Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Movies Before Star Wars

"Michael Rennie was ill/ the day the Earth stood still/ but he told us/ where we stand./ And Flash Gordon was there/ in silver underwear./ Claude Rains was the invisible man./ Then something went wrong/ for Fay Wray and King Kong./ They got caught in a celluloid gem." – Lips, Rocky Horror Picture Show

A lot of people may think that Star Wars invented the big, sci-fi, special effects laden, event movie.  It made a huge impact when it came along because the science fiction films that had come before it for at least a decade were all ones that were kind of depressing.  There were movies about man having destroyed civilization (A Boy and his Dog), destroyed the environment (Silent Running), and a triple-play from Charlton Heston – Soylent Green about severe overcrowding and lack of food, The Omega Man about the end of the human race due to biological warfare, and The Planet of the Apes about man becoming a secondary species.  There were also four Apes sequels that eliminated what little hope was given at the end of the first one.  This doesn’t mean that all of these movies are bad; far from it.  It just means that moviegoers were ready for a big, fun, sci-fi movie at about the time Star Wars came along.

First, explanations on a couple of terms I am going to use.  There are two kinds of science fiction movies – “sci-fi” and “SF.”  “Sci-fi” movies are the somewhat dumbed down ones whose only ambition is to sell tickets – lots of them.  These make up most of the science fiction movies that get released, from all the superhero movies, to all the space battle movies, to all the creepy/cute alien movies.  These have the biggest “wow” factors.

“SF” movies, on the other hand, are actually about something.  The best science fiction books and movies make you look at things in ways that you never have before.  They stimulate thought and maybe even discussion after you are done with them.  A recent example is the movie The Man from Earth.  These kinds of movies do not get released as often because they usually do not sell as many tickets.  Also, let’s face it - a majority of moviegoers today don’t want to have to actually pay attention to a movie that makes them think.  They want one that they can still follow even though they are talking over it, texting, etc.  They just want to be entertained.

Both sci-fi and SF movies are entertaining to me.  Depending on what mood I am in, either one can provide a couple hours of enjoyment.  Are these two categories mutually exclusive?  Almost.  On very rare occasions a movie gets released that is both sci-fi and SF.  The Matrix is an example of this.

There are so many good science fiction movies that came out before Star Wars that I will probably revisit this category at a later date.  I am also going to have an After Star Wars category to recommend movies like the aforementioned The Man from Earth.

In this set I am going to cover A Trip to the Moon (1902) - sci-fi, Metropolis (1927) - SF, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) - SF, and Forbidden Planet (1956) - SF and sci-fi.

You can find my posts for these movies here:

A Trip to the Moon
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Forbidden Planet

You can also see my After Star Wars category selections here.

On to the reviews…


  1. enjoyable. when's the next part coming?
    as a man with an interest in the differences between space wars and science fiction and you also read, do you recommend anyone similar to asimov and heinlein?

  2. Heinlein is actually my favorite author. I discovered his "juvenile novels" around age 12, then found his regular novels when I hit high school. I believe I've read everything he ever wrote, even his non-fiction.

    Two authors that used to get compared to Heinlein at the time I was reading him were John Varley and James P. Hogan.

    I never understood the Varley comparison. He wrote some great short stories (i.e. Press Enter, The Persistence of Vision), and his novels were interesting enough, but there's none I would point to and say "that's like Heinlein." Titan might come close.

    Hogan was much more a "hard SF" writer, like Heinlein. The first novel I ever read by him was either Inherit the Stars or Thrice Upon a Time. I would recommend both. If you like Inherit the Stars there were follow-on novels. Another novel, Voyage from Yesteryear, was definitely inspired by The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. He has also written many other books, some trying to fit more into the mainstream.

    Spider Robinson also used to be compared to Heinlein. The only thing I've read by him that is novel length is the Heinlein story that he completed (Variable Star.)

    A somewhat more recent author that I would compare to Heinlein is Allen Steele. Like Heinlein, several of his stories take place near Earth and involve a working man's space exploration (i.e. "beamjacks" building colonies to live in in space and on the moon.)

    That's about where my knowledge of modern SF authors comes to an end - 10 years or so ago. I've read far less science fiction in the last decade than I did before that.

    As for Asimov, I never really read much of his fiction beyond the classics. If you want to read a book that has him as a character in it then track down the novel The Flying Sorcerors by David Gerrold and Larry Niven. They poke some fun at him.

  3. my book shop has a treasure trove of vintage science fiction and fantasy for $1 so i'll definitely have a look out for some work from Hogan.

    It's not that i need new books, having over 100 just from the science fiction section in piles waiting to be read but i just like to have a wide selection. I can't very well just read the same two authors despite their best efforts at having huge back catalogues.

  4. The more I think about it, the closer I'm getting to pulling those three Hogan books off my shelf and reading them again. It's been years since my last time with them.

    You've probably already read it, but if you haven't, you should put Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card at the top of your pile. It's one of the top 5 science fiction novels of all time. It's actually one of the few book reviews I've done on this blog.

  5. i haven't read that one actually. somebody once told me it was young adult so i sort of skipped it. i'll head over and find your review though