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...
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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