The future could soon be the present - for movies. But what’s the shape of things to come for heroes?
There’s a future in these films of the future. Frankly I can foresee the day when science-fiction films will take over from the tired old detective pictures as standard screen adventures.
Why not? The scope of futuristic science on celluloid is far less limited, its subject matter is far more pictorial, and, above all it has a big appeal to the imagination. Witness the marked success of the futuristic numbers that have already made the rounds here and in the States.
But the main ones like Rocket-ship X-M, Destination Moon and When Worlds Collide, have all been concerned with trips to other planets. The Man from Planet X reviewed in Picturegoer last October, started a different trend. Now the field broadens further still.
In, The Day the Earth Stood Still, due to open its local cinema-tour on Monday, it is the Earth that is at the receiving end of a space trip. Michael Rennie, as an outer space representative, arrives by futuristic flying saucer.
The film is new in another way. It is the first of the space travel bunch to feature a well-known star. It could be a sign of the times that 20th Century Fox – noted for doing sensible things on celluloid – thought not only the MR was worthy of the film but also that science-fiction was worthy of Rennie.
20th Century Fox it seems realised months ago what is now a widely recognised fact in Hollywood, that science-fiction pictures belong in the money spinning bracket.
We are going to see vey many more futuristic films from Hollywood. Space travel is only the beginning.
In the States, science-fiction literature, which for years has had a small but faithful following among schoolboys suddenly has a readership running into several millions and here in Britain books and magazines with a futuristic flavour are rolling off the presses every week. As usual Hollywood is not far behind.
The Thing from Another World and Five, are American science-fiction films all set to draw picture-goers into British cinemas.
Red Planet (it’s about Mars, not Communism), Three Thousand A.D. and War of the Worlds won’t be long in following them over.
All the ingredients known to the old faithful science-fiction readers are being mixed into the new cycle; space travel, both ways, Earth goes visiting and is visited; robots; the twilight of civilisation; a machine that controls minds; and the weird incomprehensible forms of life that may exist elsewhere in the universe.
Only one favourite theme so far has unaccountably been left out of the new cycle; travel through time. Admittedly it is touched on in the Tyrone Power picture ‘The House in the Square’, but the film by no means falls into the futuristic category and in any case the sequence is treated in a manner much more staid than the usual science-fiction style.
While the futuristic boom booms in the States, however, in Britain which gave us ‘Things to Come’, fifteen years ago, producers don’t yet seem keyed up to the sudden popularity rise of interplanetary films.
And on that point, why is science-fiction suddenly so popular after all these of obscurity?
I think it is simply because we are now ready for it. A few years ago, some of these ideas were staggering for the ordinary person. But after the atom bomb and the rocket, we are all a bit more used to being staggered.
Advanced science has broadened the imagination. We are no longer as earth-bound as we used to be. Paramount bought the story of When Worlds Collide in 1934, but shelved it because it was thought to be too far ahead of its time. Now the times have caught up.
Non-fiction science is chasing hard on the heels of fictitious science. Distinguished astronomers and physicists are discussing space travel. Voyages to the moon and ‘space stations’ are now said to be within the bounds of possibility.
This makes heavy demands on the film-maker. When he is dealing with science he has to be fairly sound. When in Rocket-Ship X-M, the space voyagers en route to the moon had an accident , missed the moon and found themselves headed for Mars instead, too many people knew better.
“Accidents in space will not work out as neatly as that,” they said. “For one thing, Mars is about 200 times further away than the moon.”
The technical advisers, the set painters with a flair for the unusual and the special effects boys are coming into their own in this new kind of film, where anything goes provided it could happen in some world and no-one has ever seen it before.
At least one science-fiction producer has emerged: Paramount’s George Pal, who gave us Destination Moon and When Worlds Collide, and who is now screening H G Wells’s book about a Martian invasion, ‘The War of the Worlds’.
One important type has not yet taken shape: the science-fiction hero. He will certainly be something new. What will he be like? He will depend more on a scientist’s brain than a cowboy’s brawn or the more modern detective’s sophisticated toughness. And still the box-office experts will tell you, he must appeal to women.
Possibly Michael Rennie will set a pattern with his ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ but I’m inclined to think that science-fiction will have to find its own stars. The Humphrey Bogart of the post-atomic age, the Gary Cooper of the wide open spaces between here and the Milky Way, have yet to be discovered.
Or will they be discovered. Perhaps the science-fiction film will star not personalities, but ideas, the author’s ideas. And that would really be something new in pictures.
Author - Norman Moss
What was probably the first, and certainly the most famous, of all futuristic films was Metropolis, made in the old UFA studios in Berlin studios back in 1925. It was shown in Britain two years later.
Directed by Fritz Lang who is still making movies for MGM in Hollywood, it is the story of a city of the future, a whirligig of spinning wheels, elegant and spindly buildings, streamlined shapes and so on. It dealt, of course, with a machine-made man and its blonde heroine was Brigitte Helm.
Some of the London Critics dismissed it as pretentious and rather silly. But, oddly enough , it has stood the test of time, and this old silent film is still regarded as the daddy of all films of this type.
Page updated : 3rd August 2016