Posted May 23, 2012 by Chris Patmore in Features
 
 

Science Fiction Films


The main scope of science fiction has been about speculative science, asking “what if‚…?”

The
main scope of science fiction has been about speculative science, asking
“what if‚…?”
From the earliest days of cinema
the genre has been opening up the world to new possibilities, many of which
have become realities. With Ridley
Scott’s Prometheus now bursting onto cinemas we take a look at the best Science
Fiction films have to offer.

Here are ten innovative sci-fi movies that
have either changed the way we see the world or have influenced the way we
watch movies.

A
Trip to the Moon
(Le voyage dans la lune) by Georges Méliès.
The image from this 1902 French short film,
of a rocket in the eye of the moon will be familiar to anyone with even a
passing interest in sci-fi. For a younger generation the film is featured in Scorsese’s Oscar-winning Hugo. Considering the infancy of cinema
at the time, the special effects Méilès created are simply astounding, not to
mention the fact that the story was about men landing on the moon a long time
before science could make it reality, and there are plenty of people that think
the 1969 moonlanding was nothing more than a film production for the same
reason.

Metropolis by Fritz Lang (1927)

With the recent release of the restored, extended director’s cut of this silent
classic, we get to see the work of a visionary filmmaker in all its glory. The
image of the robot is another classic of the genre and it had a profound
influence on many sci-fi films to come, particularly Star Wars’ C3-PO. Not only was it epic filmmaking but it had a
powerful message to impart about the dangers of industrialisation.

Things
to Come
by William
Cameron Menzies
(1936)

Based on a story by HG Wells, who
also wrote the screenplay, this is one of the earliest British sci-fi features
and proved to be very prescient, even scarily so, depicting an aerial attack on
London (which no one believed was possible). It also features familiar modern
technology such as handheld communicators and large, flatscreen video displays.

2001:
A Space Odyssey
by Stanley Kubrick (1968)

Based on a story by Arthur C Clarke,
this is one of the most cerebral sci-fi films ever made (with the possible
exception of Russian versions of Stanislaw
Lem
stories). Released at the height of the summer of love it proved to be
a mind-blowing hit amongst the acid heads, who were possibly some of the only
people to actually get it. It is still as challenging and visually exciting as
it was back then, and its influence can still be felt in today’s films, such as
Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life.

Planet
of the Apes
by Franklin
J Schaffner
(1968)

Where 2001 shows the evolution of apes into humans, this film sort of completes
the circle as the lower primates become the dominant creatures and save the
world from almost inescapable destruction, as revealed in the closing shot. The
recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes
gives a very interesting account of how the apes came to take over, and in
terms of science fiction is a better film, but the original was absolutely
groundbreaking and was the first film to win an Oscar for make up, which didn’t
become an official category until over a decade later. Ironically the rumour
goes that 2001 was not even nominated as the members of the Academy believed
the apes in the opening sequence were in fact apes rather than people in
costume.

Blade
Runner
by Ridley
Scott
(1982) (Main Picture)

This is the film that brought the name and works of Philip K Dick to a much wider audience, even if it was, as with
most Hollywood film adaptations of his stories, very loosely based on the
original story. It was the first commercially successful film to show an
extensive and believable dystopia. Again, its influence can be seen in many
films of the genre that followed it. See also Scott’s 1984 Macintosh ad.

Max
Headroom
by Annabel
Jankel
and Rocky Morton (1985)

It seems quite fitting that around 1984, Britain should produce two outstanding
dystopic films; Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, and this TV movie made for new
Channel 4. As brilliant as Brazil and its flights of fantasy are, Max Headroom
was incredibly prescient, possibly because it was only set 20 minutes in the
future, where the world is run by massive competing media corporations and it
is a crime to switch off your TV. It is a world of live, constant reporting of
news events, a networked world of terrible TV shows and renegade pirate
broadcasters, where bad credit is the most serious crime you can commit. Sound
familiar? The subsequent TV series further explored other ideas that we know
only too well today.

Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
(1988)
If any country knows what it’s like to like in a post-apocalyptic world, it is
the Japanese and this is reflected in so much of their anime. Akira, along with
Ghost in the Shell, are the best
known features of this genre, and with the current state of Japan, Akira feels
much more relevant, even if Ghost in the Shell has had more influence on
Western cinema.

The
Matrix
by The
Wachowskis Brothers
(1999)
With the impending Y2K, this film seemed to
touch a nerve and catch the zeitgeist as everyone started questioning their
place in the world and the way technology affects us. Although derivative,
borrowing heavily from sources such as William
Gibson
and cyberpunk, anime films such as Ghost in the Shell, Asian action
movies, and existentialist treatises, it managed to combine them into an
intelligent, though-provoking film with an unlikely action lead. Although the
two sequels failed to get the balance right, the influence of the film and its
extended world generated something of a cottage industry of cyber mystics. It
was also the first time that phone boxes were used as advertising hoardings, if
you discount the calling cards left in them all over London’s West End.

John
Carter
by Andrew
Stanton
(2012)
Something of a controversial finish.
Although berated by the media as being one of the biggest box office flops
ever, the influence of the story it was based on should not be overlooked. The
fact that it took 100 years to bring to the screen is indicative of the scope
of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories,
and that just about every sci-fi author, screenwriter or director was
influenced or inspired by the original stories, goes a long way to explain why
so many (uninformed) people thought the film looked too much like other famous
sci-fi films. This movie may well garner acceptance in the years to come and
become as influential as the rest of the films in this list, which all also met
with hostile reactions on their original release.

This is by no means a definitive list, and
even choosing 50 titles would not be enough, so broad is the genre. Many people
may be surprised to see Star Wars
missing from the list and its influence should not be overlooked. However,
these are some of our favourites, and apart from some obvious exceptions, are
mostly lesser-known films that should be watched by anyone with even a passing
interest in the sci-fi genre.


Chris Patmore