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. We
skipped a term since we were focusing on getting cave-2 fully functional
but then we came back for a
fourth term 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.
now in the midst of a fifth term, this time focusing on more 'socially
"Trapped in the Sky"
1950s and 1960s
assistants are becoming ubiquitous and Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ takes us into
the near future as they become more capable and intelligent, and capable
of real relationships with humans. Humans having relationships with
artificial intelligence isn’t new - similar stories were told in the mid
1960s with a mainframe computer in the Twilight Zone episode ‘From Agnes
- With Love’, in a much less consensual scenario in 1977’s ‘Demon Seed’,
and with a personal computer in the 1984 film ‘Electric Dreams’.
They Live (1988)
John Carpenter film was released right before the election in 1988
to try and help elect more progressive candidates after eight years
of Ronald Reagan. The central premise is straight forward - what if
an alien invasion has already taken over the United States and the
policies of the Reagan presidency were crafted to benefit those
aliens and their allies at the expense of everyday people.
if you haven’t seen ‘They Live’ you’ve probably seen its meme-worthy
sunglasses reveal, used with great effect last year against Pepsi’s
Kendall Jenner ad. Along with the red pill in ‘the Matrix’, the
sunglasses in ‘They Live’ have been some of the most prominent
symbols of getting woke.
The Stepford Wives
of Jordan Peele’s favorite films is the original ‘Stepford Wives’, and
he used it as inspiration for his 2017 hit ‘Get Out’. When a family
moves into the small town of Stepford Connecticut there is clearly
something odd going on … and like ‘Get Out’ its best not to know to
much more … seriously … just googling ‘stepford’ gives it all away.
Long before the internet and internet memes, ’stepford’ and ‘stepford
wife’ became shorthand for a certain kind of person, and the term has
stuck around … Mitt Romney was tagged with the 'stepford' term during
his presidential run.
Colossus: The Forbin
United Stated government decides to put the US nuclear arsenal under
computer control - what could go wrong? While this same basic idea was
later used in the 1980s as part of ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Wargames’,
here the computer has some different priorities than ‘kill all
Earlier fears of automation with robots taking jobs and taking control
had given way in the 60s to a similar fears of computers, leading to
several famous cinematic ones such as Alpha 60 from Alphaville (which
we may show later this term) and Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey
Shin Gojira (2016)
we bring Sci-Fi fridays back to life after almost 5 years on hiatus it
seems appropriate to start out with a film that brought a franchise
back to life after a hiatus of 12 years. In 2016 Shin Gojira was the
29th Japanese Godzilla film since 1954. It did very well in Japan by
going back to the roots of the series and being relevant. Hideaki
Anno, mostly known for Neon Genesis Evangelion, Nadia, and other
anime, used Godzilla to dramatize the recent Fukushima disaster and
the government's response to it, but it could just as easily be
hurricane Katrina, or any other large disaster where bureaucracy can
be as much of a threat as the disaster itself.
title is intentionally ambiguous. ‘shin’ usually means ‘new’ but could
also mean ‘true’ or ‘god’ or ‘evolution’, all of which apply.
thing you may notice is that aside from the subtitled dialogue, there
is also a lot of text identifying the many people, locations, and
equipment on screen. This was a staple of Japanese disaster films of
the 70s, though here it is taken, perhaps, to the extreme.
Creature from the
Black Lagoon (1954)
may have seen this famous photo of a movie theatre full of (well
dressed, older, white) people wearing 3D glasses in the 50s.
This passively polarized 3D is basically the same technology that
was used all the way through the recent boom in 3D movies. It
required two synchronized projectors, which meant it was really only
available in the big cities in the 50s, and even in the 80s during
the 3D revival. In response a single projector system was developed
where the images for the two eyes were combined onto one piece of
film using colored filters, which meant these versions of the films
could also be run on television, with the viewers wearing colored
lenses - typically the classic red / cyan glasses.
are going to give red / cyan 3D a try with one of the more famous 3D
films of the 1950s - Creature from the Black Lagoon - which would
inspire Guillermo del Toro several decades later to try and remake
the film from the monsters point of view, eventually leading to ‘The
Shape of Water’ in 2017.
today when most films shown in the theatre have been converted
to 3D, this was fully shot in 3D, including all the underwater
scenes. I should note that aside from a different
3D technology this is not exactly the way the 3D looked in 1954 as
documented in: http://www.3dfilmarchive.com/an-in-depth-look-at-creature-from-the-black-lagoon-1
In some ways the 3D is better, as there is no film jitter and
vertical disparity has been reduced. In some ways its worse as the
new version pushes more of the 3D effects out of the screen where
director Jack Arnold was more cautious.
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
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
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
- Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
- To Serve Man
- Little Girl Lost
- Its a Good Life
- Time Enough at Last
- A Stop at Willoughby
- The Monsters are Due on Maple
- The Eye of the Beholder
- The Hitch-Hiker
- Kick the Can
The Outer Limits
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 ï¿½ 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
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
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
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 ï¿½
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.
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
'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.
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?
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
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)
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
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.
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.
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
Other good Godzilla films
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.
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:
Bride of Frankenstein
This week we are going to take a look
at one of the most famous scientists in films and literature: Victor
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
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
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
'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.
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'.
The Andromeda Strain (1971)
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
Plan 9 from Outer Space
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:
- Bride of the Monster (1955)
- Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)
- Monster a Go-Go (1965)
- The Creeping Terror (1964)
- Robot Monster (1953)
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
The Year of the Sex Olympics
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
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.
The Fifth Element
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.
Flash Gordon (1980)
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.
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.
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.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
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.
Future Shock and Dark Star
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.
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.
Global Frequency and Denno Coil
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
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.
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'
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:
- Harald Belker, car designer
- Stewart Brand, author, scientist
and co-creator of The Well on-line community
- Peter Calthorpe, the New Urbanism
- Douglas Coupland, author and
- Neil Gershenfeld, professor at the
Media Lab at MIT
- Shaun Jones, director of
biomedical research at DARPA
- Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired
- Jaron Lanier, one of the inventors
of virtual reality technology
- William Mitchell, dean of the
school of architecture at MIT
Ten years later some of the
predictions have come to be, others are close, and others seem a little
Avalon and the 2000s
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
100 years in 100 Minutes
to the Moon - French filmmaker Georges Mï¿½liï¿½s 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
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 24ï¿½th 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
Ghost in the Shellv(1995)
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
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 /
1993's 'Demolition Man' looks ahead to a dystopic Los Angeles in
1996 and then to the Joy Joy future of 2032.
Total Recall (1990)
We are up to 1990s and a few years away from the internet changing
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
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:
- single CPU at 50-100mhz
- 8 MB ram
- 512 MB hard drives
- 800 x 600 pixel monitors
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).
Viewtron, Knowledge Navigator, 'You
Will', and Star Trek the Next Generation
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Back to the Future Part II
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)
Mobile Suit Gundam - Char's
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.
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
and now we get to the 1980s and back to
another film written and directed by Michael Crichton
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
- 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
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
Space 1999 and The Six Million
Back to American and British TV this
The Six Million Dollar Man (1974)
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
Space 1999 (1975)
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.
1999 A.D. and Westworld (1973)
This week we are going to show a short
and then a feature.
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.
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)
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.
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
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
2001: a space odyssey
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.'
Ultraman and Giant Robo and
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)
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.
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.
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.
The Prisoner and Star Trek
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.
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
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.
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
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
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:
- telephones were cabled to the
wall, but now you could push buttons 0-9 to 'dial' the number rather
than using a dial to dial each number
- transistor radios allowed
people to listen to radio broadcasts (including music) wherever they
wanted (though usually places like the beach or the park.)
- colour photography was now
available to everyone with portable cameras. Once you took a roll of
pictures you had to take the film roll to a drugstore or photo shop
to get the pictures developed, and they would be ready for you in a
few days or a week. These photos were often developed into slides -
which were put into slide projector carousels (see the 'Mad Men'
episode for more on this) and then shown at home on a projection
- home (silent) movie cameras now
popular. You could carry a camera with you and shoot 3 minutes at a
time and then change the cartridge. These cameras needed a lot of
light, so they worked well outside. Inside you needed a massive
light rig, brighter than anything Lance has used. Again you took the
film into a drugstore or a photo shop and saw the results a week
later, projected at home from a movie projector onto that same
screen you used for slides.
- cassette tape players/recorders
appeared - You could conveniently record audio through a small
hand-held microphone and playback that audio. The tapes could hold
30 to 45 minutes per side. Music was still sold as vinyl records
(45s or LPs), but you could hold the mike up to the speaker of your
home stereo system to record it if you wanted something portable.
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.
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:
It Came from Outer Space
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
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
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 ï¿½ 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
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.
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
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
Flash Gordon (1930s)
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) ï¿½ 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 ï¿½
- skyscrapers being rapidly built,
and growing taller and taller
- current design styles were
modern / art deco / bauhaus
- in the Weimar Republic in
Germany a stable situation after years of inflation and reparations
from 'the war to end all wars'
- Hollywood pushing US culture
(including jazz) abroad
- women had gained the right to
vote throughout the US only 7 years earlier
in the US (with a population of 115 million people) technology becoming
a commodity ï¿½
- radio stations just starting to
appear - radios in the home became very popular very quickly
- number of movie theaters rapidly
- cars selling well with 23
million by 1927 and a new focus on creating better roads for them to
- 15 million telephones in homes
- cities had electricity and
indoor plumbing - rural areas did not
popular science fiction authors of the time ...
- Edgar Rice Burroughs
- H. G. Wells
- Jules Verne (from 1870s and
- magazines like amazing stories
start in 20s
If you were intrigued by today's
feature and like to try some other silent films then I would
- Robert Wiene - Cabinet of Dr
- Buster Keaton - The General,
Steamboat Bill Jr
- F. W. Murnau - Nosferatu,
- Charlie Chaplin - Gold Rush,
- Sergei Eisenstein - Battleship
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. Note that this
is not mean to be a list of 'the best' (though some are) but more
about different views of the future, the future of technology,
interfaces, relationships, science and scientists.
- Krakatit (Czechoslovakia)
- Radar Men from the Moon serial
- Rocky Jones Space Ranger TV
- It the Terror from Beyond
- The Thing from Another World
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers
- Silent Star (East Germany)
- Battle in Outer Space (Japan)
- Planet of Vampires (Italy)
- Alphaville (France)
- Fantastic Voyage
- La Jetee (France)
- Ikari XB 1 (Czechoslovakia)
- Lost in Space TV Series
- Green Slime (Italy / Japan)
- Ship of Monsters (Mexico)
- UFO TV Series (UK)
- World on a Wire TV Series
- Logan's Run
- Death Race 2000
- Stalker (Russia)
- Space Battleship Yamato TV
- Buckaroo Banzai
- The Thing
- Star Wars V: The Empire
- Nausicaa of the Valley of the
- Alien Nation
- Patlabor (TV series and/or
- My Youth in Arcadia (Japan)
- Strange Days
- Jurassic Park
- Dark City
- The Matrix
- Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Terminator 2
- Babylon 5 TV Series
- Sleep Dealer (Mexico)
- Iron Man
- Tron Legacy
- Pacific Rim
- Steins;Gate TV Series
- The Martian
- Black Mirror TV
- Ex Machina
- The Expanse TV
Note that this is
not the first time that we have showed and discussed movies in evl. Back
from 1995 through 1997 in the early evenings, usually starting at 7pm,
we had 'Movie Tuesday' which showed a wide variety of films using evl's
projection based technology, and occasionally we went on the road to
some of the local film group showings. 'Movie Tuesday' briefly morphed
into 'movie Tuesday Wednesday' when we needed to change the day. Some of
the things we showed back then were:
- "the Vanishing" (original
- "a Chinese Ghost Story"
- "Plan 9 from Outer Space"
- "Wings of Desire"
- "la Double Vie De Veronique"
- a night of 'short' stop-motion
- "Bringing Up Baby"
- "the Cook, the Thief, His Wife
& Her Lover"
- "that Obscure Object of Desire"
- "the Princess Bride"
- "Bitter Moon"
- "Belle Epoque"
- "the Trial"
- ROADTRIP to see "Flirt"
- "Rosencrantz and Guilderstern
- 2 of Mike Jittlov's short films
and "Tong Fong Sam Hop (the Heroic Trio)"
- "Muriel's Wedding"
- "Short Cuts"
- "the mascot" from 1933 and the
episode "Free for All" from 'the prisoner'