Introducing the Reactor Science Fiction Film Club!

In 1902, pioneering French filmmaker Georges Méliès produced, directed, and starred in La voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), a short silent film about a group of astronomers who (you guessed it) take a trip to the Moon.

With the help of some young women who inexplicably aren’t wearing any pants, the bearded scholars load themselves into a metal capsule, which is then shot at the Moon by a very large cannon. Once they reach the Moon’s surface, they marvel at the Earth rising over the horizon, do some camping under the stars, and descend into a cave to take shelter from a snowstorm. There, to their surprise, they meet some aggressively acrobatic Moon people, whom they promptly kill by hitting them over the head with umbrellas and canes. Unwilling to submit themselves to Moon society justice, the astronomers flee back to Earth, with one of the Moon people hitching a ride.

It’s quite an adventure for a film that’s only about ten minutes long. La voyage dans la lune is many things: a parody of scholarly scientists, an anti-imperialist satire, a demonstration of innovative special effects and film techniques, a smash international hit at the time of its release, and a major influence on the development of filmmaking, especially after its rediscovery in the 1930s.

And one more thing: It is generally regarded as the first science fiction film ever made.

Ever since Méliès sent his characters to the Moon in 1902, filmmakers have never stopped making science fiction movies. From very early adaptations of the works of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and Arthur Conan Doyle all the way up through the juggernaut franchises we have today, from short films to weighty epics, political allegories to gee-whiz adventure stories, arthouse darlings to summer blockbusters, moody emotional ponderings to gloriously gory monster mashes, the history of cinema is inextricably linked with the genre of science fiction.

And the Reactor Science Fiction Film Club is here to explore every corner of it!

How will it work?

Once a week, one movie at a time, we’ll watch our way through the good, the bad, and the utterly bizarre in science fiction cinema. I’ll share the month’s selections ahead of time, and each Wednesday I’ll post an essay about that week’s film, including a bit about its history, context, and impact, to revel in the weird and wonderful variety of sci-fi movies out there. Everybody will be welcome to share their thoughts in comments, whether you’re watching it now for the first time or saw it years ago.

What are we going to watch?

Anything. Everything. In any language, from anywhere in the world. As long as it’s science fiction. Some of the films we watch will be masterpieces. Some of them will be terrible. Some will be both, as is often the case. Some of them will be very familiar. Some will be obscure. Some will be movies you love. Some will be movies you, personally, hate. I am going to approach all of them with an open mind, a generosity of spirit, and the goal of having fun with a century of sci-fi movie magic. (The oldest film on my list is currently Aelita (1924), so that time frame is not an exaggeration. Depending on availability we might even look at some earlier movies.) Many of the movies will be paced much more sedately than modern films, so grab a cozy blanket, pour a glass of wine, put your phone down, and relax. Space epics, time travel, claustrophobic horrors, psychological mindfucks, political satires, alien invasions, Barbarella—it’s all good.

I’m deliberately casting a very wide net—with one general guideline, which is that the film club selections are going to focus on films released before the early 2000s. That’s not to say we won’t watch some more recent movies, because we will, but the goal is to explore everything sci-fi cinema has to offer, not just everything it has offered since the advent of the social media age.

Are we going in chronological order?

Nope. We’re not going to go in any sort of order. Instead I’ll be grouping the films by loose themes from month to month, such as “Oops! You Crashed Your Spaceship” and “Wholesome ’80s Family Movies That Inexplicably Gave Me Nightmares As a Child” and “The Invasion Is Not Proceeding As Planned.”

Can we suggest movies?

Absolutely. I always welcome suggestions. I’ve probably got the most obvious choices on my (very long) list already, so what I really encourage are suggestions for truly hidden gems and non-American films that are overlooked or unknown in English-language sci-fi fandom spaces. Go ahead and use the comments of this post to make suggestions, but I will also be reading comments on the posts as we go along.

How do we watch the movies?

Everything I’m choosing is available for online streaming somewhere, because I am not going to make anybody rely on access to a dusty box of VHS tapes in their friend’s neighbor’s uncle’s attic. Sometimes it might be a bit complicated, but I will do my best to provide up-to-date information and options. How you access the films from where you live, within your budget, is between you and your VPN. I recommend checking a site like JustWatch or similar to search for availability in different regions. When in doubt: check your local library or search YouTube and the Internet Archive.

We’re going to get started in March with a selection of classics that imagine the many problems people will face when they head out to explore space. The films are listed below by the date on which the column will be published, so you can watch ahead of time and participate in the discussion.

It’s a Dangerous Universe Out There

March 6 – Forbidden Planet (1956), directed by Fred M. Wilcox
A cautionary tale about packing too much Freudian psychology in your space luggage.
Watch: Tubi (free), Amazon, Apple, Google Play, and several other places as well.
Watch a trailer here.

March 13 – Solaris (1972), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Famously disliked by author Stanislaw Lem but beloved by just about everybody else.
Watch: Max, Criterion, Amazon, Apple, and others.
Watch a trailer here.

March 20 – Silent Running (1972), directed by Douglas Trumbull
It’s basically Gardeners’ World in space, right? …Right?
Watch: Amazon, Apple, Google Play, Vudu, and others.
Watch a trailer here.

March 27 – Ikarie XB-1 (1963), directed by Jindřich Poláky
It was dubbed and released in the U.S. as Voyage to the End of the Universe, but the dubbed version has a very different ending.
Watch: Criterion, Cultpix (some locations), British Film Institute (UK only), and I might gently suggest doing a YouTube search, if you are so inclined.
Watch a trailer here.

Welcome to the Reactor Science Fiction Film Club! See you next week… icon-paragraph-end

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