British Science Fiction Film And Television Critical Essays Examples

In the fall of 2003, Science Fiction Studies (SFS), the leading journal in the field, published a special issue on the British Boom, an academic evaluation of and response to a larger series of conversations that had been taking place at conferences and in the pages of publications such as Locus and Vector. From at least the mid-1990s, much of the energy in the field seemed to emanate from British writers, leading to speculations that British perspectives were poised to shape early twenty-first century science fiction (SF) as strongly as American ones had shaped the field in the pulp years of the 1920s through 1940s. In his Pioneer Award-winning essay in that issue, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at the British Boom,” Andrew M. Butler speculated on contributing characteristics and contingencies. Discussing number 11 on his list, Mainstream, he argued “Since the actual readership within science fiction in Britain is rather small, and new fans of science fiction seem more interested in films, tv, and comics than in the written word, British science fiction is dependent [End Page 155] on the mainstream” (Butler 2003, 387), and proceeded to discuss a number of texts ambiguously positioned between genre and mainstream literature. In his comments and in criticism on the British Boom more generally, little is said about nonprint media.

In this essay, I want to build on Butler’s observation and consider another implication of his statement—the relationship between the British Boom and contemporary British films and television. While it is by no means the case that those new fans interested in nonprint media would focus exclusively on British productions, the distinct role of film and television contributions to the British Boom remains under-theorized. In a talk given during the 2002 Wordfest Literary Festival, reprinted in this same issue of SFS, writer Stephen Baxter discussed the importance of an earlier period of British SF television for his generation of writers who grew up watching Nigel Kneale productions such as Quatermass and the Pit (1958–1959), most importantly the original Doctor Who (1963–1989), and various Gerry Anderson productions such as UFO (1970–1971) (Baxter, 2003). Thus, writers of the British Boom were themselves products of a genre that was already multimedia in its orientation, and the distinct voice of the novels they later wrote was informed by this context. Many of the qualities that Butler associates with the print version of the British Boom can also be seen in contemporary British film and television. Focusing in particular on texts produced following the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, both supported by British troops, I argue that these visual texts not only rewrite and resist the ideological tropes of their Hollywood contemporaries, but also articulate a perspective that challenges British capitulation to “American” values of individualism and militarism. British Boom film and television offers a very different response to the post-9/11 world than the resurgence of hyperactive patriotism that characterized many Hollywood productions of this period.

New Labour, Hybrid Genres, Crises of Masculinity

Roger Luckhurst argues that the British Boom must be understood in the context of the rise of New Labour in the 1990s and its specific politics of cultural governance. As the government sought to support and channel creativity [End Page 156] into culture industries supportive of New Labour’s Third Way, he contends, a certain freedom opened up in Gothic, SF and fantasy texts not deemed sufficiently middlebrow to be worthy of New Labour’s interest. In this specific context, he declares, and “Relative to the co-optation, complicity, or evasion manifested in other cultural forms, these genres become available as sites of critique, if we understand this to emerge contextually and temporarily, within a particular historical conjuncture” (Luckhurst 2003, 424; emphasis in original). A similar pattern is discernible in twenty-first-century television and film texts that are openly critical of Britain’s recent past and able to question the economic inequality and other neoliberal tendencies that characterize New Labour’s platform. The rebooted Doctor Who (2005–present), for example, is darker in tone than its predecessor and...

Although encyclopedias of film can be extremely useful, they can also vary greatly in scope and focus. Some encyclopedias attempt a comprehensive overview of the genre (Henderson 2001, Maxford 1997, Young 2000), some offer an examination of only significant or canonical films (Costello 2004, Scalzi 2005, Scarratt 2008), and others provide encyclopedic looks at particular topics within the genre (Rovin 1995). Finally, pParticularly after the introduction of the videocassette, the DVD, and the Internet, some encyclopedias detail the availability of films (Schwartz 1997).

  • Costello, John. Science Fiction Films. New York: Pocket Essentials, 2004.

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    A short volume (96 pages) that describes blockbusters, international films, and cult classics.

  • Henderson, C. J. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies: From 1897 to the Present. New York: Facts on File, 2001.

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    An alphabetical catalog of approximately 1,300 science fiction films. Includes studio and personnel information and plot summaries. It also notes the availability of the films on DVD or other media. Also includes the author’s opinions on the worth and watchability of each film.

  • Maxford, Howard. The A-Z of Science Fiction and Fantasy Films. London: B. T. Batsford, 1997.

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    An alphabetical catalog of science fiction films, actors, directors, and studios.

  • Rovin, Jeff. Aliens, Robots, and Spaceships. New York: Facts on File, 1995.

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    Descriptions of all manner of devices (spaceships, robots, computers, and aliens) that have appeared in science fiction film and television.

  • Scalzi, John. The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies. London: Rough Guides, 2005.

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    From the science fiction novelist Scalzi, this collection offers a history of science fiction film, descriptions of fifty “canonical” science fiction films, and then several short sections on “Icons,” “Crossovers,” “Science,” “Locations,” and “Global” science fiction film.

  • Scarratt, Elaine. Science Fiction Film: A Teacher’s Guide. New York: Auteur, 2008.

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    Provides a history of science fiction film, a primer on media studies, and an analysis of science fiction film within the broader film context. It also offers discussions of several iconic films, and a section on teaching students to create and market science fiction film.

  • Schwartz, Carol A. Videohound’s Sci-Fi Experience: Your Quantum Guide to the Video Universe. Detroit: Visible Ink, 1997.

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    A guide to the science fiction films available on videotape. Now dated in terms of available films, but certainly of interest to the historian.

  • Young, R. G. The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film: Ali Baba to Zombies. New York: Applause, 2000.

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    An alphabetical catalog of nearly nine thousand films. Includes information on writers, directors, and other studio personnel. Also includes plot summaries.

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