Turner Classic Movies is presenting Out of This World: A Celebration of Sci-Fi Movies, an odyssey through science fiction movies from a galaxy far, far away to not-too-distant futures.
Alicia Malone is a host on Turner Classic Movies and FilmStruck, Turner’s streaming service for movie lovers, as well as a film reporter, film critic, writer and all-around movie geek. As well as her role as host on FilmStruck and Turner Classic Movies, she is also the creator and host of Fandango’s Indie Movie Guide.
Alicia is passionate about classic films, independent movies and supporting women in film. In September 2015, she gave a TEDx talk on the lack of women in movies and why that needs to change. Because of her passion for supporting women, she was also named one of the 100 #WorthyWomen of 2016. Her first book, Backwards and in Heels, about the past, present and future for women in Hollywood was released in August 2017 and is available in all major bookstores.
She took time out of her July Classic Sci-FI hosting schedule to answer a few questions for us:
What were the first scifi films that you saw that made an impression, and how did that impact the types of films you sought out afterwards?
Alicia Malone: The first sci-fi I remember seeing was “E.T.” and like many kids of the 1980s, I fell in love with that adorable alien. Looking back now, I have such an appreciation for the dark, scary moments of the film and the way it talked about serious issues like divorce. It was also a rare sci-fi in that the alien was likable – he was not here to destroy the planet. In hindsight, “E.T.” probably shaped my appreciation for films that were able to twist the genre in unexpected ways. I also remember seeing “2001: A Space Odyssey” when I was a teenager, and I’m still confounded by the film to this day. It was definitely an early movie which showed me that film could be an experience and it was almost more valuable to not have everything explained to the audience.
What subgenres of scifi appeal to you the most and why?
AM: I love the monster movies of the 1950s – like “The Blob,” “Attack of the 50ft Woman”, “Fiend Without a Face,” “Them!” “The Fly” and “Tarantula!” On the surface, these films seem like campy fun, but in reality, they reflected the threat of a possible nuclear war and the fear of what might happen if an atomic bomb were to be set off. This is one of the reasons why I enjoy science fiction – it allows you to have difficult conversations about real issues, while also being entertained.
Which directors / writers / actors have made the strongest impression on shaping your affection for scifi?
AM: Watching “Metropolis” and “Woman in the Moon” again for the series on TCM gave me an extra appreciation for the work of Fritz Lang. He was a director who had a unique voice, incredible technical skill and was working so far ahead in terms of his vision of the future. You see a film like “Blade Runner” and you can tell how inspired Ridley Scott was, all those years later. As far as actors, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in “Star Wars” and Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in “Star Trek” were two women who really paved the way for gender and racial representation in sci-fi.
For you, do special effects enhance or distract from the story being told?
AM: For me it really depends on the film. If I don’t notice the special effects, it means they are being used in the right way – to support the story instead of overwhelm it. Sci-fi has always used special effects, but if you look at the beginning of the genre, you can see that the story is the most important part. If you have a compelling story and characters who you can empathize with, that will resonate above any fancy effects.
In this current climate of fast paced, social media driven approaches to movie marketing, what do you do (or try to do) to get younger scifi fans interested in older films and classics like ones being showcased this month? Have you run into issues trying to introduce classic stories that are almost entirely white (and may contain problematic racial, ethnic and gender stereotypes) to younger audiences and viewers of color who might see those elements as a reason to not engage with those stories, no matter how iconic they are?
AM: For me, I love to connect films through their inspirations. Every film is influenced by what came before it, so if someone loves “Star Wars” it can be fun to encourage them to seek out what George Lucas looked at to create the movie – like “Flash Gordon” or “Metropolis.” I always like to approach talking about films in an accessible way, not as a gatekeeper. Movies remain classics because everyone can enjoy them, no matter how much or little they might think they “know” about film. As for the problematic movies, all the hosts on TCM are very cognizant about putting the films into the context of the times. We don’t edit any of the movies, because it’s important not to shy away from difficult and important conversations that can arise from showing problematic scenes.
Are there any international / foreign scifi films that you would want to include in any future classic scifi discussions or showcases?
AM: I would love to do a whole series on foreign sci-fi films. There are so many that have had a huge influence on movies around the world. “La Jetee” by Chris Marker is one – it’s a short French film which consists entirely of still photographs, but tells a fascinating story. I also love Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” and “Solaris,” Jean-Luc Godard’s “Alphaville”, “Battle Royale” from Japan, the animated film “Fantastic Planet” and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “World on a Wire.”
Star Wars Trilogy (Episodes IV, V and VI): original version or special edition edit, and why?
AM: I love the original version of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” purely from a nostalgic point of view. I wouldn’t say I’m a big “Star Wars” fan, I actually saw “Space Balls” before I saw “Star Wars”, but I have such an appreciation for what George Lucas was able to do and the massive cinematic franchise he launched.
Airing every Tuesday night in primetime, each evening will explore the many realms of science fiction in cinema including creature features, early sci-fi, TCM’s network premiere of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, and a special night of moon movies in honor of this month’s 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s monumental moon landing.
July 2: A look at early sci-fi, including what is considered to be the first science fiction film ever made, 1902’s A Trip to the Moon and Fritz Lang’s influential Metropolis (1927)
July 9: Acclaimed director Frank Darabont introduces films from the 1950s, one of the most influential decades for science fiction that brought us The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The War of the Worlds (1953) and Forbidden Planet (1956)
July 16: In honor of this month’s 50th anniversary of the moon landing, TCM airs seminal moon movies such as Destination Moon (1950) and For All Mankind (1989). The night then continues with iconic creature features including Them! (1954) and The Blob (1958)
July 23: TCM travels into the 1960s with 1960’s The Time Machine and 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey
July 30: the final night of galactic travel features a TCM premiere of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) alongside Close Encounter of the Third Kind (1977) and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
For more about Out of This World, see TCM Presents: Out of This World: A Celebration of Sci-Fi Movies Every Tuesday in July