over. They don't act overtly alien but their behavior is just slightly off and the actors do just enough to let you know who's been zapped and who hasn't. Like Siegel, I'm not crazy about the bookends that frame the film and soften the edges somewhat and I find it interesting that Siegel originally had a lot more humor in the film but the studio made him take it out.

Franco Macabro said...

Sadly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is a sci-fi classic that I have not seen! I saw the version from the 70s, the one with Donald Sutherland. But Ive got this one on my must watch.

Franco Macabro said...

By the way, Shaun, thanks for including this one on your list, I am now very interested in checking out this classic.

I am not a specialist when it comes to sci-fi from the 50s, but Ive always liked the themes with which these Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies play with.

That idea that somebody is watching you...everyone is slowly "turning" everyone is acting strange, even your closest neighbors and family. Its kind of scary, and obviously, like you mentioned, a symbolism for the subversive because there are alway s those who dont want to be turned.

They want to remain who they are, and have control over their lives.

I also found Abel Ferrara's Body Snatchers (1993) interesting, but not better than any of the other versions Ive seen.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Great to see Metropolis made it in there. I was very close to including it myself. I think it came in at No.6 in my list. It is arguably the most important science-fiction film ever made, even if it did almost bankrupt Ufa - the studio that produced it.

I too am a big Don Siegel fan - I think if you're a fan of genre cinema its impossible to dislike his efficient and energetic films. His collaborations with Clint Eastwood - especially on The Beguiled and Dirty Harry are among my favourite films of all time.

Franco Macabro said...

I had to place it in my top five, Metropolis continues to be such an influential movie! C3-PO obviously came out of the "evil Maria" robot, similar futuristic city landscapes like the ones seen on Metropolis pop up in many films, like Dark City, The Fith Element, and eve Blade Runner.

You know, scenes where we just bask in the glory of the future.

I Like Horror Movies said...

Still havent seen the original BODY SNATCHERS, however METROPOLIS absolutely stunned me, I couldnt believe how incredible it truly was

Franco Macabro said...

I know right? You watch Metropolis and it just stuns you how they could come up with such awesome imagery during the 1920s!

That scene with the evil Maria dancing for the rich dudes...awesome stuff! That scene with death playing the flute awesome!


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