The great site io9 posted a fun '80s sci-fi nostalgia piece today titled "The 1980s was when science fiction franchises got big." Okay, so it has a clumsy title, but it runs down the various science-fiction franchises that flourished during the Decade of Decadence and hits all the high notes such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Back to the Future, and various successful sequels.
All well and good, but what about all those other films and TV shows? The less mainstream ones that make older geeks squee internally with delight like an obsessed Twilight fan whenever someone remembers them in an obscure pop-culture reference on animated shows like Family Guy, Robot Chicken or The Venture Brothers? Well, as you might expect, here are some of my personal favorites...
This 1984 cult classic starring RoboCop's Peter Weller and John Lithgow was only made for $12,000,000 but has more charm and heart than most movies with three times the budget. The lead character, Dr. Buckaroo Banzai, is a top particle physicist, neurosurgeon, race car driver, rock star and comic book icon who, with the help of assorted characters called the Hong Kong Cavaliers, has to save the world from the nefarious Dr. Emilio Lizardo and a group of interdimensional aliens called Red Lectroids from Planet 10. Thankfully, the film embraces the pure absurdity of such a premise and is one of the more purely fun and entertaining movies you'll ever see. As if this isn't enough of a reason to see this movie, rounding out the cast are Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Clancy Brown and Alias' Carl Lumbly.
Probably best known as "that show Courteney Cox was in before she was in Bruce Springsteen's 'Dancing in the Dark' music video," Misfits of Science debuted in October of 1985 on NBC and lasted a whole four months before being cancelled after fifteen aired episodes. It was, however, was one of few 80s superhero shows on television (Think Heroes if it was directed by John Hughes and didn't take itself so seriously) and one that had an offbeat, quirky appeal. Unfortunately, you can only watch this fun and now horribly-dated series via the magick of the Internets, but I think it's worth the effort, if only for the sake of curiosity.
Hmmm...Looks a little familiar, doesn't it? Even at the age of fourteen, I was aware of how much this 1983 ABC series by Battlestar Galactica creator Glen A. Larson ripped off the original Tron film but I didn't care too much. All I knew was, Automan looked cool, it had a superhero vibe to it and it involved computers, which meant I was watching it regardless of how bad it was. Oh, and it was pretty bad, lasting all of twelve aired episodes. Still, Automan had a sweet ride in the Autocar, which was shaped like a Lamborghini Countach and could turn on 90-degree angles. On the downside, he had Desi Arnaz, Jr. as his human sidekick.
Yeah, I know, the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey barely holds a candle to the original, but part of me actually prefers 2010. As we know now, this 1984 Peter Hyams film managed to completely miss the target of how the real 2010 turned out, but I still find it interesting to watch as long as I keep the context of the year it was made in mind. It has some great performances by Roy Scheider, John Lithgow (see above) and yes, a much younger Helen Mirren as a Soviet cosmonaut. 2010 also has the benefit of explaining what the hell happened in 2001 and turning what was essentially an art film by Stanley Kubrick into the first of a two-part saga. Highly underrated, in my opinion, and definitely worth another look if you've seen it already.