"Guardians Of The Galaxy" has been in theaters for a whole week now, and finding enormous success everywhere it goes. Marvel's first attempt at the space opera, it keeps, as we discussed in our review, a little too close to the studio's playbook at times, but is positively refreshing in the way that it looks and feels big, bold and different. These aren't the sterile galaxies of the "Star Wars" prequels, or the Apple Store future of J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek," this is a space that harkens back to messier visions: the Cantina Bar of the original "Star Wars," and various other oddball sci-fi movies of times gone by.
Now that many of you have caught up with James Gunn's film, you know that it's a detailed and lived-in world, full of colorful characters and strange creatures. And so, to mark the film's success, we've hopped in our spaceships and looked back at a selection of oddball, gonzo takes on space and science-fiction, from classic B-movies to more recent freak-outs. Perhaps one of these might scratch a post-'Guardians' itch? Take a look at our list below, and let us know your favorites in the comments section.
When Joss Whedon encouraged James Gunn to make his “Guardians of the Galaxy” script “more James Gunn," it wasn't just as the director of the immensely successful “Avengers” that he spoke, but as a writer/director with a storied background in gonzo, space cowboy storytelling, first with TV series “Firefly,” then with its fan-demanded film “Serenity.” Despite being an early cautionary tale in the “can TV fan clamor translate to box office $$$” argument, barely making back its production budget (see also: “Veronica Mars”), “Serenity,” like the series that preceded it, is a blast, packed with lovable rogues trading Whedonesque quips. And whatever it lacks in cinematic grandeur it makes up for with clever storytelling flourishes, shocking deaths and a most unusual villain in Chiwetel Ejiofor.
“Robinson Crusoe On Mars” (1964)
Who knows how deeply buried this movie would be if it hadn’t been picked up by Criterion and restored for a gorgeous Blu-ray edition. Thankfully it’s been unearthed, and while it may feel a little more serious than some of the others on this list, this is still a good home for “Robinson Crusoe On Mars.” A retelling of the famous Daniel Defoe story from “War Of The Worlds” director Byron Haskin, instead of getting shipwrecked on an island, this guy gets spaceshipwrecked on Mars, which probably amuses a lot of scientists out there. Wait till they see how Paul Mantee’s ‘Crusoe’ walks about with his helmet open half the time, bathes in the water like he’s in a spa, and eats those nasty ass sausages that grow underwater. He also tries to teach a monkey, his only companion, to speak English. Welcome to the gonzo club, Robinson! Nothing gonzo about Winston C. Hoch’s cinematography, though, it’s just plain fantastic.
“Galaxy Quest” (1999)
Do you know anyone who’s seen it who doesn’t love “Galaxy Quest”? Of course not, that shit is funny. And sweet and tenderhearted and affectionate toward the culture (obsessive “Star Trek” fandom) it sends up. And yet it’s a film that seldom gets the props it deserves on either science fiction lists or classic comedy lists, despite an awesome cast (and Tim Allen, who to be fair, does a pitch-perfect Shatner), all in top form. Alan Rickman gets to be funny, Sigourney Weaver brilliantly skewers Trekkie sexism, Sam Rockwell is his most Sam Rockwell and Enrico Colantoni makes an absolutely adorable alien. Oh and there is a great Tony Shalhoub turn, and Daryl Mitchell as an ex-child prodigy pilot. By Grabthar’s Hammer, we shall restore its reputation. “Galaxy Quest” is a totally cherishable sci-fi spoof, unless you’re George Takei who refers to it as “a chillingly realistic documentary.”
“Enemy Mine” (1985)
The tagline—"Enemies because they were taught to be, allies because they had to be, brothers because they dared to be”—basically sums up this movie's strange, racism-is-bad arc. What it doesn’t do, is give any sense of the weird shit that goes down in between those big plot points. Wolfgang Petersen took over for Richard Loncraine after weeks of shooting, scrapped all of the footage, moved the production to Munich, and the budget plus marketing doubled to more than $40 million in the process. Earning less than half that, it was a failure and Petersen didn’t make another film for six years. None of this gets to why it’s worth digging this one up, despite its general cheesiness and vacillating quality of special effects, but this should: Louis Gosset, Jr. plays an alien who, after befriending his enemy Dennis Quaid on a planet where they both crashed (and can miraculously breath the air), gets frickin’ pregnant spontaneously! There’s more, check it out.
“Dark Star” (1974)
If there was an award for goofiest student film set in space, John Carpenter’s “Dark Star” would surely make the shortlist, if not walk away the winner. The film plays out as if a bunch of dudes didn’t get invited to a frat party, and instead of going home, got stoned and went off to space to look for new planets. Never mind that the guys in the genre master’s debut feature are in their early 30s, and their characters have been doing the space gig for 20 years. So, they were like 12 when they started? Most of the theatrical cut features sci-fi legend Dan O’Bannon chasing a giant beachball with claws that sound like a distressed dolphin. Based on that alone, it was obviously making this list. There’s plenty more creativity in the craziness, however, so we've got a soft spot for this one. Also, the beachball/spacehopper-alien went on to inspire O’Bannon to write “Alien."
“Space Station 76” (2014)
Set in a future envisioned from a 1970s vantage point, Jack Plotnick’s debut “Space Station 76” follows a space crew as they travel and, well, bitch at each other more than discuss any kind of mission. This is no intellectual, mind-probing sci-fi film; this is about sexually repressed and miserable individuals who have to co-exist in a small space, but would rather jack off, smoke a doob, pop a Valium, or attempt suicide. The film is a cocktail of daft '70s notions mixed with a pastiche of so-awful-they’re-actually-awesome futuristic products. Patrick Wilson as the closeted Captain Glenn and Marisa Coughlan as the cantankerous Misty almost steal the show from a toy robot therapist called Mr. Bot. Almost. Also starring Liv Tyler and Matt Bomer, the SXSW film, which got mixed reviews, should be released later this year, so it’s hard to say what the future holds, but once you see it, you’ll know we had no choice but to include it.