Film & TV

Behind The Lens: Sci-Fi

Words by Lottie Ennis
Illustrated by Amelia Field

Science fiction is perhaps the most versatile film genre of the lot. Covering a range of aspects of the human condition, the sci-fi genre allows us to fulfil our deepest question: “what would happen if…”. This format helps us as humans to consider the range of possibilities outside of our everyday life. Defined by more official parameters, science fiction is a film genre that uses speculative, fictional science-based depictions of phenomena that are not necessarily accepted by mainstream science. 

Topics such as aliens and other worlds which might feature in a different time or place offer an arena for directors and writers to explore human relationships in an unusual environment.  Typical science fiction subjects such as robots and cyborgs offer a mirror in which humans can consider and analyse their own behaviour. Some of the themes play on our deepest fears, such as Stanley Kubrick’s fim 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), in which artificial intelligence responds unpredictably and poses a risk to human life. Space itself is a widely used topic in the sci-fi genre and is indicative of the fact that although we have made it to the moon, we still have countless questions and presumptions about the universe. Space offers a stage for consideration of a terrifying prospect, complete isolation and solitude, as shown in The Martian (2015). The Martian shows the impact of complete seclusion and confinement which is emphasised by the sheer unknown of space itself. 

Visually, science fiction offers an opportunity for mind blowing cinematography. Blockbuster hits such as the Star Wars series show huge vistas of space and spaceships, scenes which have become synonymous with the whole concept of science- fiction. The increasing use of special effects has metaphorically opened up whole new worlds meaning that viewers can properly engage with the new alien lands in front of them.

Furthermore, the development of special effects technology has meant that non-human characters are no longer a man in a mask and appear as realistic as their human character counterparts.

These improvements mean that cinema audiences can fully immerse themselves in another universe and can commit to the premise given to them. This is another reason sci-fi has maintained its popularity: the technology keeps getting better and better, so audiences keep lining up to see how far the special effects can go. 

Although films with extraterrestrial lifeforms allow us to consider how a relationship between human and alien might develop, it is the ‘what if’ factor which keeps people coming back. What if we could travel back in time? What if the world we live in becomes inhabitable? Sci-fi allows us to consider how human nature would respond to these kinds of events and can reassure us that as humans we would do the right thing- or in dystopian sci-fi, cause the end of human civilization as we know it. In films such as Blade Runner and Never Let Me Go, questions of love between humans and those who were created to serve humans arise, and it becomes clear that the definition of human can be stretched in a dystopian world.  This is why sci-fi is so popular as it reinforces aspects of the human condition whilst also asking audiences to reconsider what makes them human. 

Science fiction has kept its popularity due to its power of escapism. Audiences can escape to another world where they are occupied with the dilemmas and adventures of another time and place while leaving their own everyday problems behind. However, as time goes on, science fiction films produce more and more outlandish plots. Contagion (2011) focuses on the post-apocalyptic world after a virus is spread around the world and leaves the world, especially the USA, in pieces. Writing this piece after almost a year since COVID-19 was discovered, our world as we know it has been turned upside down. It seems as though none of the things that have happened in these films is impossible anymore. Despite this, from the way people around the globe have been engaging with films despite a closure of cinemas, it is clear a form of escapism will always be needed.