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Craig W Anderson – Science Fiction Films of the Seventies

McFarland Classics 1985 (2001 Reprint) 262 pages £23.75 ISBN 0-7864-1197-X

Clearly written with genuine enthusiasm for the subject, Science Fiction Films of the Seventies provides a chronological analysis of the decade’s key films. Never seeking to be exhaustive, Anderson’s reviews are a hotch-podge of historical information, anecdotes and criticism which make for occasionally eclectic reading. Surprisingly for a book so temporally close to its subject (it was originally published in 1985) this approach hasn’t dated too badly and for the most part his observations are at least backed up. The author is clearly passionate about sf and wastes no time piling on the praise or vitriol. He also spends time examining the literary precedents for much of the work presented, including some unusual or surprising sources, that shows a rounded knowledge of the genre. Occasionally though his enthusiasm mars the academic intent, leading to some selections rambling and others infuriatingly underdeveloped – his (justifiable) praise for A Clockwork Orange or Dark Star borders on the sycophantic while his derision (only partly justified) of say Rollerball is almost rabid in execution. That said, the results are never bland, even if you disagree with the sentiments.

Where the book does fall down though (apart from its price – McFarland’s pricing policy puts their books outside the wallets of many) is in the introduction, which comes close to killing the project stone dead. Anderson’s opinionated views are given unbridled reign as he vents his spleen against personal bugbears of the genre covering the history of the science fiction film, presumably to provide a context. In the body text this is countered by differing opinions in the form of contemporaneous quotes but here they are presented as facts, not opinions. Thus Roger Corman is blamed for the “curse” that killed off the sf film for a decade (“hideous” and “terrible” are words he uses to describe the man behind such classics as The Man With X-Ray Eyes, Little Shop Of Horrors, Poe adaptations etc). Godzilla is singled out as being representative of films that have no political or cultural subtext (presumably environmental concerns, threat of nuclear contamination and the worries about cultural identity in Japan after WWII don’t count) and the pondering thought that “Perhaps science fictional musicals simply will not work” (Rocky Horror, Lizstomania, Phantom of the Paradise etc, all filmed in the 1970’s seem to have slipped his mind). Even worse he falls into the common trap of assuming that generally “effects=budget=quality” and that only now can science fiction films attempt to match a novel’s vision. This is a normal trait in sf film criticism, ignoring the temporal context of a film and neglecting to see continued improvements in effects technology. However these pitfalls form a minor part of what is generally an insightful, thought provoking, if rambling, read and a useful reference work.