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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Top 10 Visuals in 50s Sci-fi

A reader had asked what I thought the 50s best sci-fi visuals would be. There were so many, it was not easy to pare the list down. Doing so, however, was an interesting exercise. Like the Titanic, with too few lifeboats to save everyone, if you had to pick JUST TEN, which would they be? Top Ten lists are, by nature, subjective, so this is MY list. Use the comments feature to share your top ten best 50s sci-fi visual moments. Mine are in chronological order, not greater-to-lesser.

1. Destination Moon 1950 -- The sweeping moonscape vista paintings by Chesley Bonstell were magical. Many other offworld landscapes would come, in imitation, and dilute the impact. But, in 1950, they were powerful visuals. The space-walk scenes were captivating too, for their earnestness.

2. Invaders from Mars 1953 -- The slightly distorted sets gave this movie a subtly unsettled feeling. The forced perspective of the path & fence set was quietly surreal. The curiously tall, spartan and high-contrast interior of the police office contradicted the usual safe and secure mood. The whole disappearing into the dry sand pit scene, with the harshly discordant vocals was a scene impossible to forget.

3. War of the Worlds 1953 -- The gathering and throbbing hum of the heat ray "cobra head" and blasting of the three men, was one of those benchmark visual moments. The rise of the first swan ships from their glowing craters caused goose bump. The swan ships' slow and relentless blasting of the city was captivating. To be sure, many later movies would have their aliens blasting cities, but this was a powerful first for American audiences -- to be on the wrong end of big guns.

4. Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954 -- The gill man himself is an iconic visual. His image was powerful enough to spawn two sequels and numerous copies. But, it is the underwater scenes are the eye candy. The cinematography and clarity create an alternate world in which the gill man is at home.

5. Gozilla 1954 -- There were so many spin offs and poor copies of the scene, that its value has been debased into kitsch. But in 1954, when Godzilla rose from the sea and began laying waste to Tokyo, it was a powerful image.

6. Conquest of Space 1955 -- The magic and wonder of Chesley Bonestell's art was brought to life in the many shots of the giant wheel space station and winged Mars rocket. These and the vistas of Mars provided visual treats which helped carry a less grand plot.

7. Forbidden Planet 1956 -- Easily the most visually rich sci-fi of the decade, there were many captivating visuals. The vistas of Altair 4, Robby the Robot and vast underground Krell facilities. It is the battle of the Id monster, however, which is the most memorable moment.

8. Earth vs The Flying Saucers 1956 -- The plot and premise were fairly par for the course. It was Ray Harryhausen's stop motion flying saucers that stole the show. Particularly impressive, was the final scene in which the crippled saucers were crashing into Washington DC landmarks.

9. Incredible Shrinking Man 1957 -- Where the first half of the movie visually commonplace, the second half is another world. The "basement" sets were captivating. Giant matchboxes for Scott to live in, thread as rope, a cliff of dried cake for food and a giant spider enemy: it was a convincing other world within our own.

10. H-Man 1959 -- Blob creatures were not new when H-Man came out. What Honda and Toho gave us was a more insidious monster. It oozed along walls, took a gelatinous human-like form, but then could liquify itself and run down a storm drain. The visuals of all that were well done and intriguing.

Well, there you have my top ten visuals. What would your top ten visuals list include? Use the comments to share them.


Mike Scott said...

Quote: What would your top ten visuals list include?

You took all the good ones! ;)

I suppose I could add KRONOS stomping across the countryside and sucking up all the juice at the power plant, or the attack of the brain creatures in FIEND WITHOUT A FACE, or the close-ups (in the cave) near the end of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS as unforgetable imagery.

Nightowl said...

Quote: "You took all the good ones."

Hehe. That was sort of my goal. :-) I had Kronos and the brain things from Fiend..., but they didn't seem -more- powerful than those on the list. Body Snatchers was on the list for awhile. It has a more overall visual impact than any one scene. Although, that said, the scene with the pod body lying on the pool table always stuck in MY head.

Darci said...

Instead of Invaders From Mars, I'd cite the scene in 1955's This Island Earth where the Zagons bombard Metaluna with meteors.

Instead of Godzilla, I'd cite 1953's The Beast from 20000 Fathoms. Ray Harryhausen trumps suitmation in every way.

Instead of the basement sequences in The Incredible Shrinking Man, I'd cite Scott's encounter with the sparkling cloud in the opening scene on their boat.
Thanks! Keep up the good work!

Nightowl said...

Those are good visuals too. We all have our favorites. :-)