Imagine one day you receive a package in the mail from your mom—the same mom who died 20 years ago. This is what happens to Bridd, the protagonist in the SciFi thriller THE ANSWER.
That’s a hell of a twist, right? And it has a name—it’s called a MacGuffin and it has a rich tradition in cinema, especially in Science Fiction. MacGuffins are plot devices, in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, but often with little or no narrative explanation.
In THE ANSWER, the MacGuffin turns out to be an enigmatic video game sent to Bridd from his long lost mother. The specific nature of a MacGuffin may be unimportant to the overall plot. I’ll leave it to you determine the nature of the ‘game’ in THE ANSWER when you watch it Thursday, May 19 (9:00am) at Flix Brewhouse. No spoilers here. But you have seen many other famous MacGuffins in SciFi history.
George Lucas, for instance, describes R2-D2 in STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE as "the main driving force of the movie… what you say in the movie business is the MacGuffin… the object of everybody's search." In EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES, the bounty hunter Jango Fett is also used as a MacGuffin, and in EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS, the MacGuffin is Luke Skywalker.
Alfred Hitchcock actually popularized the term "MacGuffin" and the technique, with his 1935 film THE 39 STEPS, an early example of the concept. He defined a MacGuffin as the object around which the plot revolves, but as to what that object specifically is, he declared, "the audience don't care.” Lucas, on the other hand, believes that the MacGuffin should be powerful and that "the audience should care about it almost as much as the dueling heroes and villains on-screen.”
Now it’s time for you to decide. Here are my top seven MacGuffins in SciFi cinema. Are these Hitchcock or Lucas MacGuffins? What other SciFi MacGuffins do you think should have cracked the list? Which ones shouldn’t be on the list in the first place?
7. Red Matter from STAR TREK (2009)
In the J.J. Abrams reboot, the crew of the Enterprise goes after a Vulcan distress signal and come face-to-face with the Vulcan ship Narada and its enemy captain, Nero. It is during this time that Nero drills red matter into the core of Vulcan, forming a black hole that destroys the planet. Later, Romulus is threatened by a supernova. Spock attempts to use red matter to create an artificial black hole and consume the supernova. His attempt fails and Nero's family perishes along with the planet Romulus. Developed by the Vulcan Science Academy, red matter was valuable to both Vulcan and Romulus, and both were after it. Unfortunately, it caused the destruction of both planets.
6. The Crystal Shard from THE DARK CRYSTAL
Jen, raised by the noble race called the Mystics, has been told that he is the last survivor of his own race, the Gelflings. He sets out to try to find a shard of the dark crystal, a powerful gem that once provided balance to the universe. After the crystal was broken, the evil Skeksis used sinister means to gain control. Jen believes that he can repair the dark crystal and bring peace back to the world, if he can only find the remaining MacGuffin, er, shard.
5. Unobtanium from AVATAR
Unobtanium is a MacGuffin oxymoron. Its name suggests it’s unobtainable, but in AVATAR it’s a very real mineral on the plane Pandora. Apparently, it was named before it was discovered. The rare and costly mineral is supposed to make the military human presence on the planet Pandora somewhat plausible.
4. Genesis Device from STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
The Genesis Device, created by Kirk's ex, Carol, and his estranged son David, is a technology that reorganizes matter to create habitable worlds for colonization. Naturally, Khan wants it for nefarious purposes. Ultimately, Kirk prevails but loses his best friend, his son and his ship in the process.
3. The Stargate from STARGATE
This one’s pretty straightforward. Egyptologist and linguist Daniel Jackson translates Egyptian hieroglyphs on cover stones that had been unearthed in Giza in 1928. He determines that the hieroglyphs refer to a "stargate" which uses constellations as spatial coordinates. Naturally, the US Military already has one. With the help of Jackson, they discover the Stargate is an interstellar transportation device, which opens a wormhole that connects the Stargate with distant planets.
2. R2-D2 from STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE
R2-D2 is much more than a comic relief side character. R2 is the key to the entire plot of A NEW HOPE. With the galaxy in the midst of a civil war, spies for the Rebel Alliance have stolen plans to the Death Star. Rebel leader Princess Leia has the plans, but her ship is captured by Imperial forces under the command of Darth Vader. Before she is captured, Leia hides the plans in the memory R2-D2, along with a holographic recording. This sets in motion everything that leads to Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan, C-3PO, and the end of the Empire’s greatest weapon.
1. The One Ring from LORD OF THE RINGS
More than just a metaphorical MacGuffin, The One Ring had the ability to control all the other Rings of Power and thus cast the fate of Middle-Earth. It even turned Smeagol into Gollum and caused all kinds of trouble for Frodo. The One Ring is the ultimate MacGuffin in that everyone wants it, it sets everything in motion when it appears, and every peril Frodo and friends face is due to the fact that he’s got the Ring. The One Ring is a true testament that big MacGuffins can come in small packages.
Watch the trailer and get your tickets for the screening of THE ANSWER here: