I was listening to the radio while driving between meetings this week and the host was discussing the merits of the 1966 science fiction movie, Fantastic Voyage, which perked my interest greatly and reminded me quite uncomfortably why I get so tense watching sci-fi flicks to this day. Fantastic Voyage made such an early and lasting impression on me. No wonder. When I did the math, I calculated I was only five when my brothers drug me (they should have drugged me) to the Saturday matinée to watch this cold war tale of technology that can miniaturize matter by shrinking individual atoms – but only for a very limited time. The plot goes like this. A brilliant scientist working behind the Iron Curtain is the mastermind behind the incredible shrinking powers. He escapes to the United States but due to a botched assassination attempt he is left near death with a blood clot. To save his precious life, scientists, surgeons and the beautiful Raquel Welch are put into Proteus – a submarine-designed and built at the Combined Miniaturized Deterrent Forces (CMDF) facility. They are then all shrunk to one micrometer with the mission to enter the body of the injured scientist and in less than one hour remove the clot. If they don’t get in and out in time, Proteus will revert to normal size and kill the scientist. There are many tense obstacles along the way involving various human organs and disgusting human functions on the big screen. Several crew members are killed and one of the team members is really an evil doer and it gets down to just a few minutes left in the film when the survivors swim desperately to one of the scientist’s eyes where they escape via a teardrop. Hence, the basis for the movie poster artwork displayed below. They then return to normal size.
Thank goodness Cora/Raquel survived as the only female crew member or I would not have made it out of the dark theater without a quick stop at the local child psychologist’s office. Instead I calmed myself on foamy Mr. Pibb, sticky ju-ju’s and buttery, salty popcorn. This pattern of my brothers taking me regularly to science fiction movies and an occasional horror movie at an early age continued on through the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. They loved these movies and many were quite good but I longed for movies with Kurt Russel as the lead but I rarely won out in the end. Did I tell you I grew up with three older brothers and one of them was a sci-fi nerd in the same league as those young scientists in the sit-com Big Bang Theory? He went on to design computer parts for the emerging telecommunication and electronics market as well as design a device called the Transmogrifier. The inspiration for all of this later work was first imagined at the movie theatre and in science fiction writing that he consumed daily. When preparing a list of science fiction movies that marked my childhood it is quite impressive. However, much to my surprise, Kurt Russel did star in one of the movies that made this list. To cope, I often left the theatre and wandered alone to the restroom or to the snack bar during particularly poignant moments (death and dying parts for sure). Or I sat in the broken and sticky theatre seat and covered my eyes and ears. I stared at my shoes and tried to imagine myself in a quiet place where bunnies hopped and birdies twittered. Yes, I loved Bambi except for the Mamma Deer dying part. Yes, my mom took me to this one too but at least she warned me before we entered the theatre that day – and she held my hand. When you go to movies with brothers they never hold your hand as their hands are busy covering their own eyes. They aren’t as tough as they act on the surface.
Here is a list of movies I vividly remember making an impact on me from 1966 to 1979. Many I watched at the local drive-in theater with the entire family in the old family wagon (including mandatory brown grocery bag full of popcorn prepared the old fashion way – on the stove top) or during Saturday trips to Wichita for a matinée while our parents did shopping or took dance lessons. Some of these we drove 30 miles to Pratt in the 1960’s or to Topeka in the 1970’s when they were not released in our small town theaters.
- Fantastic Voyage, 1966
- 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968
- Planet of the Apes, 1968
- The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, 1969 – starring Kurt Russel
- Beneath the Planet of the Apes, 1970
- The Andromeda Strain, 1971 – particularly creepy!
- Escape from the Planet of the Apes, 1971
- The Omega Man, 1971
- Beware! The Blob, 1972 – sent me over the edge for days
- Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, 1972
- Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 1973
- Soylent Green, 1973 – Gross out!
- Westworld, 1973
- The Terminal Man, 1973
- The Stepford Wives, 1975
- Logan’s Run, 1976
- Close Encounter of the Third Kind, 1977
- Star Wars – all of them
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978
- Alien, 1979 – really! Well I was 18.
Hope these titles jar some childhood memories for you or inspire you to watch a view of these films – they are probably all on streaming by now. Maybe these flicks will get us through the government shutdown. These movie plots can’t be any more terrifying than what is playing out in Washington.