Film Studies: Task 3

The Narrative Structure of the Science Fiction Genre

Assessment Task 1 part A – (Fiction Criteria 1.1 & 1.2 and Film Studies Criteria 3.1 )

The purpose of this report is to analyse genre, specifically the science fiction genre. I chose to analyse this genre because I have watched science fiction films in film studies lessons and after group discussions and analysis, I thought this would be interesting to look into further. In this report I will be mainly looking at three films that we watched in film studies, Metropolis, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Blade Runner.  Science fiction in film has been around for decades, the first science fiction dates back to 1902 with George Melies’ silent film ‘La Voyage dans la Lune’, a 17 minute long film which tells the story of astronauts flying a canon propelled space ship to the moon. Man would not walk on the moon until 1969, 67 years after the film was made, so at the time of release this film was extremely futuristic and unrealistic by the standards of that era. And from this point onwards, Sci-Fi would always have similar narratives.

One of the beauties of the science fiction genre is that there is no limit to a narrative. Most sci-fi films are set in the future so it allows the creators to dream up all kinds of technology and inventions and it can still seem realistic because nobody knows how the future will turn out, for instance if you told people in 1902 that ‘La Voyage dans la Lune’ would become a true story in just 67 years nobody would have believed it, but technology evolves at such a pace that anything seems possible and sci-fi is the perfect way to show this.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the 1927 Fritz Lang film Metropolis. The film is set in a futuristic society in which the rich, healthy and powerful citizens live above ground in a mega city surrounded by towering buildings that represent hierarchical significance and economic status. The other side of the story is set underground, where the poor, lower class citizens reside in filth, and live only to serve the people above them by operating the machinery that serves the rich. The theme of this film is associated with Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime along with the fear of totalitarianism, a political system where the lower class members of the public becoming ‘machines’ that exist only to serve the ruling classes precisely what Hitler set out to achieve in world war ii. In the denouement stage of this film, the working class section of society work together to rise up and revolt against the rich and powerful by destroying the machinery that controls the city, which results in a new regime that combines the two, once completely separate worlds.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a 1951 film directed by Robert Wise and based on Harry Bates’ 1940 short story ‘Farewell to the Master’. This film revolves around an alien life force that comes to earth, accompanied by a huge robot, to warn the planet that if it does not change its ways, it will be destroyed because it is seen as a threat to the rest of the galaxy. The concept behind this film relates to the ‘Reds under the Bed’, a term created by the McCarthyism witch-hunt. McCarthyism comes from US senator Joseph McCarthy, a republican whose regime saw thousands of people accused of communism without any evidence; hence the term is now defined as ‘the practise of making unfair allegations’. Reds is a slang word for communists and ‘under the bed’ relates to how they were allegedly hiding themselves in society, resulting in the paranoia of undercover communism in the USA.

This film was also released in a time when people were still scared of war because World War II was fresh in the memory so the idea of an alien race declaring war on the entire planet was very apt. This film concludes with the alien returning home to a different world, leaving a warning for earth to change its violent ways before its too late, a message that stayed with many people long after the film finished.

The final film I will be looking at is Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner. Blade Runner is set in Los Angeles in the year 2019; Los Angeles has become an overpopulated, dark society that is inhabited by robotic human replicates that live illegally amongst real humans. These androids are banned on earth because they are primarily used for illegal activity so are tracked down by a police-like force known as blade runners, whose job it is to identify and destroy the androids. The theme of Blade Runner is another sci-fi film that reflects the social issues of its time. In the 80’s people were sceptical of hyper capitalist foreign policies that were being introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the USA, this fear combined with corruption of government gave this film an appropriate narrative that allowed viewers to see a real insight of what could happen in the future. Ridley Scott depicted this message through evident homelessness, overpopulation and use of pathetic fallacy, creating a futuristic yet realistic world where the rich and poor are entirely separated, just like in Metropolis.

Science fiction films have developed over the years but the core themes have remained very similar with themes that revolve around alien life, time travel, technology and futuristic inventions. The ‘What If’ factor has kept science fiction fresh, exciting and relevant. Keeping audiences interested and fearful of the future, technology and what might happen. As technology and society evolves, filmmakers will continue to find inspiration for films that will portray real life fears through sci-fi. To conclude, I think it is this that makes sci-fi such an interesting and unique genre, the only genre that allows sometimes ridiculous stories of farfetched scenarios to seem realistic and possible in the not to distant future whilst reflecting the social issues of the era.