Posted by: Mark | September 24, 2014

Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies

Here’s a long-winded review of C.J. Henderson’s Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies From 1897 to the Present  (present being 2001).


When I was in college, I was thumbing through an encyclopedia of science fiction writers which I believe was written by David Pringle. Many of the entries were thoughtful and well-written but others seemed deliberately perverse. The writer had a definite liberal bias, blasting various conservative writers, especially Keith Laumer. I put down the book in disgust but I half-wish I’d bought it as a counter-point to C.J. Henderson’s Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies.

After finishing the book from Abbott and Costello Go to Mars to Z.P.G., I’m still not what exactly Henderson’s standards were. He gushed over Aliens3 which even the writer hated and Aliens: Resurrection with a 53% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, but hated Aliens with a rating of 98%. I still can’t figure that out but his feelings for other films was less murky.

Henderson praised Judge Dredd (1995), dismissing criticism against it as “grumbling,” but slammed Jurassic Park, describing it as “sloppy work” and “breathtakingly stupid and fairly insulting” but only lists two plot holes among his insults. The first stemmed from the park’s use of amber from the Dominican Republic to replicate DNA from dinosaurs.

“No amber brought out of the Dominican Republic has ever been found that was more than 20 million years old.”

Henderson only lists one other mistake among his chain of vitriol: a scene set in San Jose, Costa Rica has an ocean view but San Jose is miles from the ocean.

In fairness, he did mention a bad scene, not a plot point–when the truck falls down the tree– and I agree with him completely on that one but the plot holes in Jurassic Park pale compared to Godzilla (1998) in which the monster swells and shrinks between every scene. Henderson called it “a tremendously well-done piece of work, completely respectful of its source material.” I’ve heard plenty of fans describe it that way but never without sarcasm.

Independence Day is praised despite its “download a computer virus to an alien computer” plot hole (it’s true that in a deleted scene, this was explained but Henderson made a point when discussing films based on books and short stories, that it was only fair to judge what was presented on screen).

On the flip side, They Live “depends for its success on the audience’s complete and unreasoning hatred of Republicans. The film’s premise is that the American right wing is completely made up of alien creatures bent on the destruction of humanity. Those not ready to blame the GOP for every single thing that has ever gone wrong in the history of man might want to skip this movie.”

Those who have actually watched They Live or even read a brief synopsis on IMDB might want to skip the rest of Henderson’s book. Okay, that’s a cheap shot but I don’t know how to respond to a review that spends more time on a misinterpretation of a film than on the film itself. Perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern that movies where a stripper transforms into a traditional wife and the U.S. president shoots down alien invaders in a jet fighter is judged as good, but a film that suggests that the upper class don’t deserve their spoils is trash

Henderson includes The China Syndrome as a science fiction movie. How does that work? Is Silkwood a science fiction movie? Grave of the Fireflies? Perhaps the reason will come to light by Henderson’s own words:

“Chillingly bogus sentiment floods this movie as Hollywood simplistically attacks the military, the nuclear industry, and every type of big business except themselves.”

I don’t recall The China Syndrome simplistically attacking the pet food or gum industry so Henderson might be making a bit of a sweeping statement there.

“It could be considered ironic to point out that decades later, the only major nuclear accident the world has ever seen occurred in the U.S.S.R., a country whose way of doing things has often been held to be far superior to the way things are done here by the liberal set.”

Yes, that could be considered ironic if anyone connected with the film even remotely opposed American nuclear power but favored the Soviet’s. Otherwise, not even Alanis Morissette would consider it ironic.

“Science fiction is supposed to have something to do with logic and rational debate, not the self-serving advancement of a political agenda.”

Oddly enough, this sentiment was missing in the review of Starship Troopers.

Further negative reviews went to Buckaroo Banzai, Escape from New York, Aliens, and Star Wars.

So what’s better than Star Wars. Star Trek V, of course, “perhaps the second best Trek film.” This would only be even theoretically possible if there was only one other Trek film in existence.

I’ll just add one more:

Coneheads is “one of the best science fiction comedies ever written. The jokes never end, the special effects are well executed and funny to boot, and the script is smooth and seamless.”

Michael Richards, one of the actors in the film, vowed that he would refund any moviegoer who spent money on Coneheads. Now that Henderson committed himself in print, Richards can save his last seven bucks.

Commenters on lit into Henderson far worse than I am. For most of his reviews, Henderson was on target, giving thumbs up to Dark City, The Crazy Ray (1923), Brain Candy, Brazil, City of Lost Children, Laputa (Castle in the Sky), Pi, The Hellstrom Chronicles, Young Frankenstein, both versions of Little Shop of Horrors, and Mystery Men.

The book is impressively comprehensive and the foreword from William Shatner is surprisingly insightful. Henderson’s biases make me unable to recommend the book for purchase but it is worth checking out from the library.


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