Wednesday, May 13, 2009

All-time great sci-fi movies of the videotape era

When it came to figuring out what to do with my life, there never really was any doubt about what I’d become—an engineer. I remember the numerous times I stoically opened those steel wind-up alarm clocks, to see what made them tick, or took apart music systems (even my VCR, when I was all of 10 years old, to find out how to un-jam that tape!). Needless to say, not all of these exploits were successful—in fact, most were outright disasters. Over the years, I left behind a sizeable wake of cannibalized motors from toys, wrecked stereo systems, and bed sheets that bore scars from trysts with 240-volt electricity (yes, there was the time I nearly got a nice domestic fire going—and we didn’t have a fireplace).

Sure I had my fair share of chastising, but through it all mum and dad did all they could to ensure that I had a steady supply of science and technology influences throughout my formative years—from the junior microscope sets, to telescopes, to electronic do-it-yourself kits. I was, indeed, blessed.

But when it came to igniting a spark of interest in the budding scientist in me, the biggest influencers had to have been movies—I believe the 80s produced some of the most spectacular science fiction movies ever created. Looking back, the fact that the special effects were nowhere as advanced as today’s productions did in no way detract the sheer innovation and soul that characterized many of those movies. Being the era of VHS (where copying was cumbersome and downloading was out of the question), every movie was treasured, and the act of watching it was a family affair, often followed by hours and days of animatedly discussing, dissecting and reliving the storyline.

In no particular order, here’s a list of what I believe are some of the greatest sci-fi movies of the videotape era. If you ever get a chance to watch any of these, I guarantee that they’ll be pure, family entertainment. And if you have a budding techie sitting on the couch in your living room, (s)he’s bound to have great memories of them in the years ahead.

Flight of the Navigator (1986)
A fascinating story about a UFO that selects and befriends a boy to help it get back home. I still think that this is one of the most amazing-looking UFOs ever shown on celluloid. Period.
D.A.R.Y.L. (1985)
Another movie that centers around a young boy, who’s the subject of NASA experiments that make him hyper-intelligent. And the best part of this movie (spoiler alert ahead!)—in the end he flies a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird—my favorite aircraft, bar none!
TRON (1982)
Conceptually, this movie was way ahead of its time—a computer geek gets mysteriously transported into a computer, and must battle his way to get out alive—by fighting against its games, one on one! This movie had one of the most spectacular effects of its time, and the action sequences (on those bike thingies, especially), were awesome!
BTW: TRON was a function used in good ol’ programming languages like BASICA, meaning TRaceON—it was used for debugging!
Return to Oz (1985)
If you liked the Wizard of Oz, you’re bound to love this movie. This isn’t a happy, bouncy continuation of the original, but instead puts Dorothy and her band of misfits in a darker, more sinister realm. Fascinating story, great characters.
Return of the Jedi (1983)
Which geek doesn’t revere this movie? This was actually the first Start Wars episode I watched, and I instantly fell in love with every aspect of it. After this movie, there was no looking back from Han Solo, the Light Sabres, and Vader.
Short Circuit (1986)
A charming movie about a battle robot that takes on human characteristics after a close encounter with a lightening bolt. Besides looking downright cute in its own right, this robot is actually quite evocative of our modern-day Wall-E.
Back to the Future (1985)
A sports car that doubles up as a time machine, hover skateboards, and a host of other cool gadgets—ingredients for one rocker of a sci-fi movie! Because of this movie, the gull-wing DeLorean was one of my favorite sports cars at the time. Arguably one of Michael J. Fox’ most memorable roles, this is one of those must-see, must-own pieces of cinemagic!
*batteries not included (1987)
Looking back, I think this is a grossly underrated movie—it’s a story about an adorable pair of extra-terrestrial robots that ‘adopt’ a tenement-full of misfits. A brilliant story, and great visual effects.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Spielberg’s magnum opus. ‘nuff said.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Answering all those questions surrounding aliens and UFOs, this movie was a complete eye-opener, and a visual tour de force of its time.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind

All images sourced from


3rdWaveInc said...

You got great collection here.
These are the all-time movies you must grab a copy.
Thanks for sharing

Geraldine said...

Hey Son,

I would give anything to once again see the glee and awe in your face as you watched these classics !! TREASURE THEM!
Ma G

Aristarkhos said...

oha! I remember watching Short Circuit and DARYL. Too cool they were. I always wished I could read as fast as the robot!
I think there is a Short Circuit 2 also.

Encounters of the Third Kind always kinda freaked me out...never watched the entire movie.

Will never forget the experience of watching ET in Sterling cinema.

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