The Best Of 70’s Sci-Fi. By Alex Purnell.
The decade following the moon-landing, as well as Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, saw a monumental spike of 70’s Sci-Fi cinema, the inspiration of the space-race created a new frontier for film, and we were left with a treasure trove of great, and uh, not so great Sci-Fi classics.
From Ridley Scott’s extraterrestrial horror Alien to George Lucas’s Star Wars, the humble beginnings of a Sci-Fi phenomenon so great that it has spanned generations and is still entertaining audiences, new and old, to this day.
Here are 5 prominent 70’s Sci-Fi picks you may, or may not, have missed.
Dark Star – 1974
“What a beautiful way to die; as a falling star.”
Dark Star’s brilliance is in its low-budget chaos. John Carpenters debut feature film, Dark Star is a blatant spoof of 2001: A Space Odyssey. An absurd comedy complete with a beach-ball alien and a sentient bomb with an identity crisis, where a team of astronauts whose job it is to destroy unstable planet are hit with a myriad of problems after their ship, ‘Dark Star’ is stuck by electromagnetic energy during a storm.
The comedy doesn’t just come from the goofy, whilst surprisingly impressive, practical effects and costume’s, but instead the crew’s very human interactions and ways of keeping sane whilst on their 20+ year scouting expedition.
The writer of Dark Star, the late Dan O’Bannon, went on to write Ridley Scott’s truly iconic Sci-Fi expanding on the idea of the beach-ball alien trapping the crew onboard the ship and adapting it into the terrifying ‘xenomorph’ alien.
Silent Running – 1972
Arguably one of the most influential on the list, Silent Running was the directorial debut of Douglas Trumball, who is best known as for is visual effects work on both Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scotts 1982 film Blade Runner.
Silent Running follows Lowell (Bruce Dern) on Valley Forge, a large space-ship designed for carrying massive dome’s that harbour their own ecosystem. The Earth has become desolate due to global warming, so these sanctuaries of nature are the only source of known vegetation left. After the ship obtains orders to destroy the domes, Lowell is forced to take matters into his own hands to stop the destruction of the last remnants of nature.
Though a spectacular idea, Silent Running’s plot arguably isn’t its strongest point. The story can quite simply be summed up as ‘Hippy in space murders his co-workers in an act of eco-terrorism and then mopes around feeling lonely’, but that’s not the point. Silent Running’s appeal comes from its intricate set design and special effects, beautifully done by Trumball, and the use of the three ‘Drone’ characters are widely accepted as a main source of inspiration for Star Wars’ droids, specifically R2-D2 and other “Astromech” robots.
Fantastic Planet (La Planète Sauvage) – 1973
Upon an alien world, French director René Laloux takes us on a psychedelic voyage, following the human-esque Oms on their desperate attempt to escape the clutches of their all intelligent masters. The Oms are nothing but simple-minded pets to their giant, blue humanoid oppressors, known as the Draags. That is until a young Om learns how to harness Draag technology and educate himself, escaping the clutches of his overlords and delving deep into the chaotic world of Fantastic Planet.
It’s bizarre dream-like landscapes, nightmarish creatures and intriguing plot tell the tale of revolution through the means of mass education.
Fantastic Planet is a feast for the eyes, its breathtaking animated visuals are only second to its unique story and strong, prolific statements against racism and classism.
Rollerball – 1975
Not to be confused with the hideous 2002 remake, Rollerball is a brutal velodrome ride, following an athlete who is so good at his own game, the game tries to ruin him. In the history of fictitious sports, Rollerball is one of the stupidest, whilst being one of the most feasible. A combination of roller-hockey, rugby and speedskating with a motorsport twist, the spectacle of Rollerball as a sport is the key appeal, backed by an intentionally vague plot of evil mega-corporations who now run the world and use the sport for shadowy political purposes.
But this film makes the list because of its enjoyability factor, not because it seems to be written by a 14-year-old who just read George Orwells 1984. The film greatly benefits by focusing much more on the sport itself, rather than the mysterious corporations pulling the strings. It tells the story of legendary Rollerball player, Jonathan E. (James Caan) as he revolts against the corporations as they attempt to stop him playing by any means possible.
Westworld – 1976
Another film that’s recently been remade, though this time into a gritty HBO series.
The original is a brilliant piece of fiction, one that takes it’s wacky idea and makes use of its oddity. We follow Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and his friend John Blane (James Brolin) as they head off to a futuristic amusement park where you can fulfil your historical fantasies, whether it be living out your dream life as a gunslinging cowboy, or maybe even as a knight in medieval Europe.
With hyper-realistic human-like robots tending to your every (and I mean every) desire, the two head off to Westworld, where they pretend to be Clint Eastwood, chewing on cigars, pulling cyborg girls and getting into bar brawls. Unknowingly, though, a strange anomaly starts affecting the life-like robots, causing them to start brutally murdering the guests. One gunslinging cyborg has it out for the two play-pretend cowboys and starts mercilessly hunting them down, as a game of cat-and-mouse persues between man and machine.
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