back to article 1980s sci-fi movies: The thrill of being not quite terrified on mum's floral sofa

2017 saw two major cinematic milestones of different extremes. One was the mega release of Blade Runner 2049, the originally unplanned sequel to, yes, Blade Runner. The other was the more overlooked anniversary of the vastly smaller Tron. Blade Runner 2049 review: Scott's vision versus Villeneuve's skill READ MORE They were a …

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re Lovely lovely Sci-Fi.

https://metv.com/lists/15-forgotten-science-fiction-tv-shows-of-the-1980s

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Flame

Also you don't talk about Series 4 of Airwolf.

Blue Thunder was better than Airwolf (any series) anyway.

A young Dana Carvey as JAFO as I remember.

(Icon for the incoming flames from Airwolf fans)

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Anonymous Coward

These spectacular movies became ours to keep

er... no, not legally "ours". See the licensing terms! :D

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The Thing...

We watched 1982's The Thing just the other night on telly and it STILL creeped me and 'er indoors out.

Incredible.

The other thing (ha!) that impressed me was the quality of the film, considering when it was filmed. The picture quality was excellent. I'm guessing it has been up-scaled and re-mastered?

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MJI
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Re: The Thing...

If the original is good, high quality copies are possible.

There are good transfers of 1960s stuff.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Thing...

I'm guessing it has been up-scaled

If the original was real 35mm film there's no need to upscale, it's already UHD quality, or possibly better depending on the film/lens.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Thing...

"We watched 1982's The Thing just the other night on telly and it STILL creeped me and 'er indoors out."

The "Quatermass and the Pit" original BBC TV serial (1958) was really scary in black&white on a very small screen. In later years they revealed how they did the special effects in real time by quite simple means. Not sure if the programmes would have been filmed completely first - or just some scenes were inserted into the usual live drama broadcast.

The BBC TV 1954 serial of Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" had some terrifying moments too - with minimal props.

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Re: The Thing...

The BBC TV 1954 serial of Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" had some terrifying moments too - with minimal props.

OK, so totally off-topic, but back in the 1980's a friend took me to see "The Woman in Black", in the Fortune Theatre in London soon after it opened (it's still running AFAIK, which says something). No fancy effects, just very clever stagecraft. I know that there were just two men on stage, with some odds and ends like a hamper & a hatstand, but I remember seeing the stagecoach crossing the moor to the old house. They built up the atmosphere so well than when the lights went up for the interval, suddenly revealing the ice-cream seller standing at the end of the row beside us, the girls in front of me practically fell out of their seats in fright.

As for the subtle final twist, the realization that only sinks in as you're leaving, the hairs on the back of my neck were still standing on end as we got to the street.

No need for effects bar some carefully chosen sounds, or visual tricks, just a plot & skilled actors.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Thing...

"No need for effects bar some carefully chosen sounds, or visual tricks, just a plot & skilled actors."

The original Victoria Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent had a stage that was surrounded on at least three sides by the audience - really close. They did a Hamlet - staged as a modern Police State. Minimal props - the grave digger scene was an interesting construct.

For the ghost they played a thumping heart beat sound. You never knew down which radial aisle the extra-tall figure would appear from behind the audience. I swear they also turned the air conditioning to really cold - there were certainly goose bumps when you realised the figure was silently standing by your seat.

When I do my Halloween tableau - I always start with the classic tropes as people approach the door: thunder & lightning; the opening chords of Toccata & Fugue; sound of a chainsaw - finally a steady loud heart beat.

When the door opens to show a mannequin with a chainsaw there is often a real scream from teenage girls. Their doing that triggers the sound activated wriggling large spiders to drop from the ceiling over their heads - more screams.

Young kids seem to take it in their stride - possibly it requires cultural learning.

There is a video here. Exposure is a bit bright as couldn't get some of the detail otherwise - and the camera was not very good at auto-focus in that light. Next year the problem of the door not always opening automatically will have been fixed.

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Re: The Thing...

Well, *that's* got me intrigued. Maybe I'll take the misses for a weekend aht in the smoke...!

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Re: The Thing...

'If the original was real 35mm film'

I saw a projection of a 70mm print a few years ago, so I would assume it was originally filmed in 70mm and it is not much of a surprise that a good quality source would be available to be digitised.

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Re: The Thing...

I don't think it was shot in 70mm or 65mm, as it's expensive and the cameras are bulky. Effects shots of the day were sometimes shot in large format, as the extra resolution was more forgiving of the multiple exposures.

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Re: The Thing...

The "Quatermass and the Pit" original BBC TV serial (1958) was really scary in black&white on a very small screen. In later years they revealed how they did the special effects in real time by quite simple means.

A lot of it was just the directing and acting, in my opinion. I haven't seen Quartermass and the Pit in decades, and I can still picture characters crouching in an alley as the wind blows rubbish about them. It's a cinematic cliche, but the scene in QatP is the one that sticks with me. It was done very effectively.

The effects were nice, for the time, but they supported the actors rather than displacing them.

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Re: The Thing...

"[...] but the scene in QatP is the one that sticks with me. It was done very effectively."

In the original TV serial - the wildly wriggling "electrical cables" on the excavation site were done by compressed air escaping through many holes in hosepipes. The "pulses" in the gravel underneath the prostrate man's hands outside a vicarage were done with motorised caterpillar type tracks under the surface.

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MJI
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Terminator

80s Sci Fi

Yes a high point, I rented a lot. Saw loads, even got a fully loaded VCR with HiFi sound (cost me £800 as well, from Sony, best 1/2" domestic VCR in UK).

However I did rent them all in Beta, most transfers were pretty good as most were duplicated rather than printed.

Remember takling a portable VCR and Robocop to a film night and making one lad sick as he was very squeamish.

Yes some tapes were magnetically contact printed.

The Icon, I prefer the first film, first saw rented at home.

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Re: 80s Sci Fi

The rental tapes used much higher quality stock than consumer (confirmed by a friend who worked at 3M). I bought a few ex-rental tapes and they were usually better than freshly bought consumer prints.

Phil.

Another Sony VCR user - that thing could play video from a slice of toast. How the mighty have fallen!

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Say what?

I can't believe no mention of 2001 or Alien.

The reason that Star Wars worked was the expertise at Pinewood and there's a long legacy of talent there, from early modelling work on WWII movies, the Gerry Anderson puppet series then 2001 and Kubrick's obsessive nature pushing the production crew to make the scenes look believable. Anderson's UFO and Space 1999 kept model makers employed and available for Star Wars work between shoots. Alien because as important as Blade Runner is, it was Ridley Scott's experience of creating Alien that informed the "used" look of Blade Runner.

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Re: Say what?

No mention of the stop-motion stuff produced by experts like Ray Harryhausen either. Perhaps more fantasy than SciFi, but still excellent 60s fare.

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Re: Say what?

"Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" was filmed at Elstree Studios and Shepperton Studios, not Pinewood, both of which are just on the edges of London.

In fact, all the other episodes were also filmed at Elstree among other London studies until "The Force Awakens" - the 1st Star Wars movie to be filmed at Pinewood.

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Re: Say what?

I can't believe no mention of 2001 or Alien.

Those films weren't from the 1980s

2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968, and Alien in 1979.

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Re: Say what?

"Elstree Studios and Shepperton Studios, not Pinewood, both of which are just on the edges of London."

All three are on the edge of London. Elstree and Shepperton are inside the M25, Pinewood is just outside.

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Re: Say what?

"Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" was filmed at Elstree Studios and Shepperton Studios, not Pinewood"

I didn't say that it was filmed at Pinewood. Pinewood was the studio responsible for Space 1999 and others. This link explains (some of) the relationship. People move between studios for this sort of work because it's specialised and intermittent.

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Re: Say what?

"Those films weren't from the 1980s"

So were the films mentioned: Trip to the Moon, Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope from the 1980s?

BTW, you missed the opportunity to snipe because I missed the fact that 2001 is mentioned, en passant.

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holographic screens, talking computers and flying cars

These things existed in sci-fi long before the 1980s. It is tempting to think that the decade you grew up in invented everything but the author should leave that to millennials and instead watch some of the many excellent sci-fi films made between 1920 and 1979.

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"from beyond"

Or any other Jeffrey Coombs movie from that era, always a treat!

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But all said and done,

Blade Runner 2049 is still shit.

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Anybody watched The Dark Crystal?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dark_Crystal

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Sure. I'm still hoping for a Director's Cut that includes several more hours of the Mystics strolling along, with the occasional one bursting into flames.

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ILM

The great crime of ILM was to convince the audience that Special Effects (or 'SFX') was something to pay attention to.

Before that, special effects were designed to persuade us (with our connivance) that the grey blob in the corner was a Zvarggg (because that's what the hero called it). We suspended our disbelief - because we were part of the story-telling process.

But Star Wars and others showed these flashy inventions, and demanded that we notice them and gasp at how well they were done - often losing track of whatever story was going on, while we marveled at the latex.

This self-congratulatory attitude has persisted into the CGI era, where we're supposed to go 'wow' over a ground-breaking portrayal of shaken hair-styles.

It is not an accident that this panegyric deals almost exclusively with effects - with hardly a mention of story.

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Re: ILM

21st Century Doctor Who gets to use modern SFX, but doesn't have the budget to go overboard on it. Gives quite a good balance (IMHO) without giving the viewer time to dwell on them and spot the joins.

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Alien

Klaatu barada nikto

I know what i like.

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suspension of disbelief

.. does the job with wonky SFX.

CGI / motion capture stuff may give some phenomenal visuals but I can still really enjoy old SF stuff where SFX looks dismal by modern standards (e.g. 2001, Silent Running from late 60s and early 70s)

So long as the storyline & characters engage you, shonky SFX are easily overlooked and you just go with the flow

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Alien

Hey, don't forget the three even-numbered Star Trek movies, which were also from the 80s

While episodes 1 was from 1979, and III, and V never happened :)

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Blockbuster,.....

.... so I did a bit of googling,.... Blockbuster bought 'Ritz' who I do seem to remember being a member of at some point (around '89, when they were bought, I guess the rebranding didn't happen over night?), although I recall renting tapes from a variety of independent outfits for the most part, don't think I was a Blockbuster customer until '99.

In the mid 80's I had a Saturday job at Woollies,.. was shocked at the prices when we started selling pre-recorded VHS movies,.... 'Jaws' for £30, which was a lot of money.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Blockbuster,.....

" 'Jaws' for £30, which was a lot of money."

The initial UK high street video rental shops seemed to be independent operators. Only bought one pre-recorded VHS tape in the early 1980s - the film "M*A*S*H" for GBP49.99. What's the equivalent now - GBP176? It still plays.

The local TV repair shop invested heavily in the Philips Video 2000 system. Several years later they tried to play some of their archived tapes - and they all shed their oxide coating.

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Re: Blockbuster,.....

Oooh, video 2000,..... the tape that played both sides! For whatever reason,... I recall my local flea pit video rental place almost adopting video 2000, it was about two shelves of one rack, not a great choice to be had. My friend and I scoured such places for sword 'n sorcery films, Conan, Beastmaster, Deathstalker, Ator the Mighty Eagle, Krull, Hawk the Slayer, The Sword and the Sorceror... and eventually scraped the bottle of the barrel when we rented two different films, made at the same location with the same props, one being 'The Warrior and the Sorceress', the other might have been 'Wizards of the Lost Kingdom' although I wouldn't stand by that,..... either way 'Bright' made recently by Netflix was a much better movie, and I didn't have to walk five miles to return that one after. Amazing how much people moan these days, when they have far more choice and far higher quality entertainment. Although the quest to find the tapes in the first place was perhaps part of the entertainment. : -)

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Re: Blockbuster,.....

... we rented two different films, made at the same location with the same props, ...

The Japanese pioneered that technique with the "Godzilla" movies - which are still more entertaining and a good deal less retarded than the US remake!

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MJI
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Re: Blockbuster,.....

Recently recaptured some Beta tapes from the 1980s and 90s, they held up VERY well, some camera footage from mid 80s held up very well.

The DVD below has 3 qualities of footage, some in Vhs and captured with wrong field order (very jittery), lots of decent SD footage (guessing DV or industrial kit), and some of my Beta stuff, carefully captured with correct field order. Played back on the VCR which recorded it.

https://www.dukevideo.com/prdDEMDVD293/Preserved-Lines-Gloucester-and-Warwickshire-DVD

I used good quality tapes (last few Sony Pro-X L500) in a F1 portable.

Most of my camera footage is on my 1TB drive D now

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Can't believe nobody's mentioned Star Trek II - IV (let's not talk about V). Also, the '80s undoubtedly had the best Transformers film.

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Anonymous Coward

ST V is a great film.

Just, it touches religions and tells god is a fake, and a criminal also. No surprise in retrograde theocracies like US, and not only there, it was seen like an insult.

I really like Kirk refusing to sell his brain like everybody else - even Spock!-, and avoiding the kind of mental drug the brother of Spock delivers.

When he asks "why does God need a spaceship?" (I never seen it in English, hope it's alike what he said), it's priceless, it's the Men who thinks and refuses to believe blindly in whatever faith is used to deceive Him.

That's great Sci-Fi - using a futuristic setting, still asking timeless questions about Mankind, and our real future.

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I know why the 1980's were the highpoint of Sci-Fi filming (and indeed films in total). Because it was prior to the great screenwriter massacre of 1991.

You see in January of 1991 all the best screenwriters in Hollywood got on a bus to go down to Tijuana to watch the cockfighting and take their minds off Kuwait. Lots of tequilla shots (and Bolivian marching powder) were consumed along the way and someone had the bright idea of sharing with the bus driver. The resulting plunge over a cliff and firey bus explosion removed every ounce of writing talent in Hollywood and we've had to suffer from remakes and TV-show conversions ever since.

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"Noting awful tropes that they would take care to avoid"

If they were actually doing that, every damn movie that has any sort of special effects wouldn't have that stupid scream in it.

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Seriously, No-one has brought up Babylon 5? Bad CGI great storyline has this entire series disappeared from the collective ?

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Because it was the 1990's?

And TV?

And shyte CGI was the rule for 1990's Sci-Fi TV. Like SeaQuest. And Space: Above & Beyond

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Alien

Upvote for referencing Space: Above & Beyond.

Nuke the Chigs!

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Seaquest was nothing more than STNG underwater, I cringe whenever I witness an episode of NExt Gen, all politically correct and bad hair.

Now Space Above and Beyond held so much promise, it was a proto BSG reboot, with gritty storylines, could have been a better story than that Hokey Star Trooper movie..

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Thunderbirds?

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what a lot of clamour for one comments section! why dont we all pop over to

https://moviechat.org/bd0000029/Science-Fiction

where we can discuss all these ideas in proper separated out threaded pattern.

Up with dystopian post apocalptic vision!

Down with any superhero related bullshit!

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Falling for the pedant bait

"Marty McFly and hoverboard in Back to the Future"

Back to the Future II, I believe.

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Ready Player One

How can this story make no mention of the impressively 80s-popculture-tastic novel, soon to be released as a film. I was treated to the trailer before watching the new Star Wars, and it was practically the best bit of that cinema trip

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