Week 1: The early shorts: fanciful adventures and the beginning of special effects
Welcome to the world of magic sausage makers, playful X-rays, invisible men, fast-ageing babies and oversized bed bugs. These comedic shorts introduced tropes and techniques that became central to the genre, and a glimpse of future epics could be seen in Georges Méliès’ 18-minute extravaganza A Trip to the Moon (1902), considered by many to be the first true science fiction film.
Week 2: Britain and Europe: Dreams of war, dreams of peace
British filmmakers showed cars lapping Saturn’s rings, possible defenses against airship bombers of the future, emissaries from Mars, and a future world (1940!) in which pacifists struggle to avert global war. Meanwhile, in Denmark filmmakers found peace in an idyllic Martian civilization, in Italy giant robots battled and in France, Paris slept under the effects of a ‘Crazy Ray’.
Week 3: America: The dawn of the epic adventure movie
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916), the first big budget, special-effects-driven epic, showcased state-of-the-art underwater cinematography. Other adaptations included Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Conan-Doyle’s The Lost World, the latter featuring dinosaurs brought to life by special effects master Willis O’Brien who, in 1933, would create one of the most famous beasts in film history.
Week 4: Germany and the Soviet Union: realism, dark visions and exporting revolution
German expressionist auteur Fritz Lang released Frau im Mond, the first ‘realistic’ treatment of space travel, and his dystopian classic Metropolis, while Henrik Galeen made several versions of Alraune, a dark, erotic fantasy. In the USSR, the October Revolution arrived on the red planet in Aelita: Queen of Mars and ‘CCCP’ decorated the surface of the Moon in Cosmic Journey.