A look back at the year 1979: the year of science fiction
It was thirty years ago. It was the year 1979, and it may be quite safe to say that science fiction movies were dominating the motion picture screen more than they ever have since. This enormous outbreak of sci-fi sensation was, no doubt, due to a little gem two years earlier by George Lucas called “Star Wars”. At the time, it was the highest-grossing blockbuster movie in the United States since “Jaws”, and literally every motion picture studio wanted to get on the sci-fi bandwagon and rake in the sci-fi cash! And so, join me now on a chronological jourey together, as we look back at the year 1979; the year of sci-fi screen magic!
“Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” (March 30, 1979) – Yes, you make have forgotten this, but before the hit series premiered on television in September 1979, it had a short, but profitable theatrical run. It was this film that served as the television pilot for the series which ran for two seasons.
“Mad Max” (April 12, 1979) – By today’s film standards this low-budget apocalyptic thriller of dystopian Australia, starring a very young Mel Gibson might fall under the independent film category. It only received mixed reactions from critics, but still managed to spawn two successful sequels.
“Battlestar Gallactica” (May 18, 1979) – Coming off of the hit show’s first season, Universal pictures released a theatrical version of the show’s original TV pilot movie. This version pretty much eliminated the Cylons and their hidden base by the end of the film and left everything nicely resolved. This release was also the last film to utilize Universal’s “Sensurround”, a very popular theatrical gimic used in the 1970’s.
“Alien” (May 25, 1979) – Director Ridley Scott called this his “angry” version of Star Wars. This first (and best) film in the franchise received critical aclaim and box office success. It made a star of Sigourney Weaver a star and is still (in my opinion) one of the ten best science fiction films ever made.
“Moonraker” (June 29, 1979) – After the success of “The Spy Who Loved Me”, the next James Bond film was supposed to be “For Your Eyes Only”. However, after the success of Star Wars erupted, even the Bond franchise could not ignore jumping on the sci-fi bandwagon. The movie bears very little resemblance (as most Bond movies do) to the original Ian Flemming novel; no space shuttle, no city in space, no ray guns, etc. Although considered very cheesy by today’s standards, it still remains one of my favorite Bond movies. It was also the first Bond movie I ever saw on the big screen.
“Star Wars” (rereleased August 1979) – Okay, the year in sci-fi would not have been complete without a limited rerelease of this little diddy. This time around, though, fans were being treated to the first coming attractions of the next film in the saga, “The Empire Strikes Back”.
“Stalker” (August 15, 1979) – Admitedly, I know almost nothing about this film. It is directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and tells the story of a grey and unnamed city near the Zone, an alien place that is guarded by barb wire and soldiers. It is the type of sci-fi story based on pure science, speculation and metaphysiscs that can be easily associated with the likes of Phillip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem.
“time After Time” (August 31, 1979) – Before scoring big with “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, director Nicholas Meyer gave us this sci-fi thriller about time travel, in which inventor H.G. Wells chases the notorious Jack the Ripper from the 19th century to the year 1979. An interesting and fast-paced thriller that could easily have been considered a precursor to “From Hell” (2001), another Jack the Ripper thriller.
“Star Trek” The Motion Picture" (December 7, 1979) – The first film in the Paramount franchise and subsequently, director Robert Wise’s last film, had been kicked around for sometime during the 1970s before it finally hit the big screen. Although it made a decent amount of money, it was considered a box office disappointment compared to its enourmous budget. And although the story and pace of the film is very slow, and even a little dull, the impressive visuals and special effects can be considered on par with “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The movie’s 1983 ABC-TV premiere was one of the first occasions in which an extended version of a film was created for television and then for the home video market.
“The Black Hole” (December 21, 1979) – By this time, it wasn’t that Walk Disney pictures had never done science fiction before (Escape to Witch Mountain, The Cat from Outer Space). But now that Star Wars had reshaped sci-fi-things-to-come, they wanted to get something on the screen, too. This was also the very first PG-rated movie by Disney. It’s cosmic and rather ambiguous ending can easily be compared to the climax of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Dante’s Inferno”.
On a personal note, I have to say that even though the motion picture industry has come a very long way in the last thirty years with the advent of computer generated special effects, I can’t honestly say that the movies themselves have gotten any better, or more fun to watch. Still, the memories of 1979 science fiction movies are thick and I still miss them!