Space 1979 is a movie review feature I conceived as a new direction for this blog, and one that I might branch out with. While I have been preparing new material, I decided it was time to lay down some of my ideas, terms, and overall inspiration. This post may further serve as a link for subsequent reviews, particularly for anything that might need a more detailed explanation.
Timeline/ What Year?: As I outlined in earlier reviews, my intention is to cover science fiction and fantasy films between 1975 to 1985. This is, among other things, the period from 2 years before and 2 years after the release of the first and last movies of the original Star Wars trilogy. It also includes a number of other well-known films, notably Alien, Star Trek, E.T., Blade Runner and The Terminator. This has not and will not been an inviolable rule, but almost all considered exceptions will remain within the 1970s and 1980s. I will usually be listing the release date only, but earlier production dates will be noted if it is important to context (see "runnerups").
For the moment, I have two additional exclusions. First, I do not plan to do animation reviews in this feature, which will exclude the likes of Fantastic Planet, Wizards and Heavy Metal. I have also so far limited the field to live-action films that received a contemporary US theatrical release, so TV shows and most foreign films will not be covered. Ironically, this would exclude the inspiration for the feature title, Space: 1999.
Classification: The theme of this series is films rightly or wrongly considered imitations or "ripoffs" of Star Wars and other influential films. To better define them, I have come up with the following classifications:
- Runnerup: These were my chief inspiration for this feature. I created this category for films that were similar to Star Wars and certain other "major" films but known to have been put in production independently and/or at an earlier date. I am prepared to extend the designation to somewhat earlier SF/ fantasy films that may have influenced Star Wars and the genre in general. Examples include Star Crash and The Black Hole.
- Ripoff/ knockoff: These are by comparison inarguable imitations of more successful films. I prefer "knockoff" to "ripoff" in most circumstances, particularly where the movie shows some measure of independence and creativity, as with Battle Beyond The Stars. "Ripoff" will be reserved for films that are exceptionally hasty and crass. The egregious example in that regard is Message From Space, whose producers directly interfered with the release of Star Wars in Japanese markets.
- Evil Twin: Introduced in honor of the late Roger Ebert, this shall be treated as applicable to both "runnerups" and ripoffs/ knockoffs. The defining characteristic is that they appear very similar to much better films, yet take the underlying ideas and themes in extremely bizarre, offensive and flatly wrong directions. Of course, these problems are usually compounded by vastly inferior production values and general incompetence. The egregious example is Inseminoid, as of this writing the worst film I expect to review.
- Irreproducible oddity: This is a category I have considered for the most bizarre of the bizarre. They are for the most part the opposite of a ripoff/ knockoff, though frequently labelled as such at the time. Their primary characteristic is that they are the product of a very specific time and circumstances that could not be repeated. Many under consideration merge science fiction with fantasy and/ or horror. Examples include Zardoz, Krull, Lifeforce, Hercules (1983) and Shanks (previously reviewed on my Exotroopers blog)
At this writing, I have used or considered some secondary designations:
- Prototype: Early films of "major" writers and directors, as well as other minor/ low budget films introducing later themes and ideas. Ex Westworld, Duel, Silent Running and Dark Star.
- Mashup: Mix of multiple genres, common in both knockoffs and oddities, ex Krull and Lifeforce.
- Anachronistic outlier: Films that look and feel like they should have been produced at least 5-10 years earlier, or more disconcertingly later. This has a surprising degree of overlap with parodies. Ex Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, Message From Space, and Dark Star (again!).
Ratings: And now the fun part! I have attempted to rate movies based on a combination of conceptual creativity, production values and overall execution. On that basis, I subdivided down to the following ratings.
- Pretty Good!: A quality storyline with a unique concept, engaging characters, and good production values. Unusual ideas are presented and developed in a clear and consistent way. Limitations in budget and available technology are compensated for in creative ways.
- Downright Decent!: A good story presented with reasonable competence. Concept and execution are less balanced, with a tendency to stay within already established conventions. Additional problems may arise from plot and character development, limited or (more often) unevenly applied budget, and internal inconsistencies in concept.
- What the Hell???: Unique and potentially good concept, with questionable execution and serious overall flaws. Ideas are presented and developed in inconsistent, strange and/ or confusing ways. Further problems can include uninteresting or wholly unsympathetic characters and a problematic outcome and "moral".
- For Crying Out Loud!!!: Any and all of the problems outlined above become severe. Existing problems are compounded by dated effects, production design and story and genre conventions. Some interesting ideas and entertaining elements remain intact.
- Dear God WHY??!!: Has no reason or right to exist. The concept, development and execution are bizarre, incoherent and/or flatly offensive. Virtually all element of production are egregiously flawed and incompetent. Other issues routinely compounded by dated, exploitative and hypocritical treatments of violence and sexuality.