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Science Fiction Film and Television: Brief History
[Weekend] Watch or Watch Not
[ Issue 132 Page 14 ] Sunday, January 18, 2015, 12:33:23 Min Kyu Choi Senior Staff Reporter scentimentality@gmail.com

 

[Weekend] Watch or Watch Not

There is no try. Entertaining our summers, science fiction movies have become a fundamental part of our hottest season. This summer was no expectation. The KAIST Herald invites reader to sci-fi movies.

 

Science fiction in film and television, since its incarnation in the early 20th century, has captivated generations with fantastic stories, unforgettable cultural icons, and state of the art cinematic effects. It has provided an illuminating glimpse of the possible and the probable. Science fiction fans are mostly familiar with early space operas such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, and Star Trek, and newer generation cyberpunk genres that have dominated the 1980s and 1990s. Science fiction cinema has continued to reinvent itself as a genre to adhere to advancing technology and evolving filmmaking techniques to a new generation of viewers. Its effect on society and its people over the century has been far-reaching, from influencing popular culture to prompting real-life scientific and technological marvels. 

The latter half of the 20th century was a booming age for science fiction cinema, both for the home and large screens. 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968, demonstrated an uncanny accuracy of portraying spacecraft dynamics and human behavior with microgravity environments. Its plot is unique and open to a wide range of philosophical interpretations. George Lucas' Star Wars landmarked the first commercial success of science fiction cinema, while Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek gained massive popularity despite being cancelled after only three seasons. Science fiction at this time was not only critically acclaimed, but also ubiquitously popular. It opened the possible wonders of new worlds, new civilizations, and space travel to an audience that had just witnessed the man's landing on the Moon. 

Science fiction in the 1980s and 1990s had been dominated by an emerging subgenre coined ascyberpunk. Blade Runner, the first ever film of this new subgenre, established a world with unregulated technological advancement, urban decay, and a stagnating civilization. The Matrix, explored the philosophy of technological advancement, the meaning of life and death, and perception of reality. While taking on a different atmosphere, science fiction continued to captivate its audiences by tackling difficult questions of human nature, technology, and the future. Blade Runner was originally not a financial success unlike The Matrix, but both films accumulated a strong cult fan-base and influenced many subsequent scientific works. 

Science fiction was also responsible for strong scientific contributions by inspiring technological development. It is not a rare story that generations of scientists and engineers chose their career paths due to influential science fiction characters, namely Scotty and Spock from Star Trek. These scientists and engineers created gadgets that were shown in Star Trek. Characters were shown using PADDs, similar to today's portable tablet computers, long before the first iPad or Galaxy Tab was released. The earliest cell phones were directly influenced from Star Trek's communicators. Science fiction thus heavily influenced technological innovation by inspiring scientist and engineers to model their inventions to those found in film and television. 

Science fiction also heralded cultural and societal shifts, particularly in the area of racial and gender equality. Yet another prominent example is Star Trek. Nichelle Nichols' and George Takei's portrayals of Lieutenants Uhura and Sulu were groundbreaking feats, as they both portrayed their African American and Asian characters in a positive light. Nichelle Nichols' performance was praised by Martin Luther King Jr., and George Takei's performance by the Asian American community. Nichelle Nichols and William Shatner were also the first performers to engage in the first interracial kiss on US television. However, it is worth noting that despite many attempts to do so, science fiction has yet to formally address the LGBT issue. Science fiction has always been on the vanguard of subverting the boundaries of racial and gender issues. 

The power of science fiction to readily provide social and technological commentary for our modern society has been the cornerstone to captivating generations of audiences. Science fiction has conceptually, technically, and artistically evolved itself over time to present a fresh perspective on our evolving society. It has been responsible for a number of technological marvels that are taken for granted today, and has attempted to break down the barriers of race and gender. Science fiction had been a cultural wonder that was enjoyed by generations of viewers for its progressive outlook of societal and technological domains. 

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