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Top 10 SF/Fantasy Films of 1999
by Rick Norwood

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The Hugo Awards committee calls them "dramatic presentations" (but no Broadway play has never been nominated -- Camelot was eligible). We certainly need a name that includes both movies and television (and also direct to video). "Dramatic presentation" is one such name, although it also includes radio. (The original radio version of A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was nominated for a Hugo.) I like the word "film".

The main difference between a movie and a TV show is that a movie can flow smoothly for two or more hours while a TV program must be told in three to twelve minute bursts, with breaks that are obvious to the viewer even in a version that has no commercials. Because the movie format is more involving, it is unlikely that commercial television will ever reach the artistic heights of the feature film. However, as product placements become more and more ubiquitous, film may well descend to the level of television. And, as it becomes increasingly possible for viewers to use computers to edit out commercials before watching programs, we can expect to see future captains of the Enterprise say, "Fire photon torpedoes -- but first, a drink of cool, refreshing Coca-Cola."

On the other hand, television science fiction is more intelligent than movie science fiction. The reason? SF movies cost big bucks, and cannot risk losing people who don't like to think. There is less at stake in a 45-minute TV show, so ideas can be slipped in from time to time.

Enough chit chat. Here is my top 10 list, rated entirely on the degree of pleasure I felt while watching them.

Phantom Menace poster 1. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, written and directed by George Lucas
The most fun I've had at the movies this year. Yes, part of the fun was in the anticipation. But the sound and the colour and the music thrilled me in the same way that I was thrilled by Zombies of the Stratosphere when I was 9. That doesn't happen often enough these days.

2. Tarzan, written by Tad Murphy, Bob Tzudiker, and Nori White, from a novel by Edger Rice Burroughs
Another colourful, emotional high, with light and movement and music -- the whole reason for the film to exist.

3. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Conclusion", written by Rene Echevarria, David Weddel & Bradley Thompson, Ronald D. Moore, Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler, Spike Steingasser, and Peter Allen Fields
A satiSFying and intelligent conclusion to the best of the four Star Treks.

4. The X-Files, "Two Fathers/One Son", written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
A chilling conclusion to the X-Files mythos. Everything since has been an effort to find a new direction.

5. The Green Mile, written and directed by Frank Darabont from a story by Stephen King
Emotionally uplifting. One of the best movies of the year. But -- it left me with nagging doubts (that I did not feel while reading the book). The biggest problem is that the events of the film did not change the world. But they would have. They did the first time He died for our sins.

5. The Iron Giant, written by Tim McCanlies and director Brad Bird, from a book by Ted Hughes
All of the really great animated features have been from Disney, but this is a very good animated feature that owes more to 50s science fiction and Japanimation than it does to Disney production values and Broadway style music.

5. The Matrix, written and directed by Larry & Andy Wachowski
Visually smart, intellectually dumb.

6. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, written by Trey Parker, Matt Stoner, and Pam Brady
A fundamentally sweet, tuneful musical. No, I'm not kidding. Be honest, now. Is anyone really offended by dirty words these days?

7. Dogma, written and directed by Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith is great foreplay but no sex. All of his films (and comic books) start wonderful! And then, as he gets closer and closer to the climax, he is so worried about getting himself off (by tying up all the loose plot threads) that he forgets to make it good for the audience.

8. Star Trek: Voyager, "Think Tank", written by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga
The best Voyager episode so far, (from last season).

9. The Messenger -- The Story of Joan of Arc, written by Luc Besson and Andrew Birkin
Reviewers hated it. I liked it. See it and decide for yourself.

10. Horatio Hornblower, written by Russell Lewis, Michael Cullen, Patrick Harbinson, and Chris Ould, based on books by C.S. Forester
Ok, so it's not science fiction. Neither is Cryptonomicon, and you put that on your top 10 list.

Copyright © 2000 by Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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