Yesterday, I read a list on the fantastic web site sciencefiction.com about the five sci-fi films to share with your teen. While the list is a great compilation of the best films of the last fifty years, I could not agree with a single entry on the list. Not one. It’s a list that unfortunately takes personal preference over what an actual teenage human would want to watch or even care to sit through. Here I offer my rebuttal: The five films I would share with any teen to actually get them to love science fiction movies.
Their list: 2001: A Space Odyssey – This movie will likely kill any teenager who tries to watch it with boredom. I myself, a film buff who loves sci-fi more than most, couldn’t get through 2001 when I was a teenager, no matter how hard I tried. The film is simply too complex, too slow, too abstract to show to a teenage mind. They will hate it.
My choice: Akira – If you’re going to confuse the teenage mind with crazy visuals and an abstract ending, I’d recommend Akira. There’s a lot to speculate about the what actually happens, but trust me, teenagers will respond to the young characters trying to find their way in a world that has nothing to offer them much more than they will to apes and astronauts in business suits. Teenagers will also like the anime style they are used to seeing from late nights on Adult Swim and the freaky musical score. Most importantly, the pacing is far more on their level, especially in the first half of the film-as compared to the silent floating spaceports and slow monotone computers of 2001.
Their list: Alien – A great film, yes. No doubt. But a teenage mind will only really grasp onto the gory chest burst and the “old school” creature design. Teens nowadays don’t appreciate the latex costumes and practical effects the way we do. They’ve seen too much computer effects, even of the same alien creatures from this film. They also won’t sniff a whiff of the feminist undertones; they will simply see another monster movie in space. They’re teens, what can you do?
My choice: John Carpenter’s The Thing – All the tension, all the paranoia, all the claustrophobia and dread of Alien, but the effects of the Thing surpass in terms of sheer gore and horror. This film even has its own chestburster scene if that’s what you really wanted your kid to see, but, if you remember, this one is a bit different; in that one dude’s chest opens like a gaping maw and literally eats another dude’s hands before a head falls off, grows spider legs and crawls away. The kids will love it.
Their list: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope – WHY HAVE YOU NOT ALREADY SHOWN YOUR CHILD THIS MOVIE??? What are you waiting for? If your kid is a teenager by the time they see freaking Star Wars, its too late for them. Just abandon hope of making them a geek, because it’ll never happen. You blew it. Kids, both boys and girls, should know all the words to this movie by the time they are ten years old.
My choice: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – This movie rules, but the ear worm scene in the beginning is way too heavy for kids. Trust me. I still get the willies thinking of that scene and I’m 31 years old. But, by the time your kid is a teen, they’ll love Khan’s smooth yet menacing villainous tones and they’ll instantly get the humor behind Captain Kirks infamous “Khaaaaan!” More importantly, they’ll learn everything they need to know about friendship and altruism from Spock’s selfless actions at the climax, and it’s a lesson so dearly needed in our times. (And, yes, Star Trek Into Darkness does a lot of the same stuff but it fails to convey the same emotion or impact.)
Their List: Blade Runner – Again, this is a near perfect movie, one of the best ever to be sure. But, these kids today, they don’t respect the classics like they should. And this one is just a little too… how do I put it? It opens with a conversation about a turtle on its back. Throughout, we are presented with a bunch of creepy animatronic dolls, weird synth jazz music and Harrison Ford (their hero from Star Wars, which they’ve already seen a million times, right?) getting rough with a woman. Not sure that screams “sci-fi is cool” for todays generation.
My choice: Children of Men – I really shouldn’t have to say anything. This is the best sci-fi dystopian film of the last twenty years, hands down. It’s gritty and gripping–from the opening blast, to the long takes of street warfare, to the haunting images of lost art delicately hanging in the background. This amazing film feels more real than anything else on this list, and it’s one that any teenager can instantly obsess over.
Their list: The Matrix – The author of this list himself starts off this entry with “Let’s get this out of the way: Keanu Reeves is not a good actor and the Wachowskis are not good directors.” Okay, let me stop you there. The Matrix is a cool idea splattered on screen by a slop bucket of a production that never feels real or authentic, and is only further embarrassed by unwatchable sequels. The at-the-time revolutionary bullet dodging effects will be ho-hum to any teen today and the whole thing just feels dated, like the trench coats these “hackers” all wear.
My choice: Dark City – This film is both sublimely directed by Alex Proyas (The Crow), and amazingly acted all around by the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly and William Hurt, with leading man Rufus Sewell delivering the performance of his career. This one is probably most responsible for my love of sci-fi as a teenager. I saw it when I was 15 and it’s still one of my all time favorites. The film sets such a perfect noir mood in a sinister city that literally bends to the will of mysterious entities. There is not one single minute of Dark City that is not immensely satisfying and unbelievably intriguing. It’s the kind of film that allows your own mind to wander through the black horizons of imagination, searching out that one perfect day at Shell Beach.