On the 5th August, Super 8 will finally hit our shores, riding on a wave of critical praise from the other side of the Atlantic. Its combination of eighties youthful nostalgia (Stand by Me, Goonies) and Spielgburg-esque science fiction (Close Encounters, E.T) looks set to titillate young and old alike. However, Super 8 also acts to highlight the growing trend of modern Science Fiction taking its influences from the past. Whilst seemingly going against the grain of the genre’s forward thinking philosophy,  it’s a welcome relief from the recent influx of movies which have forgone the subtle underlying warnings which made Science Fiction such a stalwart of seventies and eighties cinema .

Unlike other genres of film this speculative, science based medium of entertainment isn’t bound to any particular era, period or location, allowing film makers a free reign when it comes to storytelling. However, as the genre has progressed through the years certain elements have become evocative of this explosive and thoughtful strand of cinema. As well as the spacecrafts, robots and other technological advances we’ve come to associate with these films, Science Fiction has often been used as a tool to explore political and social issues as well as more philosophical issues such our inheritably destructive human behaviour.
Despite becoming a mainstay of the silent era, by the time the fifties were upon us Science Fiction had faded to little more than cheap jovial entertainment consisting mainly of low-budget B movies who’s plot and premises where almost as flimsy as the cardboard set designs they were filmed on.

It wasn’t until 1957 and the beginnings of the Space Race that Science Fiction began to be taken seriously again. Ever since the dawn of time man has looked up and stared at the stars, but during the cold war there was a growing sense of marvel towards the universe that was clearly reflected within cinema. From Stanley Kubrick’s spectacular 2001: a Space Odyssey (1968), New Wave darling Jean-Luc Godard’s desolately bleak Alphaville (1965), Tarkovsky’s sombre masterpiece Solaris (1972) to Chalton Heston’s surprisingly powerful performance in Soylent Green (1973), Science Fiction was beginning to grow a brain whilst simultaneously reflecting the social issues of a public which had plenty to feel disenfranchised about amidst this period of escalated fear.

Then a film came along which changed the game forever. Love it or hate it, there’s little doubt that the Star Wars trilogy took Science Fiction from a small committed audience of art house devotees and movie geeks and exploded it upon a mass audience. Smart and technically assured classics such as Terminator, Alien and Blade Runner may well have struggled to get financing beforehand but with every studio in Hollywood desperate to get a piece of the action the genre began to be taken seriously again by those who’s interest had been peaked by its new found commercial success.

It resulted in a flurry of Intelligent and exhilarating films which achieved a fine balance between mirroring social concerns and being universally enjoyable slices of entertainment. Despite the overwhelming success of Star Wars and George Lucas’s new found fame there was one man who became synonymous with this 2nd golden age of Sci-Fi.

Somehow managing to channel into the core themes of Science Fiction whilst injecting a commercially successful formula into his films, Steven Spielberg created several of the most loved films of the eighties and helped reignite this once sneered upon genre. His involvement in Super8 has sparked excitement that a bright new future is about to evolve, using this once successful template to break away from the current reliance on CGI effects and comic book adaptations in what has so far resulted in little more than superficial escapism of little depth or importance.

If successful, Super 8 will join a host of other films which are attempting to conjure up the same magic approach which worked so well in previous years. Attack the Block (2010) with its various references to eighties cinema is probably the most recent example of a film which managed to capture the nostalgically enjoyable themes from the past whilst transcending mere plagiarism and gaining its own identity through a subtle use of social satire which prevented it from feeling like a throw back or pastiche of a better time. Paul (2010) managed to transfer the E.T template to an older audience who had grown up on a diet of these Spielberg epics and whilst perhaps not the success many would have hoped for, it certainly showed signs of promising new direction.

Duncan Jones seems to be attempting to singlehandedly resusatate the genre’s more thoughtful approach so far delighting us with both Moon (2009) and Source Code (2011). Moon was set in a space station not dissimilar from those seen in Alien and Solaris (cold and sterile but with a eerie haunting quality), whilst GERTY, Sam Bell’s talking droid assistant, looked like the result of a bizarre cross breeding exercise between 2001:A Space Odyssey’s H.A.L and Robby the robot from Forbidden Planet. The same subtle evocation is also noticeable with Source Code which seems like a lovingly experimental amalgamation of Total Recall, Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day, yet somehow they both managed to show that whilst Science Fiction may well be 99% regurgitated material installed to add an air of familiarity to an otherwise outlandish genre, if you use that remaining 1% well enough you can still create something wonderfully unique and enjoyable.

It doesn’t stop there either, this year we still have re-imaginations of The Thing and Planet of the Apes to look forward to whilst Ridley Scott is putting the final touches to his Alien prequel Prometheus.
With the last ten years of Science Fiction failing to capture young imaginations due to its overly stylised and superficial reliance on visual effects, let’s pray that Super 8 continues this budding new approach of reinventing this golden era of cinema. Despite its futurist settings and apparent quest for knowledge, Science Fiction has always worked best when it stood as a social commentary, reflecting our concerns and fears as to which way society is heading. Indeed “Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes” hopefully Hollywood will heed notice and once again start creating the socially important Science Fiction films we so richly deserve.

Written by Patrick Gamble