The Evolution of SciFi in Film

By: Emma Parry
OwlFeed Journalist

What does Paris, France in 1902 have to do with Stranger Things? Or Germany in 1927 have to do with the creation of the Death Star? Well, both France and Germany invented, then reinvented, the idea of the science fiction film to the people of Earth.

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The very first science fiction film ever made was Le Voyage Dans La Lune. It was created in Paris in 1902 by Georges Melies, a French Illusionist, and director of over 500 short films. It was only 14 minutes long but used new ideas of colored frames and interesting makeup techniques to make the effect of the movie seem shockingly realistic for the time. This created the desire of the public for Sci-Fi, as Le Voyage was the most popular movie of its time.

Then came Metropolis. The film was created in Germany, 1927 by the eccentric director Fritz Lang. His ideas to use humans dressed in costumes to create robots, the first robots captured on film, were brand new and never before heard of. Lang also invented a new type of split screen technique, where instead of a camera lens is split in half, two cameras were used and their film was spliced together. This technique quickly became known as the Lang Method, and though is no longer in use today, was a huge leap into modern film.

Much later, in the 1950s, new science fiction movies were on the rise, which leads to a great cultural shift from the “Slice of Life” romanticism to a demand for odd science fiction. Them!, made in 1949, featured the first-ever radioactive villain. It broke box office records as a thriller, and directly inspired the Alien franchise.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers was an opinion piece on McCarthyism and the Red Scare in 1958. It’s satirical drama set the precedent for political opinion and dramatics in science fiction. Since it’s release, most science fiction pieces have been directly or underhandedly about the political climate or social order.

In Japan, 1954, Godzilla, the first major international Sci-Fi, was created, starring American actor Raymond Burr, from Perry Mason. Its popularity in Japan was completely overshadowed by its popularity in America. A new dubbed version was released, and its popularity only skyrocketed. Modernly, international science fiction is not new, or even marveled at, but nearly 60 years ago such international commerce was a feat to be dreamed of.

Star Wars was released in 1977, and nothing has been the same since. The biggest science fiction franchise ever created, it gave the audience a seat in the action, comedy, and drama that made it so fulfilling a movie to anyone who watched it. It was fast-paced, intelligent, brilliantly made with sound and special effects, and it didn’t over explain itself with niceties. The science fiction genre exploded as the fan base grew with each new movie.

George Lucas, the director and writer, invented new ideas on how to direct a science fiction film. He used full robotics, spent hours on sound design, worked on makeup to seem realistic, and used high tech special effects that the world had never seen. Lucas set the bar very high, and it raised the standards of science fiction viewers. Crappy, thrown-together movies would no longer cut it as the audience for Sci-Fi changed.

Though not technically a fiction, Apollo 13 by director Ron Howard set the biggest precedent of all. It had a budget of $52 million, won academy awards, two Baftas, and a Hugo. He used wire harnesses for most of the zero gravity scenes, but for the bigger ones, they filmed inside of an airplane and would film thirty seconds at a time, until the scene was over. This technique is used by almost every modern science fiction film uses to this day.

So the next time you find yourself binging Black Mirror on Netflix, remember that without the film pioneers of the past, the present would be a lot less colorful.