Modern Science-Fiction Cinema
Science Fiction has been a cinematic genre for as long as there has been cinema—at least since Georges Melies’s visionary Trip to the Moon in 1902. However, though science fiction films have long been reliable box office earners and cult phenomena, critical acknowledgement and analysis was slow to develop. Still, few genres reflect the sensibility of their age so transparently—if often unconsciously—or provide so many opportunities for filmmakers to simultaneously address social issues and expand the lexicon with new technologies. Given budgetary considerations and the appetite for franchises, science fiction auteurs face a difficult negotiation between artistic expression and lowest common denominator imperatives, the controversy over Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) being perhaps the most infamous example. Nevertheless, many notable filmmakers have done their most perceptive and influential work in the scifi realm, including Gilliam, Ridley Scott, David Cronenberg, Paul Verhoeven, James Cameron and Alfonso Cuaron. This course will survey the scope of contemporary science fiction cinema, after looking first at seminal works like Metropolis (1927) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) that continue to cast their shadow over the genre. We will then devote considerable time to a pair of more modern films, Scott’s Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), which drew from earlier movements (German expressionism, noir), influenced new ones (cyberpunk) and inspired a rare wave of academic discourse. Over the course of the term we will sample smaller, more independent-minded projects, such as Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) as well as higher profile but much more risky epics from filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan.