Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969) In this intriguing live-action venture from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (of Supermarionation fame), scientists discover another planet on the opposite side of the sun, which has remained undetected until now. The U.S. and Europe launch an arduous joint mission, only to discover a duplicate Earth (with everything reversed). The movie has a funky ‘60s future aesthetic, and features some excellent miniature model/effects work by longtime Anderson-collaborator Derek Meddings. It has a solid cast, but it’s hampered by an unsympathetic lead (played by Roy Thinnes). Also, not exploiting the possibilities of a second Earth seems like a missed opportunity (Even if it was populated by duplicate people, why wouldn’t the events unfold in a divergent manner?). It’s still a fascinating concept, though, well worth a look.
Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
Solaris (2002) Writer/director Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film (adapted from Stanislaw Lem’s novel) is a brooding drama, short on spectacle but long on introspection. Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) is a psychologist, sent to a deep space station orbiting a planet with unusual properties. He soon discovers how unusual Solaris is, when his dead wife suddenly returns. But is it really her, or only a simulacrum, based on his skewed memories? It’s a slow-moving, somber experience that could have benefited from some humor, as well as science fiction elements that were more than window dressing. Soderbergh does a respectable job with the material, but the overall effort seems restrained to the point where it doesn’t embrace the genre as much as tolerate it.
Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray (Region B) and DVD
Life (2017) A soil sample containing a living organism from Mars is brought on board the International Space Station, with predictable results. The crew members (supposedly the best and the brightest) make stupid mistakes, as they’re picked off one by one. If you can get past the less than original premise, it’s entertaining enough, and the alien creature is pretty cool – just don’t think about it too much. If nothing else, I have to give the filmmakers credit for the gutsy ending.
Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
Meteor (1979) America and the Soviet Union reluctantly combine forces to stave off certain destruction from a five-mile-wide chunk of rock, hurtling towards the Earth. Sean Connery and Natalie Wood lead an all-star cast of actors who are more talented than this by-the-numbers effort deserves. Released at the tail-end of a glut of ‘70s disaster movies, Meteor was a notorious flop for Samuel Z. Arkoff and American International Pictures.* The $16 million investment was the most expensive production to date for the low-budget film company, but it’s hard to see where the money went. Compared to the high standards set by its contemporaries (Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture), the special effects aren’t very special. Yawn.
* Fun Fact: The filmmakers used an avalanche sequence (borrowed from the eponymous 1978 film), which was produced by rival (and former business partner) Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. According to Corman, one review that criticized the overall quality of the effects, lauded the avalanche as the one high point.
Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
The Ice Pirates (1985) Robert Urich stars as Jason, the leader of a ragtag bunch of space pirates who plunder freighters for their payload of water – which has become a precious commodity in the galaxy. Things get complicated when Jason falls for a beautiful princess (Mary Crosby), while his crew try to stay one step ahead of an evil empire. It’s not a bad premise, but the execution is clumsy, and the jokes never rise above sophomoric levels (“Space herpes,” anyone?). It’s notable for the supporting cast, including Angelica Huston and Ron Perlman, who went on to bigger and better things.
Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
The Creature Wasn’t Nice (aka: Spaceship; aka: Naked Space) (1981) Writer/director/star Bruce Kimmel probably shouldn’t have juggled so many roles for this unfunny Alien-influenced spoof. The bored crew of a deep-space mission, led by Captain Jamieson (Leslie Nielsen), pick up some goop on an alien planet, which turns into a voracious monster. Despite a talented cast (featuring Cindy Williams as the ship’s morale officer, Patrick Macnee as a scientist with divided loyalties, and Gerrit Graham as an oversexed crewmember) Kimmel can’t save his film from itself, with limp gags and bad songs galore. It’s not the easiest movie to find, which is probably a good thing.
Rating: **. Available on DVD
Creature (1985) In space, no one can hear you sigh. American and German teams race to an alien planet to plunder untold riches at an ancient archeological site. Unfortunately for them, a nasty extraterrestrial has other ideas. The only saving grace is the presence of Klaus Kinski (for maybe five minutes of screen time), to liven things up a bit in this otherwise pedestrian Alien rip-off.
Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Tubi
Mars Needs Women (1968) Tommy Kirk plays Dop, the leader of a Martian expedition to bring back five young women to help repopulate the species. How hard could it possibly be to fulfill their mission? Apparently, it’s a Herculean task for the inept extraterrestrials, who wander about aimlessly, stumbling around a strip club, ogling a flight attendant, and bumbling into a hotel. Yvonne Craig (who apparently had nothing better to do at this point in her career) stars as a biologist, and unfathomably falls in love with Dop. The “Martians” walk around in wetsuits, and carry a speargun for a weapon (I’m guessing writer/director/producer Larry Buchanan had some old scuba gear lying around). The goofy premise should have been played for laughs. Instead, it’s all deadpan, which only makes the proceedings more unbearable.
Rating: *½. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime