BBC Four’s latest film documentary series Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema concluded with its fifth and final episode on Tuesday night. Across these five episodes, film critic Mark Kermode has explored some of the most popular and enduring genres in film, covering romantic comedies, heist films, coming of age films, science fiction, and horror. Each instalment has provided a detailed look at what makes each of these genres so unique, and the cinematic tricks and techniques they have used to captivate audiences over the years.
The series’ penultimate episode sees Kermode explore the genre of science fiction, asking what makes the perfect science fiction film, and why generation after generation of cinema-goers continue to love these films. This episode is nothing short of a celebration of science fiction and everything it has to offer the art of filmmaking in terms of both storytelling and technology. Kermode describes science fiction as the most visionary genre of all, not only because it allows filmmakers and audiences’ imaginations to run free, but also because such films are constantly pushing the boundaries of film technology in order to bring their futuristic and alien visions to life. He also draws our attention to science fiction’s unique capacity for social commentary – as Kermode puts it, science fiction “takes us to new worlds to make us look at ourselves”.
Despite only being an hour long, this episode covers a lot of ground in a relatively short span of time and explores in considerable depth many of the key elements found across most science fiction films, from time travel to our fear of technology taking over. Although the central points of discussion throughout the episode will no doubt be very familiar to most viewers, even the most avid sci-fi fans are likely to discover something new about the history of science fiction films over the past century, and the innovative methods used to make them. Kermode examines the common themes and tropes of the genre not only through the lens of the iconic works he uses as points of reference throughout the episode such as Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but also through drawing our attention to a number of forgotten gems, including The Ninth Configuration, Marjorie Prime, and Silent Runnings, with the latter having gone on to influence Pixar’s WALL-E.
This episode of Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema has something to interest every viewer. You don’t have to be an expert on science fiction films (or indeed film in general) for this to be a highly enjoyable and thought-provoking watch, and even die-hard sci-fi fans are guaranteed to learn something new about this eclectic and enduring genre.
All five episodes of Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema is available now on BBC iPlayer: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bbn5pt