History of Sci-Fi Cinema 8: “Destination Moon”

08-DM-titlesDestination Moon (1950)
Written by James O’Hanlon, Robert Heinlein, Rip Van Ronkel (based on short story by Robert Heinlein)
Directed by Irving Pichel
Starring John Archer, Warner Anderson, Tom Powers, Dick Wesson
George Pal Productions

A lightweight film about a group of private industry leaders building a rocket to the moon. And then getting off the moon. And, in terms of plot, that’s pretty much all it’s about. But what’s at the center of this narrative is the dangers of such undertakings. Apollo 13 it ain’t, but for its day it caused quite a stir, winning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and nominated for Best Art Direction. In 2001 is was awarded a Retro Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation 1951. It was involved in its very own space race to get to the box office first. And Woody Woodpecker shows up along the way, because who better to persuade millionaires to give you money than Woody?

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History of Sci-Fi Cinema 7: “Dr. Cyclops”

07-Cyclops-titleDr. Cyclops (1940)
Written by Tom Kilpatrick
Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack
Starring Albert Dekker, Thomas Coley, Janice Logan, plus Tipo the dog and Pinto the Horse
Paramount Pictures

In the heart of the Peruvian jungle, a very polite and mostly civilized mad scientist is conducting experiments using a rich deposit of uranium and radium ore. He has discovered the means of shrinking living matter to the size of a doll. When visiting scientists become rebellious and disobedient, he turns the process onto them. Dr. Cyclops was nominated for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects at the 13th Academy Awards.

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History of Sci-Fi Cinema 6: “Flash Gordon”

06-FlashGordon-titleFlash Gordon (1936)
Written by Basil Dickey, Ella O’Neill, George H Plympton, Frederick Stephani (based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond)
Directed by Frederick Stephani, Ray Taylor
Starring Larry “Buster” Crabbe, Jean Rogers, Charles B Middleton, Priscilla Lawson
Universal Pictures

To save the Earth from collision with an approaching planet, Dr. Zarkov recruits Flash Gordon and Dale Arden to travel with him via rocket to find a way to avert the catastrophe. Upon landing on the planet Mongo, the trio encounter Ming the Merciless and his daughter, Princess Aura. For the following 12 weeks, Flash fights a lot, Dale faints a lot, Aura fauns a lot and Ming frowns a lot. Continue reading

History of Sci-Fi Cinema 5: “Things to Come”

05-ThingstoCome-titleThings to Come (1936)
Written by H G Wells
Directed by William Cameron Menzies
Starring Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke
United Artists

Things to Come is based on H G Wells’ novel The Shape of Things to Come from three years earlier. It is more or less an anti-war parable told in three chapters, depicting different times in the future of the fictional British “Everytown.” It’s always said that “good” science fiction carries a message, reflects on society, extrapolates a perspective to its extreme to illustrate a point. Things to Come certainly does that.  Continue reading

History of Sci-Fi Cinema 4: “Just Imagine”

04-JustImagine-TitleJust Imagine (1930)
Written (story, dialogue and songs) by DeSylva, Brown & Henderson
Directed by David Butler
Starring John Garrick, Frank Albertson, Maureen O’Sullivan, Marjorie White
Fox Film Corporation

In undertaking this blog project, I expected to hit all the “biggies,” all the accepted (and expected) classics. But I also wanted to discover some of the rarer gems, some of the peculiarities, in the history of sci-fi. And boy, did I find one: a science fiction romantic comedy musical. In fact, its a movie I’d never heard of until putting together this list of films to review.

Made in 1930, this film begins with a request: Just look at how much progress 50 years can bring. Why, in 1880 we had nothing but horse-drawn carriages and good manners. Today, it’s all hustle and bustle. “Just Imagine” what another 50 years will bring: What will life be like in the far-flung future of 1980…? Continue reading

History of Sci-Fi Cinema 3: “Metropolis”

03-Metropolis-TitleMetropolis (1927)
Written by Thea von Harbou
Directed by Fritz Lang
Starring Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel

The Mediator Between the Head and the Hands Must Be the Heart!

The granddaddy of all science fiction films. It may not be the first, but there’s probably no more influential film on the genre than this. It’s a massive tale about class struggle and revolt, about machine vs humanity, about love, and about two and a half hours long. It’s a modern retelling of the parable of the Tower of Babylon and features some of the most recognizable imagery in all of sci-fi history: the workers at the machines, the robot, the robot’s transformation into the image of Maria, etc. It’s a mammoth undertaking to watch, and with patience, is an extremely rewarding work of art.

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History of Sci-Fi Cinema 2: “The Lost World”

02-lostworld-TitleThe Lost World (1925)
Written by Marion Fairfax (based on The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Directed by Harry Holt
Starring Lewis Stone, Edward Malone, Bessie Love
First National Pictures

The only silent SF films I’ve ever seen are Le Voyage Dans la Lune and Metropolis. My plan for this series was to review those two and then jump into the 1950s. But Le Voyage inspired me to add a few more early films to my list. The next in line is The Lost World, which notably begins with an on-screen appearance by the great author himself, Sir Conan Doyle, who says:

“I have wrought my simple plan,
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man
or the man who’s half a boy.”

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