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See Inside July 2008

Summarized Cinema: Science Movies Explained in a Sentence

Quick flick descriptions for the inveterate channel surfer



Matt Collins

Remember The Fly movies? A visionary researcher attempts to build a Star Trek-like transporter. But human bits mix with bits of the fly that happen to be in the machine. Result: flyman or manfly depending on your point of view. I actually prefer the great Vincent Price effort of 1958, in which a cheesy fly head is perched on a human body. And the fly's body carries a tiny human head that squeaks, "Help me!" The 1986 Jeff Goldblum version of The Fly is creepier, because, well, it stars Jeff Goldblum. Also, the integration of fly and human is more complex, because their DNA appears to have gotten mixed. Of course, there are 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells in and on any of us, and none of that DNA seems to get mixed up with Goldblum. Possibly because nobody was going to go see a movie called The E. Coli.

Anyway, I was channel surfing recently and happened on a listing for one of the lesser works in the fly chronicles, the 1965 Curse of the Fly. (Which starred Brian Donlevy. Who in real life was the stepfather of Bela Lugosi, Jr. Which is mixing apples and oranges. If by apples you mean flies and by oranges you mean bats.) And I became intrigued by the short description of Curse of the Fly that appeared on the screen when I hit the info button on the remote: "A mad scientist tries out a molecular disintegrator on people but cannot get the hang of it."

It occurred to me that other sci-fi and fantasy movies also require terse synopses for the channel-surfing community. Here then is a selection of such possible descriptions:

2001: A Space Odyssey
A slab of onyx and a singing computer get two astronauts in hot water.

Alien
A feisty cat survives tense times onboard a spaceship.

The Day the Earth Stood Still
A drifter helps an old man with his math problems.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Frail aliens visit Earth in search of clothing, music, friends and possibly gym equipment.

Starship Troopers
Valiant insects try to repel totalitarian invaders.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
A nerd from another planet goes bike riding and trick-or-treating.

Stargate
Kurt Russell and his buzz cut outwit the guy who played the girl who was a guy in The Crying Game.

Predator
The future governor of California and the future governor of Minnesota go hiking.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
An archaeology professor searches for his college’s retirement buyout and a good rheumatologist.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Kirk, Spock and McCoy blend right in while visiting late 20th-century San Francisco.

Robot Monster
A guy in a gorilla suit and diving helmet with rabbit-ear antennas walks up and down a hillside for no apparent reason.

Iron Man
An arms manufacturer finds himself neck-deep but gets a leg up and heads home.

The Matrix
A man discovers his true destiny.

Star Wars
An adolescent discovers his true destiny.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
A boy discovers his true destiny.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
A hobbit discovers his true destiny.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
A sad sack seeks a way to turn back time so he can live in the Dark Ages.

Note: This story was originally printed with the title, "Anti-Gravity: The Joys of Summarized Cinema".

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