SCIENCE FICTION CINEMA
THE FIRST 50 YEARS
Science Fiction Literature is a relatively new development. Brian W. Aldiss a major writer and critic of Science Fiction has argued convincingly that Frankenstein (1819) by Mary Shelly is the first Science Fiction novel because although it was written as gothic horror it has science fiction elements. Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Arthur Conan Doyle all wrote Fantastic Fiction, some of which is now considered Science Fiction but the actual term Science Fiction which describes a specific literary genre did not come into wide use until 1926 when Hugo Gernsbeck coined the term for his magazine Amazing Stories.
Because the Science Fiction as a distinct genre was still in its infancy, SF Cinema was very dependent on existing Sci-Fi Literature for inspiration. Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon) was inspired by Jules Verne. The movie Lost World was first a novel by Arthur Conan Doyle. Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, and Island of Lost Souls were all classic “Mad Scientists” novels before they became famous horror films. There were exceptions. Fritz Lang and the highly technologically advanced German Film Industry produced two very innovative Sci-Fi movies, Metropolis (1927), the first Dystopian movie ever made, and Woman in the Moon (1929) a hard science film with two stage liquid fueled rockets and the first ever countdown to blastoff.
Possibly the only true Sci-Fi film ‘talkie’ made before 1950 was Things to Come (1936). The Novel and the Screenplay were written by H.G. Wells and the movie used state of the art special effects. Otherwise Science Fiction fans had to be satisfied with cheaply made, low cost serials such as Flash Gordon. Despite the lack of Science Fiction Cinema before 1950, several important themes in Science Fiction had already been advanced, Hard Science, Mad Scientists, Dystopias, Post Apocalypse, Zombie Plagues, and Space Opera which wasn’t a bad for just a handful of films.
THE BEST EARLY FILMS OF SCIENCE FICTION
Le Voyage Dans La Luna (A trip to the Moon 1902) Georges Melies Iconic film is not only regarded as the first great Science Fiction movie it is also considered one of the great milestone of cinematic history.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920, 1932, 1941) John Barrymore, Frederic March, and Spencer Tracy have all played the infamous ‘Mad Scientist’ Doctor Jekyll and all three versions are truly great films.
Lost World (1925) This was a masterpiece of stop action animation by the great special effects artist Willis Obrien who would later go on to create King Kong.
Metropolis (1927) Fritz Lang’s classic Dystopian film and the most famous feature length Sci-Fi film of the silent era.
Woman in the Moon (1929) Another silent era classic from Fritz Lang this movie has the first rocket launch countdown and two stage rockets powered by liquid fuel.
Frankenstein (1931) The Gothic Horror classic with Sci-fi elements which invented the story line of the ‘Mad Scientist’ being destroyed by his own creation.
Invisible Man (1933) Another ‘Mad Scientist’ but a great one.
Island of the Lost Souls (1933) Another classic ‘Mad Scientist’ horror cross over, this version is based on the Island of Doctor Moreau and has a truly creepy performance by the great Charles Laughton.
Things to Come (1936) The best and maybe the only ‘pure’ Sci-Fi movie made between 1930 and 1950. The Screenplay was written by H.G. Wells and was based on his book. This innovative movie utilized the best special for the time and foreshadowed post-apocalyptic movies and the plagues of zombie movies to follow.