EW pits sci-fi's greatest movies against each other
STAR WARS: EPISODE V — THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK VS. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (Pictured)
A battle fierce enough to divide even the least partisan chat room — the two best films from the two biggest sci-fi franchises. And both are sequels, to boot. So let’s divide away. The Wrath of Khan is a fantastic movie, more than making up for the disappointment that was the first Star Trek feature. With his blond mullet and uncovered chest, Ricardo Montalban may look more like a member of Dokken than an intergalactic madman, but as Khan, he makes the perfect revenge-seeking lunatic to pit against the now Admiral Kirk. Yet, let’s be honest — he’s no Darth Vader. Even with his wicked brain bugs, Khan can’t match up to a dude with a lightsaber. And Kirk’s emotional reunion with his long-lost son is a nice touch, but it simply can’t compare in the family-subplot department to Luke Skywalker sucking face…with his own sister! Pretty much everything in Empire is operating on a different level. The battle on Hoth, the introduction of both Yoda and Boba Fett (at least before George Lucas went back and gratuitously inserted the bounty hunter into ”Episode IV”), Luke’s duel with Darth — it’s what has made Empire the standard by which not only other Star Wars flicks but all science-fiction films are judged. One area in which Trek trumps its rival: the emotional Spock death scene (and not just emotional because it leaves Kirstie Alley as the only Vulcan — yikes!). It’s a bold move, killing off one of your franchise’s most beloved characters, even if you do cheat and bring him back one picture later (a trick SW also pulled with Obi-Wan Kenobi). It makes the contest closer, but even a scruffy nerf herder could tell you who wins this battle.
THEM! VS. STARSHIP TROOPERS
Bugs! Giant killer bugs! Everyone loves a good creature feature, and these two insect installments from two different eras are among the best. Them! (1954) features law-enforcement types hunting down enormous ants that have mutated thanks to atomic bomb testing. The beasts sort of look like something that would drop from the ceiling at either a haunted Halloween ride or a heavy metal concert, but by the standards of the day, they’re pretty impressive. The only problem is that you don’t see them (or Them!) all that often. Instead of watching the bugs, we get prolonged spells of people in spiffy uniforms discussing ways to find and kill the bugs. (The discussions prove to be of limited use, however, as we see when James Whitmore gets caught in one of the big baddie’s pinchers.) 1997’s Starship Troopers, on the other hand, features no shortage of giant insects. Overkill? More like over-the-top. But isn’t that the point of a movie that shows little kids gleefully stomping on roaches and yelling ”Die!” and dresses Doogie Howser up like an SS guard? For all its campiness, Troopers is actually a pretty sly satire on war, the media, and mob mentality. And while you can’t help but feel a little silly rooting for heroes like Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards, they’re not really the stars of the show anyway. Those would be the enormous killer creepy-crawlies getting splattered on every single centimeter of the screen. If the only good bug is a dead bug, then these bugs are really, really good.
WINNER Starship Troopers
NEXT PAGE: Robocop vs. Terminator; Deep Impact vs. Armageddon; Battlestar Galactica (’70s) VS. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century