The seven ages of sci-fi (part one)

As you might be aware, the latest issue of Total Film is celebrating the upcoming reimagining of The Day the Earth Stood Still, including an exclusive interview with Keanu Reeves. It’s only available for one more week (at the time of writing), so we think you ought to go to a newsagent now. If you haven't already, that is.

To tie-in, over the next seven days we’re looking back over the seven ages of cinema sci-fi.

See also:

Part Two - Nuclear paranoia (1951 - 1962)

Part Three - The Red Menace (1953 - 1964)

Part Four - Inner Visions (1968 - 1984)


Part One - Futureworlds

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe” (1927-2007)

We’d all like a glimpse of what the future holds, but filmed journeys into the future have allowed their creators to hold a mirror up to their own times, reflecting the trouble and strife of the present while musing on things to come.

Brazil (1985)

When science-fiction luminary Harlan Ellison (the guy who helped inspire The Terminator) describes your film as “brilliant beyond the meaning of the word”, you know you’ve produced something special.

Emerging from a cauldron of blood, sweat, tears and - yes - a fair dose of nervous exhaustion (“I think my brain just shut down and said, “This is madness!”) Terry Gilliam’s dystopian satire is the ultimate futureshock movie.

Infused with the dark comedy you might expect from a former Monty Python stalwart, the tale of Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) and his struggle against a giant government bureaucracy has more to say about today’s world than what might happen next.

Tackling everything from terrorism, class inequality and the drive for freedom from oppression, Brazil was so ahead of its time, it nearly didn’t get made – as illustrated in Jack Mathews’ ace account in the Making Of doc, The Battle Of Brazil.

Metropolis (1927)

Fritz Lang’s extraordinarily imaginative, spectacular, prescient gawp into the future espies a towering cityscape - soaring buildings, high-wire freeways, buzzing planes - and a society whereby the rich get richer and the poor toil in subterranean depths.

Dismissed by HG Wells as “the silliest film”, it is admittedly sprawling and tangled. But its giddy mix of German Expressionism, Gothic horror and electrifying invention make it the granddaddy of cine-sci-fi.

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

Francois Truffaut’s adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s book-burning classic distills topical themes (a worrying trend for TV over reading, literary censorship) and snips some of Ray’s wilder ideas, such as the robot hound that hunts down bookworm rebels.

The fanboys grumped, but Bradbury approved (“With this seemingly rash elimination, Truffaut proves himself truly aware of the power of the film image”).

Blade Runner (1982)

Philip K Dick died before seeing the finished version of Ridley Scott’s loose adaptation of his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? But he did admit that “after I finished reading the screenplay, I got the novel out.

The two reinforce each other.” Surely Dick would have clicked with Scott’s blistering, neon-hued meditation on life’s starkest truth - death - and its deeply-felt poke into mankind’s environmental future.

Logan’s Run (1976)

The novel might not be drooled over as much as Bradbury’s work, but it inspired this 1976 effort and sticks in the mind so well Bryan Singer wanted to remake it - and James McTeigue will.

Michael Anderson’s adap kept the central theme of paradise with a catch (you reach 30, you get killed), with the still-fresh Vietnam War a big subtext for a country dealing with another still-fresh theme - government deception.

Also see...

  • Things to Come (1936) An impassioned call for mankind's development, bursting with startlingly accurate predictions.
  • THX 1138 (1971) A pre-Star Wars George Lucas takes a cold, hard stare into a utopian, yet emotionless world.
  • A Boy And His Dog (1975) A brutal, bruising vision of a society ruined by war and the loner (Don Johnson) who scavenges across its surface.
  • Mad Max (1979) Revenge and guerilla warfare in a ragged, rundown future.
  • RoboCop (1987) Packed with Paul Verhoeven's trademark violence and bristling with smart satire.
  • Gattaca (1998) When Andrew Niccol penned what is still his best film, cloning and genetic research was, as it is now, provoking huge debate.

Check back tomorrow for more sci-fi


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