Awhile back I ruminated on the phenomenon of rock stars appearing in science fiction films.
While I’m still at a loss as to why this seems to be so pervasive, it did engender a little soul searching. And the conclusion that I came to is that, in matters of art and expression, it’s a two-way street. Give and take. Turnabout’s fair play, etc.
This got me to thinking, “What opportunities are there for science fiction films to encroach upon the musical landscape?”
You know, there have been a lot of bad science fiction films. A lot. A painful amount of lot. Like, “Man, that’s a lot of bad” lot. But what if some of those films had instead been sent out to us in the form of rock albums?
You know, there may be something to that.
So I present to you, unscientifically arrived at and totally subjective, my list of the
Top Ten Science Fiction Movies That Would Have Been Better as Concept Albums (and the Artists Who Should Have Recorded Them):
10) The Astronaut’s Wife (1999), as recorded by David Bowie
The Libretto: Johnny Depp as an astronaut? Okay, whatever. Anyway, during a spacewalk Depp and his fellow astronaut are overwhelmed by an explosion and lose contact with mission control for a couple of minutes. When they return to Earth, the other guy dies from a stroke and Depp starts acting weird. His wife, pregnant with twins, suspects that Depp is more Wonka’d than he’s letting on. Murder and mayhem commence. Before Depp dies, he transforms into an alien being who possesses his wife.
Why David Bowie? It was obvious that I had to put Bowie on this stinking list, so let’s just be done with it. Seriously though, Bowie is headmaster of the “Hey, I’m an Alien Weirdo Guy” school of rock ‘n’ roll. Not only that, but he’s equally comfortable with suave romantic ballads. Being able to balance weird aliens and romance is not a tightwire act that just anyone can pull off. Plus, his eyes are different colors, and his son directed the uber-cool Moon. Reasons enough for me.
9) Species (1995), as recorded by Lady Gaga
The Libretto: Picking up signals from outer space, scientists use the DNA information encoded in the messages to create an alien-human hybrid female. Worried that the creature is becoming uncontrollable, they attempt to kill her, but she escapes and makes her way to Los Angeles, where she hopes to make the most of the social scene. Hunted by a team of scientists, cops and a marriage counselor, she undergoes several changes of appearance.
Why Lady Gaga? After bursting onto the music and fashion scene and grabbing it by the collar with both hands, Lady Gaga has proven that she has the moxie to handle the Sex and the City/Alien mash-up that is Species. Known as much for her costumes as for her music, this is the long set piece that her career is ready for. Plus, H.R. Giger (the designer of the Species critter) once designed a music video for Debbie Harry of Blondie, whom Lady Gaga has been compared to.
8) Sunshine (2007), as recorded by Earth, Wind & Fire
The Libretto: Here’s the scoop – the sun is dying. The only way to save it is for eight scientists to crash a spaceship into its heart and kick start it a la nuclear defibrillator. Not a plum assignment. But if they don’t do it, the world will die. Along the way, they run into technical difficulties, as well as the derelict of the previous mission which failed to deliver the goods. You know the guys on the second mission just had to hate the guys on the first mission for dropping the ball. There’s a lot of space mishaps that compound matters. And it’s so darn hot. Not an easy film to sit through at any time, but especially in Texas during the month of June.
Why Earth, Wind & Fire? A big band with a bright sound and galactic aspirations, EWF were the sun kings of the 1970s musical landscape. Given that the band lineup averaged eight musicians during its various incarnations, each band member would have a role to play in Sunshine. Besides, I can just hear that sweet Philip Bailey falsetto hitting the high notes over the blare of horns as their ship does the ultimate solar swan dive. Shining star for you to see, what your life can truly be.
7) Surrogates (2009), as recorded by Todd Rundgren
The Libretto: In the not-too-distant future, everyone has become a shut-in, preferring instead to vegetate in barcaloungers and experience life via android dopplegangers they are neurologically linked to. After FBI agent Bruce Willis’ android (who sports totally ridiculous Corbin Bernsen/L.A. Law hair) is blown to bits by reactionaries, he must venture from his couch and crack the murder case at direct risk to his own body. Oh yeah, he has to also try to rekindle the romance with his grief-stricken, shut-in wife.
Why Todd Rundgren? At first liberating from the fear of pain, ultimately the surrogate lifestyle proves debilitating as people become prisoners in their own homes, fearing to risk the dangers of everyday life. It’s that dichotomy of technological embrace / distrust that plays to Runt’s sensibilities. As a studio wunderkind, producer, video pioneer, early proponent of virtual reality and embracer of the possibilities of the Internet and interactive entertainment, Runt has built a career that readily embraced advances in technology. At the same time, his lyrics have often discoursed on the collision between man and the modern world.
6) The Hidden (1987), as recorded by The Smashing Pumpkins
The Libretto: An alien creature with a taste for violence and body possession arrives in Los Angeles and goes on a crime spree. Particularly troubling for the LAPD is that the creature can jump from human host to human host, which presents just a few problems in tracking his identity. Enter the creepy stalker kid from Blue Velvet (only this time with a badge and a gun). He too is an alien, and together with his human cop buddy they manage to save the day. The film’s bittersweet ending and sincerity provide a surprising depth of pathos to what is otherwise a violent buddy flick.
Why The Smashing Pumpkins? For a narrative such as The Hidden, you need a band that is well-versed in shifting identities, wild mood swings and an easy vacillation along the musical scale from heavy rock to tender ballad. Enter the Smashing Pumpkins. While many bands may try to lay claim to that throne, very few are in the same league of heavy weirdness that seems to come second nature to the Pumpkins. Plus, as Billy Corgan writes all the songs, produces, engineers, gets the coffee and essentially plays all the instruments, his chameleon ways make him perfectly suited to tackle simultaneously the roles of both heroes and the villain.
5) Space Cowboys (2000), as recorded by The Highwaymen
The Libretto: A crusty old Soviet satellite is about to fall to Earth, and the only ones who know how to handle its outdated motherboard is the equally crusty and outdated Air Force team of Eastwood, Jones, Sutherland and Garner. There’s a lot of human interest for awhile (including some backstory conflict between Eastwood and the NASA project director), then our boys are sent up in a space shuttle to deal with the Rusky orbiter which, whoa, is loaded with nuclear warheads. A lot of space catastrophe and heroic self-sacrifice ensues.
Why The Highwaymen? This is not an assignment for boys. For something this testosterone infused, you need real men. Real crusty men. Men like Willie. Waylon. Johnny. And Kristofferson. Throw in Steve Miller as the project director, and you have more countrified firepower than a Dairy Queen in Beaumont, Texas.
4) Megaforce (1982), as recorded by The Black Eyed Peas
The Libretto: Directed by the man who brought you Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run, this tale follows the exploits of a crack fighting squad led by Ace Hunter (Barry Bostwick of Nancy Drew fame). They battle international terrorism with the help of missile-firing motorcycles and dune buggies. It gets bonus points for featuring Michael Beck (otherwise known as Swan from The Warriors) as one of the Megaforce dudes. Plus it stars the bald babe from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Why The Black Eyed Peas? The military spandex. The Bee Gees hair. The beautiful woman. And lots of explosions. This thing was tailor made for a Black Eyed Peas video. Picture Will.I.Am, Taboo and Apl.De.Ap parachuting to the stage on phunked out motorcycles while Fergie struts out dressed like a discotastic Fidel Castro. Boom boom pow.
3) They Live (1988), as recorded by Iggy & The Stooges
The Libretto: A homeless, flannel shirted professional wrestler finds a pair of Ray Ban knock-offs at a bulldozed church, and suddenly his world is turned upside down (like things weren’t bad enough before). Subliminal advertising is everywhere, telling him to breed, sleep, eat and consume (as if he needed the pointers). Even worse, Los Angeles is run by hordes of alien yuppies who look like Skeletor from Masters of the Universe and who use a TV station to hypnotize humanity.
Why Iggy & The Stooges? Thematically this story is, at its heart, every punk rocker’s war cry. But what it really comes down to is a question of who among punk’s royalty really has the cajones to deliver this immortal line with conviction: "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass … and I’m all out of bubblegum." This is not something that can be said with an English accent (sorry, Joe Strummer). For my money, only Iggy Pop could pull it off.
2) Hollow Man (2000), as recorded by The Who
The Libretto: A brilliant but psychotically self-obsessed scientist develops an invisibility serum for the military, and of course he tests it on himself. Unable to restore himself to visible normalcy, jealous over his ex-girlfriend’s social life and furious at his team’s disapproval of his nocturnal criminal activities, the hollow man hunts down his team members one by one until he’s eventually hurled into an inferno at the film’s climax.
Why The Who? The kings of concept, The Who created and mastered rock opera in one fell swoop with Tommy, that magical deaf, dumb and blind boy who could play a mean pinball. A few years later, Townshend and company delivered a second seismic shot of epic teen angst with Quadrophenia, following the exploits of Jimmy and his four distinct personalities. Hollow Man completes the trilogy of disaffection – this time, instead of the hero being unable to see, he is unable to be seen by the society that he loathes and who loathes him. No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man.
1) The Incredible Melting Man (1977), as recorded by Meat Loaf
The Libretto: The lone survivor of a failed mission to Saturn returns to Earth suffering from some kind of space radiation that causes his body to melt. To combat the process of melting, he has to eat people. Eventually, he melts away to nothing and is swept into a garbage can. But a radio newscast at the end tells us a future Saturn mission is in the works.
Why Meat Loaf? A hulking, sweaty mass with the voice of an angel and a flair for the dramatic, Meat Loaf just very well may have been the best frontman of the 70s. Really. Able to defy convention time and again and deliver massive-selling albums (and even being cool enough to land a role in Fight Club), Meat Loaf is the epitome of rock ‘n’ roll outcast. In Meat Loaf’s hands, Incredible Melting Man chronicles in operatic fashion a man shedding all layers to reveal the romantic loner at his core.