Love him or hate him, Arnold Schwarzenegger was arguably the action-hero of the ’80s. His roles in films such as Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Running Man (1987), Predator (1987), and Red Heat (1988) made him a superstar. These were some of the best popcorn movies of the decade. Of course there was also crap like Twins (1988) with Danny DeVito that was foisted upon us, but you gotta take the good with the bad, I guess.
There is a new series of books out now from the Limelight Editions imprint of the Hal Leonard publishing house titled If You Like…. Previous subjects have been The Beatles, Monty Python, The Sopranos, and Metallica. The full title of this one is If You Like The Terminator, Here Are Over 200 Movies, TV Shows, and Other Oddities That You Will Love.
I must admit to having a little bit of apprehension about this book prior to reading it. I mean, The Terminator (1984) was a great movie and all, but I didn’t really think that it was on the same level as the career of The Beatles or anything. Author Scott Von Doviak really impressed me with his take on the whole thing though. What the book really functions as is a wonderfully concise digest of some of the greatest science-fiction over the years. The focus is primarily classic film, although books and TV shows are highlighted as well.
The TV and book references are fairly obvious. How could you not talk about The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, or Star Trek when discussing classic sci-fi television? And when surveying the printed page, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury are required touchstones. What I really enjoyed though was Von Doviak’s hysterical account of the career of Harlan Ellison. Ellison wrote what many consider the finest Star Trek episode of all time, “The City on the Edge of Forever,” and he has been screaming about how it was “ruined” in rewrites now for about 45 years. He has initiated countless lawsuits over the years charging plagiarism and other crimes against humanity against just about anyone who he has ever been involved with. My take-away from all of this is a documentary I had not previously heard of, Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth (2007), which I definitely need to see.
Another fantastic author whose books have been made into films (very often very different from what he actually wrote) is Philip K. Dick. Blade Runner (1982) is the most famous of these, and it bears little resemblance to the book it was adapted from, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? As an avowed P.K. Dick fan, I must say that I was surprised at how many adaptations of his stories have made it to celluloid that I was previously unfamiliar with. The subsection in the “Tech Noir” chapter “Five Philip K. Dick Adaptations You Might Have Missed” opened my eyes. Besides A Scanner Darkly (2006), I did miss these, so now I have four more films to add to my “need to see” list.
The majority of the book is dedicated to the classic sci-fi films that influenced director James Cameron, and The Terminator. The author begins way back in 1902 with George Melies’ A Trip to The Moon. For those who have never seen this 16-minute wonder, I suggest the new Air release Le danse la lune. The French duo pay homage to the silent film with their own electronic score, which you may or may not enjoy. The real attraction (for me at least) is inclusion of a (well-done) color-mastered edition of the film on a separate DVD. Just turn off the color to your set if you want to see it in the original black and white.
An early, brilliant vision of a dystopian future is Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). This is a picture I never get tired of watching or reading about. Von Doviak calls it a “near-masterpiece.” I call it a full-on masterpiece, but avoid the 1984 Giorgio Morodor re-release (with songs by the like of Billy Squire and Loverboy) at all costs.
The “golden age” of science-fiction is generally considered to be the decade of the 1950s. And again, some choices are required. How could you write a book detailing the most influential science-fiction films of all time without including The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Godzilla (1954) Forbidden Planet (1956), or Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)? Classics, one and all.
There are lesser known greats from that time period as well. George Pal’s Destination Moon (1950) is one. It is a remarkable movie, considering the time it was made, because Pal consulted with the very top scientists of the day. Nineteen years before man did walk on the moon, Destination Moon got nearly everything right, down to the breakaway capsules, the “moonsuits” the astronauts would wear, and even the landing in the ocean upon return. Destination Moon may not be “masterpiece,” mostly because the story itself is a bit hokey, but it is still recommended.
Special mention is given to the brilliant Stanley Kubrick. I had never really considered his films to necessarily “link” to each other, but Von Doviak makes a compelling case for Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and A Clockwork Orange (1971) as Kubrick’s unofficial science-fiction trilogy.
As we progress into the ’70s, the original Star Wars trilogy is quite naturally discussed, as are lesser-known films such as Collosus: The Forbin Project (1970) Westworld (1973), and The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). Von Doviak does not stop in 1984 with the release of The Terminator either. The book goes on to mention the films that The Terminator itself influenced, which obviously includes the sequels, and others.
With the ultimate science-fiction convention just days away (Comic-Con in San Diego), it is a very good time to revisit the sci-fi genre. While If You Like The Terminator is a breezy read at 212 pages, the author has made things even easier for us with an Appendix; “Essential Data: 100 Great Moments from Science Fiction History,” which boils down the films, books, and television shows by year into those he considers the absolute musts.
I realize that us science-fiction buffs are considered the nerdiest of the nerds, and that’s fine. We like to read, for one thing, and maybe the format of If You Like The Terminator is (by definition) not filled with super-incredible detail for us to pore over and amaze our friends with. But for a well thought-out timeline (with brief descriptions) of the best science-fiction over the past 110 years, I cannot think of a better resource.