Science Fiction Films Essay Research Paper It

Science Fiction Films Essay, Research Paper It seems strange to realize that in the 1990s — with Jurassic Park, the Star Wars trilogy, Terminator 2, and E.T. :The Extra-Terrestrial topping any list of the most popular and successful movies ever made, and a hit like Independence Day in 1996 — that science fiction was the bastard stepchild of the movie business for most of the twentieth century.

Science Fiction Films Essay, Research Paper

It seems strange to realize that in the 1990s — with Jurassic Park, the Star Wars trilogy, Terminator 2, and E.T. :The Extra-Terrestrial topping any list of the most popular and successful movies ever made, and a hit like Independence Day in 1996 — that science fiction was the bastard stepchild of the movie business for most of the twentieth century. Westerns might not have interested all viewers, but they usually stood up for traditional moral ideals on some level, and gangster movies normally included enough action to attract mass audiences and were a vehicle for stardom, or at least respect, for many an actor, including Humphrey Bogart and George Raft — by contrast, until Harrison Ford came along in Star Wars, it can be argued that no serious actor ever got a career boost out of his role in a science fiction film. Science fiction was a genre that neither the studios and their production heads, nor the producers who worked for them, nor most directors and screenwriters, professed to understand. And it was a genre with which most adult audiences were uncomfortable. As a genre, it didn't seem to "stand" for anything other than storytelling of a peculiar kind, and it didn't necessarily offer the kind of action that audiences could follow easily. How did this virtual orphan of the movie business rise from such humble origins to become — along with horror films — the most successful genre of the 1980s and 1990s? The process was a long, slow one, measured in almost incremental movement for much of the century. The earliest science fiction films were merely extensions of the whole idea of movies as a novelty — as diversion for the masses on a flickering screen. The first science fiction/fantasy films of any note were made by the French filmmaker George Melies, a stage magician and producer who had begun experimenting with film projectors on stage in the mid-1890s. He devised his own projectors and used them with some success; in an early effort at multi-media production, Melies intended to make his own films, shot around Paris. The camera jammed during shooting, however, and when Melies examined the resulting film, he was astonished to see objects appear and disappear without warning and appear to be transformed instantaneously into other objects. Melies made more than 70 very short films in 1896 utilizing the trick photography techniques that he'd stumbled upon by accident. Over the next several years, as he went into independent production and founded his own studio — the first in Europe — at Montreuil, he became more ambitious in both the content and length of his movies. His screen career reached its peak of popularity with his best known film, A Trip To the Moon (1902), which is probably the earliest movie still widely shown to film students at all levels of sophistication. This picture, very loosely based on Jules Verne's story From Earth To the Moon, embodies all of the virtues, flaws, and delights of Melies' work — the expedition, as in Verne's tale, goes to the Moon in a projectile launched by a canon, but it is loaded by a line of dancing girls; on the Moon (shown with a grinning man's face, which frowns as the projectile hits it) the explorers are attacked by demon-like creatures, they return to Earth by dropping themselves downward and landing in the ocean, from which they are towed ashore by a navy ship. The sophisticated use of models of various sizes, and the various appearances and disappearances of different apparitions, are nearly as delightful and diverting today as they seemed 90-odd years ago, but the show-business accouterments dated his films badly and very quickly for casual audiences. Melies's early venture into science fiction wasn't followed up by any work nearly as enduring or successful, partly because science fiction was itself a difficult concept to put over on a public that was scarcely sophisticated in matters of science. This was an era in which compulsory education much past the eighth grade level was a relatively new idea, and from the Civil War onward science had been gathering momentum on both theoretical and applied levels that educators were scarcely able to keep up with. Additionally, the public that attended movies during the early part of the century — and by and large this is still true today — attended to be entertained and charmed, whether by pretty girls, engrossing dramas, handsome leading men, or the comic antics of some actor or actress, not educated. The 1910 version of Frankenstein, which was long believed lost but has turned up in fragmentary form, was a surprisingly effective mix of science fiction and horror, with a most unearthly monster. And in 1916, Universal adapted Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea into a full-length feature, but this movie was far more impressive for its underwater special effects than for its acting or entertainment value, which was nil. Science fiction concepts occasionally turned up in films incidental to the action, but rare was the filmmaker willing to hook an entire movie around them — one of the very few notable exceptions was Aelita, Queen of Mars, a 1924 Russian-made film by Iakov Protazanov, in which telepathic contact between an Earth man and Martians leads to the discovery of a civilization of robots on the fourth planet in our solar system. But on a dramatic level, this movie — impressive though it was in special effects — creaked along like Doctor Zhivago without the sumptuous camera work. The breakthrough came in 1927 with Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Lang, Germany's top director (who was later forced into exile in the United States with the rise of the Hitler regime, had already scaled new heights in the realms of suspense in the early 1920s with his crime films hooked around the sinister mastermind Dr. Mabuse, and elevated fantasy to new levels of sophistication with his two adaptations of the Nibelung legends, Siegfried and Kriemhild's Revenge. He was inspired to do Metropolis after a visit to New York City and a look at the Manhattan skyline, the vastness of which awed him. The result was one of the most sophisticated, detailed, and visually impressive science fiction movies ever made. His vision of a futuristic city ruled by a tiny privileged few, toiled over by masses longing for release, and the consequences of the development of robots as laborers, raised issues that were not new to science fiction, but were new to movies. These issues continue to trouble and stimulate filmmakers today. Some elements of its plot and characterizations seem childish, while others come across as pretentious, but the sheer power of the movie, on a scene-for-scene basis and as a complete work, were undeniable. Metropolis didn't do quite as well in the United States as the producers had hoped, due in large part to its release as a silent film at a time when sound was coming into vogue. But it made an impression on filmmakers around the world — perhaps too much of an impression, for it was nearly a decade before another producer would attempt to rival Lang's masterpiece. In the meantime, Lang returned to science fiction in 1929 with another silent film, The Woman In the Moon, a drama about the first lunar expedition that utilized the services of Germany's top rocket scientists, Dr. Herman Oberth and Dr. Willy Ley — this explains the eerie similarities between the lunar rocket depicted in the movie and the real-life Saturn V, which was built with Ley's help and according to concepts first codified in Germany by Oberth. This film, which contains its slow and silly moments but remains eminently watchable, didn't create much of a stir overseas, coming out when silents were on their way out, but it did originate the concept of the "count down" (in real life, scientists normally counted upward, but Lang and his advisors realized that counting down to zero created more dramatic tension, and the idea stuck in the real world). The Nazi regime was so fearful of the scientific content of the movie and what it might reveal to other, potentially hostile countries that it was banned from distribution from the mid-1930s onward — and indeed, the arrival of the Hitler government halted serious science fiction filmmaking in Germany until after World War II, for precisely this reason. The Hollywood studios didn't take well to the idea of science fiction, except when it was linked to horror. Universal's success with Dracula in 1931 possessed it to try for another hit with Frankenstein, obviously a science fiction subject dealing with the creation of an artificial man who runs amok destroying its creator (at least, in the original release of the first film) in the process. Boris Karloff, portraying the Monster, became a star overnight from Frankenstein, which was really more of a horror movie than a science fiction film (children were originally not encouraged to see it), but had the accouterments of science fiction, including a laboratory with lots of electrical instruments, a pseudo-scientific explanation for Dr. Frankenstein's ability to animate a lifeless artificial body, and a reason for the Monster's violent nature (in place of a healthy brain, the doctor's assistant steals a brain identified as diseased). Frankenstein and its sequels and follow-ups, most notably The Bride of Frankenstein (a true rarity, as a sequel better than the original) and The Invisible Man, transformed Universal into a virtual horror factory and kept some elements to science fiction before the public throughout the 1930s. Curiously, it was the studio's smaller "A"-pictures and "B"-horror titles, such as The Invisible Ray (starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi), The Night Key (with Karloff) and Man-Made Monster (Lon Chaney Jr.'s starring debut in a horror vehicle) that presented more pure science fiction — involving new inventions and medical research — than their bigger-budgeted films, which tended to rely on relatively vague scientific underpinnings. Universal also became the home for the best pure science fiction adventure films of the period, in the form of the Flash Gordon serials, starring Buster Crabbe, Charles Middleton, and Frank Shannon — these interplanetary adventures, involving space ships, death rays, teleportation and anti-gravity devices, and other super-scientific creations, which the studio began producing in 1936 with the serial Flash Gordon, may not have had much in the way of scientific accuracy, but they played heavily on the science fiction setting for its own sake, accepting without question the notion of life on other planets and the practicality of space travel. Although it was less successful commercially, the studio's Buck Rogers serial, also starring Buster Crabbe, was equally impressive visually. In England, on a wholly more serious level, London Films and its founder/head Alexander Korda produced the visionary science fiction epic Things To Come starring Raymond Massey and Ralph Richardson. Produced at an enormous cost and based loosely on the writings of H.G. Wells — who had thought Metropolis a silly film — Things To Come was overly preachy and didactic, but it was visually overpowering. The vision of a century or more of future history following a new world war was realized through dazzling model and camera work and sincere if stolid acting, with Ralph Richardson as the savage, greedy feudal chieftain virtually stealing the movie from Raymond Massey as the reasoned, thoughtful hero. Things To Come lost money on its original release but became one of the most discussed and admired science fiction films in history. During the 1930s, however, a much more important event was taking place among audiences themselves than the release of any single film — the public was becoming more conscious and accepting of science in their lives. The presence of radios in most households, and the advent of radio networks; the birth of television (although it was available to no more than a couple of thousand wealthy or well-connected individuals in London and New York); and the public's growing familiarity with such relatively new developments as medical X-rays, all served to bring science into peoples' lives on a level that turn-of-the-century audiences never dreamt of. The advent of the Great Depression also made people long, consciously and subconsciously, for a future in which problems could be solved simply and easily — it was precisely this upbeat theme that served as the underlying concept behind the 1939 World's Fair, which presented a future only a few decades off in which people were served by clean affordable electrical power and technology of every description. In essence, the Universal serials, and to a lesser degree the horror and science fiction movies that the studio was producing, reflected the public's level of understanding of science at the time — rockets were a reality, even if rocket-ships and space capsules weren't, and death rays, interplanetary television, and the notion of life on other planets were mere extensions of notions that had been popular for many years in pulp fiction and comic books, as well as work by respected authors such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The coming of World War II, and the introduction of a range of weapons and a level of warfare and destruction never before imagined only made science and scientific concepts that much more important and familiar to people on a daily basis. The immediate result was a change in the nature of science fiction movies. Interplanetary travel ceased as a subject with the outbreak of World War II, but in its place there were any range of inventions intended for good purposes but turned to evil. Ernest B. Schoedsack's Dr. Cyclops (1940) cast Albert Dekker as the discoverer of a valuable radium deposit in a remote South American jungle who learns how to shrink living tissue with the radiation and uses it to prevent a group of visitors from revealing his find to the world — the special effects were superb in their day and remain entertaining, and the adventures of the victims in the suddenly outsized world were exciting, and the fact that the movie was shot in Technicolor assured that it would find new audiences across the generations. On a more mundane level, The Monster And the Girl (1941) took a typical crime-film story and added a macabre twist as the brain of a man wrongfully executed for murder is transplanted into the body of a gorilla, which proceeds to exact revenge on the real killers. Three years later, Curt Siodmak's novel Donovan's Brain, about a transplanted brain that begins to control the people around it, was brought to the screen for the first of (at least) three occasions under the title The Lady and The Monster, starring Erich Von Stroheim. The immediate postwar period was a relatively inactive period for science fiction in the cinema, apart from the plots of a few movie serials, dealing with heroes and villains — sometimes including alien invaders — trying to gain possession of such devices as atomic ray guns or invisibility devices: The Purple Monster Strikes, Superman, Atom Man Vs. Superman, The Invisible Monster, Zombies of the Stratophere and The Crimson Ghost were among the most popular of them. These were aimed at a juvenile audience, however, and reflected little of the changes that were taking place in society. The end of World War II and the dawn of the Atomic Age gradually created a new public mindset, especially at the end of the 1940s when it was clear that not only wouldn't the threat of communism disappear anytime soon, but that the communist countries were on their way to getting their own atomic weapons. All of these events helped to set the stage for science fiction's gradual ascendancy — in the postwar world, scientific advances seemed not only to take place on a daily or weekly basis, as inventions ranging from television to antibiotics became commonplace, but threatened to destroy us all. By the end of the 1940s, some filmmakers had developed definite ideas about the genre. George Pal's Destination Moon and Kurt Neumann's Rocketship X-M, both dealing with the first attempt to reach the Moon, were released within weeks of each other in 1950 and were the first serious lunar exploration dramas since Lang's Woman In the Moon in 1929. The following year, RKO and Howard Hawks released The Thing (From Another World), the first postwar movie to deal with the idea of creatures from outer space landing on Earth — a fast-paced, tense drama that featured all of the typical flair of a Howard Hawks movie (Hawks is listed as producer but actually directed, giving credit to his young colleague, editor Christian Nyby). But The Thing also contained a fascinating subtext. The film's dramatic plot dealt with the conflict between the military leader of the expedition (Kenneth Tobey) and the scientific head (Robert Cornthwaite) over which of them will decide how the deadly alien visitor will be dealt with — the scientist wants to keep it alive, even at the sacrifice of the lives of the members of the expedition, as a unique and once-in-a-millennium scientific event, while the military commander wants to destroy it. The Thing appeared at the precise time that the debate within the government over who would control atomic weapons — their development and deployment — the military or the scientists, was coming to a boil. One cannot watch the movie today without wondering if the screenwriter wasn't intentionally using that argument as a basis for his script. Significantly, the film's conclusion gives the victory to the military, not only because they are right, but because it is too dangerous not to give them control, a decision that clearly reflected the majority of public opinion at the time about national defense and atomic weapons. Mild paranoia ran through most science fiction of the 1950s — Destination Moon's plot, for example, concerns an effort to reach the Moon, because as expensive a proposition as it is to undertake the mission, it would be even more costly not to, because, we are assured, our communist rivals will certainly make the attempt, and whoever succeeds will control the Earth as well. But all of this was subliminal, barely perceived by audiences at the time. The paranoia that they did hear loud and clear was the ending of The Thing, in which the reporter, speaking for the survivors, urges his listeners to "Watch the skies! Keep watching the skies!" The words became prophetic, as drama upon drama of interplanetary invasion followed in the wake of The Thing. Some of the better subsequent films included Robert Wise's pacifist drama The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) — an unusual big-studio venture, from 20th Century-Fox — and Edgar G. Ulmer's The Man From Planet X, which was released the same year, but more typical was W. Lee Wilder's Phantom From Space, a dull but well-intentioned effort. These films were usually pitched at younger teenaged audiences, because it was generally felt that adults were less-than-enamored of the notions behind science fiction. During this same period, Paramount weighed in with a pair of color entries, When Worlds Collide and War of the Worlds, which were somewhat more sophisticated family entertainments but still primarily aimed at teenagers. The reality of atomic energy and the fear of nuclear radiation finally took hold in science fiction during 1953 with a thriller entitled The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, about a dinosaur awakened from the ice that goes on a rampage down the East Coast of the United States, culminating with a conflagration in New York's Coney Island. This movie, featuring superb stop-motion animation work by Ray Harryhausen, was acquired by Warner Bros. from an independent producer for less than $500,000 and became the studio's biggest box-office success of the year. It was followed up a year later by two movies made half-a-world apart, Them (Warner) about scientists discovering a nest of deadly giant mutant ants in the New Mexico desert, and Gojira — later renamed Godzilla — a Japanese-made thriller about a dinosaur reawakened by nuclear experiments. Both were to prove extremely popular and influential — the next several years saw an array of films dealing with giant insects, dinosaurs, and other radiation-spawned creatures on a rampage. The late director Jack Arnold, working for Universal Pictures, made some the best of the low-budget movies in the genre during this era, including Creature From The Black Lagoon, It Came From Outer Space, Tarantula, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, although he only co-wrote, rather than directed, the most intriguing science fiction film with which he was associated, John Sherwood's The Monolith Monsters (1957), which had a truly novel monster — meteors from deep space that grow by drawing the life and chemicals out of the Earth (or human beings), crash to Earth, and grow again. By the mid-1950s, the genre had peaked in Hollywood with two extremely well-made color features, This Island Earth (1955) and Forbidden Planet (1956). Both movies involved interplanetary travel but also featured plots much more complicated than the typical alien-invasion scenario and special effects that remain dazzling even 40 years later. Forbidden Planet was the first wide-screen science fiction film of any note, and its 23rd-century setting placed its all-too-typically-fifties cast and crew in a stunningly futuristic environment — this movie was also the unofficial but direct inspiration for the subsequent television series Star Trek, right down to the characterization of the captain (Leslie Nielsen in his pre-comedy days) and his relationship with his first-officer and chief medical officer. The plot, loosely adapted from Shakespeare's The Tempest concerned an interstellar spaceship stranded on a distant planet where a series of strange and deadly events seem linked to the planet's now-extinct inhabitants. Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), starring James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Paul Lukas, and Peter Lorre, was a multi-million dollar venture into classic science fiction, which proved entertaining to audiences of all ages and proved that the genre could reach people beyond teenagers and young children. No American producer could outdo 20,000 Leagues or Forbidden Planet for elegance, but other filmmakers were able to use science fiction to capture the political paranoia of the era. The first of the political science-fiction thrillers was also the strangest; Red Planet Mars (1952), is a drama about a husband-and-wife scientist team who discover signals coming from Mars that translate as The Sermon on the Mount — this leads to a worldwide religious revival that topples the Soviet Union, but they soon discover that the messages are the work of an ex-Nazi scientist who plans to bring the new era crashing down and civilization with it. Less complex, but more overtly chilling, was The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) directed by Don Siegel. The movie was never intended as a political statement, and it could be taken as an indictment of either communist believers or the so-called witch-hunters of the era. But its story of a small-town doctor (Kevin McCarthy) who finds those around him being replaced by alien "pod" people was unsettling enough to chill everyone who saw the picture. The movie has since been remade twice and served as the basis for numerous unofficial variations, including one of the funniest episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show ("It Looks Like A Walnut") ever made. On the opposite side of the coin, from England came the thriller The Creeping Unknown (1955), the story about an alien invasion from within — an organism takes over the bodies of three astronauts. The film was given an "X" rating (unsuitable for children) in Britain. Its popularity was such that a sequel, Quatermass II: Enemy From Space (1956), followed a year later. During this same period, television became something of a haven for low-budget science fiction adventure. Series such as Captain Video, Rocky Jones Space Ranger, and Space Patrol kept children occupied on a daily or weekly basis, adding little to the genre but planting the seeds of a future audience. These same shows, however, had the effect of branding science fiction as a childrens' genre and established young teenagers as the base audience for the films, a factor that retarded the growth of the movie genre in many respects. By the end of the decade, the mixture of teenagers and science fiction had led to the making of such strange amalgams as The Cape Canaveral Monsters, Teenage Zombies, and The Day The World Ended. Director/producer Roger Corman had a particular penchant for effective low-budget science fiction, with a good dose of horror, and made such bargain-basement classics as Not Of This Earth and Attack of the Crab Monsters during this period. The mood of most 1950s science fiction films was bleak — mankind was usually shown either defending its home planet against hostile invaders from outer space or monsters of our own making. The exceptions, When Worlds Collide and Forbidden Planet, were unusual in the sense that they offered hope that the human race might someday become wiser as it grew. The monster-movie cycle ran itself out in a series of effective low-budget thrillers such as It!, The Terror From Beyond Space (which served as the basis for Alien ), Fiend Without A Face, Kronos, and The Angry Red Planet. The coming of the 1960s, and the easing of the Cold War, coupled with our own real-life entry into space, saw a change in the nature of popular science fiction. Most notably, a somewhat more optimistic view of the future, and of scientific advancement and its consequences, seemed to take hold both in movies and on television. And the material itself got better — anthology series such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits proved that there was an audience for high-quality work, with good casts, scripts, and direction. Irwin Allen's Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea, Lost In Space, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants sustained the adventure side of the genre, especially for younger audiences, but the major change in series science fiction came in 1966 with Star Trek. A creation of Gene Roddenberry and loosely based on Forbidden Planet, Star Trek took space fiction and moved its focus from early teen to late teenaged audiences, which in turn made it accessible to younger adults as well. The series' biggest innovation, apart from the relatively high quality of the scripts and acting, was its optimism — Star Trek depicted a future that worked, and that worked (albeit not without problems, or there would have been no series) because of scientific advancement. Where the movies of the 1950s depicted the future and the advancement of science as something to be embraced cautiously, Star Trek presented a future that was alluring and desirable, and scientific advancement as a necessity instead of a problem. Unfortunately, the series reached a portion of the television audience that wasn't adequately represented by the ratings services of the era, and it lasted only 79 episodes and three seasons. The seed was planted, however, in the form of those 79 episodes and a dedicated core audience that grew to tens of millions once the show went into syndicated reruns in 1969. There were some successful big-screen science fiction series during the middle- and late-1960s, the most notable of which were Franklin Schaffner's topical sci-fi/satire Planet of the Apes, and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Planet of the Apes, loosely based on Pierre Boule's satiric novel, proved that serious stories could be embraced by major actors (Charlton Heston was probably the first major leading man not to compromise his career by doing science fiction) in a science-fiction setting. But science fiction movies really made their entry into the realm of serious cinema with Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the most ambitious (and some would say pretentious) entry into the genre since Metropolis 40 years earlier. Audiences generally found the film dull and didactic, where it wasn't simply obscure, but were overpowered by its visual splendor and the grandeur of its two million-year time frame. The film doomed the childrens' version of science fiction to extinction and opened up opportunities for other filmmakers. Douglas Trumbull, who had designed many of the special effects for Kubrick's movie, was one of the first to avail himself of the chance to make a movie of his own, with the environmentally conscious science-fiction drama Silent Running (MCA/Universal), which scored a modest hit at the box office. Serious science fiction became much easier to produce in this new environment, and among the most widely seen of this new crop of films was Robert Wise's The Andromeda Strain, based on the best-seller by Michael Crichton, which was made with meticulous detail but played at a less-than-exciting pace (this movie also ran into a problem in its future-release cycles, as technology caught up with it — some desktop computers can now do most of the work that the film's huge underground computer is shown doing). By the middle of the 1970s, however, the brand of earnest, issue-oriented science fiction popular at the start of the decade had run out of steam at the box office, a result of too many disappointing big-budget efforts such as Soylent Green and The Omega Man. Among the last of this sub-genre was Logan's Run (MGM/United Artists), an adaptation of a well known book that has aged surprisingly well despite some very dated sensibilities about the future and about how to design and play science fiction (the letterboxed laserdisc of this movie is a treat). Even as Logan's Run was playing out its string at the box office to modest success, George Lucas was readying the film that would usher in yet another new era in science fiction — Star Wars. Drawing as much from comic books and 1940s action movies as from any film tradition, the movie's mix of high-tech special effects and well-paced action and character development — coupled with some well-thought-out characters drawn from American popular culture traditions — transformed theaters in which it ran into virtual theme-parks-of-the-mind. Audiences went back over and over again for another "ride," and the movie ultimately racked up hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office and generated two sequels in the bargain. Not long after Star Wars, Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) opened the science fiction genre to new levels of suspense and gore, with its tale of a spaceship crew destroyed by a deadly alien creature. The film's success led to a spate of low-budget rip-offs involving similar scenes of human bodies being invaded by extraterrestrials, including Galaxy of Terror and Horror Planet, as well as an even better, more exciting sequel, Aliens. More recent variations on this action- and gore-oriented genre include Predator and the two Terminator movies, the second of which carried high-tech special effects to new levels of sophistication. During this same period, idealism wasn't forgotten, however, as Steven Spielberg showed with the success of his two extraterrestrial contact dramas, Close Encounters of The Third Kind and E.T., which achieved huge success at the box office with amazingly positive messages. James Cameron followed these up with own positive idealistic science fiction drama, The Abyss, which was as gentle and thoughtful as Terminator and Terminator 2 were violent and cynical. Robert Zemeckis proved that comedy could sell in science fiction garb, with Back To the Future (MCA/Universal) and two very successful sequels. And even Star Trek got a new lease on life, with seven successful feature films and three spin-off television series keeping the name alive more than 20 years after the original show was cancelled for low ratings. Science fiction in the 1990s is freer, funnier, and more rewarding than at any time in the previous century, and it is more respected and more widely accepted than at any time in its history. The success of Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park proves that good ideas driven by superb special effects, even when marred by somewhat flaccid writing and acting, can appeal to the public. With three forthcoming films in the Star Wars saga by George Lucas — possibly the most widely awaited sequels in the history of cinema given the continued influence of the original trilogy on the entire field of movie-making — it appears that the movie-going public's hunger for science fiction has yet to be satisfied.