Futures of the Past

In the fall of 2011 we started showing some classic science fiction films and TV series and their different visions of the future in the evl Cyber-Commons - partly to discuss how views of the future, including modern ones, are influenced by current social and technological trends, but also as a way to get a more common set of experiences. In the first three terms we focused on technology-rich futures, looking at user interfaces, usability, enabling technologies, and broader impacts. Then we skipped a term since we were focusing on getting cave-2 fully functional.

Now we are back for a fourth term and are focusing on showing some of the best or most influential science fiction films that we have not shown so far with a secondary focus on the portrayal of science and scientists.

Many of these films have also recently been remastered for high-definition so they look as good, or in some cases better, than they looked when originally projected or broadcast, and sound as good or better, so even if you have seen them in the past you may not have seen them like this.


Schedule

Notes

More to Explore


Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.    Criswell - 'Plan 9 from Outer Space'




Spring 2013 Series


5/17/13

1970s 

Solaris

5/10/17

1960s - Ray Harryhausen Tribute

Jason and the Argonauts

4/26/13

1960s

The Outer Limits "Demon with a Glass Hand"

&

The Twilight Zone "The Invaders"




4/19/13

1970s 

Soylent Green

4/12/13

1980s 

The Last Starfighter

4/5/13

1980s 

Tron

3/29/13

1970s 

UFO - Target Earth

3/22/13

1980s 

Akira

3/15/13

1980s 

The Terminator

3/8/13

1970s 

Alien

3/1/13

1970s 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

2/22/13

1950s

Gojira (Godzilla)

2/15/13

1980s

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

2/8/13

1930s

Bride of Frankenstein

2/1/13

1950s

Them!

1/25/13

1970s

Star Wars

1/18/13

1970s

The Andromeda Strain

1/11/13

1950s

Plan 9 from Outer Space



Summer 2012 Series (films from the 2000s and Viewer's Choice)

Tom and James were the winners of the summer sci-fi bingo competition.


8/10/12

evl goes to Chicago Comic-Con

8/3/12

1990s

Galaxy Quest

7/27/12

1960s


The Year of the Sex Olympics

7/20/12

1990s


The Fifth Element

7/13/12

1980s


Flash Gordon

7/6/12

1980s and 2000s


Max Headroom 'Blipverts'


Pair of Microsoft Office Labs videos - here and here



6/29/12

1950s


The Day the Earth Stood Still

6/22/12

1970s

Future Shock

&

Dark Star





6/15/12

2000s

Summer Wars

6/8/12

2000s

Global Frequency

&

Denno Coil



6/1/12

2000s

I, Robot

5/25/12

2000s

Minority Report

5/18/12

2000s

Avalon



Spring 2012 Series (films from the 1960s - 1990s)

Victor and James were the winners of the spring sci-fi bingo competition.

4/25/12

finishing up this series with a quick overview of the last century (and some things we missed along the way)


1902 Voyage dans la lune

1936 final Flash Gordon serial - 'Rocketing to Earth'

1953 and 1958 Warner Brothers Marvin the Martian in  Duck Dodgers and the 241/2th Century and Hare-Way to the Stars

1992 Red Dwarf  'Back to Reality'

1999 Futurama 'Space Pilot 3000'









4/18/12

1990s

Ghost in the Shell

4/11/12

1990s

Demolition Man

4/4/12

1990s

Total Recall

3/28/12

1980s and 1990s

short - 1983 - AT&T 'Viewtron'

short - 1988 - apple 'knowledge navigator'

short - 1993 - AT&T 'You Will' Commercials


Star Trek: the Next Generation "Identity Crisis"







3/14/12

1980s

Back to the Future II

2/29/12

1980s

Mobile Suit Gundam - Char's Counterattack

2/22/12

1980s

Blade Runner

2/15/12

1980s

Looker

2/8/12

1970s

The Six Million Dollar Man "Day of the Robot"

Space 1999  "Breakaway"




2/1/12

1960s and 1970s

short - Philco-Ford "Year 1999 A.D."

feature - Westworld



1/25/12

1970s

Silent Running

1/18/12

1960s

2001: a space odyssey

2001: a
                space odyssey Poster
1/11/12

1960s and 1970s

Ultraman "Shoot the Invader"

Giant Robot "Dracolon - The Great Sea Monster"

Science Ninja Team Gatchaman "Gatchaman VS Turtle King"







Fall 2011 Series (films from the 1920s - 1960s)


11/18/11

1960s

The Prisoner "Arrival"

Star Trek "Obsession"



11/4/11

1960s

Thunderbirds "Trapped in the Sky"

Disneyland "EPCOT"

Thunderbirds

Disneyland EPCOT
10/28/11

1950s

Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet Poster
10/21/11

1950s and 1960s

Disneyland "Man and the Moon"

The Jetsons "Jet Screamer"

The
              Jetsons

Man and the
              Moon
10/14/11

1940s (released in 1950)

Destination Moon

Destination Moon Poster
10/7/11

1930s

Things to Come

Things to Come Poster
9/23/11

1930s

Four Flash Gordon serial episodes

Flash Gordon
9/16/11

1920s

Metropolis

Metropolis



Notes


Solaris (1972)

'Solaris' was written in 1961 by Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem. His books were widely available and read in the 1970s but he is less well known now. While in most science fiction its fairly easy for humans to communicate with aliens, Lem's books often deal with how hard this very likely will be. Solaris has been made into two major movies, first in the former Soviet Union in 1972 and more recently in Hollywood in 2002. Both are fairly good representations of the book. The 1972 film was adapted by and directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, focusing more on the metaphysical side of the story, and is considered to be one of the best science fiction films ever made.

Note that you may want to pack a lunch on this one - Solaris is two hours and 45 minutes long.

If you like Solaris, you may also want to try Tarkovsky's 'Stalker'


Jason and the Argonauts (1963) - Ray Harryhausen Tribute

We are going to push Solaris back a week and do a special sci-fi Friday tribute to Ray Harryhausen.

There are few names in the movies that tell you that you are going to see something really special - Georges Melies, Willis O'Brien, Douglas Trumbull, the Brothers Quay. The one person that personified the creation of fantastic worlds and creatures in the 1950s and 1960s was Ray Harryhausen.

We are going to take a look at one of his best films - Jason and the Argonauts - which gave Harryhausen many opportunities to show off his craft, for example the seven skeletons sword fighting with three guys in this youtube excerpt: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pF_Fi7x93PY



The Twilight Zone

Rod Serling's Twilight Zone anthology series ran on TV from 1959 to 1964, and while not a huge rating success at the time, left an indelible mark. In its five seasons 156 episodes were made, almost all written by either Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, or Charles Beaumont, sometimes based off of the short stories of others. Rod Serling used a variety of times and places in his stories allowing him to deal with controversial issues, creating modern parables. Richard Matheson wrote the scary stories. Charles Beaumont wrote a little of everything.

The episodes often came with twist endings, which were common in EC comics of the time, and the audience was never sure if the main characters were going to live happily every after.

Rod Serling himself introduces the episodes, very often with cigarette in hand, with a style that itself has become synonymous with the series,

We are going to take a look at one of the best episodes of the series, 'The Invaders' from 1961, written by Richard Matheson.

There are so many great episodes that even a top ten list hardly scratches the surface, but here is a pretty good set if you want to look further:

The Outer Limits

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to — The Outer Limits."

Given that the Twilight Zone was popular, other science fiction / fantasy anthology series appeared on US TV. The Outer Limits started in 1963 and lasted only two seasons. Compared to The Twilight Zone it tended more towards science fiction, often took on a German Expressionism / film noir visual style, and was famous for its monsters.

We are going to take a look at what is regarded as the best episode of the series: 'Demon with a Glass Hand' from 1964, written by Harlan Ellison.


Soylent Green

With Earth Day nearly upon us it seems appropriate to show 'Soylent Green', a cautionary tale from 1973.

The Year: 2022
The Place: New York City
The Population: 40,000,000

The greenhouse effect and an ever-expanding population have produced a very unpleasant future. Several films dealt with similar issues in the early seventies including Logan's Run and THX-1138. This would be Charlton Heston's second of three films set in a dystopic future, the first was Planet of the Apes in 1968, and the last was The Omega Man in 1975. Soylent Green would give Heston his second Top 100 movie quote.

and Soylent = Soy + Lentils


The Last Starfighter

"Greetings, Starfighter.  You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada."

This film presents a very 1980s boy's fantasy - that all that time you spend playing an arcade video game will allow you to save the galaxy … and get the girl.

Unlike Tron, where the CG effects were limited to the world inside the computer, here the CG from Digital Productions represented vehicles and objects in the real world. The 27 minutes of CG effects were created on a Cray X-MP which provided 2 CPUs and 16 Megabytes of memory for $15 million. All of the space ships and alien worlds were created through computer graphics - the same idea Babylon 5 would use a decade later for the same reason - its less expensive and less constrained than traditional model work. On average each frame of computer graphics used 250,000 polygons at a resolution of 5000 x 3000 pixels.

The next big step for CG in the movies would be 5 years later in The Abyss where the computer generated water tentacle was integrated with the actors and the sets.


Tron

50 years after Walt Disney Studios began, they found themselves in a bit of a rut, and facing declining attendance with their children's films such as "The Cat from Outer Space" and "The Shaggy D.A.", so they released their first PG film in 1979 - 'The Black Hole'. It would be the first in a series of darker films released over the next several years including 'The Watcher in the Woods'  in 1980, the film we will watch - 'Tron' from 1982, and 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' from 1983.

"The Black Hole" used computer graphics for its opening credits. Tron would have 15 minutes of computer graphics integrated into the story, though not integrated with the live-action footage. The CG footage was groundbreaking, but it was not eligible for the special effects oscar because effects were done using computers.

"Tron" was one of the first films to deal with the new Video Arcade fad and Hacking, but was not the first film to deal with people 'inside the computer'. "World on a Wire" from 1973 dealt with people in a computer simulation and "Welcome to Blood City" from 1977 dealt with people in an artificial reality. More films would deal with Video Games and Hackers in the next few years with "War Games", "Nightmares" and "The Last Starfighter".

'Tron' did pretty well at the box office. The arcade video game based on the movie did better, earning more money than the film, and kept the film in the public consciousness.


Notes on UFO Target Earth

While 'Star Wars' is the golden child and gets talked about all the time when visitors come by evl, there is another, one that is only spoken of in whispers, and that is 'UFO: Target Earth' from 1974 - evl's first collaboration with the movie business.

A few weeks ago we watched 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', which is one of the best UFO movies, but there were many more UFO movies made in the 1970s, and 'UFO Target Earth' is typical of many of them. With a 2.1 rating on IMDB even Mystery Science Theater 3000 didn't touch this one, but it did get an article in American Cinematographer in July 1974.

To get into the spirit of the thing, here is a screen grab from the film showing the special effects credits - given your experience and available computer technology, can you enhance this frame to see what Tom and Dan were credited with?



Notes on Akira

There have been several waves of Japanese animation hitting US Televisions - the 60s with Gigantor, Kimba, and Speed Racer, the 70s with Star Blazers and Battle of the Planets, the 80s with Robotech. The availability of home video in the mid 1980s encouraged a major growth in anime clubs that formed to import and watch original movies and series from Japan (which fortunately had the same broadcast TV format), often through bad multi-generation copies without subtitles. Large scale popularity of anime remained elusive in the US until the 1990s with the release of Akira and Ghost in the Shell, although it took Akira a few years to officially make it to the US.

Katsuhiro Otomo directed Akira based on a very condensed version of his own manga. It was one of the first Japanese animated films to have the dialogue recorded first, as in US productions, to get the lip sync correct, and was the most expensive animated film produced in Japan at the time.


Notes on The Terminator

It had been a decade since Yul Brenner's nigh-indestructible robotic gunslinger made an impression in 'Westworld', and 20 years since Harlan Ellison's 'Soldier' with two warriors from the future continuing their battle in the present was shown as part of the Outer Limits on TV, so it was time for an update.

James Cameron had worked as a production designer for Roger Corman, and had written and directed his first feature in 1981 - "Piranha II - the Spawning" which Cameron referred to as "the finest flying piranha movie ever made". The Terminator would be his second film. It would star former Mr. Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was coming off his first film success with Conan the Barbarian.

The first Terminator film had a budget of $6 million for the time, which was only 1/4 of the budget of the big sci-fi films that year. It was not a major release and did not have a major advertising campaign. It did alright at the box office and did well on home video. At the time maybe one major film was released per week on home video, and that was double the year before. Films also took over a year to reach home video, rather than a few months like today. It cost $100 if you wanted to buy a film on VHS or Betamax, and renting a movie cost $10, so 'The Terminator' really didn't begin to develop a strong following until a year or two after its release.

and if you are curious about the assembly language in the 'terminator vision', it is apple ][ code (www.pagetable.com/?p=64)



Notes on Alien

Ridley Scott's 1979 film 'Alien' updated Mario Bava's mid 1960s 'Planet of the Vampires' where space travelers investigate a crashed space ship on an alien planet, and the 1950's 'It! the Terror from Beyond Space' where a space crew has to fight off an alien on their ship, from low budget 'B' movies to a big budget film where H.R. Giger's memorable alien designs along with Moebius's space suits and Ron Cobb's ship designs gave the film a unique look

Perhaps still feeling the sting of not having their Star Wars figures out in time for Christmas, Kenner produced one of the greatest toys of the 1970s - an 18" tall 'action figure' of the alien with movable arms, legs, and inner jaw that totally dominated any other toys in the same room. The fact that the film was rated R didn't seem to bother Kenner, but it sure bothered a whole lot of parents, and the toy was quickly removed from shelves.
There was also an alien model kit, board game, trading cards, puzzle, and bloody comic adaption from Heavy Metal - all this in the days before films were released onto home video, so the only way for kids to see the film was to have their parents take them, or to sneak in. Fortunately my parents took me to see the film in theaters when I was 14 AND bought me the giant action figure for Christmas. The figure still stands watch over my other toys at home. Check out the commercial on youtube - www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKSv85mJEmY

'Alien' would help spawn over a decade of lower budget 'Alien'-ispired films which only began to ebb when lower budget 'Aliens'-inspired films began to predominate.

Notes on Close Encounters of the Third Kind

This week we are going to start at 12:15 and take a look at Steven Spielberg's second blockbuster hit - 1977's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".

While the flying saucer craze of the 50s died out pretty quickly, sightings of UFOs continued through the 60s, and the 70s saw a rebirth of interest in UFOs and ancient astronauts with books and films like Erich von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods?".

After Watergate people were more receptive to stories of the government covering up an alien crash in Roswell, and were suspicious of the US Air Force's lack of findings in their Project Blue Book investigation into UFO sightings. Of course the public was also interested in Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, pyramids, crystals, and Bigfoot in the 1970s.

At the time of the film's release stereotypical aliens were still the belligerent 'little green men' popularized by Marvin the Martian, the martians from the 'Mars Attacks' trading cards, and the saucer men from 'Invasion of the Saucer Men.' Close Encounters would help popularize the 'greys' as the stereotypical alien.

The term 'close encounters of the third kind' comes from J. Allen Hynek's 1972 book the UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry. Hynek had been part of Project Blue Book and other investigations into UFOs and served as a consultant to the film.

We are going to take a look at the original 1977 version. There was also the 1980 Special Edition which should probably be avoided, and the 1998 Collector's Edition which is Spielberg's preferred version.


Notes on Gojira (Godzilla)

This week we look at that other famous giant monster from 1954 -  Gojira

While 'Gojira' was inspired by and follows a similar plot as 'the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms", 'Gojira' had a particular resonance in Japan. The opening of the film where the crew of a fishing boat suffers radiation poisoning came less than a year after sailors from a real Japanese fishing boat were exposed to fallout from the US atomic testing on Bikini. Gojira's attack on Tokyo comes less than a decade after Tokyo, Kobe, and other Japanese cities were firebombed, and atomic weapons were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was also only 30 years since the Great Kanto Earthquake, typhoon, and ensuing fire destroyed a large part of Tokyo.

The US version of 'Gojira' had the Japanese dialogue dubbed into English and also featured new scenes shot with Raymond Burr as a reporter in Japan at the time who would be present at the various important events in the film through the use of body doubles and creative editing. 'Godzilla King of the Monsters' would be a major release in the US in 1956. It was a success in US theaters and would go on to be regularly shown on TV, opening the door for many Japanese science fiction films in the US. We will watch the original Japanese version, but the US version is pretty good to.

During the 1970s it was rather common for late afternoon TV in the US to show soap operas or old movies every day, and regularly twice a year one entire week of the afternoon movie would be taken over by 'monster week' showing the Godzilla films or the Gamera films or other similar fare, so the audience for these films was constantly expanding. Several of the Godzilla films were dubbed and received a theatrical release in the US - I remember seeing two or three in the theatre in the 1970s, as well as Godzilla's return to theatres in the mid 80s after a decade absence. In the 1990s the original versions of the films were finally released onto video in the US. For the last several years one of the main Godzilla conventions has been held near Chicago each summer, and they regularly take over the Pickwick theatre in Park Ridge to show the original films during the convention.

The Godzilla film series is one of the longest running film series, currently at 27 films (28 if you count the US film from 1998) with another US film to come next year. There have been three sets of Godzilla films - 15 films from 1954-1975 when declining box office caused the series to stop, 7 films from 1984-1995 when the series stopped to allow the US film to proceed, and then 5 films from 1999-2004 when declining box office again stopped the series.

Other good Godzilla films include:
King Kong vs Godzilla (1962), Destroy All Monsters (1968), Return of Godzilla (1985), Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidrah - Giant Monster All out Attack (2001), and for its sheer exuberance the final film, Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), is worth checking out. Unfortunately the Godzilla film that I was in does not make the top list.

While earlier giant monsters like King Kong and the Rhedosuarus from 'the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms' were created through stop motion animation, Godzilla would begin the 'man in suit' style of creating giant monsters. The scale of that suit and the model cities it tramples on have changed over the years. Godzilla was 50m tall (roughly the height of SEO on campus) in the 50s through the 1970s. When Godzilla returned in the 1980s he was 80m tall since buildings had grown much taller. In the 1990s he briefly became 100m tall (the height of University Hall on campus)  before returning to 80m tall in the 2000s. For comparison a Tyrannosaurus Rex is only 6m tall.





Notes on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

The success of 'Star Wars' caused Paramount to rethink their in-production Star Trek Phase II TV series and turn it into 'Star Trek The Motion Picture.' That picture went over budget, becoming the most expensive film made at that time, but it did not do as well as expected critically or commercially. It did well enough to warrant a sequel, but that sequel would be made on a much smaller budget reusing sets, models, props, and footage from the first film to dramatically reduce costs, and it would be the last 'Star Trek' film made unless it did very well. It did very very well, was a critical and commercial success, and is still generally considered to be the best of the 'Star Trek' films.

It also showcases one of the major steps in the evolution of computer graphics in feature films:
http://www.alvyray.com/Papers/CG/StarTrekII_GenesisDemo.pdf


Notes on Bride of Frankenstein

This week we are going to take a look at one of the most famous scientists in films and literature: Victor (Henry) Frankenstein.

The first Frankenstein film was Thomas Edison's short 1910 film. The most famous and influential set of films began with 1931's Frankenstein and its first (and slightly better) sequel from 1935: 'Bride of Frankenstein'. Since that time there have been roughly 50 films made, and lots of other variations on the theme, but many of the most iconic moments come from this film.
 
Other good Frankenstein films include the original 1931 'Frankenstein', Mel Brooks' 1974 parody 'Young Frankenstein', 1948's 'Bud Abbot and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein', and 1957's 'The Curse of Frankenstein' where Peter Cushing took over the role of the Baron.  Mel Brooks' 'Young Frankenstein' would re-use many of the same props to create Frankenstein's laboratory in their film..


Notes on Them!

One sci-fi sub-genre that we have not looked into yet is the 'Giant Monster' genre.

The 'Giant Monster' film genre had its origins in 'the Lost World' of 1925 and 'King Kong' of 1933. The genre really took off in 1953 with 'The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms', where a radioactive dinosaur awoken by atomic testing causes chaos in Manhattan. That film was based on a story by Ray Bradbury and featured special effects by Ray Harryhausen. The following year saw the release of two of the best giant monster films: 'Them!' in the US and 'Godzilla' in Japan.

'Them!' would become the highest grossing film for Warner Bros. studio that year. The following six years saw various studios around the world producing films with giant sea creatures (It Came from Beneath the Sea, Giant Behemoth), arachnids (Tarantula, Earth vs the Spider, Black Scorpion), crustaceans (Attack of the Crab Monsters), reptiles (Giant Gila Monster), worms (Attack of the Giant Leeches), birds (The Giant Claw), insects (The Beginning of the End, Deadly Mantis, Monster from Green Hell), people (The Amazing Colossal Man, Attack of the 50 ft Woman), rocks (The Monolith Monsters), machines (Kronos), elements (The Magnetic Monster), and aliens (The Blob, The Crawling Eye, Caltiki the Undying Monster). Beginning in the 1960s, aside from the continuing Godzilla and Gamera series in Japan, very few giant monster films were released until computer graphics in the late 90s made them practical again.

'Them!' starts out as a police procedural with the suspense building until the reveal of the giant monsters 30 minutes into film, though the surprise of what 'them' are was somewhat reduced by prominently featuring giant ants on the various movie posters.




Notes on Star Wars (original 1977 version)

its 1977 and 20th Century Fox is preparing to release their big budget sci-fi film of the year, the post apocalyptic action adventure 'Damnation Alley.' It did not meet expectations. Fortunately for 20th Century Fox that year they also released a smaller film. Get out your 'Darth Vader Lives' T-shirts, we are going to watch 'Star Wars'.

'Star Wars' was released slowly across the US in '77, starting in less than 40 theaters since it was not expected to do well in a jaded and cynical post-Vietnam post-Watergate US. Within three months it had expanded to 1000 theaters across the US. The hype built person to person and spread organically since the studio didn't know what they had, so people across the country 'discovered' 'Star Wars' in the way you discover a smaller independent film because you heard about it from a friend and not from an advertising campaign. I was 10 when I saw 'Star Wars' in St Louis when my family visited my brother there, and then we came back to Detroit and there was no evidence of its existence. Star Wars was only playing in one theatre on the other side of town. It was an odd experience having seen something special and then having to wait for the wave of its existence to make it to my neighborhood.

People also started seeing the film multiple times in the theatre on the first run. This was before home video so the only way to see a film again was to go to a smaller revival theatre for a second run, and people did that for older films. Here people were going back again and again to a first run film. I saw 'star wars' at least four times that summer as more and more people I knew 'discovered' the film and wanted to go see it.

Since the film was not expected to do well there was no Star Wars merchandise available aside from the novelization and the very quick production of T-shirts and buttons. Six months later at Christmas you could buy a base for the unreleased action figures along with a card saying you will get your figures in a few months.

'Star Wars' was the second time that evl (then the circle graphics habitat) worked on a film. The first was 1974's 'UFO: Target Earth', which would be in the IMDB bottom 100 if more people had actually seen it. There were no hints that 'Star Wars' would be any different.

What we are going to watch is, more or less, the way 'Star Wars' was seen in theaters in 1977, not 'Star Wars Episode IV' from 1981, or 'Greedo shoots first Star Wars' from 1997, or 'Greedo and Han shoot at the same time Star Wars' from 2007. Depending on where and when you saw 'Star Wars' in '77 there were two slightly different prints, two print sizes - 35 mm and 70 mm, and three different audio mixes (mono, stereo, 6 channel) with different content, so like 'the Hobbit' you had a different experience depending on the theatre you saw it in. Theatres were also a whole lot bigger then, before the dark times, before the multiplexes, with a single auditorium seating 500 to 1000 people with really really big screens, so its almost impossible today to recreate the huge impact of seeing and hearing and feeling the opening shot of 'Star Wars'.


Notes on The Andromeda Strain (original 1971 version)

This week - The original 1971 version of The Andromeda Strain. Our third Michael Crichton film was based on the 1969 novel of the same name and features one of the most realistic depictions of scientists in a dramatic film, also some pretty cool set design, a nice electronic music score, and a good example of late 60's early 70s split screen work.

An alien life form hitches a ride back to earth on a satellite, but unlike many sci-fi films it does not rapidly grow into a man in a suit terrorizing small town villagers, or grow into a very large man in a suit trampling model cities. It confines its terrorizing to the microscopic level.


Notes on Plan 9 from Outer Space

To celebrate evl's new popcorn machine and large amount of organic popcorn from Alan and I, sci-fi Fridays will start up again this Friday at 12:30 in the cyber-commons with Ed Wood's 1956 film: 'Plan 9 from Outer Space'

While not the worst movie ever made, it is certainly a very badly made movie, but also a very very enjoyable one. Wondrously inept in almost every conceivable way, Ed Wood's anti-war alien invasion film would eventually inspire Tim Burton's 1994 Film 'Ed Wood' which covers many of the 'high points' of the production of this film.


Other entertaining bad movies in the same genre and time period include:

Notes on Galaxy Quest

Since evl is planning an outing to Comic Con next Friday it seems appropriate to give a bit of a primer on that experience, and simultaneously show a very funny and very affectionate parody of science fiction (and its fans) in general, and Star Trek in particular. Galaxy Quest did OK at the box office upon release, but the studios clearly had no idea how to market it. It was very well received by sci-fi fans and even won the World Science Fiction Society Hugo that year for Best Dramatic Presentation.


Notes on The Year of the Sex Olympics

We have taken a look at adaptions of stories by several major science fiction writers, but one we have not encountered so far is Nigel Kneale. He is most famously known as the creator of the Quatermass series on TV and in the movies. In 1954 he adapted 1984 for television and in 1968 created his own dystopian future where an overpopulated planet is divided into the few 'high drives' who run the government and the media, and the many passive 'low drives' who are encouraged to watch but not do. Taking this to the extreme is the The Live Life Show where the television audience can watch a small group of people 24 hours a day on an island - yes, its the birth of reality television as part of a dystopic parable.

The original broadcast was in color, and apparently in a lot of color, but no color videotape survives, only a black and white version, which was only found in the 1980s after the program was presumed lost.


Notes on The Fifth Element

Luc Besson's 1997 film is one of those movies that a director 'has always wanted to make since his/her childhood.' These kinds of vanity projects tend to go to extremes and this film embraces that. With Moebius (Jean Giraud) on the production design team the film has a very different style from the typical Hollywood future.


Notes on Flash Gordon (1980)

Alex Raymond's comic strip inspired the first 'Flash Gordon' movie serial which we watched, plus two more in 1938 and 1940. There would be occasional comics over the next several decades.  In 1967 there was an inexplicably odd Turkish Flash Gordon film, and in 1974 the reasonably amusing X-rated 'Flesh Gordon'. Then came 'Star Wars' and suddenly there was a Saturday morning cartoon in 1979 and the big budget 'Flash Gordon' movie in 1980. The film didn't do very well, either critically, popularly, or monetarily, but its earnestness, plus one of the most memorable opening credits sequences in movie history, has earned it cult status.

Notes on Max Headroom

An early cyberpunk TV series, Max Headroom started as a made for TV movie created by Channel 4 in the UK in 1985. Two years later it was remade, almost shot for shot, with the same lead actors as the first episode of the ABC Max Headroom TV series, which lasted 14 episodes. We are going to watch the US version; the original UK version is not commercially available but can be found in the dark corners of the internets.

Notes on Microsoft Office Labs Videos

These videos were made in 2008 and 2011 by Microsoft Office Labs  to show how people might interact with computers / displays / each other in 2019.


Notes on The Day the Earth Stood Still

While this 1951 film contains all the standard elements of a 50s B-movie alien invasion film: flying saucer, robot, energy weapons, battle with the US military, ultimatums, theremin music, etc, they are combined here to create one of the best science fiction films ever made.


Notes on Future Shock and Dark Star

Future Shock was a book written but Alvin Toffler in 1970 with the core idea that society and technology were changing too fast for people to be able to adapt, causing a high degree of stress. He popularized the term 'information overload.' This film version was made in 1972.


Dark Star was John Carpenter's first feature in 1974, starting out as a student film and going through several iterations of added, removed, and edited footage; we are going to see the shorter Director's Cut. The film was budgeted at $60,000 (or about $250,000 today) so it will be one of the least expensive views of the future we have seen so far. Appearing after Silent Running but before Star Wars it would be the first film to show space travel as just a job, and not very glamorous  - a theme that would be revisited by screenplay writer Dan O'Bannon in Alien.

A small crew is on a long term mission to destroy unstable planets to make way for human colonization. Unfortunately the ship and the crew members are starting to break down.



Notes on Summer Wars

in the 1950s and early 60s two great Japanese directors, Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, made very different 'Japanese' films, Kurosawa more action/adventure, Ozu more personal. Almost all Japanese futuristic films have followed the Kurosawa model; Summer Wars (2009) by Mamoru Hosoda, is more of an Ozu film, dealing with family issues and personal relationships at the same time as the world's massive online world OZ is coming under attack.


Notes on Global Frequency and Denno Coil

Global Frequency started as a 12 issue comic series in 2002 (now available on comixology) and then became a TV pilot in 2005 but it didn't go on to become a TV series.

Global frequency was a cross between the X-files and the 1960's Mission Impossible TV series. In the 1960s Jim Phelps would be given his mission and then choose the most appropriate agents from a binder of photographs at the beginning of each episode (though his team pretty much always included exactly the same people). Now with cellphones and immediate access to information about almost anyone on the planet a much more dynamic solution to problems becomes available.


Denno Coil was a 26 episode TV series in 2007. The series is  set in a future city where augmented reality eyeglasses are commonplace allowing an almost complete merging of real and virtual worlds.


Notes on I, Robot

Last week we saw a future with almost no robots ... this week we have lots and lots of robots as 2004 looks ahead to Chicago in the year 2035 inspired by several Isaac Asimov stories with 'I, Robot'


Notes on Minority Report

This week ... Minority Report's view of 2054 from 2002. This will be our third film inspired by a Philip K Dick story. Unlike most other films set in the future this one is based on ideas by several experts gathered together by Steven Spielberg including:


Ten years later some of the predictions have come to be, others are close, and others seem a little odd.


Notes on the Avalon and the 2000s

'Avalon' was Mamoru Oshii's first film after 'Ghost in the Shell', teaming up with the same writer and composer, but filmed in Poland with an entirely Polish cast and help from the Polish military. If you recall our discussion about the computer graphics going from green to amber in 'Ghost in Shell' between its original release and re-release, here is where Oshii first went amber. I think 'Avalon' was the first, and perhaps only film to get the concept role playing games right.

While the 2000s weren't that long ago and people may actually remember these things, I figure I would complete my set of notes on the new tech of the various decades, so here we go:

in the 2000s

GPS goes mainstream with small receivers for cars and hikers

wireless networking goes mainstream in the early part of the decade and cellular by the end of the decade

video conferencing becomes more common in the early part of the decade as webcams or built-in cameras become more common

In the second half of the decade social media would take off in dramatic fashion with Facebook, twitter, etc.

text messaging surges in popularity as smart phones are used less and less as actual phones

in the second half of the decade flat panel displays quickly replace tube-based displays

RFID tags gain popularity for tracking merchandise, people. etc.

minimally invasive surgery becomes much more common

digital high definition (and widescreen) television replaces analog NTSC TV in the US


and in particular years:

2000 PlayStation 2 released with a DVD drive, 300 MHz processor, and 36 MB of RAM, eventually selling over 150 million consoles with over 1.5 billion games sold.

2000 first Prius hybrid car released

2001 iPod (max 10 gig of music) became as ubiquitous as the Sony Walkman of the 1980s or the transistor radio of the 1950s. The music industry is slow to react.

2001 windows xp released with minimum system requirements of (300 MHz CPU, 128 MB RAM, 800x600 monitor, 1.5 GB free hard drive space)

2002 cell phones with cameras begin appearing

2002 Roomba is introduced. Eventually 6 million of them will be robotically cleaning floors in homes (and biding their time)

2003 DVRs appear, allowing you to record TV digitally onto a hard drive

2004 Spirit and Opportunity Rovers land on mars and drive around for many years

2005 YouTube begins operation

2005/6 Xbox 360 and PS3 released. PS3 incorporated a Blu-ray drive, 3.2 GHz processor, 512 MB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, Wi-Fi.

2006 Nintendo wii appears and introduces gestural interaction to the masses

2006 Pluto demoted to dwarf planet (as measurement tools have increased in accuracy, Pluto's estimated size and mass has continued to shrink since its discovery from roughly the size of the Earth to 1/500th that of the Earth)

2007 smart phones, including the iPhone, change everything again. Touch screens dramatically gain in popularity.

2008 Amazon Kindle appears. The publishing industry is slow to react.

2009 avatar brings 3D movies back (again) after the short 3D booms in the 1950s and the 1980s - the basic passive stereo projection technology however remains largely unchanged over those 60 years.



Notes on 100 years in 100 Minutes

Voyage to the Moon - French filmmaker Georges Méliès short 14 minute film from 1902 is considered the first science fiction film. We will take a look at the newly restored color version which was colored by hand 110 years ago.


Flash Gordon episode 13 Rocketing to Earth - Back in the fall we watched the first four episodes of the Flash Gordon serial. Now we will watch the final episode from 1936


Marvin the Martian appeared in several Warner Brothers cartoons. We will take a look at a double-feature directed by the great Chuck Jones
    Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953)
    Hare-way to the Stars (1958)


Red Dwarf - Back to Reality
    This British TV series began in 1988 and this episode from season 5 aired in 1992. The series follows the adventures of Dave Lister, the last living human, his hologramatic former room-mate, a humanoid who evolved from the descendants of Dave's cat, and a mechanoid, three million years in the future


Futurama - Space Pilot 3000
    Matt Groening's TV series began in 1999 with this episode where delivery boy Phillip Fry gets cryogenically frozen in the year 1999 and wakes up in New New York in the year 2999


Notes on Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell was directed by Mamoru Oshii (who directed lots of great animated and live action TV shows and films like Urusei Yatsura, Angel's Egg, Patlabor, Avalon) and based on on comics by Masamune Shirow (who's stories revolve around the integration of humans and technology in the near future) with music by Kanji Kawai and a screenplay by Kazunori Ito (both of which also do lot of great films and TV series)

The year is 2029. Cyborgs are common and people have varying levels of prosthetic implants allowing limb or organ replacement, and the transfer of human consciousness into a fully mechanical body. Implants give the benefit of constant connectivity to the net without external interfaces, but also allow hacking into someone's body. A recurring theme is whether machines in this inter-connected world can develop a soul or 'ghost' in this environment.

We are going to look at the original version of the film from 1995. There is also version 2.0 (not to be confused with Ghost in the Shell 2, the sequel, or Ghost in the Shell - Standalone Complex, the TV series that followed). Ghost in the Shell 2.0 was released in 2008 and added more computer graphics, changed the film's color pallet, and featured a new impressive sound mix. All of the various incarnations of Ghost in the Shell are worth reading / watching.


Notes on Demolition Man

1993's  'Demolition Man' looks ahead to a dystopic Los Angeles in 1996 and then to the Joy Joy future of 2032.


Notes on Total Recall


We are up to 1990s and a few years away from the internet changing everything.


tech in the 80s:

atm machines become commonplace - no more talking to a human at a bank when you need to get cash

1990 hubble space telescope launched to take pictures from above the atmosphere, and we see a lot more colour in the sky than ever before
   
1990 human genome project begins and is completed 13 years later

1993 - multi-platform mosaic web browser is released replacing gopher, ftp, and beginning the move from a small text based internet community to a page layout graphical one for the world. Within a couple years Netscape and Internet Explorer would appear based on ideas and/or code from mosaic. By the end of the 90s isolated online communities like America On-Line (AOL) and Compuserve are left behind

similarly email becomes widespread two decades after the first email was sent with services like Hotmail providing email access through the web. By the end of the 1990s there were over 550 million email addresses worldwide (330 million in the US) and in the US 2/3rds of workplaces and 1/4 of homes had email

1993 doom released and the pattern of the first person shooter are set down.

1993 apple newton released as the first serious PDA. It fails but in 1996 the palm pilot appears and succeeds

1994 and 1995 - visible human datasets released

1994 amazon starts selling books on the web (and eventually a whole lot more) - no more need to talk to a human to buy a book

1995 toy story premiers and theatrical animation is dragged in to the computer graphics age

1997 dvds begin to replace VHS and laserdiscs for home video

1997 sojourner rover starts driving around mars

1997 netflix founded - no more need to talk to a human to rent a video

1998 construction of International Space Station begins

digital still cameras start becoming popular. By the late 1990s these cameras would have 1-megapixel resolution (no more talking to a person to get your pictures developed a few days later)

cell phone (just phones, not smart phones) usage would go from 5 million in 1990 to 100 million by 2000 (and 300 million in 2010)

fueled by the internet boom pc ownership jumps from 55 million PCs in the US in 1990 to 140 million by 1999

In the 1990s we carried around lots of devices, none of which connected to the internet - digital cameras, PDAs for our appointments and quick notes, portable game players. and cell phones to talk to people

in the mid 1990s PCs had:


and with that context - Total Recall - 1990

Ten years after Blade Runner we get a second big budget film based on a Philip K Dick story. This time Arnold Schwarzenegger stars and Paul Verhoeven directs (right after his success with another Robocop).



Notes on Viewtron, Knowledge Navigator, 'You Will', and Star Trek the Next Generation

1983 - AT&T's Viewtron

What would the internet have been like in 1983 using analogue phone lines to transmit data and your TV as the display? While almost everything we have shown has been a guess about the future, this was real, although almost no-one had access to it and it was not able to expand beyond a couple markets. It would take the internet, personal computers, and web browsers to provide a platform for these same ideas to flourish.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6DVBPmo4Co


1988 - apple's Knowledge Navigator

We come to 1988 and another look 25 years into the future with apple's knowledge navigator concept video.  Steve jobs was kicked out of apple in 1985 and would not be back for another 12 years but in the interim apple would still be innovating. This is a concept video of how a professor in the far off year of 2011 would be interacting with information and other people.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRH8eimU_20


1993 - AT&T's "You Will" series of commercials

In 1993-1994 at&T created the series of 'You will' commercials directed by David Fincher (who would go on to direct Fight Club, Zodiac, etc) with narration by Tom Selleck (ask your parents). Most of the 'marvels of the future' depicted in these commercials are now commonplace, though not quite the way imagined.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MnQ8EkwXJ0



Star Trek the Next Generation

In the mid 1970s Star Trek was set to return to TV screens as 'Star Trek Phase 2'. The success of Star Wars quickly converted a second TV series into a theatrical film series. With the success of the films there was interest in another TV series with a new cast. Gene Roddenberry would set the Next Generation 100 years later than his original series with updated  production design and technology. The new Enterprise would be equipped with ubiquitous large touch screen displays and tablet computers, and the Holodeck from the 70s animated series bringing Ivan Sutherland's Ultimate Display into regular fictional use.




Notes on Back to the Future Part II

The first third of the second 'Back to the Future' movie looks at 2015 from 1989 (again, 25 years ahead), including 2015 looking backwards in the 'cafe 80s'. Writers Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, and Production Designer Rick Carter created a future where things have gotten bigger, smaller, more colorful, more convenient, and are hovering a whole lot more, but rather than being utopic or dystopic, this future looks more like an amusingly realistic progression from the present  (err ... the past ... when it was the present)


Notes on Mobile Suit Gundam - Char's Counterattack

Mobile Suit Gundam first appeared on Japanese TV in 1979. Throughout its 13 sequels, reboots, and re-imaginings, the 'giant robots' are not one of a kind things built by a mad scientist and piloted by whatever young people happen to be around when they get turned on, but are more like mass produced tanks/airplanes that are piloted by professionals. Instead of alien invasions, the stories focus on future wars fought in inner near solar system between groups of humans with different goals and political ideologies where there are 'good guys' and 'bad guys' on both sides of the conflict. Pretty much anyone could die at any time, and the last few episodes of each series tend to get very very bloody.

The central conflicts in the Gundam universe tend to be between those who grew up on Earth and those who grew up in the many O'Neill space colonies, or Sides, near the Earth who want more independence. A secondary conflict exists between the Newtypes and Oldtypes. Newtypes are slightly evolved humans who are somewhat psychic and are much better at controlling mobile suits than 'normal' humans.

While we usually start near the beginning of a TV series, here we are going to show the first original Gundam theatrical film from 1988, the one that ended the first set of TV series, as the hero and
(very cool) villain from the first Gundam TV series finally settle things. All but a handful of the characters of this movie are new (see note above above the how the TV series tend to end) and it was designed to be somewhat accessible to general audiences.

The 43 episodes of the original Gundam TV series were condensed into three theatrical films which are worth seeing. If you are looking more a more modern show, Gundam Seed from the early 2000s was also quite well done. The various series also live on through the multitudes of model kits of every Gundam variant. Look in any Japanese toy shop and you will still find Ultraman figures, Totoro, and Gundam model kits.


Notes on Blade Runner

Ridley Scott +  Syd Mead + Philip K. Dick + Vangelis = one of the most memorable futures of the past. A commercial failure at the time, its appearance alongside the birth of cyberpunk in written form would have a much stronger influence in later years.

While I would normally prefer to show the version of the film that was shown in theaters in 1982, the 2007 'Final Cut' fixes a few errors in the original and is closer to the original intent for the film without introducing any 'Greedo shoots first' annoyances.


Notes on Looker

and now we get to the 1980s and back to another film written and directed by Michael Crichton

Looker was the first film to use shaded computer graphics for a very short sequence, and also the first film to deal seriously with the concept of computer generated virtual humans, scanning human beings to create those characters, and combining virtual and computer generated elements in real time - things that are common today, though the details are a little different when seen from 1981.

tech in the 80s:

There were several wonderful new things that could be done with your phone in the 1980s that still exist today:
- fax machines
- answering machines

The phone system also enabled bulletin board systems (BBSs), a DIY internet at 300 or 1200 bits per second run from individual PCs scattered around the country/world. They supported text only conversations, and often only one person could log in at a time, but you could set one up in your basement with an extra phone line and a dedicated computer, and they would lead to more general services like compuserve and America online, and eventually to all of the online conversations today.

While phones were still hard-wired you could carry around a small battery powered pager/beeper to get notified that you should find a phone and call someone - kind of like an 1980s version of twitter

Television changed from over the air to cable, taking people from 10 local channels to 100 national channels, 24 hour channels, and the first channels dedicated to particular topics.

The mid 80s would see the first major resurgence of 3D cinema, using the same passive polarization technology of the first 3D boom in the 1950, which is the same passive polarization technology of recent years. Red/Blue glasses were used to try and bring the 3D experience to TV screens but without a big hit like Avatar or computer generated animated films to keep the trend going, the resurgence was very short lived.

In the early 1980s you could carry around the music you wanted to hear on a Sony walkman with cassette tapes.You could also watch music videos all day on MTV as rock stars were suddenly expected to have hit videos as well as hit songs. By the end of the 80s you could carry a GameBoy around with you as the first popular portable video game system.

Personal computers were becoming more common and display resolution was up to 640 x 480. Computers would gain mice and graphical user interfaces. Storage would move from 5&1/4" floppy discs to 3&1/2" discs (looking a lot like what they used in star trek in the 60s) with 800kB of storage per side. Laser printers would replace dot matrix printers allowing people to make professional looking printed documents.

CDs would replace LPs for music distribution and would dominate for a quarter of a century. CDROMs would begin to replace floppy discs for software distribution by the end of the decade and would have more storage than a typical hard disc drive until the mid 1990s.

Laser discs would appear for home video distribution with double the resolution of VHS tapes, and while they never replaced VHS, they would innovate by giving viewers films in their original aspect ratio, audio commentaries, and special features that have become standard on DVDs.

1981 saw the first space shuttle flight. The two Voyagers would continue to give us images of the outer planets throughout the decade - 1979 Jupiter, 1980 Saturn, 1986 Uranus, 1989 Neptune, US and Soviet missions would give us views of Venus, while a European mission would get close to Halley's comet


Notes on Space 1999 and The Six Million Dollar Man

Back to American and British TV this week ...

The Six Million Dollar Man (1974)

Steve Austin, the last man to walk on the moon, is seriously injured during a NASA test flight. As the opening credits briefly explain, he is rebuilt as a cyborg, or 'bionic' man, at a cost of six million dollars (25 million in inflation adjusted dollars today). While initially working as a secret agent and traveling around the world, the series producers quickly determined that they needed things that were difficult for Steve to fight, so four episodes into the series we get the first robot adversary, which would lead to several more encounters with robotic impostors, aliens, and Bigfoot, as the science-fiction elements would start to dominate the five years the series was on TV. This particular episode would start an incredible number of slow motion fights on the playground.


Space 1999 (1975)

We last left Gerry and Silvia Anderson when they were producing Thunderbirds. Three supermarionation TV series, and two live TV action series later brings us to the most expensive TV series made to that time - Space 1999. Set on the moon 25 years in the future, the look of the series was obviously influenced by 2001, though the production designers would create several memorable designs of their own. While the computer interfaces are pretty primitive with lots of buttons and few displays, the characters routinely carry a 1970s vision of a PDA/cellphone.


Notes on 1999 A.D. and Westworld

This week we are going to show a short and then a feature.

First up is a view of the year 1999 from 1967 made by Philco-Ford. Philco was known for making radios starting in the 1920s and became one of the major radio manufacturers before moving into TVs and computers. They were acquired by Ford Motor Company in the early 1960s. This short 20 minute documentary describes home life in the far off year of 1999.

Next up is Michael Crichton's Westworld.

Michael Crichton has written various books and scripts about near-future technology, and has visited the theme of an amusement park run amuck as its underlying technology fails a couple times. This was the first. The pace of technological change, glacial by today's standards, was concerning people, and the widespread introduction of computers would really begin to speed up that pace of change. Westworld has the first digitally processed imagery in a motion picture, as we enter the time of computer graphics in film. It would take 5 days of computer time to produce 2 and a half minutes of final footage.

With regards to the space program, after the near cancellation of apollo 16 and 17 and the real cancellations of apollo 18-20, the US stopped going to the moon in 1972, but we did have Skylab in orbit from 1973 until its flaming wreckage crashed into australia in 1979 and the Soviet Union had their series of Salyut Space Stations. Robotic space exploration really began to flourish as the Soviet Venera 9 probe sent back photos from Venus in 1975, the two Viking landers successfully arrived on Mars in 1976, and the two Voyager probes were launched on their grand tour of the gas giants in 1977.

With regards to electronics:
- 1971 first mass produced pocket calculator (no more slide rules)
- 1972 pong released as arcade game
- 1974 home version of pong
- 1975 mass produced LED digital watches (I had one - you had to push a button for it to show you the time)

- 1977 first mass produced Video Cassette Recorders (VCRs). Note that at this point Hollywood was against putting movies on tape so you still could only catch old movies on TV (edited and in the wrong aspect ratio) or in 2nd run theaters (with so-so projectors, and breaks in the films), or you had the read the novelization of the movie, or read the comic book version.You could record TV on a VCR but it cost $15 to by a blank tape to record 2 hours.

- 1977 apple ][ and the TRS-80 were introduced as the first successful personal computers. Their programs were initially loaded from cassette tape, or typed in by hand each time you wanted to run them. A year later disk drives with 5&1/4 discs would appear with 120kB storage per side.


Notes on Silent Running

Silent Running was released in march 1972. In the four years since 2001 was released we had landed on the moon four times, with two more missions to come in 1972. The shiny 2001 future is starting the turn to a darker vision as people are asking what we are giving up in exchange for that bright technological world. Social and environmental issues that had been simmering for a long time were now more in the public consciousness. New directors were being given a chance to try to appeal to that social consciousness in youth that wanted heroes that would fight, or ignore the system. Silent Running would become 2001's hippie counter-cultural sibling.

Other good dystopian films of the time include: Soylent Green, Rollerball, Logan's Run, THX-1138, Sleeper, Death Race 2000, A Boy and his Dog.

Most robots in science fiction films to this time looked like people, with some exceptions like the very mechanical robots in Gog or the robot from Silent Star. Silent Running would show a different kind of robot - looking mechanical, but with the personality of a humanoid robot.

Hey look! this film has a rating. Its rated G for General Audiences. The Motion Picture Code that ensured all films shown in the US were 'suitable' was gone in late 1968, and in its place was the MPAA rating system. At the time the ratings were G(general), M(mature), R(restricted). The M rating would soon be renamed GP and then renamed again as PG, and those ratings would stand until the Temple of Doom ripped the heart out of the rating system in 1984.



Notes on 2001: a space odyssey

2001 was released in April 1968. At a time when traveling to the moon (we hadn't landed on it yet) was exciting and dangerous, Stanley Kubrick would look 30 years into the future and show space travel as routine, yet still giving us a view of the near future that Walt Disney or Wernher Von Braun would have approved of. 2001 would probably be the high point of the bright beautiful future, aside from one or two orbiting weapons platforms, some mutual US / Soviet distrust, and a couple bugs in the computer programming.

Most computers in movies and TV were good at crunching numbers and giving answers with their inputs moving from cards and dials and buttons to voice. We began seeing more display screens at the end of the 60s, but in the context of the stories they were almost always used to show images from cameras rather than computer generated information. In the late 60s some sci-fi computers moved beyond being a useful tool and started thinking and reasoning and making decisions on their own, and not always in the best interest of the humans around them. Captain Kirk would talk at least three computers to death in Star Trek, but couldn't run his ship without them - a topic Kirk and Spock would regularly revisit.

In real life there was concern about computers replacing people in jobs as computation and automation do what mechanization had done before, and with the increasing 'intelligence' of computers, people were forced to think about what makes us 'human.'


Notes on Ultraman and Giant Robo and Gatchaman

Given the success of the Godzilla films, lots of very big monsters would start attacking Japan in the 60s and early 70s. This led to multiple ways to fight them, some of which we will explore this week.

Ultraman - Shoot the Invader (66)
Eiji Tsubaraya had been in charge of the special effects for all the Toho Studios science fiction films including the Godzila series. In 1966 he created a black and white TV series called Ultra Q with a small group investigating strange phenomena. The sequel to that series would be in color and was called 'Ultraman'. 45 years and 18 TV series later the concept is still going strong. This series takes place 25 years in the future in the 1990s. Ultraman is a 40 meter tall alien from 'nebula m78' who accidentally kills Hayata, a member of the Science Special Search Party, who are tasked with investigating strange phenomena like in Ultra Q, except with the advantage of an international organization, a spiffy headquarters, jet aircraft, and energy weapons. Ultraman brings Hayata back to life and gives him the power to call / transform into Ultraman when needed, which is about once per episode. This episode is the second of the series and introduces what will become Ultraman's main recurring enemy - the Baltans.

Giant Robot  - Dracolon - The Great Sea Monster (67)
The first giant robot that started it all was Tetsujin 28 (Gigantor in the US) created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama in comic form in 1956 and then in TV form in 1963. Tokoyama would then create Giant Robo (Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot in the US). His giant robots were controlled by a person on the ground, typically a young boy, and featured pretty outrageous villains and a high amount of violence. This is the first episode of Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot.

Science Ninja Team Gatchaman - Gatchaman VS Turtle King (72)
Gatchaman would be the first team focused sci-fi series in Japan, drawing on the success of the modern ninja team TV series Ninja Butai Gekko and spawning many more multi-coloured animated and live action teams. The bad guys, Galactor, are trying to invade earth using giant mechanical monsters operated by their soldiers. The good guys, the International Science Organization, do not have their own giant robot, or help from friendly giant aliens, so they must typically infiltrate the alien monster or base and destroy the machinery, usually while killing large numbers of the bad guys. This is the first episode of Gatchaman.

The Giant Robot genre would continue to evolve for several more years. In 1972 Go Nagai, creator of Devilman, Cutey Honey, and the list goes on and on, would create his own giant robot - Mazinger Z - which was the first giant robot piloted from the inside by a pilot in the head of the robot, and in 1974 he created Getter Robo - the first giant robot that would be formed from several components in different combinations. The Giant Robot genre would fade by the end of the 1970s when it was replaced by a more realistic depiction of robots and their pilots in Mobile Suit Gundam, which we will get to in a few weeks.


Notes on The Prisoner and Star Trek

The Prisoner - Patrick McGoohan had a successful three season run in the mid 60s on TV in Britain (Danger Man) and the US (renamed as Secret Agent) as a secret agent that used his brain more than his gun. When the studio asked for a follow on series he pitched a series that asked what would happen to a secret agent if he quit. Instead of a straight action/adventure series he gave them a very personal 17 episode series that dealt with issues of the place of the individual in society.

Star Trek - Its the 22nd or 23rd century (the mythology was still evolving at this point), human beings can move between star systems in days, there are lots of alien races out there (who mostly look like humans), and there is a lot of casual use of advanced technology, especially communications technology, computers, and sensors. 'Obsession' is not one of the best episodes, but it is a pretty representative one, and features a good variety of the technology used in the series. Star Trek lasted 3 seasons (79 episodes) and then went onto a successful run in syndication which spawned a Saturday morning animated series and then production on a second TV series which, thanks to Star Wars, would lead to its rebirth in movie theaters in the late 70s.

Both series would often deal with social issues in a science-fiction setting, where the technology acted a backdrop, allowing the writers to deal with topical issues in a novel setting, while still allowing the characters to have fist-fights.


Other sci-fi TV from the 60s that are worth checking out include anthology series such as 'the Outer Limits' (in particular the episode 'demon with a glass hand') and 'the Twilight Zone', the first season of 'Lost in Space', and pretty much anything Nigel Kneale wrote in the UK.


Notes on Thunderbirds and EPCOT

In the 1960s the number of sci-fi TV shows multiplied dramatically; we will spend a couple weeks looking at a few of them.

This time will be the peak of the positive future, before the social and ecological movements of the late 60s turned people's attentions back to real problems in the present, and started to color much darker views of the future.

There were a handful of producers in the US and Britain that would shape TV science fiction in the US in the 60s and 70s - Irwin Allen, Gerry Anderson, Gene Roddenberry, and Glen Larson. We will start with Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds.

Gerry Anderson would create several sci-fi tv series from the 60s to the 00s - some in live-action and others with marionettes. Thunderbirds is his most famous series, and ran for 32 episodes. The series takes place in the middle of the 21st century and follows the adventures of the Tracy family who form International Rescue and use a variety of futuristic vehicles and technology to accomplish their missions.

Our second feature is the Disneyland episode 'EPCOT' in which Walt Disney gives his final filmed appearance in a pitch to create the city of tomorrow. Walt Disney's vision for EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) was that this community would be a living, evolving, testbed to prototype communities of the future.


A few notes on the 60s in terms of personal technology:

 
and in terms of the space race, it would still be two more years (1968) before anyone orbited the moon, but every month or two astronauts and cosmonauts were sent up to orbit the earth, and unmanned probes had orbited and landed on the moon.


Notes on Forbidden Planet


This week we are back in 1956. While many 50s science fiction films were low budget 'monster of the loose' fare with various creatures being mutated by atomic radiation, Forbidden Planet (1956) stands among a handful of 50s sci-fi films that succeeded in being something more.

Other very good and highly recommended 50s sci-fi films include:
    Gojira
    It Came from Outer Space
    Invasion of the Body Snatchers
    Them!
    The Day the Earth Stood Still
    The Thing From Another World
    The Incredible Shrinking Man

'Forbidden Planet' was one of the first films that took place completely on and around another planet in another solar system (in this case Altair - 17 light years from Earth). It was one of the first science fiction films filmed in Cinemascope with stereo sound, and had the first all electronic music score. It also introduced Robby the Robot.

The film was a clear and acknowledged influence on Gene Roddenberry's 'Star Trek' a decade later and would supply props to a dozen 'Twilight Zone' episodes.


Notes on Man and the Moon and The Jetsons

At this point we've progressed from silent films in the 20s to talkies and serials in the 30s to colour films in the early 50s, and now … television!

In 1946 there were only 6000 TVs in the US compared to almost 40 million radios. By 1955 half of US homes had a TV and by 1960 there were 50 million TV sits in the US. Most programming was broadcast by the three national networks: CBS, NBC, ABC (which began as radio networks) on their affiliated local stations. Few programs were broadcast in color until the mid 60s, though several were filmed in color. In 1964 only 3% of TVs were color TVs. Half of US homes would not have a color TV until 1972.


We will start with an episode of 'Disneyland' (later to become The Wonderful World of Disney), a one hour weekly tv anthology series with a mixture of live action, animation, documentaries, and dramas. This episode is 'Man and the Moon' which was aired December 28, 1955 and looks back at the history of mans relationship with the moon and forward to man building a space station and journeying to the moon and mars.

The second is an episode from the 1962 cartoon series 'The Jetsons' which takes place in the year 2062. This episode is 'Jet Screamer'. 'The Flintstones' was a very successful TV series which ran from 1960 to 1966. If a series set in the stone age worked, why not a series set in the future? It was the first program broadcast in color on ABC. Unfortunately the Jetsons only lasted one season but used animation to create a memorable futuristic earth.


Notes on Destination Moon

In the previous weeks we have looked at films that took place a hundred years in the future. This week we are going to take a look at a film from 1950 that attempts to portray how man will get to the moon using the prevailing engineering concepts of the time, 7 years before sputnik, 11 years before Gagarin orbited, and 20 years before the moon landing happened.

'Destination Moon' features artwork by Chesley Bonestell who was THE artist illustrating the near future of spaceflight in the 50s. It also features a screenplay co-written by Robert Heinlein. Destination Moon won the academy award for special effects and a Hugo (top yearly science fiction awards) for best dramatic presentation


Notes on Things to Come

'Things to Come' features a screenplay by H. G. Wells based on his 1933 book 'The Shape of Things to Come' and looks at what will happen in the next 100 years on Earth.

It had a budget of 300,000 pounds (1 million dollars) in 1936 or 17 million pounds (26 million dollars) today

The screenplay by h g wells was based on his book 'the shape of things to come'. Wells wanted his film to be more realistic than metropolis. This is the 92 minute version (10-15 minutes shorter than original version)



Notes on Flash Gordon

Some information on movie serials:

Each week a theatre would show one chapter - typically ending in a cliffhanger (sometimes literally the hero or heroine hanging off the edge of a cliff) to bring people back next week to see how the cliffhanger was resolved

The serial was shown along with newsreel, cartoon, A movie, and B movie
Serials started in the silent era around 1910, ended by 1950

There were three flash gordon serials. This is the first with 13 episodes. It was the first science fiction serial. It was based on the Sunday flash gordon comic strip by Alex Raymond which ran from 1934 to 1943 and is still being reprinted (I have a full set)



The Hays motion picture code began in 1934 but not fully enforced yet so the first Flash Gordon serial is truer to the comics than the later two.

Adjusting for inflation Flash Gordon would cost about 8 million today for its 13 half hour episodes so its similar to what an original series on the sci-fi channel costs to make. It was the most expensive serial made. Most were westerns, though several featured super heroes (Batman, Captain America, Zorro, Captain Marvel, The Green Hornet) … some things don't change

There is a lot of talk of 'rays' in Flash Gordon, especially by Dr Zarkov - they were the techno-babble buzzword of choice at the time


Notes on Metropolis

- silent films had a score that was performed live in the theater, commonly by a small symphony in a large theatre or an organist in a smaller theater, which was synchronized to the action on screen - in the case of Metropolis this is the original Gottfried Huppertz score from 1926 performed in 2010 by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra.

- silent films often had tinted scenes e.g. for scenes taking place at night that section of the film would be entirely blue tinted, scenes in a forest would be green, scenes inside would be yellow, scenes with a fire would be red. Fritz Lang did not like tinting and didn't use it.

- Lang also used many fewer textual intertitles than was common at the time

- Metropolis' budget was equivalent to 200 million dollars today.

- at the time Metropolis was made, in 1926, sound films were starting to appear, similar to the current 3D boom in many ways. Don Juan, the year before, had music and sound effects recorded live on set and synced to the movie. The Jazz Singer, which premiered less than a year after Metropolis, was the first feature length film with (a bit of) spoken dialogue recorded along with the film. The Jazz Singer made a lot of money and the days of the silent movie were about to end.

- in the US the Hays Motion Picture Production Code wont be imposed for 8 more years so in 1927 you could pretty much do whatever you wanted on screen

- when I first saw Metropolis in the theater in the late 1970s it was only about 90 minutes long, with the film having been edited rather brutally after its premiere. Bit by bit the other missing 90 minutes of the film have mostly been recovered and re-integrated, though there are still a few scenes (about 8 minutes) missing. The quality of this print varies depending on what source it was taken from.


at the time in the 20s …

in the US (with a population of 115 million people) technology becoming a commodity …

popular science fiction authors of the time ...

If you were intrigued by today's feature and like to try some other silent films then I would recommend:


More to Explore


Here are some alternatives for further exploration. If we have more time, or if we decide to start over and do this again, these would be in the next set ...