Cataline’s Top Five Military Science Fiction Movies

Some of you will feel compelled to point out that I left out this obvious movie or that well known example.  However this list of  movies and TV shows are the ones that spoke to something of my experience in a  life spent Before the Banners.  Starship Troopers for example definitely does not make the cut, it was a silly Xena fantasy of military life.  Avatar gets ranked frequently in these sorts of lists but frankly, no. It left me more annoyed than anything else.
There were others that almost but didn’t quite make the list.  There were a couple of episodes of Jurassic Star Trek, the original pilot and the The Arena for one example.  The pilot of Space Above and Beyond for another.
No zombie movie ever.  A matter I tried to correct with a book that failed miserably on Amazon.
Predator was a real struggle for me, however since the new movie sucked so bad and the original writer wrote it, it didn’t make the list.
Ultimately, I wanted to keep this quick and to the point.

So lets get to it.

5. Battlestar Galactica, Episode 1, Season 1: “Thirty Three”

I’d missed the pilot, so this was the first episode of Battlestar that I ever watched and it was enough to sell me on the next one and half seasons.

Quick reminder, it was the episode where the Cylons had been doing hit and run raids on the fleet every 33 minutes for about a week.

My strongest memory of life in the military during an op (or for that matter even an exercise) was the constant, crushing painful need for sleep.  Hunger for sleep.  Bone baring starvation for sleep.  The only word in the English language we have for this is “sleepy” and doesn’t come anywhere near to describing what you are going through after four days without sleep.  You are in a near hallucinatory state and you still have function, calculate and fight.

There were a few other details they got right…and wrong, Lee Adama getting chewed out by Starbuck for being pussy in front of his troops was right.  Starbuck would have said the things she said to him to include details like, “You don’t say good luck! You say good hunting!”  Except an O-3 stick jock would already know all that, unless he was a hopeless incompetent who only got ahead because his Daddy was an O-7 looking after his boy’s career.  Which in truth would have explained EVERYTHING about Lee Adama.

However, we were also supposed to think Lee was a highly competent officer in his own right.

But like I said Thirty-Three sold me on the show for a while.  Pretty much right up until it became incredibly obvious that  the Cylons did NOT have any kind of a plan and Ron Moore was no Mike Straczynski.

Once, again the Mystery Box was empty.

4. Edge of Tomorrow/Live Die Repeat

Ground Hog’s Day meets Starship Troopers. A PAO pogue gets busted down to private and thrown into a battle that he dies in within five minutes.  And then he does it again the next day and the next and the next…

I will be the first to admit that this is one of the weaker films on this list from the military perspective.

More informed by war movies than by actual war.  There were a few things that probably could have sold me a bit more on this one.  For instance making it clear that Tom Cruise’s character was being sent to penal company instead of a regular line unit would have papered over a lot of the silly shit that J Squad did.  It would have also indicated how bad things were if they were emptying out the brig and putting convicts back into the fight.

However, the feel was a lot closer to the novel Starship Troopers than the movie Starship Troopers ever got, so it had that going for it.  The beach scene was good.  The confusion and fog of battle was present and Cruise did a good job of being a useless guy with minimal training who was in over his head.

There is also sentiment on my part.  I miss Bill Paxton.

3. Dog Soldiers

Okay.  Okay.  Not a science fiction movie and truth be said, the basic plot really is just Aliens with werewolves.  But the Brit military culture as presented is pretty solid.  I knew pretty much all of those guys at one time or another.  Sean Pertwee was supposed to be a supporting player here but he carried the movie as a lifer Colour Sergeant. “When I signed my life away on that little dotted line I meant it! I am a professional solider.”  Yep, been there.

My favorite scene was Spoon’s last defiant words to the werewolf that was about to kill him, “I hope I give you the shits!

2. Aliens

You were waiting for this one, weren’t you?

No list of military science fiction movies would be complete without James Cameron’s kinda sorta sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien.   While the first movie was a haunted house horror movie in space.  This one was it’s own thing.

Aliens was a proper horror movie and the key ingredient to horror is powerlessness. You are up against something that you have no way to defeat at all, you can only run away and in the end it will likely kill you.
Not the case with the Colonial Marines, yeah they stuck their dicks in a meat grinder and thanks to an incompetent Butter Bar they were effectively unarmed when they did it.  The Aliens were chewing them up for lunch and demanding an a second course…until Vasquez screamed, “lets rock!” And laid into them.  The power dynamic shifted at that moment. These were no longer helpless prey from that point on.
I bought the military culture…to a degree.

There was plenty Cameron got wrong. The biggest was the “make your own uniforms” thing.  Although truth be said there is some precedent for that in Vietnam and the Pacific Theater in WWII.  But that is a situation where you are talking about long term combat and your uniform is pretty shredded up rags anyway.   These guys on the other hand were fresh out of garrison.

However, Cameron’s strength has always been in visual representations to tell stories and with as much economy as possible.  To do that he has to work with visual tropes and stereotypes that the audience is already familiar with and in 1986 Vietnam was still a pretty fresh memory.

The two most squared away characters were the Clueless Lieutenant and the Hyper-competent Career Sergeant.   Then Cameron played against type killed off the sergeant while keeping the lieutenant around thus creating a leadership vacuum for Ripley to step into. It worked…sort of.

Favorite characters on the military side of things are everybody’s; Hicks, Hudson and Vasquez.  Hudson probably my favorite as the shortimer who talks a lot of shit, falls apart and then pulls it together again when the SHTF.

If by some miracle you haven’t seen any of the Alien films, then take my advice and only watch the first two film.  Don’t see any of the others and most especially don’t see Alien 3 which is the The Last Jedi of the Alien franchise.  Killing off Newt and Hicks in the opening credits? Suck my dick Alien III!

And now we reach my number one pick for military science fiction movies.  A choice few of you will agree with but I absolutely stand by it.

1. Battle Los Angles

This film won me over in the opening scene.  The broken down Career Man chugging along on Pendleton’s beach and then the eighteen year old first termers shoot past him one after another calling, “morning Staff Sergeant,” over their shoulders as they all leave him in the dust.  This was a character that spoke to me.

The tactics side of things were completely solid and text book accurate.  The producers…for once…really did their home work.  The alien strategy was sound enough, “Rapid Dominance” what reporters stupidly call “shock and awe.”

But my favorite part of the movie were the alien rankers.  These guys were clearly confused as hell.  They didn’t know why had been scooped out of their nice warm nest and stuffed into a meat grinder with these savages.

“Oh my Glod! Did you see what the Monkeys did to Colonel Xerprklstyx?  He was alive when they did it to him.  They fucking dissected him alive! I can still hear him screaming. Oh my Glod! Oh my Glod! Oh my Glod!”

From the journal of LCpl Mxperti(*click-click*)crast:  Operation Soaring Borehole day three.  My captor tried to escape three times last night.  I can not seem to get across to him that I am his prisoner and he has obligations to me.  Provide  food, provide shelter but primarily he MUST exfiltrate me safely out of the combat zone.  This stupid Monkey just starts crying when try to explain these things to him.”

Summary:  All of these films (and TV episode) spoke to me and my life in some way or another.  Maybe the film makers hadn’t planned that but that is indeed what happened.
Okay, I’m done here.

6 thoughts on “Cataline’s Top Five Military Science Fiction Movies

  1. Never saw Dog Soldiers, so I can’t comment on it.

    BSG had potential but Moore has always been more about characters and drama than plot and consistency. He has talent but should never be left to run a show alone. BSG shows what happens. It becomes Lost.

    I like Edge of Tomorrow a lot. Too bad it never got the reception it deserved.

    Aliens is Cameron at the top of his game. Except for a couple of shots, the effects are still awesome. The characters, plot, and action all work together. There are only two Alien films. No others exist in this continuum.

    Battle: LA is really a throwback war movie. I won’t disagree with your choice.

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  2. BSG was great until it decided to do the mid-2000s version of “get woke” and weave left-wing politics into the plot with the dumb-as-hell New Caprica storyline. Up until that point, when the show tackled the issues of the day, they did a really good job presenting both the Left and Right side of them fairly, while also making clear that even if the characters weren’t necessarily making decisions that were moral or progressive, they understood that it was sometimes necessary to suspend morality when the alternative was the violent death of every man, woman, and child in the fleet.

    After the beginning of season 3, it became crystal-clear whose side the writers were on, which predictably led to glowing, taunting praise from the left-wing media. I kept watching until the (awful) end, but the show was never the same after that.

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    1. Tackling the issues of the day was BSG’s problem, even in the early episodes. The writers never seemed to realize the situation their characters were facing. The only time they seemed to recognize the issue was when the Roslin mentioned that they needed to start making babies. If that is the situation then there should have been debates over women in frontline combat roles. Instead we got a lame abortion episode. The abortion debate would have lasted about 5 seconds in the real world. It would have been the same with a lot of the other issues they supposedly tackled while ignoring the real issues. Personally, their debates on the issues were really shallow.

      For example, why not have a doctor who knew how to clone people. It was banned by the gov’t and several of the religious factions found it immoral. Should they do it now? BTW, they never made use of the different religions angle. Frustrating show.

      I agree that Woke Caprica was really stupid. How would anyone have any sort of weapons or explosives? With 10K people, the Cylons could have stripped everyone, given them new clothes and shipped them to a camp. The worst thing anyone would have had would have been a shiv.

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      1. Absolutely agree on how their dealing with the issues was superficial, but I was using “good” more in the context of being fair. Unlike every other show where the left=moral/good and right=caricatures of reality at best and vicious slanders/misrepresentations at worst, BSG was bold enough (or what passes for boldness in lefty clown world) to argue that perhaps the righties were a) coming from a place of genuine concern, b) had a point, and c) weren’t just a bunch of cartoonishly evil neo-Nazis. That all went out the window with Woke Caprica, of course.

        Jonah Goldberg may be the queen of the NeverTrump cucks, but he wrote a pretty good article about this back in the day.

        https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/how-politics-destroyed-a-great-tv-show/

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  3. The plot switch did not bother me, roles are switched all the time, a century ago we whites told the WOGs what to do now we are their loyal servants dedicated to their well being, top rail bottom rail stuff.
    Goldberg is just another paid Charlie Brown intellectual.

    To me BSG just became “Soapy” after New Caprica.

    Dog Soldiers is on Scamazon, of course the patrol in the beginning is more akin to Boy Scout jamboree than Brit Army, I hope.

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