Many science fiction films breed optimism. They lay out what’s possible. Technology is good if used for the right reasons. There is generally a theme of good and evil. Some older sci-fi films dealt with technology gone wrong like in The Fly or Them. Others have a moral bent to them as in The 27th Day based on the novel by John Mantley. Films trying to depict the signs of the times are said to be found in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Some reviewers saw in the story a commentary on the dangers facing America for turning a blind eye to McCarthyism. Leonard Maltin wrote of a McCarthy-era subtext, or of bland conformity in postwar Eisenhower-era America. Others viewed it as an allegory for the loss of personal autonomy in the Soviet Union or communist systems in general…. Despite a general agreement among film critics regarding these political connotations of the film, actor Kevin McCarthy said in an interview included on the 1998 DVD release that he felt no political allegory was intended. The interviewer stated that he had spoken with the author of the novel, Jack Finney, who professed no specific political allegory in the work…. [Director] Don Siegel spoke more openly of an existing allegorical subtext, but denied a strictly political point of view: “[…] I felt that this was a very important story. I think that the world is populated by pods, and I wanted to show them. I think so many people have no feeling about cultural things, no feeling of pain, of sorrow. […] The political reference to Senator McCarthy and totalitarianism was inescapable but I tried not to emphasize it because I feel that motion pictures are primarily to entertain, and I did not want to preach.”[1]

Make of them what you will, I just enjoy them. Hope you do as well. Send me any suggestions you have.

Using Classic Films to Teach the Christian Worldview

Using Classic Films to Teach the Christian Worldview

Gary DeMar makes the point that classic movies are excellent teaching tools for a Christian worldview—for children and adults. Real life is about real conversations, and classic movies provide a great virtual training ground for thinking and living in the real world of ideas and consequences. Also includes illustrated PDF ebook that helps to reinforce and explain the concepts discussed in the lecture.

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When Worlds Collide (1951)

If you’ve seen Deep Impact and Armageddon, then you have the general plot line for When Worlds Collide, the original planetary disaster movie. There is one significant difference. In When Worlds Collide, the Earth is going to be destroyed, and only a few can escape in what turns out to be an updated version of Noah’s Ark—a spaceship. The original story, written by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer, was first published in 1932 in Blue Book Magazine. The story was later revised when it came out in book form.

The movie begins when several astronomers from around the world notice that a rogue planet, Bellus, is headed on a collision course with Earth. The only hope is to save a few by building spaceships that will carry people to Zyra, an unexplored planet that they hope will be a new Eden. Dr. Cole Hendron must convince an incredulous United Nations council that his calculations predicting the collision are correct. Of course, no one believes him. Cole and his fellow scientists are dismissed as alarmists perpetuating a hoax.

Intent on building their space-age ark, Hendron and his fellow scientists turn to a group of wealthy industrialists to finance the construction of a spaceship that they hope to use to escape the doomed planet. “As the day of doom approaches, the spaceship is loaded with food, medicine, microfilmed books, equipment, and animals. ” Needing more money than expected to complete the construction of the ship, they accept an infusion of cash from a wheelchair-bound millionaire. The money comes with a condition: He gets a seat on the ship. The workers must draw lots for the remaining seats. Bad idea! As the day of doom draws near, the workers who didn’t get places on the rocket take up arms and storm the vessel.

The climax to the film comes when the rocket launches just seconds before Bellus impacts. Hendron stays behind, giving up his seat for a younger passenger. The selfish millionaire is also left behind, although not without protestations. After a short journey, the rocket lands on Zyra. The ark door is opened, and the people emerge to begin again on the beautifully landscaped planet.

Chesley Knight Bonestell, the pioneering creator of astronomical art and dubbed the “Father of Modern Space art “is credited with the artwork used for the film. He created the design for the space ark that was constructed. The final scene in the film, the sunrise landscape on Zyra, was taken from a Bonestell sketch. Because of budget constraints, the director was forced to use this color sketch rather than a finished matte painting.”

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Most older science fiction movies dealing with space travel lose their charm over time due to amateurish-looking special effects and outdated scientific jargon and equipment. Although done in the mid-1950s, Forbidden Planet holds up well. Ignore the Freudian bit about the Id and just enjoy the story. It’s been said that the movie updates Shakespeare’s The Tempest with Walter Pidgeon playing the role of Caliban.

In 2200, United Planets Cruiser C-57D is on a rescue expedition from earth to the planet Altair IV. The mission of the small crew is to learn the status of a prior scientific expedition that arrived there twenty years before. As the ship approaches the planet, they are rebuffed by a radio communication from a Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), the leader of the original expedition. He tells Commander Adams (Leslie Nielson before his comedy films) that all is well and to return to earth. Adams has his orders to assess the status of the colony. Morbius warns him that he cannot be responsible for their welfare if they land.

Upon landing they are greeted by Robby, an intricately designed robot with extraordinary abilities, who whisks the commander and Lieutenants Ostrow and Farman, in a high-speed land cruiser to Morbius’ residence. It is there that they learn that the only survivors of the original colony are the doctor and his beautiful daughter Altair (Anne Francis), an innocent young woman who is quite taken with the space travelers. Other than her father, she has never seen another man.

Morbius spins a tale of the planet’s original inhabitants, the Krell, “who were technologically and ethically a million years ahead of the human race.”[2] The Krell explored the galaxy. They even traveled to earth and returned with several animal specimens. Through the constant study of the Krell files, Morbius has been able to learn only a fraction of what the Krell knew. Although he was trained as a linguist, he was capable enough to build Robby after receiving a “brain boost” from one of the Krell machines. Through his study of the Krell’s archives, Morbius learned that, inexplicably, in a single day, the Krell disappeared some 200,000 years earlier.

Whatever killed the Krell also killed Morbius’ shipmates from earth. With the arrival of the space travelers, the killings happen again. It’s only after Lieutenant Ostrow gets his own “brain boost” that we learn the Krell’s dark secret.

The most intriguing and visually appealing feature of Forbidden Planet is the underground Krell laboratories and machinery. “The machine occupies 8,000 miles and is powered by 9,200 thermo-nuclear reactors. This giant machine has maintained itself over the 2,000 centuries since the Krell vanished.”[3] The special effects of the underground self-operating machine are stunning, even by today’s cinematic standards. Certainly, Forbidden Planet shows its age, and it’s a little campy with some stilted acting. Even so, it’s a fun movie to watch.

The Time Machine (1960)

In this H.G. Wells’ classic tale, a time traveler hopes to escape what he perceives to be the horrors of the present by rocketing through time to an age where people are more civilized.

The movie begins with George showing a model of his time machine to a small group of his friends. He explains the qualities of the “fourth dimension,” time, and how it might be possible to travel through it. Of course, his guests are skeptical. They remain doubtful even when George sends an intricately designed model of his larger machine on its voyage into the future. Its disappearance is thought to be a clever magician’s trick.

A full-scale model of his machine sits undisturbed in an outbuilding. It is on this that George will explore the future. After making a few intermediate stops (not depicted in the book), George races to the year 802,701 where he finds man divided into the charming but naïve and lazy Eloi and the brutish and ugly subterranean Morlocks who “raise” their terrestrial counterparts for food. Is George able to change the future? “Can man control his destiny? Can he change the shape of things to come?,” a title of another Wells’ book.

The movie’s ending implies a more optimistic future than the one Wells wrote for the book. In the book, the time traveler speeds ahead thirty million years where he finds a deserted earth and a cooling sun. A fitting epitaph to Wells’ own worldview. “Shortly before his death, he wrote an aptly titled book, The Mind at the End of Its Tether (1945) in which he concluded that ‘there is no way out, or around, or through the impasse. It is the end.’”[4] The movie has nothing of Wells’ despair.

The Invisible Man (1933)

Another H. G. Wells’ classic. A scientist, played by Claude Rains, develops a serum that renders him invisible. He loses his mind in the process as the drug works to transform him into a megalomaniac bent on ruling the world: “We’ll start with a few murders. Big men, little men—just to show we make no distinction.” A real democrat. Rains, in his first film role, remains invisible to the audience until the final scene. Trivia: Rains’ love interest, Gloria Stuart, played the elderly Rose in James Cameron’s film Titanic.

Mysterious Island (1961)

A Jules Verne classic. The American Civil War is raging. A group of Northern prisoners of war escape in a balloon from a Southern prison. A Confederate soldier and newspaper reporter inadvertently are included in the balloon’s basket. A violent storm carries the balloon thousands of miles to a remote and mysterious island where they encounter a giant crab, a giant chicken, and giant bees. They also run into Captain Nemo and the Lost City of Atlantis. Unlike in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, these people bring civilization with them and maintain it.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

From The Day the Earth Stood Still to Carl Sagan’s Contact (1997), alien encounter movies are projections of evolutionary optimism and messianic hope. The rationalistic worldview of secularism that was hatched in the early part of the twentieth century was not meeting the needs of the spiritually deprived. Two world wars postponed the effects of scientific atheism until the 1960s when the “Best and the Brightest” were killing our young people in what turned out to be another senseless and immoral war — Vietnam. Televising the number of war dead each day did not help. Science needed a makeover. More than this, science needed a resurrection of monumental proportions. Hollywood gave science a way out of its materialistic and anti-supernatural dilemma by turning to the heavens. Messianism hit the silver screen when Klaatu and Gort landed in Washington, D.C.

Scriptwriter Edmund H. North transformed the alien emissary Klaatu into a Christ-figure, implying that extra-terrestrials would be the true saviors of mankind. He did this in a subtle manner, having Klaatu adopt the earth name Carpenter[5] and through the alien’s death and resurrection.[6]

After a fearful military establishment kills Klaatu for being a “threat” to the nation, the resurrection takes place. Does any of this sound familiar? (Luke 23:2)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) also depicts aliens as saviors, as beneficent gods who draw their “chosen ones” to themselves. “It is the alien landing as Epiphany, the coming of the gods rather than extraterrestrials” as menacing destroyers.[7]

Like Klaatu, E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial (1983) personified the alien as a savior. A baby alien is left on earth where he is taken in by a family in turmoil. He heals a broken family with his presence. After being pursued by scientists and governmental officials, E.T. dies. All the elements of religion are present, even a resurrection from the dead and an ascension into the clouds.

Here was the scientific savior who was sent to earth from above (fulfilling the promise of its “shining spaceship”), performed healing-type miracles in exchange for faith, produced conversion experiences in the innocent and pure (“the little children who come unto it”) and died and was resurrected before its ascension to its “home.”[8]

The parallels with Christianity are unmistakable. The underlying premise is that there are aliens in our universe who can perform what used to be considered “miracles” in the same way those who wrote about the “mythological” Jesus did. There is no need for God. “Alien super medicine” based on technological advancements will save us all.[9] In the end, man remains the center of it all.

Many contemporary films, especially sci-fi films, reflect this longing for a sense of meaning outside of ourselves. Since our God-framework (we have a personal Creator and are created for God’s pleasure) has been taken away, we are forced to dream up our own meaning. The Star Trek series is a perfect example. The crew of the Enterprise travel through space to other worlds only to be reminded that humanity is its own meaning. There is no higher reality than the finer instincts within us. No one questions too much where these instincts come from. The Enterprise may go in search of God (Star Trek 5) but it always comes back to Captain James T. Kirk.[10]

Kirk, the consummate cosmic humanist, is the alter ego of Gene Rodenberry, Star Trek’s creator. Rodenberry was an outspoken atheist. In the March/April 1991 issue of The Humanist magazine, Rodenberry was very upfront about his anti-religious beliefs.

Thinking Straight in a Crooked World

Thinking Straight in a Crooked World

The nursery rhyme ‘There Was a Crooked Man’ is an appropriate description of how sin affects us and our world. We live in a crooked world of ideas evaluated by crooked people. Left to our crooked nature, we can never fully understand what God has planned for us and His world. God has not left us without a corrective solution. He has given us a reliable reference point in the Bible so we can identify the crookedness and straighten it.

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[1]Interview with Don Siegel in Alan Lovell: Don Siegel. American Cinema, London 1975.

[2]Leroy W. Dubeck, Suzanne E. Mosher, and Judith Boss, Fantastic Voyages: Learning Science Through Science Fiction Films (New York: American Institute of Physics, 1994), 258.

[3]Dubeck, Mosher, and Boss, Fantastic Voyages, 259.

[4]Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books [1983] 1990), 2.

[5]Jesus was a carpenter. Get it.

[6]Bobby Maddex, “The Gospel According to E.T.,” Rutherford Magazine (October 1996), 22.

[7]Baird Searles, Films of Science Fiction and Fantasy (New York: AFI Press, 1988), 128.

[8]Maddex, “The Gospel According to E.T.,” 23.

[9]Searles, Films of Science Fiction and Fantasy, 116.

[10]Alan MacDonald, Movies in Close-Up: Getting the Most from Film and Video (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 118.