In Brief: Among all the awesome gadgets, incredible characters and wacky worlds that sci-fi offers us, sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are some genuinely hilarious moments, from what are brilliant comedy films. So often the genre deals with elements of the human condition, and how people adapt to unusual, or bizarre situations. experiments gone wrong, alien invasions of Earth or teenagers thrust through time to fulfill a destiny they’ve only just discovered that they have. Oh, and parody too, via the ridiculous and slapstick. In these hard times we could all do with things to keep us laughing. There’s plenty to be found here . . .
Weird Science (1985)
What would two teenage boys do if they could create the dream woman, using a computer? They’d create Kelly Le Brock, of course. As well as being the physical manifestation of teenage lust and desire, Lisa (the character name, named after an early version of an Apple personal computer) also has abilities to conjure up pretty much anything, out of thin air. Part of what makes the film work is the absolutely believable social awkwardness of the two boys. That’s very much what they are, too. The lack of maturity and wonder at actually seeing a real woman, them having no idea what to do when they get what they’ve always wanted is as realistic as it is awkward; it’s the awkwardness that makes it so plausible. These two are at the bottom of the food chain, in the pecking order of High School politics.
Looking back, this isn’t the sort of film that would be made now. Things have moved on, and the thought of a scantily clad “home”made” women being the central premise of story would more than raise eyebrows. In fairness, she does have her own mind, isn’t subjected to the whims of the two boys, and does show them up as what they are. Whilst it does that we get to go on a crazy adventure with them, and see them discover that in order to get anywhere in life you need to stand up for yourself. In a plot that is as loosely held together as some of the clothing worn, and the characteristic 1980s glitz and cheese, it’s one that has to be seen, if for no other reason than it’s an example of an era. A low brow fantasy film that only those of a certain age will call a classic. With obscenely camp clothing, ludicrous goings on, and a license to push boundaries, it’s one the like of will never be seen again. Look out for a very young Robert Downey Junior, too, as one of the boys’ tormentors.
Space Balls (1987)
Spoof at its finest. Mostly, a silly take on the Star Wars franchise, but well its there, it also pokes fun at Planet of the Apes too, and others (including a take on the most famous scene in the Aliens franchise. Bill Pullman leads the line, with the always wonderful and sorely missed John Candy as his half-animal sidekick. His quest is provided by Daphne Zuniga, as Princess Vespa, who also has a companion, the ridiculous take on C3-PO, Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers and physically portrayed by Lorene Yarnell). What use are the good guys, in a space-romp, without their counterparts, the baddies? None. That’s why Rick Moranis is cast as the evil Dark Helmet, the super silly version of Darth Vader. In may ways, a similar plot to George Lucas’ groundbreaking space romance. This time, though, saving the galaxy has to come about via some of the funniest scenes and scenarios ever to come out of sci-fi.
Mel Brookes, who else, came up with this caper. With a suitably weak plot, that’s necessary for true farce, for something like this to work takes character acting from comedy geniuses. Fortunately, there are plenty in this film. For those in the know, this is an absolute classic and required watching for any fan of sci-fi. For any newcomers, they are in for treat after treat, as they watch the greatest parody ever to grace the galaxy. It has to be said that Space Balls pulled no punches in who or what it chose to poke fun at, including endless merchandising that came from Star Wars (that is referenced by Mel Brookes’ own version of the all wise Yoda, “Yogurt”, who breaks the fourth wall to ensure that the audience gets the message, to spend, spend, spend). Quite simply a brilliantly funny classic, that still has the power to give belly laughs.
Bill and Ted (1989&1991)
Yes, these films are being classed as one. The first installment, Bill& Ted’s Excellent Adventure sees them (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) meet George Carlin’s Rufus, a figure who shows up in a magical phone box, that allows them to travel through time. He tells them of their destiny, to go on and have their music heard by millions. It’s hard for them to believe, as they’re just two High School bums, who cam barely string together a few chords. But it’s music that matters to them above all else. That’s why they’re picked. They have the spirit, and their band Wyld Stallyns are destined to do far more than just become mega-rich rock stars. They will save all of humanity, end war, poverty and show a better way of life is possible. First, they have to complete a history assignment, or none of the future will come into fruition. Problem: they both suck at history; solution: they can go back and get the actual people to help them make their presentation! Of course, things don’t go quite according to plan, and the two get sucked into a crazy adventure that sees them put in danger, as well as having a most excellent adventure. Oh, they get girlfriends too, along the way!
Two years later they’re back. They haven’t really made the progress they would have liked, with their music, their lives and certainly not academically. Ted’s dad decides that enough is enough, and if he doesn’t get the grades this year, he’s packing him off to Military School. The terrifying Colonel “Oatsy” Oats (Chelsie Ross) would be only too happy to see him there, and also tells Bill there’s a place for him, too. If this threat wasn’t enough, the boys have to face the dastardly Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland), who creates evil robot versions of Bill and Ted, and sends them back in time to kill the band, destroying Wyld Stallyns saviour status, too. Fortunately, they convince Death (William Sadler) they deserve another chance. They even recruit him, too, to help them; he ends up in the band, as bassist, too!
Over the two films, heroes are born. Two hapless teenage flunks are transformed into the sorts we’d all love to be. Yes, there’s more cheese than on a four-cheese pizza, but its of the greatest sort. Absolute escapism and a call to arms to kids everywhere who are disenfranchised with school, home life and pretty much everything, to pick up a guitar, and start telling your story to the world. If it doesn’t want to listen then make it! Hard to imagine a world without the sheer magic of Bill & ted to give us all hope. The final scene in the second movie is a truly cult moment of an era. It fights for a better way, through comedy and determination to never let go of the power of music. That’s what makes the films so memorable. Oh, and an awesome soundtrack, too. It’s going to be interesting to see Reeves and Winter return to these roles as adults, in the up and coming Bill and Ted Face the Music, scheduled for an August release date, but possible delayed due to the planet being closed for refurbishment, owing to the current Coronavirus pandemic. It’s been a long time coming, with several scripts being rejected. Supposedly, the right one was finally found. Like every other fan of a certain age, those of us who grew up with Bill & Ted are excitedly awaiting its release.
Mars Attacks (1996)
Surely no accident that this film was released in the same year as Independence Day (1996), the massive Hollywood blockbuster. that ripped up the box office. This film didn’t do quite as well (putting it mildly), but was still a lot of fun. It wasn’t an all out parody, but the White House scenes with Jack Nicholson as President were surely a nod to his counterpart, Bill Pullman. A young Natalie Portman plays the President’s daughter in this very silly romp. What it’s not short of is big names. Sarah Jessica Parker (who gets a head-swap with her chihuahua, that the aliens seem do just for giggles), Danny Devito, the then James Bond, Pierce Brosnan (his characters the world’s leading scientist on extra-terrestrials), and even Tom Jones as himself, who just happens to be performing in Las Vegas, when the little green come down and begin zapping humanity.
Every film needs a hero. Someone who stands taller at the end of the story, as the one who defeated the threat, and got things back on track. Lukas Hass’ Ritchie is the unlikely one here. He is the youngest of the Norris family, and deemed to be a failure, perpetually compared to his gun-loving older brother, Billy-Glenn, played by an up and coming Jack Black. The only member of the family who is good to Ritchie is his grandma. The rest of the family see her as mere collateral damage, when the aliens start to attack more ferociously. It turns out that grandma has a role to play, as she inadvertently discovers the single most effective defense against the invaders. With its references to the 1950s b-movies and deliberately cheap looking creatures, this film earns its spot in the popular culture archives. Tim Burton, who was at the helm, ensured that. A fun bit of nostalgia to look back on.
Attack the Block (2011)
When vicious aliens come calling, that are sort of like huge, black wolves with luminous eyes, who do you want to tackle them? The Army? The Police? No. You want what many refer to as feral youths. They’ve plenty of pent up anger, from being marginalised all of their lives. Whilst they didn’t choose to have to come up against these creatures capable of gruesome destruction, they do their best to get on the with the job. They’re led by Moses (John Boyega), who himself rapidly becomes the unlikely action hero of the hour, after a chance encounter, whilst him and his gang are busy robbing a pre-Doctor Who era Jodie Whittaker (she manages to go largely unnoticed, as usual). It’s not long before they all end up on the same side, out of desperation, having to quickly overcome their differences.
Attack the Block is clearly a comedy, at heart; yet, it manages to stitch in some serious themes, too. It does this without labouring the point, or being so sickly sweet about a lack of representation, and making tokenistic gestures as a result. Perhaps, on the surface, these depictions of working class young people is a little bit like a modern take on Dickens’ youngsters in Oliver Twist. They are at least real people though, with vulnerabilities and everyday problems. They go unsung because they go unheard of. That’s the message in the film. Mostly, we only know the images of them we’re sold. The one we buy. There’s definitely a message in there relevant to the current crisis facing the whole of the Earth’s population: take away the trappings and we’re all much more similar than we’ve come to think of ourselves. Humans find the best in themselves and others only when they’re forced to. If we can learn to laugh to laugh together, we can overcome pretty much anything. Luckily there’s lots to laugh at in this awesome, low-budget offering. A fun-filled feature, with a few fuzzy feelings to boot.