Today on Soundtrack Alley Spotlight, I’ll delve into more science fiction than you thought possible with some great films from the 80’s like Alien, Dune, Return of the Jedi, and so many more!
Today for Part V of The History of Science Fiction in Film, I’ve thought about this long and hard and realized that there is a section of Science Fiction I didn’t touch and that is Alien from 1979. For being a movie out of the 1970’s, it felt like it was an 80’s flick. Horror, Sci-Fi, Monsters, Creepy Androids and this film revolutionized special effects for creatures, giant models and so much more.
Alien was a viseral, alive entity that Ridley Scott made before even arriving at something else we are going to discuss next. Alien had eggs, face huggers, girl fights and so many special effects because of the newly developed company ILM (Industrial Light and Magic). The mood of the film was dark and Sigorney Weaver pulled off being a bad-ass amazingly well.
Let’s move on to one of Ridley Scott’s pinacle achievements…Blade Runner. Blade Runner was originally a novel called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep written by Phillip K. Dick. Phillip was never able to achieve the dream of bringing that reality to a big screen. Ridley Scott had a vision for the future that most had never seen. The sets were dark, the film was shot like a crime noir from the early days of Hollywood and yet had a gritty and hard version of science fiction that fans love. I especially like this film for its questions that it raises. There are alligories in this film of religon, politics and so much more. Is it moral to kill a robot? What if that robot has a soul? What if the robot can only live for four years, can it love? These are perfect for the world of science fiction and the speculation that goes into such impressive story telling.
Blade Runner reigned supreme for many fans because of what it meant to science fiction and to our realities as well. We are talking real world thoughts here about people and robots actually existing in the same society! Well, I digress. You can hear more about Blade Runner in another month or so…Hint, Hint. O Comic Con.
The next piece of Science Fiction film history I’d like to share is a film that started as a game idea and then formed into a movie put out by Disney. Now remember, for several years Disney had not produced a live action film. The next step beyond was through reality and into the digital world of computers. Disney brought us Tron from 1982. It revolutionized the ideas of computer worlds, light technology, new special effects involving purely digital means as computers. It was so ahead of it’s time that it was rejected through the Academy to be entered in as a nominee for a film because they considered it cheating when using computers.
With Tron, the film wasn’t the only thing that was revolutionary, it was the music that Wendy Carlos created through computers and synthesizers to build this other worldly sound that no one had ever heard before. This helped science fiction fans as well, when they could create worlds from computers and not just making sets anymore. We could go on and on about the various movies in the 1980’s that utilized computers and creating better graphics for films. Examples of these are films like, you guessed it, Return of the Jedi, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, and some other films not worth mentioning since i’m going to cover them here. I know I should mention Return of the Jedi again since it was the third installment in the Star Wars Trilogy that completed at that time the last in the series. Little did we know at that time how wrong we were.
Another film that also pushed the boundaries of computers in the 1980’s was The Last Starfighter from 1984. It dealt with a young man who was playing a video arcade game and thought he just won the game, when in reality it was a test to see if he could become the Last Starfighter. Alex Rogan would go to the stars and defend the Frontier against Zur and the Kodan Armada. Pretty speech right? Well there was so many uses of computer graphics in this film that there were distinct differences through the regular world and that of the space world that the ships and aliens inhabited.
The Last Starfighter was not just a great 80’s film but it was a jumping point for many people to get excited about space travel and the music by Craig Safan, whom I know personally, was fantastic and so brilliant for that time. Science Fiction was sometimes about the adventure, sometimes about the discovery, sometimes even about the journey of one person coming to grips with who they were and what they wanted out of their life. Again questions are always remaining unanswered in films like this and with what science fiction authors were writing at the time, how could you blame them? They even helped fuel the Science Fiction world through film.
I can’t help but mention a film that maybe you might groan at knowing it existed, but to one of my close friends, Tim Benson, this film holds a special place in his heart and it always will. The movie I refer to is Dune, directed by David Lynch. Dune also had political entanglements, Warring families, betrayal, lust, godship, and the taking of drugs? Well you know Frank Herbert created a world where David Lynch couldn’t help but enjoy designing. It also gained cult status and has still a following to this day.
Is this all I can discuss about this? Dune utilized some computer technology not used before as well, some very impressive costuming designs and computer technology to create better effects so the Sand Worms looked supremely real. I can’t help but also be impressed by the superior casting of this film. The superiority of the film actually exceeds the expectation even from the 2021 Dune film that had very little exposition about the characters and the world surrounding it. There was so much more we needed from the 2021 film to help non Dune readers or watchers and we didn’t get much. So the 1984 Dune is far superior in that fact so we got more exposition to the film and more understanding of what was taking place. I’ve come to appreciate this film and it’s brilliance.
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