So here’s an interesting thought experiment: you have been given access to the government’s top-secret time machine for the purpose of putting together the Best Science-Fiction Filmmaking Team of All Time. Whom do you choose? And why? Yes, these are the things I think about and not just because I write a column about science-fiction film. Although that does mean I get to tell you about them. Here are my choices.
This one’s the easy one: if you’ve going to pick just one science-fiction director, you go with Steven Spielberg. He can do action (Jurassic Park, Minority Report), he can do heart (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial), and occasionally he can do weird (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Artificial Intelligence: AI). He’s had a science-fiction turkey or two (The Lost World: Jurassic Park), but his hit-miss ratio in science fiction is unmatched. Not picking him for your team would be like not picking Michael Jordan in his prime for you basketball team.
ALTERNATES: Ridley Scott, James Cameron
George Lucas would seem like an obvious choice here,
since the Star Wars films and the Indiana Jones films are all
unqualified moneymakers, but outside those two franchises he’s a little
shaky (Howard the Duck, Willow), and inside those two franchises
his influence on scripts and stories don’t do the films any favors. So
instead let me suggest a dark-horse candidate: Gale Anne Hurd, who
produced some of the most significant science-fiction films of the eighties
and nineties (notably Aliens and the first two Terminator films, directed by
her former husband James Cameron) and whose other films in the genre
are either enjoyable (Tremors) or profitable (Armageddon). She knows
her way around science fiction.
ALTERNATES: Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, George Pal
Kasdan and Leigh Brackett worked on only one science-fiction movie
together, but that movie just happened to be The Empire Strikes Back,
the best written of the Star Wars films. Kasdan brought in emotional
resonance, while Brackett, the co-screenwriter of Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo
and Big Sleep, brought in snap and a tough-edged sensibility.
Between them they could handle whatever story you needed.
ALTERNATES: David Koepp, David Webb Peoples
John Williams. When you consider that more than half of the movie music that
people can hum from memory comes from him, this isn’t even close. Five
Oscar wins and over 40 nominations also make for a strong case.
ALTERNATES: Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman
Science-fiction film has been perennially strong in this category, with
nominations coming in from the thirties on and several wins, including
Vilmos Zsigmond in 1977 for Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Mauro Fiore for Avatar just last year. My A-team selection for this category, however, is
Allen Daviau, who gave E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial its distinctive look (and was nominated for
an Oscar for it) and who looked through the camera for several other
Spielberg and/or science-fiction films. He’s an essential part of the
equation when people think of the Spielberg look.
ALTERNATES: Geoffrey Unsworth, Jordan Cronenweth
this field it would be easy to pick someone from the Star Wars or CGI
eras of effects, but this is one field where I personally would go old school and pick stop-motion-effects master Ray Harryhausen, who made
special effects amazing largely during a time when the advanced
processes we take for granted today weren’t available. From 1953′s Beast From 20000 Fathoms to 1981′s Clash of the Titans, he did
spectacular work. One can only imagine what he would have done with the
technology he’d have had access to today.
ALTERNATES: John Dykstra, Phil Tippett
Baker won the very first non-honorary Oscar for Best Makeup, in 1982 (for An
American Werewolf in London), and picked up five more since, including
ones for Harry and the Hendersons, Ed Wood, The Nutty Professor, and Men in Black. Makeup for Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope? His, baby. Another easy choice, although there are Stan Winston partisans out there.
ALTERNATES: John Chambers, Stan Winston
And you ask, What about actors and actresses? I’m saving them for another column on another day. Till then!