Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Fantastic Voyages in Film

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Fantastic Voyages in Film

Article excerpt

THE cinema established its unique capacity to bring to life the dreams and visions of science fiction as long ago as the beginning of the century, and from then until the mind-bending computer-created images of today's intergalactic epics film-makers developed a dazzling array of camera tricks and special effects to bemuse the public.

Space travel was brought to the screen by the French pioneer Georges Melies. The filmic imagination was given free rein in his version of Jules Verne's A Trip to the Moon (1), depicting a Moon where giant mushrooms unfurled from the explorers' umbrellas and contrasting with the documentary realism with which Moon trips would be presented in such later films as Destination Moon (US, 1950) made when space flight had become a real possibility. By 1916 no less than three films had been made of Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea and his novels with their mixture of fantasy and precise detail have ever since continued to provide film-makers with tempting fare.

Two classics of the genre were made in the 1920s and 1930s. Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926) presented a grim vision of the future complete with terrifying machines and a robot-woman (2) which were still influencing science fiction films four decades later. Things to Come (3) resulted from collaboration between H.G. Wells and the Hungarian-born producer Alexander Korda. In it a global holocaust is followed by the rise of a gleaming glass and steel civilization capable of sending men to the Moon. As in Jules Verne's Moon flight, a gun was used to project the space vessel, although by that time scientists knew that the rocket was the only practicable solution.

A boom in science fiction films began in the 1950s, with space exploration as a prominent theme. Earthlings ranged further and further afield, as in the Soviet Voyage to a Prehistoric Planet, a meticulous narration of a journey to Venus. But the traffic was not all one-way, and Earth had some strange visitors from other planets. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) treated the theme of alien intelligence taking over human bodies, and was described by one critic as "occasionally difficult to follow due to the strangeness of its scientific premise". Another favourite theme is the journey through time or other dimensions, with perhaps the most unusual variation being depicted in Fantastic Voyage (5) in which five scientists are shrunk to microscopic size and injected into the blood stream of another scientist who has a blood clot inaccessible to surgery. …

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