Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Guide to Early Science Fiction Films (1910-1919)

This article is a sequel to a previous post of mine, The Earliest Science Fiction Films (1895-1909). The sci-fi movies of the 1910s will be covered this time.

I've also made a video version of this essay which can be seen here.

Our first notable science fiction flick of the decade comes in 1910, with an approximately 15 minute long adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. This was actually the first of many movie versions of the famed novel.

It was made by Thomas Edison's studio and directed by J. Searle Dawley. Dawley directed dozens of films from 1907 to 1926.

Frankenstein took awhile to shoot compared to most films of the day, due to the heavy special effects work. Various sources state filming took place from either three days or up to almost a week.

Apparently, the film diverged a lot from the source material. According to Wikipedia, "The production was deliberately designed to de-emphasize the horrific aspects of the story and focus '...upon the mystic and psychological problems that are to be found in this weird tale.'"

Furthermore, states, "One of those changes made to the narrative concerns the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. While Shelly’s novel did not go into specifics about the monster’s creation, the creation scene in the film certainly owes more to alchemy than science."

That same site also claims that Frankenstein was not well-received by audiences, saying that people didn't know what to make of the "weird story" because it was one of the earliest horror films. Apparently, some also objected to the "blasphemous" content.

The film was considered lost for decades, starting pretty much immediately after its release. It was rediscovered in the 1970s and publicly screened for the first time since its original release in 1993.

Next, we have a British sci-fi film from 1911 called Aerial Anarchists. It was directed by Walter R. Booth, who also made the 1909 movie The Airship Destroyers, which I discussed in the first part of this essay.

Like that film, the plot centers on an attack on London using aerial warfare.

Unfortunately, as of now no surviving footage has been found.

After that, there's A Message from Mars, a 1913 British flick directed by J. Wallet Waller. The plot involves an alien from Mars coming to earth to show the main character the error of his ways.

The film was based on a play of the same name from 1899 by Richard Ganthoney, but according to the British Film Institute, the plot is similar to A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

Skipping forward a few years, there's the  1916 sci-fi film from Denmark called The End of the World (original Danish title: Verdens Undergang). It was directed by August Blom and written by Otto Rung and has also been known as The Flaming Sword.

The plot consists of a comet flying near earth and causing natural disasters and "social unrest" as stated in Wikipedia. Haley's Comet had just passed in 1910, so that was a possible inspiration.

That same year there was an adaptation of the famous Jules Verne novel titled 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was made by British director Stuart Paton, who also wrote the script.

It's notable for being the first film ever to be filmed underwater. According to Wikipedia, "Actual underwater cameras were not used, but a system of watertight tubes and mirrors allowed the camera to shoot reflected images of underwater scenes staged in shallow sunlit waters."

In 1918, there was a Danish film called A Trip to Mars, or Himmelskibet. As you can imagine, it was about a trip to the planet Mars.

The director was Holger-Madsen, who has a whopping 96 credits as director on IMDB from 1912 to 1936.

In 1918, there were also two sci-fi movies based on a 1911 novel called Alraune by Hanns Heinz Ewers.

One of them was called Alraune, die Henkerstochter, genannt die rote Hanne and was made in Germany.  It was directed by  Eugen Ill├ęs and Joseph Klein. When released in the United States, it was simply called Sacrifice.

Like the novel it was based on, it has a rather disturbing premise. The idea is that a doctor uses the sperm of a dead man to get a prostitute pregnant. That sounds pretty morbid if you ask me.

The other version that year was just called Alraune and was made in Hungary. The director was Michael Curtiz, who later had a very successful career in America. Not only did he win the Best Director Oscar for Casablanca, but he also made notable films such as White Christmas, Angels With Dirty Faces,  and The Adventures of Robin Hood.

In 1919, there were three sci-fi themed films released.

Firstly, we have a lost film called The Master Mystery which featured a robot. It also starred famous magician Harry Houdini. The directors were Harry Grossman and Burton L. King and the screenwriters were Arthur B. Reeve and Charles Logue.

Then there's The First Men in the Moon, based on the 1901 H.G. Wells novel of the same name.  It was directed by Bruce Gordon and J.L.V. Leight. It's often referred to as the first film adapted from a science fiction novel.

Finally, we come to Die Arche or The Ark, a two-part film from Germany directed by Richard Oswald.

It's set in the future after civilization has been destroyed, making it one of, if not the earliest, post-apocalyptic movies.

That's all for the science fiction films of the 1910s, a similar article for the 1920s should be coming soon.

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