Science fiction is a genre largely thought of as taking place either in the far reaches of space, in the far future, or both. However, as the release of "John Carter" highlights, there are science fiction stories actually set in the past. The results can be timeless classics or painful flops, but there are a number of notable sci-fi films set in the 1800s.
Based on the seminal Jules Verne novel of the same name, this classic film was Disney's first foray into live action and still stands as an astounding piece of work. The revenge-driven Captain Nemo, played by James Mason, captains the revolutionary submarine known as the Nautilus. Two scientists and a sailor, played by Kirk Douglas, find themselves captive on the amazing ship and torn by both the wonder and the horror of what the captain can do with it.
Despite over 60 years passing, the effects still hold up and the underwater photography looks as good as ever.
Director George Pal took the H. G. Wells novel about time travel and crafted this highly memorable yarn from it. While the movie deviates from the original novel, Pal is able to capture the sense of exploration and wonder that drove the protagonist to build the machine in the first place.
While some of the 1960 effects haven't aged well, it still is head and shoulders above the more recent adaptation of "The Time Machine." The remake lost the sense of wonder and replaced it with dreary melancholy unsuited to the story.
James Mason shows up on the list again, this time as a scientist leading an expedition to the very center of the planet. Like "The Time Machine," some of the effects have aged poorly (trying to pass off super-sized iguanas as dinosaurs being the most apparent example) but the sense of discovery is there and highly infectious. Strong performances help buoy the film along and overcome its age rather well.
The 1959 adaptation is certainly more memorable than the recent Brendan Fraser-led "Journey to the Center of the Earth" from 2008.
This is an example of how badly things can go. The movie is supposedly based off the dense and clever comic book by the legendary Alan Moore, but aside from the basic idea it bares almost no resemblance to that work.
The story centers on numerous icons of early sci-fi and fantasy like Captain Nemo, Alan Quartermain, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and Mina Murray of "Dracula" fame all coming together to stop a global threat. The disparate elements never came together onscreen the way they did on the page, and the fact that most audiences only have passing knowledge of many of these characters didn't help.
The title pretty much said it all, but the film never really did much with that intriguing premise. Based on a comic book of the same name, "Cowboys & Aliens" never managed to be much more than a standard alien attack film in a western setting.
Just mashing the two genres together didn't really add anything exciting to either one. Solid effects work and decent to good performances from a talented cast couldn't lift this recent film to anything more than a disposable thrill ride.
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