'The Sci-Fi Boys' Review

From the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, Christopher Campbell reviews Paul Davids' documentary about filmmakers and effects artists who grew up as sci-fi fanboys.

The Sci-Fi Boys
Yellow Hat Productions

This review of The Sci-Fi Boys was originally published on the now-defunct movie blog Cinematical on April 6, 2006, during coverage of the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.

Paul Davids‘ documentary The Sci-Fi Boys is the kind of mediocre effort that makes its way onto DVDs as supplement material, although finding an appropriate special edition to include it with would be tough, as its focus isn’t limited to any specific film or filmmaker. Davids, an admitted “sci-fi boy” filmmaker, spotlights other directors, like Peter Jackson, Stephen Sommers, John Landis, Roger Corman, and William Malone, all who grew up as fanboys before acquiring their own followers. Of course, with all the attention Davids gives to himself, he could include the film as an extra on one of his own films, except that it wouldn’t quite fit with his ’97 debut, Timothy Leary’s Dead.

In interviews, the filmmakers gush about the influence of Ray Harryhausen, William Castle, George Pal, and the invention of the Super 8 camera. Mostly, though, the doc is a showcase of Forrest J. Ackerman, founder of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland and credited coiner of the term “sci-fi”. This publication, which no longer exists but which paved the way for Fangoria and SFX and others, is highlighted as the catalyst for many filmmaking careers, particularly for great creature designers and effects artists such as Rick Baker, Steve Johnson, and Dennis Muren.

Despite the somewhat misleading title, The Sci-Fi Boys isn’t much concerned with the literary roots of cinema’s science fiction genre. In fact, if anything, the film only seems to concentrate on the more specific sci-fi horror hybrid. It too heavily praises the corny pictures we associate with Ed Wood and Mystery Science Theater 3000 by aiming at the kid inside us. Of course, Joe Dante and Tim Burton (neither of whom make appearances here) have been doing this more appreciably for twenty years.

The Sci-Fi Boys doesn’t work as even a broad look at sci-fi film history — other than a reference by George Lucas in archive footage, there is no mention of Georges Méliès — nor does it work completely as a tribute to Ackerman thanks to all the additional figures represented. All it does is confirm the notion that today’s blockbusters are just rich cousins of the B-movies of the past, and also, by displaying some of its subjects’ early childhood productions, which unabashedly copied Harryhausen and Pal and James Whale, it unintentionally justifies the existence of fan films now widely available on the internet.

A discussion of make-up and model effects being outmoded by CGI, addressed slightly though sufficiently, is the most interesting topic The Sci-Fi Boys touches on. Baker and the rest worry a bit about their roles in the future of visual effects but never appear too bitter, especially since they credit computers as being a big help in their own work with advances like motion control. The doc also includes some old footage of Steven Spielberg talking about original plans for Jurassic Park to use stop-motion animated dinosaurs made by Phil Tippett, who, when replaced by the better-looking computer effects, told the director, “I think I’m extinct.”

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.