Genre, Special Effects and Authorship in the Critical Reception of Science Fiction Film and Television during the 1950s

Mark Jancovich, Derek Johnston

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    1 Citation (Scopus)
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationIt Came From the 1950s! Popular Culture, Popular Anxieties
    EditorsDarryl Jones, Elizabeth McCarthy, Bernice Murphy
    PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
    Number of pages18
    ISBN (Print)978-0230272217
    Publication statusPublished - 2011

    Bibliographical note

    The chapter considers science fiction film and television in both Britain and the US and argues that while the science fiction of this period is usually associated with the alien invasion narrative, such an association seriously misreads the period. The article therefore looks at a range of reviews particularly those published in Variety, the New York Times and the Monthly Film Bulletin to demonstrate the very different ways in which the term science fiction was understood in the period, understandings that were quite different from those that are now retrospectively projected back onto the period. In the process, the paper examines the ways in which the term 'science fiction' had different meanings not only in different national contexts but even in relation to different media. Furthermore, while it does not dispute that special effects were often seen as crucial to the genre, it also demonstrates that the function of special effects in film and television was not predominantly associated with illusionism, as many scholars of the genre suggest today. On the contrary, many reviewers seem to have valued special effects not on the basis of their illusionism or realism but rather on the basis of their 'imaginativeness', where this was appreciated as 'camp' or as something more authentically strange and alien. Furthermore, this appreciation of special effects was associated with a strong sense of authorship in which figures such as Ray Harryhausen came to be considered with considerable affection, along side figures such as Rod Serling, Jack Arnold and Roger Corman, figures who were not simply appreciated by teenage audiences but were recognized as significant figures by both the trade press and legitimate reviewers.

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