Science Fiction Film: An Overview
The science fiction film genre has been around almost as long as movies have, but like the cinema it is still a fairly young art form. This genre came into existence shortly after the invention of the movie camera in 1888 and has endured for over one-hundred years. Science fiction is adaptive; it changes with the times and this trend can be seen in its incorporation of other genres, cultural history and technology. This essay will attempt to define the genre, chronicle the history and evolution, and explore its relation to technology. This is in general and in the cinema.
When discussing the science fiction film genre a problem occurs. The distinction between science fiction and other genres is not always clear cut. Many movies span between the science fiction genre and other genres. Movies such as The Ring (2002) or the Alien series (1979, 1986, 1992, 1997) illustrate how the distinction between science fiction and horror films can be obscure. (Telotte 46) Some comedies, such as Mars Attacks (1996) and Back to the Future (1985), are very much science fiction. (Mitchell 133) In fact there is an example of a science fiction film fitting into almost any genre. Starship Troopers (1997) parallels a war film and Outland (1981) resembles a western in many respects. (Telotte 45)
The characteristics that define the science fiction genre can be difficult to pin down. A genre such as the western has easily identifiable characteristics such as cowboys, guns, the wild west, and bad guys with mustaches. The average person would have no trouble picking out a science fiction film but when asked to come up with a definition, most would struggle. After being exposed to a number of science fiction films people are able to recognize characteristics and clues that together to constitute a cultural consensus of what a science fiction film is. (Telotte 56) From this, however, someone might say any film with aliens or monsters is science fiction, while others might say a science fiction film has to have ray guns and space travel. A science fiction film is a film based on currently known facts about the physical world with some type of twist which answers the question "what if." In other words it deals less with explicit characteristics and conventions and more with cultural concerns. Science fiction films give us a taste of what our lives would be like if our technological situation were different. (Newman 80) These technological changes could be a result of humans taking a different path in the past or the present, evolving into the future or as a result of a visit by extraterrestrials. It may sound obvious but a science fiction film is fiction. While science fiction films deal with real concerns they are entirely fictional. The film Deep Impact (1998) plays on our fear of Armageddon. (Mitchell 52) While an asteroid could strike earth and destroy humanity, it has not happened. For the purposes of this essay the definition of science fiction is a film that explores the repercussions of a technological situation that differs from our current relationship with technology. This definition is adequate in describing the majority of science fiction films but is still open to debate.
Throughout its history the science fiction film genre has paralleled the current fears and concerns of people at the time. The science fiction film genre got its start in 1902 with Le voyage Dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) by French film maker and magician Georges Méliès. (Frank 13) It shows how during the industrial revolution, people were afraid of industry destroying the planet, forcing them to search for new places to settle. This film, and other early science fiction films such as The Mysterious Island (1929) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), also shows how pre 1960's science fiction films dealt largely with the fantastic voyage or alien invasions. (Telotte 45) While these types of science fiction film did not...
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