Saturday, 3 December 2016

Early Science Fiction Films

In my History of Science Fiction series, I think we should pause to look at early films. The first science fiction film of all was Le Voyage dans la Lune in 1902, which I devoted a whole post to in October.
Le Voyage dans la Lune
Of course, science fiction posed a lot of problems for early film makers who didn’t have the technology or the techniques to create fantastic creatures and machines. Le Voyage dans la Lune was created using stop-motion. Jules Verne's classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was made into a film in 1916.

In 1910 Thomas Edison's film company produced the first film adaptation of Frankenstein, though the most famous film is the 1931 version with Boris Karlof as the creature. Liberties were taken with the story, particularly the description of the creature. Karlof's depiction is more akin to a robot than the creature in the book.

The first humanoid robot appears on film in Fritz Lang's German film Metropolis (1927). In the film the robot turns into a human – the embodiment of our fears of the machine. Much later, Isaac Azimov would invent the Three Laws of Robotics in an attempt to make robots safe and friendly.

In 1913 Eddison made a film adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which used stop-motion animation, as did the 1925 adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World. Film makers were beginning to find ways of filming science fiction, so that more and more fantastical ideas could be brought to the screen.

The advent of sound and the Great Depression raised more barriers against science fiction films in the 30s and 40s, and far fewer big-budget films were made. Science fiction was mostly relegated to shorts and serials. Notable films were King Kong (1933), Things to Come (1936) and Lost Horizon (1937). Many films tended towards the horror end of science fiction, or entirely horror.

Flash Gordon (1936) was a serial film of a comic strip. First published January 7 1934, the strip was inspired by and created to compete with the already established Buck Rogers adventure strip, published since 1929. Other Flash Gordon serial films and compilation films appeared. The best-known version is the 1980 film which featured a soundtrack by Queen and sets which were a faithful homage to the original 1930s strips.

I will be looking at some key early films in the next few posts, so keep an eye out, or better still join my mailing list. That will get you a free copy of A Brief History of Science Fiction and a monthly newsletter listing all my blog posts and lots of other free gifts and news.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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