Monday, 7 August 2017

New Wave Science Fiction Films

Before we leave the New Wave Science Fiction era, we’re going to look at films this week and TV next.


Science fiction films took inspiration from the changes in the genre. Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971), George Lucas' THX 1138 (1971) and Richard Fleischer's Soylent Green (1973) all reflected the new style. 2001: A Space Odyssey came from Arthur C Clark's vision of creatures out there who were older and wiser than us, and I wrote about in April here. No other science fiction film was so conceptually daring. The storyline was as true to life as possible, based on real technology.

The 1974 film Dark Star was the counter-culture answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey. In 1979 Dan O'Bannen co-wrote the most celebrated alien story in history: Alien, directed by Ridley Scott. It was the stuff of nightmares. This film again had meticulous attention to detail. Blade Runner (1982) was another film which used science fiction to comment on sociological issues.

But traditional feel-good themes continued to be popular. Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) explored the idea of a peaceful confrontation with aliens. George Lucas' Star Wars (1977) was traditional escapism with an epic setting. Spielberg's next film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) looked at what if one friendly alien who got left behind? The alien (E.T.) is helped by lonely boy. The aliens are the grownups.

Dark Star (1974)


This comedy film was directed by John Carpenter, who co-wrote it with Dan O'Bannon. It starred Dan O'Bannon, Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm and Dre Pahich. The film began as a USC student film which was gradually extended to feature length over several years. It was not successful with audiences, but the critics loved it. With the advent of home video and DVD it gradually achieved cult status.

The scout ship "Dark Star" and its crew have been alone in space for 20 years on a mission to destroy "unstable planets" which might threaten future colonization of other planets. The ship is in a constant state of deterioration and frequent system malfunctions, and only the soft-spoken female voice of the ship's computer for company. The captain died early on due to and electrical short, leaving four crewmen. The crew are all on the verge of insanity, since their lives consist of repetitive tasks, dealing with the deteriorating condition of the ship, and whatever they can invent to keep themselves occupied.

One malfunction sees an intelligent bomb deploying accidentally and having to be persuaded to disarm and return to the bomb bay. When the bomb triggers again they discover that the release mechanism is damaged. This time the bomb cannot be persuaded, and with the words, ‘Let there be light,’ the bomb detonates.

Alien (1979)


This is science-fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. The film's title refers to a highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature that stalks and attacks the crew of a spaceship. Dan O'Bannon, drawing upon previous works of science fiction and horror, wrote the screenplay from a story he co-authored with Ronald Shusett.

It was met with critical acclaim and found box office success, winning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, three Saturn Awards (Best Science Fiction Film, Best Direction for Scott, and Best Supporting Actress for Cartwright), and a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, along with numerous other nominations. It has been consistently praised in the years since its release, and is considered one of the greatest films of all time. In 2002, Alien was deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 2008, it was ranked by the American Film Institute as the seventh-best film in the science fiction genre, and as the thirty-third greatest film of all time by Empire magazine.

The seven-member crew of the Nostromo are awakened from stasis by the computer to investigate a mysterious signal from a planet. They land and investigate, finding a large collection of eggs, one of which hatches a creature which attaches to the face of Executive Officer Kane. They bring Kane back on board and discover the creature’s blood is corrosive acid. Eventually the creature detaches and dies, but a new alien later bursts out of Kane’s chest and escapes into the ship.

The alien grows rapidly and attacks the crew, until they decide they must escape in the shuttle and set the ship to self destruct. Unfortunately the only one who makes it to the shuttle is Warrant Officer Ripley, and she finds that the alien has hidden on the shuttle. She puts on a spacesuit and opens the shuttle’s airlock, blasting the alien out into space.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)


This film was written and directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, Bob Balaban Cary Guffey, and François Truffaut. It tells the story of Roy Neary, an everyday blue-collar worker in Indiana, whose life changes after an encounter with an unidentified flying object (UFO).

The film received numerous awards and nominations at the 50th Academy Awards, 32nd British Academy Film Awards, the 35th Golden Globe Awards, the Saturn Awards and has been widely acclaimed by the American Film Institute. In December 2007, it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Scientists and United Nations experts investigate a large number of UFO sightings and incidents. They learn from India that the UFOs make sounds, a distinctive five tone musical sequence, and they broadcast this into space. They receive a reply of a string of numbers which are identified as a location, the Devil’s Tower, a mountain in Wyoming. All the people who have encountered the UFOs recognise the Devil’s Tower as the mountain that they have become obsessed with, including Jillian, a mother whose child was abducted and Roy, who chased a UFO in his truck.

The authorities issue a false warning about a toxic spill and evacuate the area, in order to clear the way for building a secret landing zone. Most of the people drawn to the place are detained by the army but Jillian and Roy make it to the landing site. Dozens of UFOs appear in the sky. The government specialists at the site begin to communicate with the UFOs by use of light and sound on a large electrical billboard. Following this, an enormous mother ship lands at the site, releasing animals and over a dozen long-missing adults and children, all from different past eras.

As the aliens finally emerge from the mothership, they select Roy to join them on their travels.

[adapted from Wikipedia]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn 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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