Author: Katy Wagner

The History of Sci-Fi Films

Sci-Fi films have depicted unimaginable scientific phenomenons since the beginning of time. The category combines the real world with the supernatural to question thoughts of the unknown in science. Over the past century, technology has improved special effects and futuristic elements in these films, which has resulted in a rising popularity and success in this area of the film industry. Here is how the sci-fi genre all began. 

The Era of Silent Film

The history of sci-fi films dates back to the early 20th century in the Silent Film Era. The attempts were usually 1-2 minute short films, shot in black and white, and had a technological theme that was intended to be comical. The first film categorised as science fiction was Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902) by George Méliès, telling the story of a spacecraft being launched to the moon in a large cannon. The special effects used in the film paved the way for future sci-fi films, and became very popular after its release. Science fiction literature also had a huge impact on early films. Books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1910) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1913) were adapted into films, mixing sci-fi and horror together. 

1930’s and 40’s

Films in the 30’s were influenced by sound, dialogue, and the effects of the Great Depression. The decade however, saw a rise in film serials which were low budget, quickly produced short films that depicted futuristic adventures filled with action and gadgetry. One of the first films was The Phantom Empire (1935), about a cowboy who stumbles upon a technologically advanced underground civilization with ray guns, robots and advanced TV’s. More films throughout the decade continued to use elements like space travel, high tech gadgets, and mad scientists. Most of the successful sci-fi films in the 30s continued in the 40s as sequels. However, sci-fi films were mainly inert throughout the course of the war. 

Post War and 1950’s 

Developments of the atomic bomb and anxiety about apocalyptic effects of a nuclear war strongly influenced the sci-fi genre during the 50s. The Cold War and communist era in the United States also led to an increase in sci-fi films, which later started a Golden Age of Science Fiction. One of the most important films during the time was Destination Moon (1950), which tells the story of a nuclear powered rocket that brings four men to the moon while competing against the Soviets. This film was largely publicised and very successful, which resulted in more financing for sci-fi films. The decade also saw a rise in popularity for alien films. The films featured political commentary mixed with the concept of UFOs. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) became a major success and set a new wave of sci-fi monster films. The film depicts the monster Rhedosaurus destroying areas of the United States after being thawed out by atomic testing. This decade of films include sci-fi and horror with a mix of apprehension in regards to  nuclear technology or dangers of outer space. The success of sci-fi during this decade influenced future success and international growth as a genre. 

1960’s

In the beginning of the decade, not many films were produced after the rush in the 50s. The films that were produced during this time were either aimed at a child audience or a continuation of 50’s sci-fi films. In the second half of the decade however, many sci-fi films were produced and transformed the genre. Fahrenheit 451 (1966) is a social commentary on freedom of speech and government restrictions and Fantastic Voyage (1966) tells the story of the main character exploring the inside of a human body. Planet of the Apes (1968) was also a very popular film that eventually resulted in four sequels and a TV series. One of the most significant sci-fi films during this decade is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The film tells the story about a voyage to Jupiter with the computer HAL after discovering a dark machine that is destroying human evolution. The film was considered to be groundbreaking for its time in regards to the quality of visual effects, the realistic portrayal of space travel and the legendary scope of its story. After this film was released, sci-fi films that followed would have immensely larger budgets and an improvement in special effects. 

1970’s

There was much more interest in sci-fi films with a space adventure theme in the 70s. The discoveries made in space during this decade created a marvel about the universe portrayed in these films. In the early 70s, many sci-fi films still included themes of paranoia with a threat against humanity in regards to ecological and technological conflicts. Some popular films during this specific time in the decade were A Clockwork Orange (1971), and the sequels to Planet of the Apes. Conspiracy thriller films were very popular during this time, which emphasised paranoia and conspiracy among national government or corporate entities. Some big successes in the 70s were Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).

1980’s

Resulting in the success of Star Wars, this decade increases popularity of sci-fi films. Many major studios began to produce many more films. Both the Star Wars and Star Trek films influenced escapism becoming the dominant form of science fiction in the 80s. Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982) was one of the most successful films of the decade. The distinction between science fiction, fantasy and superhero films were obscured from the influences of these films as well. Every year during this decade saw at least one major sci-fi or fantasy film released. The decade also saw a growth in animation which acted as a medium for sci-fi films. This was mostly successful in Japan where anime started. This industry became very popular and has gradually expanding across the world.   

1990’s

The creation of the internet led to the emerging cyberpunk genre in the 90s. This genre is a subgenre of science fiction in a futuristic setting that features advanced technological and scientific achievement. Both the internet and the genre paved the way for many internet-themed films. A very popular film that was released during this time is The Matrix (1999), which tells the story of a machine-run virtual prison that was created for humanity. Disaster films still remained popular during this decade and included updated themes to reflect more recent influences. Computers play an important role in the addition of special effects and the production of film. Software was improving rapidly over time which made it easier to produce more complicated effects in films. The improvements of special effects allowed many sequels of films like Star Wars to include features with many enhancements. 

2000’s

During this decade, films turned away from space travel and more towards fantasy themes. Star Trek and Star Wars film series are the only films that appear in the first years of the decade and in present day. While fantasy and superhero films are vastly popular during this time, earthbound sci-fi films like The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were also popular. Sci-fi films in this decade were used as a tool for political commentary. Films like A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) and Minority Report (2002) questioned the materialism of today’s world and questioned political situations post 9/11. As the years went on, the theatre audience began to decline due to online streaming services becoming widely popular. 

 

To conclude, science fiction films have transformed the film industry over the past century. With the advancement of technology, these productions enhance the quality of special effects to make the concepts look and seem more realistic than the audience could ever imagine. This genre is one that is greatly appreciated in the industry for bringing the extraordinary to life on the big screen. 

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National Pink Day: Celebrating Colour in Cinema

Many productions that are filmed in colour usually have a certain colour scheme that sets the tone for the film. This is called the Film Color Theory, which states that certain colours in a film can draw out certain emotions from its audience. Manipulating these colours can help guide the audience toward the director’s intent, create dramatic irony, or sends a message to the audience. A colour wheel is an essential tool for director’s to have when deciding on sets, costume designs, and lighting during filming. Not only does colour help with the physical aspects of a film, but also the emotions that come along with it. Colour in film helps the audience see the film’s true intentions on the screen and what the director wants the audience to see. Although there are many colours to choose from, National Pink Day seems like the perfect time to celebrate films that have incorporated pink into their colour palette and what the colour means in certain films.

Psychology of  ‘Pink’

Each colour of the rainbow has certain emotions associated to them when it comes to scenes in film and television. The colour Pink is associated with love, innocence, and playfulness, as well as with all that is healthy, happy, content, romantic, charming, soft, delicate and feminine. Some popular films that incorporate the colour into various scenes are Grease (1978), Mean Girls (2004), Harry Potter Series, and Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) just to name a few. Let’s check out pink in these iconic films and what the directors try to tell the audience through these characters.

 

Grease (1978)

The American musical rom-com tells the story of the relationship between greaser Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and transfer student Sandy Olson (Olivia Newton-John). At the high school Sandy is attending, she befriends a member of the Pink Ladies. The Pink Ladies are a group of four who wear powder pink jackets. The jackets have ‘Pink Ladies’ embroidered on the back, and their names on the front. The members of the group are Betty Rizzo, Marty Maraschino, Frenchy, and Jan. Although individually they have different styles, the pink jackets single them out as a clique. The jackets celebrate impurity, seeing pink as more sarcastic than its usual associations, as well as through sexual allusions throughout the film. The Pink Ladies give off sultry, seductive, and rebellious vibes, which is why they are the most popular and imitated groups in film.

 

Mean Girls (2004)

This film is dominated by the color pink. Mean Girls tells the story of a 16 year old girl, Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) returning from Africa with her family and starting high school back in the United States. Cady unintentionally joins The Plastics, led by Regina George (Rachel McAdams) and learns the struggles of high school cliques. The Plastics consists of members Regina George, Gretchen Weiners, and Karen Smith. As Cady becomes a member of The Plastics, she trades her dark toned clothing in for pastels, mostly pink. While the color pink is usually associated with innocence, The Plastics put on a deceptive front. The group is known throughout the film for being manipulative, promiscuous and evil to many. The group wears pink every Wednesday, Regina’s mother is seen mostly wearing pink, and Regina’s room is made up of mostly pink decor as well. The representation of pink is an attempt to play up the qualities of innocence and purity that are associated with pink to mask the cruelness of The Plastics.

 

Harry Potter (2001-2011)

J.K Rowling’s best selling novels were adapted into eight films about the story of wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his time at Hogwarts. Although there a multiple films to this series, one character that is always wearing the color pink is Dolores Umbridge. Depicted as a girlish character in the series, Umbridge speaks in a high pitched voice, has an office filled with pink objects, and wears pink clothing and accessories in all of the films. Even though she dresses and acts like a ‘sweet maiden’ as Harry would call her, her character is seen as cruel, unfair, and ruthless. The directors wanted to show irony and contrast in the character to make her seem sweet and unthreatening on the outside, but twisted and evil on the inside. The color pink shows Umbridge’s girlishness and how she sometimes act as a little girl throughout the series. Dolores Umbridge wears the colour pink to mask her vicious personality that is not well liked in Hogwarts.

 

Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Set in the fictional country of Zubrowka in 1930’s Europe, the film tells the story of a concierge of the hotel, Monsieur Gustave and his friendship with his lobby boy Zero. After Gustave is framed for murder, both of the men try to prove Gustave’s innocence throughout the film. When the Grand Budapest Hotel flashes back to the 1930’s, it is a light pink colour which suggests the hotel’s charm, healthiness and happiness during that time. The other times that pink is used in the film is in Mendl’s Bakery and through Agatha’s clothing. Mendl’s wraps their baked goods in a light pink box, which emphasises the soft and delicate manner that the cakes and cookies were created and decorated in. Agatha, Zero’s girlfriend is wearing pink clothing throughout most of the film. This clothing represents Agatha’s purity and innocence, working as a baker for Mendl’s and always willing to help others. Unlike the other films discussed, Grand Budapest Hotel uses the colour pink as happy, lively, and pure throughout the scenes that reflect on the past.

 

To conclude, the filmmakers use the colour pink convey different meanings for each of these productions. Each of these films however, emphasise the importance of colour in film and the variety of meanings it can have on the audience. We wish you a great National Pink Day!

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5 Award Winning Directors Who Got Where They Are

Every director once had the dream to make movies when they were younger, and decided to go and chase after it. Starting out as a filmmaker can be terrifying and difficult. Getting your name out can be a long process that takes a lot of effort and patience to get your big break. Every award winning director have gone through this process, but each story is different. Here are some famous film directors who got where they are in the film industry.

Kathryn Bigelow

Before becoming the first woman to receive an Academy Award for Best Director, Kathryn Bigelow started out at the San Francisco Art Institute as a painting student. Before she enrolled in Columbia University’s graduate film program, Bigelow was living in New York as a starving artist for a few years. She began her career with the short film, The Set-Up (1978) that was submitted as part of her MFA at Columbia. Her fascination with manipulating movie conventions and genre began after directing Near Dark (1987), a story of a man who becomes involved with a family of nomadic vampires in his small midwestern town. Most of her films were rated poorly by critics and did not receive much box office revenue until her big break in 2008. Bigelow directed The Hurt Locker, a film that follows an explosive disposal team in the Iraq War and their psychological reactions to combat. The film received much positive feedback and resulted in her winning the Academy Award and New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director. She won the same Critics Circle award again in 2012 for Zero Dark Thirty, making her the first female director to win this award twice.

Damien Chazelle

Although filmmaking was his first passion, Damien Chazelle started out as a musician in his teenage years. After high school, he realised that he did not have much talent as a musician and started to pursue filmmaking again. The French-American director went on to graduate from Harvard University with a filmmaking degree in Visual and Environmental studies in 2007. He wrote and directed his debut feature Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench as his senior thesis project at Harvard. The film premiered at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival where it received various awards. Chazelle moved to Los Angeles after graduation to work as a “writer-for-hire” in Hollywood. His writing career in Hollywood later led him to direct his film Whiplash (2014), which depicts the relationship between a jazz drumming student and an abusive instructor. The film was submitted to the 2013 Sundance Film Festival where it received numerous awards as well as earning five Academy Award nominations, and winning three.

Due to the success of the film, Chazelle was able to attract people to help finance La La Land (2016). The story is a musical about a jazz pianist and an inspiring actress who fall in love while trying to pursue their dreams in Los Angeles. The film opened at the 2016 Venice Film Festival in August and began its release in December of 2016 in the United States. The film received many great reviews and led Chazelle to receive both the Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Director, making him the youngest director to win both awards at the age of 32. Chazelle gave some advice in a 2015 interview for aspiring young artists. “Hopefully, there’s a sort of simple message: Don’t give up. It takes fifty or a hundred or a thousand ‘No’s’ before you hear a ‘Yes.’ Certainly, that applies to both music and my experience as a writer/director”. 

Alfonso Cuarón

Being the son of a doctor and a pharmaceutical biochemist, Alfonso Cuarón travelled a different career path than his parents. Cuarón studied filmmaking at Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos (CUEC) in Mexico. He later began working as a technician for television in Mexico, which later led him to be an assistant director for many film productions in the country. Cuarón landed his first big screen film as a director with Sólo con Tu Pareja (1991). After his success in Mexico with the film, Alfonso was hired to direct an episode for the Showtime series Fallen Angels (1993). Cuarón’s success in both the US and Mexico in the 90s lead him to directing the third film in the Harry Potter Series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). A few years later, Alfonso directed Gravity (2013), a story of medical engineer and veteran astronaut getting stranded in deep space with no hope of rescue. This film resulted in Cuarón receiving both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Director. He also won the Academy Award for Best Director again for Roma (2019). In his acceptance speech, Cuarón says “As artists, our job is to look where others don’t. This responsibility becomes much more important in times when we are being encouraged to look away”.

Tom Hooper

British-Australian film and television director Tom Hooper knew he wanted to get into filmmaking since his teenage years. His first professional short, Painted Faces broadcasted on television when he was just twenty years old. Hooper directed plays and television commercials during his time as an Oxford University student, and continued to direct television episodes on British television after graduating. His father introduced him to television producer Matthew Robinson, who gave Hooper his first TV directing work and became his mentor. Hooper began to direct many television shows for BBC over the years, but made his debut with Red Dust in 2004. His debut led him to work for HBO, where he directed the British miniseries Elizabeth I (2005),which covers the final years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Hooper also directed the film Longford (2006), which demonstrates the failures of Lord Longford to secure parole of Moors murderer Myra Hindley.

The success from both of these productions led Hooper to be selected by Tom Hanks to direct the miniseries John Adams in 2008, which won many Emmy awards that year. After directing and releasing The Damned United in 2009, production for The King’s Speech began that same year. Hooper discovered the play from his Australian mother who attended a reading in London. The play covers the relationship between King George the `Sixth and his Australian speech therapist and decided to take action. The film was completed in August 2010. Hooper won the Director’s Guild of America award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures and the Academy Award for Best Director for the film. In a 2012 interview with The Guardian, Hooper states, “The funny thing about being a director is that you are not seeking your own pleasure. Your own pleasure is beside the point – it is deceptive. A lot of the time when you shoot, you are pained. It is quite masochistic – you have to be in touch with your unhappiness because that is part of the early radar system that tells you when something isn’t working. So you go between unhappiness and joy. It is what is in the frame when you turn over, that is all that matters.”

Christopher Nolan

At just eleven years old, Christopher Nolan aspired to be a professional filmmaker. The British-American film director started making films in college while earning his bachelor’s in English literature from University College London. In 1998, Nolan personally funded, wrote, directed, and edited Following. His success with the film resulted in his directing of Memento in 2000, which received many award nominations and was later selected by the Library of Congress in the US National Film Registry in 2017. Nolan became more successful as the years went on, later directing the Batman series Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). This trilogy has won many academy awards, made record breaking box office records, and are considered some of the best superhero films ever made. The success of The Dark Knight  led Nolan to direct Inception in 2010, which ended up grossing over $820 million worldwide. After the end of the Batman trilogy in 2012, Nolan directed, wrote and produced Interstellar (2014). The film won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and received nominations for Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Production Design.

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