Modern science fiction and fantasy movies aren’t what they use to be. Don’t get me wrong, there have been several good movies made in recent times but honestly, few of them are really ‘fun’. Most seem to be weighted down with some sort of overriding message or issue, ranging from colonialism (Avatar) to ecological disaster (Interstellar). With the glorious exception of Guardians of the Galaxy, it seems the modern stuff takes itself too seriously.
It wasn’t always so gloom and doom. SFF films back in the early 1980s were all about the fun factor. SFF in the late 1960s/70s were pretty serious fare. 2001, The Andromeda Strain, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers all had meaty messages and themes, many of them dystopian and paranoid, used to make the future dark and full of terrors instead of bright and hopeful. Star Wars and the 1980s came around and the films changed back to bright, hopeful, and full of adventure. The movies weren’t as good in the cinematic and intellectual sense, but they were the movies I watched over and over again as a kid and influence me to this day.
Here are five of my favorite movies from that era:
Krull: I love Star Wars. I love Conan. Why can’t I have both at the same time? Krull was probably the only time I remember laser beams and spaceships merged with swords and magic. This movie shouldn’t work and I suppose if you’re a stick in the mud purist, it doesn’t – but I will always remember Colwyn and his merry band of bandits (one of them a young Liam Neeson) riding the flying horses with fire coming out of their hooves, assaulting the alien space mountain and braving laser beams until they were saved by a giant cyclops, and then killing the alien lizard king with the glaive and the fires of love. No, I didn’t make any of that up.
Megaforce: Jesus Christ, did I just see Barry Bostwick i.e. Brad from Rocky Horror Picture Show, riding a flying motorcycle while wearing a skin tight body suit and a purple headband while blowing kisses to the bald headed girl from Star Trek: The Motion Picture? Yes. That happened. This is the Special Operations Force I wanted to be part of growing up and I tend to think the world would be a better place if these guys were around. They even had their own soundtrack album from an obscure 80’s rock band. Best line of the whole film, ‘Hey Ace! The good guys always win – even in the 80s’.
Space Hunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone: This is what happened when 1980’s character actors let their hair down – also has one of the most criminally underrated moments in cinematic history, Peter Strauss giving a nasty Molly Ringwald a bath in a volcano crater. It was like the Director told the gang, ‘Don’t worry about me, just do whatever the hell you want and have fun and I’ll film it’. If you don’t believe me, when Peter Strauss – a galactic soldier of fortune named Wolff – gets captured by the space Amazons and they tell him, ‘Every man who has mated with us has died’. He winks and says, ‘You know what, I’ll take that bet!’ One thing is for certain, if I ever turn into a supervillain, I am borrowing Michael Ironsides character’s name, ‘The Over-Dog’.
Dragon Slayer: Probably the most mainstream of the listings here – hell it was nominated for an Academy Award for Special Effects , this movie was an obscure collaboration between Disney and Paramount pictures. Despite the obscurity, it is actually a pretty beloved movie by most of the big names in SFF literature and film because it featured the scariest dragon in cinematic history, Vermithrax (also a pretty bad ass name). This dragon didn’t talk and certainly wasn’t cuddly, it was a vicious killer that ate maidens and burned people to death. The final fight scene between the wizard and the dragon is what fantasy dreams are made.
Flash Gordon: If you don’t love this movie, I don’t want to know you. It also proves a point which should never be forgotten – no matter how ridiculous what’s happening on the screen, all will be right if Queen does the soundtrack. Just ask the folks who did Iron Eagle.
I hope you enjoy these treasures. There are plenty of good movies being made today, but none of them are like these gems.