British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Projecting Tomorrow

Projecting Tomorrow: Science Fiction and Popular Cinema by James Chapman and Nicholas J. Cull, (I.B. Tauris, 2013), 240 pages, ISBN: 978-1-78076-410-8 (paperback), £14.99

About the reviewer: Mark Bould is Reader in Film and Literature at the University of the West of England. He co-edits Science Fiction Film and Television, and his most recent books include Science Fiction: The Routledge Film Guidebook (2012) and, with China Miéville, Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction (2009).


Although serious critical discussions of sf and cinema can be traced back at least as far as the first book of film theory, Vachel Lindsay’s The Art of the Moving Picture (1915), the genre was largely neglected during the development of Film Studies. This might seem surprising, given the discipline’s early tendency to privilege masculine-coded genres, such as westerns and crime movies, but it is not really: sf has often been seen as juvenile, more concerned with fantasy than realism, and with spectacle than narrative or character. Indeed, despite some forerunners, the serious academic study of sf film did not really get under weigh until the ‘postmodern turn’ suddenly made films such as Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), The Thing (1982), Videodrome (1983) and The Terminator (1984) seem relevant far beyond the genre’s regular audience.

This conjuncture, however, had particular consequences for the shape the study of sf film took, not least in terms of forming a rather limited and unrepresentative canon and of emphasing critical-theoretical approaches. Projecting Tomorrow focuses solely on American and British film, but within that limitation strikes an effective balance between canonical and less-well-known examples, devoting twelve chapters to, respectively, Just Imagine (1930), Things to Come (1936), The War of the Worlds (1953), the Quatermass trilogy (1955, 1957, 1967), Forbidden Planet (1956), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Planet of the Apes (1968), The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971), Logan’s Run (1976), Star Wars (1977), RoboCop (1987) and Avatar (2009). However, in privileging ‘the evidence of the archives’, Chapman and Cull rather over-egg the pudding, several times dismissing well-theorised approaches to sf film as ‘voguish trends in cultural studies’ – as if historiography were somehow neutral, objective and unchanging, as if primary materials did not require interpretation, as if effective interpretation did not require theoretical self-reflection.

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