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.
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
Summer 2012 Series (films from the 2000s and Viewer's Choice)
Tom and James were the winners of the summer sci-fi bingo
evl goes to Chicago Comic-Con
1980s and 2000s
Pair of Microsoft Office Labs videos - here
Spring 2012 Series (films from the 1960s - 1990s)
Victor and James were the winners of the spring sci-fi bingo
Fall 2011 Series (films from the 1920s - 1960s)
"Trapped in the Sky"
1950s and 1960s
1940s (released in 1950)
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
Jason and the Argonauts (1963) - Ray Harryhausen
We are going to push
Solaris back a week and do a special sci-fi Friday tribute to
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:
The Twilight Zone
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:
- Nightmare at
- To Serve Man
- Little Girl Lost
- Its a Good Life
- Time Enough at
- A Stop at
- The Monsters are
Due on Maple Street
- The Eye of the
- The Hitch-Hiker
- Kick the Can
The Outer Limits
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.
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
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
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.
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
"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
"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.
on UFO Target Earth
'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?
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.
on The Terminator
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
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
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 -
'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
on Close Encounters of the Third Kind
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
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
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
on Gojira (Godzilla)
week we look at that other famous giant monster from 1954
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
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
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
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
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
It also showcases one of the major steps in the evolution of
computer graphics in feature films:
Notes on Bride
This week we are going to
take a look at one of the most famous scientists in films and
literature: Victor (Henry) Frankenstein.
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
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'.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
of the Monster (1955)
of Yucca Flats (1961)
a Go-Go (1965)
Creeping Terror (1964)
Notes on Galaxy
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
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
Notes on The
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
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
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
Microsoft Office Labs Videos
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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'
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
- Harald Belker, car designer
- Stewart Brand, author, scientist and co-creator of The Well
- Peter Calthorpe, the New Urbanism evangelist
- Douglas Coupland, author and commentator
- Neil Gershenfeld, professor at the Media Lab at MIT
- Shaun Jones, director of biomedical research at DARPA
- Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired Magazine
- Jaron Lanier, one of the inventors of virtual reality
- William Mitchell, dean of the school of architecture at MIT
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
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:
mainstream with small receivers for cars and hikers
networking goes mainstream in the early part of the decade and
cellular by the end of the decade
conferencing becomes more common in the early part of the decade
as webcams or built-in cameras become more common
second half of the decade social media would take off in
dramatic fashion with Facebook, twitter, etc.
messaging surges in popularity as smart phones are used less and
less as actual phones
second half of the decade flat panel displays quickly replace
gain popularity for tracking merchandise, people. etc.
invasive surgery becomes much more common
high definition (and widescreen) television replaces analog NTSC
TV in the US
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.
Prius hybrid car released
(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.
windows xp released with minimum system requirements of (300 MHz
CPU, 128 MB RAM, 800x600 monitor, 1.5 GB free hard drive space)
phones with cameras begin appearing
is introduced. Eventually 6 million of them will be robotically
cleaning floors in homes (and biding their time)
appear, allowing you to record TV digitally onto a hard drive
and Opportunity Rovers land on mars and drive around for many
YouTube begins operation
360 and PS3 released. PS3 incorporated a Blu-ray drive, 3.2 GHz
processor, 512 MB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, Wi-Fi.
Nintendo wii appears and introduces gestural interaction to the
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)
phones, including the iPhone, change everything again. Touch
screens dramatically gain in popularity.
Kindle appears. The publishing industry is slow to react.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
We are up to 1990s and a few years away from the internet
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
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
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:
CPU at 50-100mhz
- 8 MB
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
Viewtron, Knowledge Navigator, 'You Will', and Star Trek the Next
- 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.
1988 - apple's Knowledge
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.
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
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
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
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.
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'
Notes on Looker
and now we get to
the 1980s and back to another film written and directed by Michael
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
several wonderful new things that could be done with your phone
in the 1980s that still exist today:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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
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
dystopian films of the time include: Soylent Green, Rollerball,
Logan's Run, THX-1138, Sleeper, Death Race 2000, A Boy and his
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.
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.
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.
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 Gatchaman
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
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)
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
Science Ninja Team Gatchaman - Gatchaman VS Turtle King
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.
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
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
- 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.
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:
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 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
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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 …
- skyscrapers being rapidly built, and growing taller and
- 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
- Hollywood pushing US culture (including jazz) abroad
- women had gained the right to vote throughout the US only 7
in the US (with a population of 115 million people) technology
becoming a commodity …
- radio stations just starting to appear - radios in the home
became very popular very quickly
- number of movie theaters rapidly increasing
- cars selling well with 23 million by 1927 and a new focus on
creating better roads for them to drive on
- 15 million telephones in homes and businesses
- cities had electricity and indoor plumbing - rural areas did
popular science fiction authors of the time ...
- Edgar Rice Burroughs
- H. G. Wells
- Jules Verne (from 1870s and 1880s)
- 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 recommend:
- Robert Wiene - Cabinet of Dr Caligari
- Buster Keaton - The General, Steamboat Bill Jr
- F. W. Murnau - Nosferatu, Sunrise
- Charlie Chaplin - Gold Rush, Modern Times
- Sergei Eisenstein - Battleship Potemkin
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 ...
- Radar Men from the Moon serial
- Rocky Jones Space Ranger TV series
- It the Terror from Beyond Space
- 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)
- Lost in Space TV Series
- UFO TV Series (UK)
- Colossus: the Forbin Project
- Logan's Run
- Death Race 2000
- Space Battleship Yamato TV Series (Japan)
- Buckaroo Banzai
- Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
- Patlabor (TV series and/or Movies, Japan)
- My Youth in Arcadia (Japan)
- Strange Days
- Jurassic Park
- Dark City
- The Matrix
- Terminator 2
- Babylon 5 TV Series