Royal Observatory Greenwich Sci-Fi Season

We get a lot of emails about film events, and most of them are at least a bit crap – that’s why we don’t tell you about them. But this is something special. On Thursday 20th June, the Peter Harrison Planetarium will host the first of a series of classic sci-fi screenings, each one followed by a talk from a legit scientist on the implications and so on of the film in question. Nobody at Best For Film has voluntarily been to any sort of lecture since they left university – this is probably the only context which could get us back into academia.

FILLING THE SCREEN WITH A PANORAMA OF EARTH-SHAKING FURY, this month’s film is 1953 sci-fi classic The War of the Worlds. Blending Cold War imagery (o hai, massive nuclear strikes on the Martians) with a hugely compelling vision of extraterrestrial life which OBVIOUSLY came straight from the desk of Ray Harryhausen, The War of the Worlds remains a classic of 50s cinema and the only film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic novel to win an Oscar.

The War of the Worlds was one of the first novels to address the possibility of conflict with an alien race, and Byron Haskin’s film does a startlingly good job of conveying the menace and action of the original book while updating the context for a then-modern audience. The setting is moved from 1890s Woking to 1950s California (seldom a bad move, if we’re honest – have you ever been to Woking?), it depicts mankind’s haphazard response to an unprecedented incursion from Mars, and has entered into the global sci-fi canon through its pioneering use of mechs (the ‘fighting-machines’ or Tripods) and willingness to present humanity as essentially helpless in the face of marauding aliens.

The film will be followed by a talk examining our changing attitudes to alien life, including their portrayal in the media and whether they are likely to be hostile.

We’ll be attending the Royal Observatory Greenwich screenings all summer and reporting back, and it’d be lovely to see you there. You can find out more about this week’s screening here, and here’s what’s coming up for the rest of the summer:

18th July will see the Planetarium host a screening of the Ray Bradbury-scripted classic It Came from Outer Space. Also from 1953, this film offers a very different view of alien life, with stranded extraterrestrials racing to repair their crashed ship before they’re discovered by humans. The accompanying talk will explore what aliens are likely to make of humans, and where (if anywhere) they might be hiding out.

On the 15th August, This Island Earth will sweep into the Planetarium. The first of Universal’s sci-fi films to be produced in colour, This Island Earth features the abduction of Earth’s brightest scientists to assist in an interplanetary war (obviously). The talk which follows this screening will discuss our perception of alien technology, and how that perception has changed in the sixty years since the film’s release.

Each film will cost £7 for adults and £5 for children (although no under-11s will be admitted). You can find out more about the work of the Royal Observatory here.

Planning to head to one of the ROG’s sci-fi screening? Let us know below!

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