EW's best sci-fi

Since May, Entertainment Weekly has had their Top 25 TV/Film Sci-Fi from the past 25 years up on their website. I think it's a good list, or at least a good start. Obviously they erred when they put "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" at 17 instead of 1, but at least they recognized its brilliance.

And because people like to complain, their readers compiled an alternate 17 that they felt were rudely excluded. I only agree with "Babylon 5". While I like some ("TRON" for example), I don't think that David Lynch's "Dune" should be held up as an exemplar of sci-fi.

Here's my take on their top 25.

25. V: The Miniseries
I remember fondly watching this with my dad whenever a new episode aired. Everything about it was great up until the end of series when Badler spins out of control in space à la Darth Vadar. That, and the human uprising was made possible because of a star child with superpowers. Aliens: sci-fi. Supernatural hovering ability: fantasy. Please make a note of it.

24. Galaxy Quest
Not sci-fi, but parody, so it doesn't belong here. Also, I found it to be kind of slow and clunky.

23. Doctor Who
A guilty pleasure. The dialog is stiff, the mini-series episodes (the old one anyway) drag on for way too long, especially with the 5 minute recap (which really was the last five minutes of the previous episode). But the special effects are so sub-par as to be perfect. And time-traveling scarf wearers have a je ne sais quoi. Doctor Who is proof that you can tell a sci-fi story well with only garbage cans for special effects.

22. Quantum Leap
I remember tuning in religiously, but I wonder if it's "the best"? The plot repeated itself every single episode (and so did many of the gags). But the premise was brilliant, and the first episode somehow made quantum physicists look as macho as jet plane test pilots. Well played.

21. Futurama
Sci-fi with cartoon gags, and the floating head of Al Gore. What's not to like?

20. Star Wars: Clone Wars
While the animation is surely top notch, Star Wars is too tainted by the lousy, half-baked prequels. Save George Lucas an animated series cannot.

19. Starship Troopers
A mediocre action movie based on a mediocre Heinlein novel. Yes, the chicks were hot (and so--I'm told--are the guys total hunks). But blowing up bugs gets depressing really fast, and of course the black guy dies taking one for the team (no white people were harmed in the making of this film). EW claims that Verhoeven was trying for parody with the government's fascist TV ads, but I saw it more as a small attempt to salvage the soul that the screenwriter has mercilessly ripped from the story to make room for shock and jocks.

18. Heroes
Haven't seen it. I shouldn't comment.

17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
A perfect movie. A perfect sci-fi pretext. The subtle use of special effects to move the story shouldn't be revolutionary, but it felt that way. Sci-fi is an engine (one of the best) for talking about the human condition. ESotSM nailed it. A romantic tragecomedy set in the modern day with only a slight hint--but powerful--that technology can change the way we think about ourselves, our minds. The only thing wrong with it being on this list is its position. It should be number one.

16. Total Recall
Two Verhoeven movies on this list. Look EW, he's not the god-father of sci-fi (but he certainly has a way with heavy artillery). This was a much better movie than Bugsquishers: Bigger than Life. Arnie is a much better hunk and the female never needed a princess-like rescue. And it tried to make a genuine sci-fi idea work with good ol' gun-toting fun. As far as PKD material, this is probably the most accessible to the generic audience. But PKD ended his story with a paradox, while Total Recall collapses the memory overwrite to a closed solution. If it's all a dream, then it isn't a movie (much less a story: NEVER admit that your story is just a dream). So then it's real. So much for mystery.

15. Firefly/Serenity
This really was awesome. I guess it's only flaw was that it didn't talk to traditional Trekkie geeks (truckers in space? huh?), and the Star Wars crowd always needs fantasy-like light sabers to feel engaged. Firefly rocks because it told a great story, in a well-fleshed out universe, both arguably (by me) lacking in ST and SW. Serenity is what the Millenium Falcon was supposed to be before Lucas had Greedo shoot first. The sci-fi was solid, and the characters had far more depth than a stuck-up French-speaking captain or a whiny farm boy.

14. Child of Men
I haven't seen the movie, but I had some problems with the book. Since this is the movie they're talking about, I'll have to refrain from comment.

13. Terminator/Terminator 2
I would have left T2 off of the list, but T1 was a great a action movie with a clever time-travel paradox. Killer machine from the future hunts down the mother of the future messiah. Rad. Future soldier sent back to protect her winds up becoming the father of said messiah. Double rad. T2 was just special effects (good ones), but the story was nearly identical, except that it lacked the paradox and wasn't terribly scary. No biscuit for no effort.

12. Back to the Future
Actually a good movie. Fun, funny, engaging, fast-paced, and designed for all ages (in a good way, not the Land Before Time way). Though it portrays the 50s as a tad too idyllic, it did the same with the 80s. I am beginning to notice that EW put the two time-travel movies next to each other, Dr. Who excepted (which is really just a show about a Londoner who owns a time machine). And the two memory erasure movies (17 and 16) near each other. And the two animated series. Hmmmmm.

11. Lost
Haven't seen it, can't comment.

10. The Thing
Haven't seen it, can't comment (but it looks like classic horror rather than true sci-fi).

9. Aliens
This list seems too focused on special effects. Alien was--by far--a brilliant work of sci-fi and horror. But it's sequel was just an excuse to put more actors in alien suits and have bulked out gunners try in vain to blow them away. Given any James Cameron movie, you can be guaranteed that he's sacrifice story for effects every time.

8. Star Trek: The next generation
What can I say, I loved this series. So many good episodes, dynamic characters, and it made space opera sexy again. A French-speaking captain, played by an English Shakespearean actor, was the coup de grace. My heart is all aflutter.

7. E.T.
I remember loving this when it came out, but when I saw it again, I nearly keeled over from how corny and dated it's become. Didn't anyone else notice that this was Close Encounters without the OCD? This might be sappy enough for a 10 year old (Uranus-Your anus, come on! We did better than that on the playground!), but doesn't really have much to say to mature audiences who crave more than my-best-friend-is-an-alien- but-nobody-understands-our-friendship cheesiness.

6. Brazil
I have no idea how Brazil made this list. It's obscure, hard to follow, and suicidally depressing. And it ain't sci-fi. Dystopia is not sci-fi, not even with the stupid scene about futuristic plastic surgery. (Dystopia with androids is, see the difference, EW?) But I love it. Gilliam's brilliance is underrated. I hope that if this list were that last 30 years, EW would drop this entry in favor of Time Bandits (which missed the cutoff by one year).

5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
A good movie, but an exemplar of sci-fi, I don't know about that.

4. The X-files
I loved this show, but I wouldn't put it in the sci-fi bucket. They pulled too much shit of their fantasy-loving asses to make this truly fiction based on science. And the aliens look just like Alien aliens. I didn't feel there was anything original in this show, and they just borrowed trope after trope from masters who had come before.

3. Blade Runner
Which one? There are so many different cuts it's hard to say which is Blade Runner. But this dystopia is sci-fi (it's got androids, people! Have you clued in yet?), and a good screenplay for what is otherwise PKD's standard drug-induced incoherent religious commentary. And the movie is beautifully filmed. The special effects don't interfere with the plot (though they don't always drive it). I'd say the director's cut is The One, but they just released another Director's cut, different from the previous. I don't get it. What's with directors (Lucas, hello?) post-editing their movies years and years after they were successes? I wish authors could do this, but Asimov had to admit that he totally misunderestimated the silicon revolution when he wrote Foundation, but he never felt compelled to rewrite the groundbreaking serial. Take a hint directors, audiences don't care about this as much as your egos do.

2. Battlestar Galactica
Terrific characters, endless plot permutations, and soap opera in space! Yeay!

1. The Matrix
OK, what's up this? Why is it on the list, much less number one? EW admits that it's tainted by it less than stellar (read, bottom-of-the-barrel) sequels. It's a fun movie, but bullet time isn't sci-fi (it's special effects, why do I feel like I'm repeating myself?). This movie would have been the all-time sci-fi geek movie if the Wachowski brothers had the machines use people as--instead of glorified (and extremely inefficient batteries)--CPUs. Ahh!! The potenial irony and ultimate schadenfreude, and they missed it! Mammals as batteries is just stupid. You don't run your potato clock off of your own internally-generated EMR, you use a friggin' potato. If all they needed was power, and it had to be Mammalia (for some inexplicable reason) dogs or cats would be much better. But then there would be no Matrix, so people it is--as batteries. Argh. If they have the resources to give humans all the calories they need to turn sugars into ATP, why not just, well, burn it in a furnace? Somebody didn't do their physics homework before writing this screenplay. What is otherwise a fun action movie, must be relegated to fantasy, and definitely off any Top Sci-Fi list.


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