REVIEW: OUTER LIMITS – THE FILMGOERS' GUIDE TO THE GREAT SCIENCE FICTION FILMS / AUTHOR: HOWARD HUGHES / PUBLISHER: I.B. TAURIS / RELEASED: OUT NOW
The sci-fi movie guide has been a staple of the publishing industry since... ooh, about 1977. Can’t think why. Here’s another one and the twist here is that it’s a “filmgoers’ guide”. Mind you, one assumes a fisherman or taxidermist’s guide would be a fairly pointless exercise. But what makes it different and is it any good?
Well, Howard Hughes’s approach is to pick 26 popular movies and use them as “launch pads to discuss lesser-known influences and follow-on derivatives”. So the chapter titles are “Regarded this Earth with Envious Eyes” in which he discusses War of the Worlds (1953) or “My God, It’s Full of Stars” in which he discusses 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) despite that not being a line from the film (just saying), and so on. You get the idea. The biggest criticism one could make is that these essays do feel like rather meandering info dumps where Hughes discusses the plot of his main movie, then the production, then back to the plot, wanders off onto a couple of related movies in surprising depth and then lurches back into the plot and/or production of his main flick. In fact the secondary movie discussions nestled into the narrative are often more tightly written than the primary ones.
Overall the research seems pretty good even if one gets the impression we’re just getting all the movies that the writer has seen rather than the important ones. Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1958) might be fun but we’re not entirely convinced you’d call them “influential” (or are they “follow-ons?). But it’s a good read if you’re interested in the subject matter (which we assume you are). If you’re already an expert on the history of sci-fi movies then you probably won’t find too much here that you needed to know but if you’re just a regular filmgoer or there’s areas you’d like to know more about, this is probably the kind of thing you’re after. It’s a bit like going to the pub with the STARBURST crew without the alcohol, mayhem, embarrassing dancing, unavoidable kebab, inevitable shame, existential despair etc, etc.