The Sci-Fi Files
Vol 1-4 Box Set

Narrator: Mark Hamill
Sanctuary Visual Entertainment
RRP: 29.99
Certificate: E
Available 29 May 2006

Billed as
A History of Science Fiction in Movies, Television and Print, this four-part documentary series from 1997 is enjoyable and occasionally informative viewing, although it does carry particular emphasis on American movies, while coverage of science fiction on television is so minimal, it's close to non-existent...

Narrated by Mark Hamill, each 50-minute documentary covers a different topic as its theme, from Spaceships and Aliens to Living In The Future, backed up by a wealth of film clips and interviews with leading sci-fi authors and experts.

Without a doubt, the interviews are the documentary's strongest point. There are lengthy and candid contributions from the likes of Arthur C Clarke, Brian Aldiss, William Gibson and Terry Gilliam, as well as more unusual, but surprisingly welcome, interviews with nuclear physicists and professors of cybernetics.

In fact, The Sci-Fi Files often does a better job of detailing science history rather than science fiction. The third disc in particular, March Of The Machines, initially appears to be a straightforward history of robots in the movies but actually takes us much further, as it goes on to give us a compelling history of the development of nuclear weapons, and the involvement of leading sci-fi authors in Reagan's Star Wars program. It's a fascinating and well-told account of science fiction meeting science fact, as seen through the eyes of an impeccable cast of interviewees.

This almost makes up for a very uneven choice of clips and subject matter elsewhere in the documentaries. Fans of blockbuster American movies are well catered for with plenty of discussion and footage from Alien, Robocop and Terminator 2 but it sadly seems to be at the expense of science fiction in other media. Whilst The Sci-Fi Files does occasionally dip its toe into books and comics, it's all too brief and not especially substantial.

Meanwhile, science fiction on television is almost completely overlooked which is baffling considering the importance of the media in producing sci-fi over the last 50 years - there are criminally few references to America's biggest sci-fi show of all Star Trek, whilst a little British show called Doctor Who is represented by a couple of very brief clips, one of which is only included to show the viewer how a robot can sometimes look like a dog.

This oversight becomes particularly annoying when the same clips from Robocop are recycled throughout the documentaries. There really should have been more of an effort to balance out the depiction of science fiction in all media. Despite this, the sheer wealth of film clips mean there is the occasional treat for everyone. As well as vintage footage from early classics (Rocket To The Moon, Metropolis) there are also more interesting and less obvious choices on offer (Woody Allen's Sleeper, John Carpenter's 1974 comedy Dark Star).

All in all, The Sci-Fi Files has it's shortcomings but I have to say it still managed to entertain and inform me for a few hours with it's mix of science fiction and science history, and the interviews in particular are enlightening and well-chosen. Perhaps the definitive documentary on the history of science fiction has yet to be made, but this may well be worth a look in the meantime.

Danny Salter

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