SCIENCE FICTION CINEMA
FROM THE QUEST FOR FIRE TO
GOING WHERE NO ONE HAS GONE BEFORE
Science Fiction asks the questions what if? How will we get there? What will we find? What will we do with it when we find it? Science Fiction is also the literature of fear and wonder. SF deals with the fear of technology and how it will affect us but SF is also about the wonder of discovery, humanity’s insatiable curiosity about what is out there and what we will find when we get there.
While there are some Science Fiction themes and SF literary concepts which have their roots in the oldest human tales, Science Fiction as a specific literary genre is relatively new. The term Science Fiction was first used in 1830 and it didn’t come to mean SF as we know it today until 1926. The most persistent literary analysis of SF is that it deals with the fear of technology and the effects of technology on society and there is a relationship between the Industrial Revolution, the horrors of mechanized war, and the spread of household technology with the rise in the popularity of Science Fiction Literature and film. Mad Scientists, Dystopias, and Post Apocalypse are popular subgenres within SF Cinema but not all Science Fiction deals with such horrors. A Trip to the Moon, one of the most iconic images of early Cinema, is simple SF Fantasy. It would also be ironic if Science Fiction Cinema was based solely on fear of technology when motion pictures are one the technologies people are supposed to be afraid of but this critique of Science Fiction is partly true.
SF Cinema more than SF Literature is driven by developments in technology, especially motion picture special effects technology. There are four major eras of SF Cinema, SF movies made before 1950, the ‘Golden Age of Science Fiction’ movies (mainly the 1950s), SF movies after 2001 a Space Odyssey, and SF movies after Star Wars and CGI (Computer Generated Imagery). All these distinct eras in SF Cinema are financially and technology based. SF Literature has always provided inspiration for SF Cinema and many of the best SF movies are based on SF novels and stories, however a successful novel might sell fifty thousand copies when it is released but a successful motion picture must have millions of paying customers to be successful. Movies require a huge investments in production, marketing, and distribution and movies must reach a much larger audience to be profitable. So it should come as no surprise that the ‘Golden Age’ of SF Cinema the 1950s didn’t come about because of a change in motion picture technology, rather it came about as a massive change in the technology available to the general public.
By 1950 most American households had electricity and electrical appliances. Most American homes had telephones, radios, televisions, automobiles, washers, and dryers. The world had entered the nuclear age. There were jet airliners and missile technology. More people had access to higher levels of education. The space race was about to begin so when Destination Moon came out in 1950 it started an avalanche of interest in SF movies. Low cost cheap productions were perfect for a Baby Boomer generation going to the drive-in.
Hollywood was slow to react. There were some modestly high production value A-feature SF movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still , Thing From another World, Them!, Forbidden Planet, War of the Worlds, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers which were successful enough so that by the 1960s Hollywood was taking a risk on movies such as the Time Machine and Fantastic Voyage but it was 2001 a Space Odyssey that changed SF movie history. 2001 was a hard science special effects movie without Mad Scientists, bug-eyed monsters, or beautiful scientist’s daughters needing to be saved from the radioactive beast of the week. The biggest surprise of all was that 2001 was the top box office movie of 1968.
After 2001 there were an amazing number high quality high production value SF movies starring the biggest stars in Hollywood, from the Hard Science Andromeda Strain to the Dystopian Clockwork Orange. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood were now making SF movies including Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, James Caan, Yule Brynner and even rock star David Bowie.
In 1977 Star Wars became one of the highest grossing movie franchises of all time and a race began for newer and better special effects began. In 1982 Tron became the first feature length CGI motion picture followed by a flood of high quality Blockbusters Science fiction movies. Star Wars, Star Trek, the Matrix, the Terminator, Hunger Games and Marvel’s Avengers are just some of the SF movie franchises Science Fiction fans get to enjoy because of huge advances in special effects technology.
Come to the Rogers Public each Sunday at 2:00 for the Science Fiction Movie Marathon beginning May 1 and running through June 26. Admission is free.