48. Them! (1954)


by Sam Juliano

Throughout history, compassionate minds have pondered the dark and disturbing question: what is society to do with those members who are a threat to society, those malcontents and misfits whose behavior undermines and destroys the foundations of civilization? Different ages have found different answers. Misfits have been burned, branded and banished. Today, on this planet Earth, the criminal is incarcerated in humane institutions…..or he is executed. Other planets use other methods. This is the story of how the perfectionist rulers of the planet Zanti attempted to solve the problem of the Zanti misfits.        The Outer Limits, “The Zanti Misfits”

The 1963-4 science fiction television series The Outer Limits ran for a scant season and a half, producing forty-nine episodes until ABC cancelled it after was pitted against the Jackie Gleason Show.  The show’s moody textured look, eerieness and indebtedness to German Expressionism set it apart from its era’s other major anthology work, The Twilight Zone, which for all its narrative brilliance was shot conventionally.   Of course The Outer Limits was a one-hour program as opposed to the other which ran a half hour for all of its five seasons save for the fourth.  While such science fiction luminaries like Gene Roddenbery have admitted that the influences The Outer Limits exerted on Star Trek is incalcuable it can’t be argued that retrospectively The Outer Limits owes some of its own ideas to 1950’s sci-fi cinema.  Indeed the most celebrated episode in the run of the show is “The Zanti Misfits” which features ant-like, rat-sized aliens who exhibit human faces.  Representatives of this alien world by interplanetary communication ask that Earth provide a penal colony for its criminals.  Set in a California desert the show winds down with the complete obliteration of the creatures and expected reprisals, but Earth officials are quickly thanked for doing something that their own non-violent race cannot.  In the closing narration an alien spokesperson refers to Earthings as “practiced executioners.”

This theme of the total annihilation of a hostile force, also set in an arid southwestern terrain, and showcasing menacing ant-like invaders is the subject of Them!, a 1954 landmark film that is uniformly regarded as the first of the run of the “Big Bug” features that spooled out over the decade.  While “The Zanti Misfits” is patterned after Them!, the 1954 work was an encore of sorts to the The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms, in that both share a single cautionary theme against the use of nuclear weapons.  We’ve seen a more didactic use of the theme employed in films like 1959’s On the Beach, which focused on the after effects of a nuclear war, but the science fiction umbrella allows for a far less preachy approaach and one predicated on entertainment in good vs. evil mode.  Warner Brothers studio head Jack Warner, aiming to capitalize on the spectacular finantial success of Beast –made for $200,00, and grossing 5 million- doubled the budget, lengthened the running time and even gave serious consideration to color, 3-D and widescreen, though these embellishments never materialized due to their incapatability with the F/X process. Warner attempted to make Them! like Beast in scene-by-scene manner , employing the documentary style rather than embracing the monster effects of a horror film, and he even encored Cecil Kellaway’s ironic scientist from the earlier film with the affable thespian Edmund Gwenn, who is as patient here as he was when he portrayed jolly old St. Nick, but in the end with markedly less compassion. Continue Reading »


by Allan Fish

(UK 1951 81m) DVD1/2

Knight in shining armour

p  Sidney Cole, Michael Balcon  d  Alexander Mackendrick  w  Roger MacDougall, John Dighton, Alexander Mackendrick  ph  Douglas Slocombe ed  Bernard Gribble  m  Benjamin Frankel  art  Jim Morahan  spc  Sydney Pearson  sound  Stephen Dalby

Alec Guinness (Sidney Stratton), Joan Greenwood (Daphne Birnley), Cecil Parker (Mr Birnley), Michael Gough (Michael Corland), Vida Hope (Bertha), Howard Marion Crawford (Cranford), Ernest Thesiger (Sir John Kierlaw), Miles Malleson (tailor), Henry Mollison (Hoskins), George Benson (lodger), Edie Martin (landlady), Mandy Miller (girl),

Ealing comedies have long been a staple diet amongst fans of the so-called golden-age of British cinema, part of our national heritage to be cherished for ever more.  In truth, though they made a host of classics, including Passport to Pimlico, The Titfield Thunderbolt and Hue and Cry, only four stand up to real scrutiny over half a century on; Whisky Galore, The Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts and Coronets and this wonderful satire from Ealing’s greatest director, Alexander Mackendrick.  Many who associate Ealing with a cosy England that is no more often find Mackendrick’s later acerbic Sweet Smell of Success to be the antithesis of his earlier work.  In reality, there’s more than a little darkness in this earlier masterpiece, too.  David Thomson was right to point out the debts to Kafka, and it also dates a lot better than the later Boulting satires (such as I’m All Right Jack).

Sidney Stratton is a working class lad who has been thrown out of his Cambridge fellowship after some radical experiments go awry.  Finding himself eventually in Wellsborough at Birnleys, the biggest mill in the land, he manages to swindle his way into the laboratory.  When he claims to have invented an everlasting fabric, he not only antagonises the industry and unions but attracts the attention of the owner’s daughter. Continue Reading »


by Adam Ferenz

July 3, 1985. Written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan and Thomas F. Wilson.

Back to the Future is one of my personal favorite movies. I’ve seen it so many times, I’ve lost count. It is endlessly entertaining. It has also become problematic, for some, who accuse it of golden age thinking. I disagree, and will get to that in a moment. What the film is, ultimately, is wish fulfillment, and fantasy, mixed with heaping doses of humor and escapism. The adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown were a vital part of my filmic youth. So, what was it all about?

Plotwise, it’s about a high school student who travels back in time after seeing his mentor get shot to death, and ends up meeting his parents before they became a couple, and how he must navigate the waters of avoiding altering history, because, you see, his mother has the hots for him. Yep. But, more on that in a bit. In reality, it’s about consequences, about hopes and dreams. Oh, and lots of humor.

The film isn’t ultimately a deep, philosophical argument about man’s place in the universe, nor is it about the randomness of existence and chance. It would be a stretch to say that is what it is about, though it is not unfair to consider those themes while watching it. What this film is, is a pure entertainment piece. This business of making one feel joy, of laughing, of being thrilled by the events and coming to care about the characters,  which it accomplishes expertly, by keeping the story simple without ever being stupid or shallow. This is a film with a great big heart. Continue Reading »


by Jaimie Grijalba

Note: This is my last essay for the Sci-Fi Countdown of Wonders in the Dark on the first film directed by Richard Kelly. I’m very grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had to write about the three films of one of my favorite directors of all time, and may this be a testament that I want a new film by him. Any film. Thanks to those that took the time to read these essays, which are more and more personal, and may we have a wonderful top 50 Science Fiction films of all time.

Another note: This Might Contain Spoilers.

I think one of the hardest things that someone can do is trying to write about your favorite film of all time… and, yes, Donnie Darko is still my favorite film of all time at my 26 years old. It might seem childish to some, but it’s one that feels the closest to my heart in many ways, and while I’ll try to attempt to explain why, I honestly don’t want to expose myself that much, so maybe I’ll focus as much as I can in the science fiction aspects of the film, mainly because I think that it’s why it had so many votes… or is it?

For al the science and the fiction that matters, the film portrays one element that would relate directly to it: a time travel towards the end, where the main character jumps back to the moment where a jet engine is about to fall onto his room, but instead of jumping out and meeting with Frank, he laughs and stays, thus changing the future and “correcting” history, becoming a super hero and some sort of Christ like figure that sacrifices itself to save the rest from the sins of humanity, that are thoroughly dissected and exposed in the film that we just saw. That, just on the surface level, and that is if you actually think he travelled back in time, instead of “dreaming it all”, like many theories support. Continue Reading »


by Adam Ferenz

March 31, 1999. Written and Directed by The Wachowskis. Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Hugo Weaving, Gloria Foster.

What is The Matrix? Existence. Perception. Reality. Fantasy. It is everything and nothing. A construct intended to use humanity as a battery for a race of sentient machines. A battleground for the fight to free humanity from the clutches of said machines, and their minions, the Agents, lead by Agent Smith. Into this enters Neo, a young computer hacker who discovers the awful truth about mankind’s current condition. The film is as much about ideas as it is about plot.

What is The Matrix?

The Matrix is the world the machines create to trick humanity into sleeping their lives away as an energy source. When Neo meets Morpheus and Trinity, the leaders of a resistance cell, based on a ship called the Nebudchadnezzar, his life is irrevocably altered, and the course of humanity reset. One could talk about the action sequences-such as the assault on the stronghold to free Morpheus, a ballet of glass, leather coats, shiny marble floors and bullets-or the chase through the tunnels and final fight with the construct, an Agent known as Mr. Smith. But that would miss much of the point of the film, which is about dual identity. It would be easy to say that the Wachowski Brothers-as they were then known-were interested in this for personal reasons. But, the Wachowski’s were really more interested in exploring what is real and what is forced. Choice or will versus enslavement.

They accomplish this through a variety of means. Philosophical discussions. Action sequences doubling as metaphors, or very specific staging of events in order to evoke a sense of self.  Much has been made of the film’s Abrahamic roots, and while this is true, what with obvious nods like the ship being named the Nebudchadnezzar, one character being Morpheus-to change-another being Neo, “the one” or the Chosen, and yet a third, the aptly named Trinity, this is but one layer on which the film operates. Continue Reading »

(53) Akira


Bob Clark

Today, we reach one of the definitive anime experiences of the past 30 years, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. Along with that, some musings on what it means to predict the future, and what we’re best left looking forward to in all tomorrow’s apocalypses.



Screen capture from “Hell or High Water,” one of the best films of 2016

by Sam Juliano

One more week and we’ll be scraping our shoes on the foot mat of September, with the Labor Day weekend to follow shortly thereafter.  Seems like it all flew by us in record-breaking fashion, but conventional belief has always asserted that the older you get the faster things move forward.  The temperatures have been high, typical of late August, though the past week has been marginally cooler than those it preceeded.

The science-fiction countdown is just about half way completed and that too is rather amazing when you consider it seems we just launched it.  The essays have been simply superlative and a small but reliable group of commenters have been carrying their weight in some terrific comment threads.  Many thanks to all especially John Grant, Jamie Uhler, Bob Clark and Robert Hornak for their vigorous participation.  But others have been wonderful in that capacity as well.  We are now reaching the stage of the countdown (the upper half) where all the real fun should begin.

Lucille and I have been out and around the past week, though I have continued a torrid pace of home viewing, if not quite as intense as the past four.  We took in an amateur production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in a grungy and oppressively hot Manhattan back-room theater on Saturday night, and it turned out to be hugely problematic for so many reasons, but since I know those who brought it to fruition I’ll refrain from any other commentary.  I’ll leave Miller himself to turn in his grave.  This is the seventh time I have attended this play on the stage in my lifetime, and even taught it once to high school juniors. Continue Reading »


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