How the West helped science fiction flourish – Cinelinx

Two of the biggest science fiction franchises on the planet (Star Wars, Star Trek) have both been heavily influenced by the western. But the links between these two genres run much deeper.

The western genre in cinema is defined by staging in a desolate environment, stand-alone protagonist or anti-hero characters, and storylines revolving around the loose control of civilization in sparsely populated areas. The same type of description can be applied to many science fiction films as well. This is no coincidence as many of the most influential sci-fi films ever made have been heavily influenced by the Western film genre. It’s a look at how science fiction has become infatuated with the past, rather than looking to the future.

Science fiction as a cinematic genre didn’t come into its own until the 1930s with films like Frankenstein and The invisible Man. But while being some of the early box office hits in sci-fi, these films could also be considered horror films more than sci-fi. However, another area of ​​science fiction that saw some success was the series.

The soap operas were movies divided into short segments that often focused on some sort of adventure. Audiences went to the movies every week to watch the next episode. This type of film was the most popular and profitable type of film production in the 1910s. However, with the destruction of many film studios in Europe during World War I, American film producers had more control over industry and it has moved to the feature film format we know today.

However, feature films were relatively expensive to make, and therefore expensive to buy a ticket. During the 1930s we saw a return to the soap opera thanks to the impact of the Great Depression. As a form of entertaining escape, the studios turned to science fiction, and one of the first sci-fi soap operas of the 1930s was The phantom empire. This series is an odd western and sci-fi mashup.

The phantom empire centered on a main character (played by Gene Autry) who was a vocal cowboy. In his ranch, he finds a passage to an ancient underground city full of high technology and hatred of the world above. The series is split between traditional / contemporary western ideas above ground and sci-fi horrors underground. While other series have not exactly followed in the footsteps of The phantom empire, it still remains as an interesting first mash-up of these two seemingly opposed genres.

But where the soap operas of the 1930s had the greatest impact on science fiction, it would be in the formatting. With the episodic treatment, there was more emphasis on action and adventure to keep the audience wanting more. There was less emphasis on speculative storytelling in exchange for something more direct. Science fiction series such as Flash Gordon and Buck rogers would become “space operas”, with high dramatic stakes and dynamic confrontations to encourage the public to ask for more. While the underlying plot motivation would be sci-fi focused, the actual narrative mechanism was more traditional.

In fact, the narrative approach mimicked that of most other previous series. In particular, the adventure aspect which relied heavily on the traditions of the Western genre. While the characters of Flash Gordon Where Buck rogers weren’t riding on horseback, they were always heading to exciting and dangerous new places in the vast expanse of space. Instead of guns, they wielded ray guns and fought lawless gangs in desolate places. And most importantly, the protagonist is an alien, from a different time and place, struggling to build a sense of order against a powerful foe.

So although Flash Gordon and Buck rogers weren’t explicitly tied to the western genre, they provided an underground link between science fiction and the western. You have to remember that this was before what we think of as action movies, and westerns and adventures filled that void. By making sci-fi more action-oriented, it would pave the way for the 1950s sci-fi B movies, which were kind of a mash-up between the darker sci-fi horror films. from the 1930s and more action-oriented films approach soap operas.

Until the 1950s, science fiction was heavily influenced by written fiction, as most well-known science fiction films were based on books. So, in this regard, the science fiction approach was very much dictated by older stories, and did not yet reflect the influence of popular cinema. Indeed, until the 1950s, it was very difficult to find original science fiction that was not based on a book / comic book or was very similar to something that was. The 1950s were dominated by sci-fi horror because it was popular.

But that all changed in the 1960s. With the Comics Code Authority going into effect in 1954, comics had to censor some of their more violent aspects. This had an impact on sci-fi horror comics, which were a huge source of inspiration for the film industry at the time. Because the western was becoming even more popular than before, filmmakers began to incorporate Western attributes in place of horror attributes in their sci-fi films.

years 1964 Robinson Crusoe on Mars was an important moment for the genre. It presented a survival tale with less reliance on fantasy elements. The wide open spaces of the film and the highlighting of a dangerous environment bring it closer to a western. Later in the decade you have Planet of the Apes, which featured a primitive ape society to which humanity was enslaved. Riding the monkeys on horseback, as well as the grim desert imagery and heartbreaking soundtrack of the film provided a tie to the western. (The film later, Westworld would be a more direct mix between science fiction and western)

But the real turning point of the sub-genre would not be on the big screen, but on the small screen. Years 1967 Star Trek would become a huge influence in the sci-fi arena over the next few decades. Creator Gene Roddenberry introduced him as “Train car to the stars “. Train car was a popular 1950s Western TV show that followed the adventures of travelers heading west, discovering new places and meeting new people with each episode. With Star Trek, the concept was the same, but located in space.

Star Trek attempted to “go where no man has gone before,” meaning it took a more exploratory perspective for science fiction. In a way, it bridged the gap between the old type of science fiction “warning tale” and the action / horror approach that took over in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The episodes have been written as morality tales, where the sci-fi aspect allowed the writers to tackle searing contemporary issues that they might not otherwise have been able to do on a prime-time TV show. But the allure of unknown worlds and unimaginable aliens is dripping with danger and tension like classic series were. Star Trek built on the science fiction that came before it, but only adapting the setting of a western.

Star Trek would become the foundation for a decades-long film franchise in the ’80s and beyond, but not without being motivated by yet another landmark work of cinematic science fiction heavily influenced by the western. Yes, Star wars is responsible for the rebirth of Star Trek, and really ignited the intense cinematic interest in science fiction that continues to this day. As Star Trek, aspects of Star wars were based on earlier science fiction and non-science fiction works. But unlike Star Trek, Star wars was not formatted as a western (it took the formula of the classic monomyth). Star Wars’ the connection to the West lies in its sci-fi and non-sci-fi influences.

From the classic sci-fi series I mentioned above to spaghetti westerns and samurai movies, creator George Lucas has borrowed heavily from the TV shows and movies he grew up watching. All of these influences were inspired by the classic western (you can find out more about them here…). Because all these inspirations have such a strong link with the western, it is natural that Star wars feels a parent to the west himself.

Desolate desert planets, an affinity for riding on the backs of alien creatures, laser blasters, ghoulish bounty hunters, smugglers, and tan and brown clothes; a lot of Star wars mimics the look and feel of the classic western. One of Star warsThe greatest contributions to the sci-fi genre have been the “dirty space” aesthetic. Science fiction was known to always look clean and futuristic, but Star wars looks old and run down like the outpost town of your favorite western. Later iterations of the franchise like The Mandalorian Where The bad lot would pay homage to the concept of “western in space” much more literally.

After Star wars, science fiction would see many more notable crossovers with the western. Movies like Outland, Water world, The road, Mad Max, The Chronicles of Riddick, Serenity, Eli’s book, John Carter, prospect, Cowboys and aliens, and The dark tower would only increase the links between these two genres. On television, an explosion of news Star Trek and Star wars the shows would join Firefly, The walking dead, The extent, Cowboy Bebop, and one Westworld remake. If anything, television and film producers are finding more common links between the genre than ever before. As interest in the classic western waned, interest in the sci-fi western only grew.

About Victoria Rothstein

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