Science-Fiction Film Directors 1895-1998 vols 1&2 Review

Author: Dennis Fischer

Following on from Dennis Fischer’s previous book ‘Horror Film Directors 1931-1990’ (also reviewed on this site) is a new reprint of his follow-up 2000 publication, ‘Science-Fiction Film Directors 1895-1998’. Like the aforementioned book this book is also a straight re-print by McFarland with no changes, no up date and no revision. However, it is presented in a different size to its horror sister at a more awkward almost A4 size. Whereas Fischer’s set criteria to the horror film book is that the director must have made three horror films to warrant a chapter (except it would seem someone like Michael Curtiz who made Dr X, The Mystery of the Wax Museum and The Walking Dead with Boris Karloff, but probably due to his career largely comprised of classics and more than a handful of Errol Flynn classics is omitted). Some directors who had made even one classic science-fiction get a chapter here. Unlike the horror films book fewer directors have been dedicated to the genre with a few exceptions including of course George Lucas and James Cameron and these will be the chapters more interesting to genre fans. Like the other book this is where it is a pity that the book has not been updated, especially with the likes of Lucas and Cameron. In the chapter on Lucas of course we have the completion of the Star Wars films that Fischer mentions as a work in progress for Lucas and with Cameron such films as Avatar; Avatar is mentioned twice in the chapter as a project almost exclusively to be shot using CGI. Bearing in mind that this book was written in 2000 it is quite revealing how long this project took. Indeed the chapter on Cameron is interesting as it follows how his career developed and the path of his innovation. Elsewhere in the book too much time is given over to directors who have only made one or two films which could be termed as science-fiction films yet the chapters focus too much on non-science-fiction books and that is one of the major problems with this book. Although this problem exists with the horror film directors book it is less problematic and for that book works better.

What might have made a better book is if both were amalgamated and titled something like ‘Science-Fiction and Horror Film Directors’ as cross-overs appear throughout both books. For example which books should John Carpenter or Val Guest be in? Is The Thing (1982) a horror film or a science-fiction film? Here’s a quiz, have a guess which book Carpenter is in! This problem permeates both books. The introductory chapter, ‘A Brief History of Science-Fiction’ in ‘Science-Fiction Directors’ reads more like a list on the chronological history of sci-fi movies and a social history and making more of an issue of the horror film genre dying out during the end of Second World War to give way to the science-fiction film during the atomic age and space age race of the 1950s and 1960s and why this occurred and became popular when it did would have made for a more interesting read. However in the introduction the author does make the humorous observation akin to most horror films that most planets have breathable air, can speak or translate English (even without the Babelfish of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) and most decent aliens have humanish form. Where the book does work well is where Fischer is making the link with science-fiction literature and in particular the emergence of pulp literature such as the ‘Amazing Stories’ series appearing in the 1920s. By contrast the comparative chapter in ‘Horror Film Directors’ Fischer does a good job in delineating who warrants a chapter and what the differences between a horror film and a science-fiction film are. Of course to which genre each film belongs is open to interpretation, but this book could have benefitted from a similar discussion.

At the end of the second volume, the author has a chapter on non-genre directors who have made classic science-fiction films, much in the same way he did in his previous book although here with less success which includes those films by the likes of Ed Wood and Roger Cormon (although Cormon is given a lengthy chapter in the horror film directors he is equally a director of low budget sci-fi films and exploitation pictures, the cross-over that I mentioned earlier). The second appendix is a list of the 100 science-fiction films according to IMDB while the end of the book gives way to a justifiably lengthy bibliography, although sadly lacking the critical analysis in his first book on horror film directors. As previously mentioned a book covering both genres more comprehensively and concisely may have been a better choice. Oh, and updated to now too.

Chris Hick

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