Student review: Science Fiction Film: A Critical Introduction

November 8, 2012

Author: Keith M. Johnston

Edition: First

Publisher: Bloomsbury/Berg

Pages: 192

Price: £55.00 and £17.99

ISBN: 9781847884770 and 4763

Keith Johnston's critical introduction to science fiction film brings a novel and welcome approach from a man who writes as "a fan of the genre" as much as "a genre theorist". His intention is to explore and challenge - not discredit - past genre theory, in examining how the term science fiction first formed, and has been understood and studied ever since.

The book delves beneath the unconscious structure of similarities we have been taught that genre films share, a view that has led some previous studies to be overburdened by formulaic textual analysis based on static definitions. Johnston, believing the science fiction genre to be flexible and hybrid, wishes to show that genre studies can be equally so - in the hope of creating a fresh starting point from which others can then "develop...apply...and challenge".

He provides a coherent critical overview of the shared understandings that have been created and applied within the genre, helping readers both new and more experienced to understand the central theoretical claims. This is accomplished through an analysis of Annette Kuhn's division of academic approaches, ie reflection and ideology, and Johnston raises interesting points about their validity, arguing that they are reliant on what he calls a range of false assumptions.

Discussing a comprehensive list of films, Johnston traces the creation of what we now know as "science fiction" from its prehistory right through to its current ubiquitous presence within the mainstream. He investigates and reveals how a wide scope of historical, cultural, social and industrial factors infused their finished products with the recurring thematic signifiers that form the foundations of the genre. His narrative refreshingly includes enthusiastic investigation of the pre-1950s period and foreign science fiction films, both of which are areas typically overlooked.

Johnston offers insightful commentary on the extent to which marketing has conspired to shape generic identity, covering the use of spectacle, trailers and the influence of the internet. This ushers in fresh facets deservedly incorporated in an age in which an online presence allows audiences to wield increasing influence on the definition and reception of genre films before they have even made it to screen.

Principally, it is always advantageous to see theory re-evaluated and added to in this accessible manner, permitting us to see why we study as we do, as opposed to just doing it. This valuable contribution, which Johnston playfully terms his "gateway to the larger universes of science fiction", succeeds in encouraging a more independent and open entry point into this area of research.

Who is it for? It isn't a casual read, but any student with an interest in genre studies and/or fans of the genre itself will find it very worthwhile to persevere with.

Presentation: Standard.

Would you recommend it? Yes, especially for its inclusion of extra-textual material that takes it above and beyond other textbooks' typical analysis on a textual level.

Highly recommended

Film Theory: Rational Reconstructions

Author: Warren Buckland

Edition: First

Publisher: Routledge/Taylor & Francis

Pages: 208

Price: £75.00 and £23.99

ISBN: 9780415590976 and 0983

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