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The seven ages of sci-fi (part two)

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 One - Futureworlds (1927 - 2007)

Part Three - The Red Menace (1953 - 1964)  

Part Four - Inner Visions (1968 - 1984)

 

Part Two - Nuclear paranoia

"When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world" (1951-1962)

The '50s were a decade of techno-dread. After Hiroshima, and with atom-bomb tests in the Pacific, radiation was the new spook-word. Cinema tapped into our fears and brought us mutated monsters, environmental catastrophes: the prevailing winds of the '50s were measured with a Geiger counter…

Godzilla (1954)

The movie that launched a thousand city-stomps hit screens in two versions: Japanese (Gojira) and Yank (Godzilla: King Of The Monsters!).

The original, Ishio Honda-directed film is an often painfully slow rumination on power and who has the right to wield it, with a cast of bickering characters whose philosophical chin-stroking quickly wears thin next to the sheer spectacle of their gigantic co-star.

The American cut, trimmed down by 40 minutes then padded with extra scenes starring Raymond Burr, is pacier but undermined by a ridiculous dialogue dub.

Between them, though, a star was born: a 50m-tall reptile stirred by an H-bomb test which prompted him to grumpily climb out of the wrong side of his seabed and destroy Tokyo.

A walking, radiation-breathing metaphor for the horrors Japan suffered in World War II, Godzilla was eventually defeated by a peace-loving scientist… but the big lug stepped so hard on the nerve of a nation, he's still going strong 50 years on.

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

“The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast meet - like the closing of a gigantic circle…” This tale of a chap who starts diminishing after being caught in a cloud of radiation is an uplifting spiritual examination of man's place in the universe. Oh, and there's also a kickass battle with a giant spider.

Sporting impressive effects and a strong lead performance from Grant Williams, Shrinking Man is bigger than it has any right to be.

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Robert Wise's intelligent drama sees Michael Rennie's peaceful (and Christ-like) alien, Klaatu, attempt to make contact with us earthlings, only to end up eating a bullet for his trouble.

Klaatu warns us: stop messing around with superweapons and forces beyond our control, or “this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder.” One of sci-fi  cinema's most forward-thinking classics, with a moral that still resonates today.

The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961)

After secret nuclear tests performed by both the US and the Soviets send planet Earth spinning off its axis and towards the sun, it looks as though life as we know it is doomed.

As the end draws nigh, a bunch of Fleet Street hacks uncover the scandal, form relationships and prepare to meet their maker. Director Val Guest makes the apocalypse plausible, successfully instilling fear and awe while also providing hope… and the fi nal pay-off is one of the bravest in '60s cinema.

The Day Of The Triffids (1962)

John Wyndham's chilling novel told of a world blinded by a meteor shower, leaving its helpless humans prey to escaped, experimental plantlife.

It was also a social allegory, an examination into how a demolished civilisation can rebuild itself over time (post-apocalyptic Japan). The film, however, is pure B-movie schlock: PLANTS BROUGHT TO EARTH BY COSMIC RADIATION TURN KILLER!

Howard Keel and Janette Scott are hunted by the walking, tongue-swinging Triffids in a kitsch classic.

Also see...

  • Fathoms (1953) Awakened by a nuclear test, a dinosaur decides to visit New York. He's not there for the coffee...
  • Them! (1954) Nuclear tests in the desert spawn gigantic, man-eating ants.
  • Tarantula (1955) A giant spider stalks the countryside after a scientific experiment goes horribly awry. A young Clint Eastwood pops up as a fighter pilot.
  • It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955) An atom-powered submarine uncovers a stop-motion octopus which proceeds to squirm its (six, due to budgetry constraints) tentacles into San Francisco.
  • Attack Of The 50ft Woman (1958) “See a female colossus... her mountainous torso, skyscraper limbs, giant desires!”

Check back tomorrow for more sci-fi

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