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Best S.F. Science Fiction Movies - 2009
Invasion of the Body Snatchers|It Came from Beneath the Sea|Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home|THX 1138
San Francisco has been a peerlessly photogenic setting for thrillers, Westerns, disaster flicks, romantic comedies, war movies, and even musicals, but our cinematic self has also played host to intergalactic aliens, atomic mutants, visitors from the future, and other FX-enabled fantasy figures.
Some of the screen classics that have put the S.F. in sci-fi:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Phil Kaufman's endlessly inventive 1978 frightfest isn't just a terrific reinterpretation of a classic sci-fi movie; it's one of the few films to capture the off-kilter essence of life in San Francisco. Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and Jeff Goldblum are among the bohemians and eccentrics whose lotus-eating post-hippie lifestyle is threatened by corpus-inhabiting corporate types from another galaxy ... a clairvoyant metaphor for the dot-com drones who took over the city 20 years later. Kaufman's deadpan wit is much in evidence, and Denny Zeitlin's music and sound effects have a nervous, creepy life of their own.
It Came from Beneath the Sea
Another usually easygoing critter, the gentle octopus, takes his aggressions out on San Francisco after underwater nuclear testing gets him all cranky and radioactive. In this 1955 B-movie, stop-action mastermind Ray Harryhausen animates the gigantic squid as it tears down a section of the Golden Gate Bridge and smacks around the Ferry Building, a lengthy section of the Embarcadero, a skyscraper or two, and any San Franciscan foolish enough to get in the way of a flailing tentacle. Our very own Godzilla of the sea is eventually done in by an atomic torpedo (how ironic!), but not before we've enjoyed vintage glimpses of Market Street, Crissy Field, the S.F. Naval Shipyard, and a pre-Manhattanized city skyline.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew travel back in time in search of a singing whale that will save the future of the planet (or something). The plot is just an excuse to put everyone's favorite intergalactic voyagers into a contemporary setting, specifically 1986 San Francisco, where these 23rd-century spacemen blend right in. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy handle the patter like vaudevillians, there are exciting moments at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and (the real) USS Enterprise in Alameda, North Beach is employed to good comedic effect, and we even find out that Sulu is a born-and-raised San Franciscan.
>George Lucas' most thought-provoking contribution to the genre isn't the childish action-fantasy that bewitched a generation of boys and boy-men and spawned an empire in Marin. Rather it's the minimalist, semi-experimental THX 1138 (1971), expanded from a student short Lucas made four years earlier at USC. In a colorless, bright-white future of sedated conformity — where numbing pills have supplanted both Haight-Ashbury weed and Altamont speed — one man (Robert Duvall) feels the stirrings of love and yearns to be human. No, it isn't an S.F. movie, exactly, but you gotta love the finale in BART's then-yet-to-be-completed Transbay Tube.