Sunday, May 17, 2009

Book Review: 'Omni's Screen Flights, Screen Fantasies' by Danny Peary

3/5 Stars

Omni magazine was started in 1978 by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione. As a ‘slick’ magazine devoted to both SF and science reporting, the magazine was an instant success, attracting larger advertisers that may have been hesitant to buy ad space in Penthouse. Omni paid high rates for its fiction, and a number of critically acclaimed pieces appeared in its pages.

‘Omni’s Screen Flights, Screen Fantasies’, edited by Danny Peary, was published in 1984, at the high point of Omni’s success. It’s a compilation of essays and interviews dealing with SF cinema. I’m not sure if any or all of the essays originally appeared in the pages of Omni, or if they were specially commissioned for this book.

‘Screen Flights, Screen Fantasies’ is divided into three parts: ‘Perspectives’, ‘Journeys into the Future’, and ‘The Creators’. There is an introduction by Harlan Ellison. The book is heavily illustrated with b & w stills and has two sections of color plates, which feature stills, posters, and concept art.

Most of the 41 essays or interviews are well-written and interesting. They cover SF cinema from the early, early days- there is an interview with Buster Crabbe about his work in the ‘Buck Rogers’ serials of the 30s – to 1982 and ‘Blade Runner’. There are interviews with Sigourney Weaver, Leonard Nimoy, Michael Crichton, and Ridley Scott, as well as essays by well-known SF authors such as Harry Harrison, Frederik Pohl, Robert Silverberg, and Robert Sheckley. In general, the questions asked of the interviewees are intelligent, well – presented, and devoid of fanboy excess.

It’s possible to learn some little-known tidbits about the making of many famous SF films, such as in Harrison’s essay ‘A Cannibalized Novel Becomes Soylent Green’ in which he reveals that he was a pain in the ass on the set of the movie, handing out copies of his novel ‘Make Room ! Make Room !’ to cast and crew, and urging the producers to make various changes to the film (Harrison was contractually prohibited from making changes to the script, which he had not written). Of course, to Harrison’s regret the ending of the film took an illogical detour from his novel, but it’s a testament to the willingness of the film cast and crew to listen to his suggestions, that the film nonetheless remained a good piece of story-telling.

‘Screen Flights’ is understandably dated, in that the coverage ends ca. 1982 - 1983, but those interested in SF films of the 60s, 70s, and early 80s may want to pick it up.

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