Mar 9 2011 11:16am

Lost in Space: My Dark Secret

I’ve been watching the previews for Battle: Los Angeles with what I can only describe as “gleeful anticipation.” Explosions? Check. Aerial shots of missiles detonating in the atmosphere? Check. Aliens? Check. It’s an embarrassing problem, for someone with delusions of grandeur and intellectual pretensions that rival any bespectacled Brooklyn-born gentleman author: I love, passionately and without reservation, truly terrible space movies. In the same way I’ve finally worked up to being able to unashamedly haul Dragonlance books on the L train (sometimes you just have to reread them, no matter the social situation) I can at last admit it openly.

Armageddon makes me cry. Every time. (“Daddy, no!”) Independence Day I have seen so many times I know whole sections of it off by heart. (“Yes, yes, yes, without the oops!”) I didn’t just watch the Keanu Reeves remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still; I enjoyed it. Ditto Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds butchery (a.k.a. “The Movie that Everyone Else Forgot.”) I’m not totally without dignity: I skipped Skyline, after all. But I made up for that exercise of good taste by voluntarily watching 2012 (apocalypse can sub in for aliens in a pinch). More than once. In the theater. And come on, Signs isn’t THAT bad.

I wish I could chalk it up to some uncontrollable yen—a happy childhood association, or something. (I did first see Independence Day in the theater with my dad, but it was my idea, and I was seventeen, so I don’t think that counts.) Maybe I watched Batteries Not Included a few too many times! Maybe witnessing the seminal dinner-table scene from Alien at an early age (that babysitter so got fired) scarred me for life! A youthful obsession with Milla Jovovich’s hair in The Fifth Element certainly didn’t hurt—not to mention a persistent Gary Oldman fetish, even as weird as he was in that movie (you’re going to laugh me out of the room when I admit I still have a special place in my heart for Francis Ford Coppola’s lugubrious and ludicrous Dracula).

I could blame the original Star Wars trilogy, which, like many people my age, I’ve seen more times than I can count; but those movies are actually good, so it makes sense to love them. Same with Flight of the Navigator—sure, it’s hokey, but it’s still got plenty of charm, and little David’s journey through space and time has just as much resonance and pathos twenty years later as it did when I first watched the movie as a seven-year-old. Aliens is, of course, one of the greatest movies ever made (not to mention what is probably the most feminist action movie in cinematic history)—but again, that movie is indisputably one of quality. None of that explains this bizarre compulsion to watch more and more awful films, as long as they include alien battles, interstellar explosions, or space travel.

It would be nice to attribute this unsightly affliction to some factor outside my control—trauma, genetics, chemical dependence. But the truth is I love terrible space movies of my own volition and on my own recognizance. I love them despite questionable-at-best gender politics, often overt racism, and straight-up stupidity. I love them despite their transparent plays on the most dubious aspects of American mass culture, their shameless wild-eyed nationalism, and their frequent invocation of “old-fashioned” American values that never existed. Who can forget that epic multicultural photomontage of the President’s speech in Armageddon, with its Wyeth-esque shots of dusty small towns and soda fountains interspersed with images of rapt, weeping global citizens and Liv Tyler gazing proudly at her wedding ring? You could write a doctoral thesis deconstructing just those two minutes, slo-mo shots of proud-looking white guys marching toward their spaceship and all. And of course, it’s always white guys, unless it’s Will Smith.

And yet. I go to see these movies in the theater, sometimes repeatedly. I rent them so many times I’ve paid their purchase price ten times over—but of course I can’t BUY them; since owning them would be tantamount to admitting that it’s not just a passing thing, it’s a real problem with no visible solution. I’ll say all kinds of cantankerous things about bad science fiction books—“Terrible characterization,” I’ll snap, or “No worldbuilding!” or “This plot makes no sense!” But don’t even TRY and tell me Armageddon is an awful movie, unless you want to rumble. There’s no logic to it—I categorically refuse to watch, for example, Transformers; but set it in space and I’ll be queueing that trainwreck faster than you can say “Netflix.”

Like they say, the heart wants what the heart wants. In my case, apparently, the heart wants a laptop-sporting Jeff Goldblum or a whole lot of Bruce Willis making noble faces in a variety of scenarios. If you’re taking requests, Hollywood, please add Katee Sackoff. Or at least a couple of dinosaurs.

The Rejectionist is a freelance writer and aspiring vampire-about-town. She blogs at

1. SuzanneJohnson
*poking head out of closet* I watch "Armageddon" every time it's on. And cry. Only seen "2012" twice, but that restraint was recently cancelled by my fourth viewing of "The Day After Tomorrow." I'm also secretly fond of "Dante's Peak." Well, not so secretly anymore.
2. cmpalmer
This article makes me happy because I thought I was the only SF fan in the world who liked some of these movies. I can recognize when they're silly and hokey. I can pick holes in their plots and critique their science, but...

I think Armaggedon is a horrible movie, but I enjoy watching it (and, embarassingly, get emotionally involved in it despite the silliness). I think Independence Day is the best B-movie ever made, virus uploading scene or not. I think 2010 would be considered one of the better hard SF movies ever made if it wasn't compared to the perfection (and, yes, arty pretentiousness) of 2001. And how can anyone not love The Fifth Element or Alien and Aliens?

The only one I disagree on was War of the Worlds. Nothing about it clicked for me. And for some reason, I haven't seen the Day the Earth Stood Still remake, although I have a suspicion that I will like it.
3. RobJ
The next Transformers does have a "space" element to it. You in?
4. cmpalmer

Oh, you said 2012, not 2010? Never mind.

2012 was a little boring to me, but it looked cool.
5. Jami Gold
I love disaster movies, usually those set more on Earth than in space though. All those cheesy, made-for-TV earthquake/volcano/what-have-you movies? Watched them. :)
David Hawkins
6. dhawkin4
Am i the only one that thinks these are good movies and doesn't only love them despite their sillyness?
7. drragoon83
I love bad movies as well but some I can't stand. I absolutely hate Armageddon talk about annoying love stories, thats at the top of my list but I love first Transformer movie. The second can go back where it came from, Hell. You know its really bad when the directors apologies for it.
Fake Name
8. ThePendragon
I agree almost 100% with everything you said, except that you should watch the original Transformers, it's pretty good. Skip the second one though, that one's pure ass.
9. Mainer
Yes, Gary Oldman and Katee Sackhoff. In space. Call it 2021 or The Fifth Alien Dragon Sign Day, but have it here by New Year’s.
10. Kvon
So where does Lost in Space fit in? I saw the remake in the theater and hated it.
Chin Bawambi
11. bawambi
Am I the only one who thinks that Independence Day is the worst movie ever made? I include all SciFi network Sat night cheese in that. It is one of the few movies I almost walked out of.
Chris Greenland
12. greenland
Two words: THE CORE.

God, I love that movie. Why would no one love that movie? The science is so imressively wrong! There's one scene that's just key grips hucking bird puppets at a statue. Hilary Swank staunchly refuses to be The Love Interest, even though she's handed Two-Face on a sexy scruffy platter. There's a peach fire. (PEACHFIRE!) The catchphrase, "Hack the planet." And Stanley Tucci going out like a glorious ol' motherfucker.

Oh yeah, also the Coliseum blows up because of too much electricity. Who saw that coming? Not the Romans!

Also, one more word: VOLCANO. I would like to hire Tommy Lee Jones to just swoop in to my life and...take care of it. Really just whip it into shape.
13. J-Ro
Transformers 1 and 2
Alien, Aliens, Alien 3 and 4
I'm a total nerd for them. I also feel that way about monster movies that involve outer space or radiation (Them, Cloverfield, Godzilla).

I know I have a Problem.
14. Dr. Thanatos
Maybe my age is showing, but my list of must-see-despite-loss-of-10%-of-brain-cells-each-viewing include:

Manos: Hands of Fate
Wrestling Women of the Moon vs the Aztec Mummy
Mars needs Women!
Teenagers from Outer Space
Zza-Zza Gabor IS the Queen of Outer Space
Any man-in-a-rubber-monster-suit movie made before 1960

Can't beat the classics!
Joseph Kingsmill
15. JFKingsmill16
You are absolutely right about all of these movies except one. The remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still has no redeeming qualities. The remake of War of the Worlds was oscar calibur conpared to TDTESS.

@12 - I love the absolute cheesiness of The Core. It is absurd on a level that can't be measured.

How about Meteor (1979) staring Sean Connery, Natallie Wood and Karl Malden? I LOVE this movie. I watched it every chance I got in the eighties.
17. Amanda Eden
Yes! Not only do I agree on almost all points (I liked Deep Impact much better than Armageddon) but I'm really proud of the fact that I got your Katee Sackoff reference. The world needs more Starbuck!
Chris Greenland
18. greenland
Here's the thing about Deep Impact, though. 14 year old Elijah Wood and 14 year old Leelee Sobieski get married and it is weird.
19. Dr. Thanatos
Frodo and Joan of Arc? Ewwwwww.....
Michael Burke
20. Ludon
Dante's Peak and Volcano are both a lot of fun and I agree that Flight of the Navigator still holds its own.

Here are my sci-fi/fantasy disputed pleasures. (There's nothing 'guilty' about these pleasures.)

Grand Tour: Disaster In Time
Spaced Invaders (Prepare to die, Earth Scum!)
The Fearless Vampire Killers
Tall Tale
Mom And Dad Save The World (Pick Me Up!)
Mission To Mars
Cutthroat Island
21. Jessilea
I burnt up a VCR watching Independence Day over and over one summer when I was younger. It was one of the first movies I bought on DVD. Definitely on the list of favorite movies of all time.
David Betz
22. RDBetz
@bawambi: Of course Independence Day is a bad movie. A really bad movie. That's kinda the point.
@Dr. Thanatos: Especially the MST3K version of Manos: Hands of Fate.
Erick G
23. Erick G
I thoroughly enjoyed Armageddon, so it surprises me to hear that people actually consider it a terrible movie. Maybe it was because I'm in love with Liv Tyler, or seeing Micheal Duncun singing, or whatever it was, I still enjoyed the movie. I have ask one question though: you love the Alien movie, but would you love it as much when you find out that the director tried to incorporate as many inferences to genetalia as he possibly could? After hearing that, I re-watched the movie, and it wasn't the same. I couldn't look past the penis and vagina jokes/images to get back into the movie. Sorry if I ruined it for you too.
Dayton Ward
24. daytonward
I have the Criterion Collection edition DVD of Armageddon.

I know...there are people reading this who are thinking, "WTF? Criterion wasted time on THAT film?"

Yes. Yes, they did. And, I bought it. All go, no quit.
Lillian Collins
25. alaranth
Not really into Armageddon, but space & disaster movies are the best. And owning them on DVD means you can indulge as much as you want.

Ok, So Dante's Peak gets hidden behind Alien Nation.

And there are some good Space movies you don't need to hide.

Own Serenity and proud of it.
26. Liathiana
Oooh this sounds like me! I can't wait for Battlefield: LA :D
Jeff LaSala
27. JLaSala
While I don't think I could sit through Armageddon (I have tried) and probably wouldn't watch Battle: Los Angeles unless it was as an in-flight movie, I (1) will always proudly open read Dragonlance and (2) really like Signs. If Signs was a movie about aliens—which it's not—then the nitpicking would be well deserved.

So there!
Andrés David Aparicio Alonso
28. adapar
I think a Litmus test can be:

Did you enjoy "Event Horizon"?
John Fitzingo
29. Xandar01
Ahh I too like these movies that get the stupid label, sometimes from the same briany crowds that were promoting them.

I Robot is one the I love to watch that people say was a tragedy.

Tron Legacy, Absolutly love that movie. The site that had been promoting it for months turned on a dime the night it came out and started saying it was aweful, WTH?

I actually liked The Village, though I am glad that I waited till it was out on DVD. I am getting hesatant to watch new Shyamalan movies, such as the Avatar (Last Air Bender) translation that doesn't seem to do the original justice.

The one film that I do truly believe is aweful is Battlefield Earth. Loved the book, which gets lots of hate by others cause of it's associations, but the movie they made is so loosely related it is just aweful.
Allana Schneidmuller
30. blutnocheinmal
You are not alone! You cannot imgine my glee at reading you name-dropping the Gary Oldman Dracula and Batteries Not Included and
Independence Day.
I get choked up at the president's speech when he goes all 'we will not go gentle into that good night' on us.

I liked Tron Legacy. If only there had been no dialogue inside the Grid. Like a reverse 2001. Just score. Oh Daft Punk....

Also agree on I Robot. And Sonny was voiced by Alan Tudyk!

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