We've seen the ads, we've seen a trailer, but we really have no idea what to expect from this week's release of Gamer. Except that it's directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the madmen of action cinema, and it's set in the near future, and it concerns an online game that involves mind control. Cool! If we're lucky, maybe we can figure out what's happening before a migraine sets in from all the on-screen insanity sure to be unleashed from the people behind Crank and Crank High Voltage.
Focusing on the mind control angle for a moment led me to think about all the great sci-fi movies that have played around with the idea of remote control mental gymnastics. The adolescent brain immediately seizes on the possibilities inherent in stripping unsuspecting young ladies down to the buff (thanks a lot, Zapped!), yet the more mature thinker wonders about deeper issues, like what to do with a woman who will only go out with you because you gave her no choice.
Bryan Singer wove the mind control battle between Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) into the fabric of the story. You could enjoy Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) discovering a fuller range of his powers, sympathize with the desperate plight of Rogue (Anna Paquin), admire Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), or simply try and stare through the body paint covering Mystique (Rebecca Romijn). Lurking in the background, though, was a duel between good and evil, with Professor Xavier favoring gentle nudges in the right direction and Magneto ready to wage an all-out war.
2. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Boy, it'll be hard to keep George Lucas' original trilogy off these lists for very long. We must put aside personal animosity, however, and honor the Jedi Mind Trick. "These are not the droids you want." C'mon! Hasn't everybody used that line in some twisted fashion? Hasn't the standard response to "Where are my keys?" become "Use the Force, Luke"?! Whereas most of science fiction -- both cinema and literature -- leans toward the idea that mind control is a bad thing, Lucas posited the bold premise that controlling the minds of others was actually in service of the greater good. Which is pretty scary when you think about it.
3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) / Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Two sides of the same coin, in a rare case where the original's primitive pleasures, powered by the seductive direction of the great Don Siegel and the off-kilter realistic insanity of Kevin McCarthy in the central role, are complemented by the subversive insinuations of the remake by Philip Kaufman. Each provided sly rebuttals to the political winds prevailing at the time of their release: Siegel's a slap at Joseph McCarthy conservatism in 1956, and Kaufman's a rebuke of the pious liberal, San Francisco hippy platitudes still espoused in 1978. In other words: before you cross the broad Mind Control Boulevard, remember to look both ways; you never know who might try to make you conform to their way of thinking.
What evil lurks in the heart of sleazy cable TV executives? Describing James Woods as "sleazy" is redundant (no personal offense intended -- we're talking screen image), but he's perfectly cast, because his transgressions pale in comparison to what he discovers when he goes in search of more sensational shows to goose ratings and his reputation. In David Cronenberg's bleak vision, television is the ultimate mind control device. Did you really think that plopping your kids down in front of the television for hours at a time would be a good thing?
What do you get when you mix two telekinetics? A pyrokinetic, of course, in the form of nine-year-old Charlie (Drew Barrymore, of course). Daddy David Keith is the actual mind-controller, but he plays second fiddle to his fiery daughter, who gives great stare. Gertie, what have they done to you? Later, when the young actress sowed her wild oats in public, I wonder how many people were afraid to say anything because they were afraid she might stare at them and cause them to burst into flames? Fiction, man: it's a bitch. For which we should all give thanks that, once upon a time, Stephen King was cranking out books that got right to the point.
6. Planet of the Vampires
The great Mario Bava struck terror into the hearts of men with his fable about man's inhumanity to man -- oops, wrong movie, this one is about astronauts who fall prey to a race of alien creatures who vant to suck their blood, or at least their life force, so they can possess the very useful bodies that the astronauts are lugging around with them. As Jeffrey M. Anderson wrote, "the plot and storytelling are fairly ludicrous, and it's mainly Bava's masterful invention behind the camera that makes the film work. His movement and timing provide an atmosphere that clearly wasn't there in the script." Although, we must acknowledge that the idea of mind-controlling aliens was highly original in 1935. Too bad this movie wasn't made until 1965.
7. Invaders From Mars
We'll forget the abomination of the 1986 remake and go right back to William Cameron Menzies' original. Telling the story of an alien invasion through the eyes of a young boy is a brilliant way to capture the hearts of all young boys, who already imagine that their parents are aliens and secretly wish that they were orphans, the better to idealize a life of noble suffering. (Or was that just me?) If you can pawn it all off on brain-snatching aliens, so much the better. Mike Ward of Pop Matters posted a hilariously over-thought review / essay on 50s imperialism and psycho sexuality; me, I just thought it was a cute movie with a dreadful ending.
8. Destroy All Monsters
All bow down to Ishirô Honda, also a major creative force behind Gojira (Godzilla, if you must), Rodan, Mothra, and Matango, Destroy All Monsters popped onto the hip, swinging cinema scene of 1968, daring to postulate that aliens could control the minds of Earth's most fearsome monsters -- helpfully imprisoned on one small island in the Pacific -- to try and destroy mankind. As if! Underneath all that latex, those monsters are definitely on the side of humanity, and no mind-controlling alien race will be able to turn them against us friendly earthlings ... for very long, that is. (Read the awesome appreciation at Stomp Tokyo for more insight.)
9. Village of the Damned
Ooh, those little devils, with their funny eyes and the lockstep conformity and their eerie way of ignoring their parents! Of course, I'm referring to Wolf Rilla's 1960 original, which sent chills up and down my spine -- not from fright, but from gleeful envy! I was a wee little lad, always one of the smallest in class, but what if I could control everyone with the power of my noggin? Talk about youthful fantasies fulfilled!
Sorry to repeat a title from last week's Top Ten -- Sci-Fi Deaths, weren't you paying attention? -- but even more than the blood spattering and bureaucracy run amuck, Paul Verhoeven's film traffics in the idea that dead cops are ripe to become corporate puppets, cruelly corrupting the promise that bravery and loyalty should be rewarded, not trashed into parody. Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) must fight his well-honed instincts to protect and to serve, because his masters are not worth dying for.