Welcome to English 340: Science Fiction Film. This is a class in the history of SF film, with about half the examples being featured dating from before 1968, when the modern era of SF film began with 2001: A Space Odyssey. We will not proceed in strictly chronological fashion, but by exploring certain themes, starting with the  “wonder city of the future” and “the monster.” The films are chosen for their historical importance and influence.


This class has very little outside reading assigned compared to the typical English class. Your “homework” is primarily done in the Tuesday afternoon lab sessions from 4:15-7:00. Almost all writing for the class is done in class, including writing assignments done in these lab sessions.


The experience of viewing these films in their original aspect ratio and at a large screen size is crucial, so the films are shown from DVD in a theater-like setting rather than as “videos” on small television monitors. The viewing for the class is done in the Tuesday lab sessions.


For both of these reasons, to pass the course you must be registered in the lab as well as the lecture section. If you are not yet registered in the lab, you must either add it now, or drop the course.


Every student will do one individual 15-minute oral presentation based on SF film from the list at the end of this syllabus. Look at that section now and try to choose a film that interests you. Sign-up sheets will be posted in the classroom on the second Monday of the semester.


Required Textbooks (do not substitute other editions):

John Scalzi: The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies

Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (readings include critical material not available in other editions)

Philip K. Dick: Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep)

Ted Hughes: The Iron Giant



Warning: Some films shown in this class contain nudity and graphic violence and may be offensive to some viewers.


Course schedule:


August 21:

Georges Méliès: Le Voyage dans la lune (1902) (DVD 624) (shown in class)

Introduction to science fiction in film. Recommended Web reading before next class: http://www.mshepley.btinternet.co.uk/melies.htm (The Missing Link: Méliès) all four pages; click on “continued” links)


August 22: 

View Metropolis (1927) (DVD 437)


August 23:

Discussion of Metropolis


August 28:

Presentation: The City of the Future


August 29:

View Metropolis (2002) (VHS 20663). Japanese anime remake directed by Rin Taro


August 30:

Discussion of anime version of Metropolis; view premier episode of Futurama. Note: to be read by September 12: Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (the entire novel, including the preface), plus the articles on the following pages: 214-224, 251-261, 313-331.


September 4:

Labor Day Holiday


September 5:

View Brazil (1985) (DVD 771)


September 6:

Discuss Brazil


September 11:

Discuss Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the essays on pp. 214-224, 251-261, 313-331.


September 12:

Student report. View Frankenstein (1931) (DVD 756) & The Frankenstein Files


September 13:

Discussion  of Frankenstein

Student report


September 18:

Student reports


September 19:

Student report

View The Thing from Another World (1951) (DVD 847)

Read before class John Campbell’s story: “Who Goes There?” online in Griffin Course Reserves. Read also before class Susan Sontag’s The Imagination of Disaster in electronic reserves on Griffin.


September 20:

Discussion of The Thing from Another World


September 25:

Student reports


September 26:

Student report

View The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) (DVD 574)

Read before class Peter Biskind: “Pods, Blobs, and Ideology in American Films of the Fifties,” online in Griffin Course Reserves.


September 27:

Discussion of The Day the Earth Stood Still


October 2:

Student reports


October 3:

Student report

View It Came from Outer Space (1953) (DVD 655)


October 4:

Discussion of It Came from Outer Space


October 9:

Exam 1


October 10:

Student report

View Forbidden Planet (1956) (DVD 617)


October 11:

Discussion of Forbidden Planet


October 16:

Student reports


October 17:

Student report

View: Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb  (1964) (DVD 307)


October 18:

Discussion of Dr. Strangelove


October 23:

Student reports

Note that you have the novel Blade Runner to read before October 31.


October 24:

View 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (DVD 496)

Read before class the source story, “The Sentinel,” by Arthur C. Clarke online in Griffin Course Reserves.


October 25:

Discussion of 2001: A Space Odyssey


October 30:

Student reports


October 31:

Student report

View Blade Runner (1982) (DVD 6) Read the source novel before class: Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Blade Runner)


November 1:

Discussion of Blade Runner


November 6:

Student reports


November 7:

Student reports

Presentation: The Roots of Star Wars, or Why Princess Leia Fights Like a Girl


November 8:

Exam 2


November 13:

Student reports


November 14:

Student report

View The Thirteenth Floor (1999) (DVD 738)


November 15:

Discussion of The Thirteenth Floor


November 20-22:

Thanksgiving vacation, no school.


November 27:

Student reports


November 28:

View The Abyss (1989)


November 29:

Discussion of The Abyss


December 4:

Student reports


December 5:

Student report

View The Iron Giant (1999)  (DVD 643). Read before class: Ted Hughes: The Iron Giant


December 6:

Discussion of The Iron Giant

Course evaluation


Final Exam

Monday, December 11, 3:10-5:10 PM

Note: you must be present and take the final exam to pass the course. Absolutely no early tests. Plan your travel now to be on campus until after this exam.



Exams:                                                             60%

Daily writings                                                 20%

Oral report                                                      20%



Attendance at all classes is expected, and is measured by the daily writings turned in at each session. The topics for each day’s writing will be announced in class. Some of these will be quiz-like, aimed at testing your knowledge of that day’s film; but others will be more informal. More than five of these writings missing will result in an immediate F for the course, regardless of examination grades. Save these five permitted absences for emergencies like illnesses, etc. No additional excused absences will be granted.


Walking out of class without prior notice is insulting to whomever is speaking and to your fellow students. It is not acceptable to take a quiz and leave, or do your own presentation and then walk out before other people’s presentations.



Doing a daily writing for another student is cheating. The student doing the writing and the student whose name appears on the writing will be given F’s for the course and their names reported to Student Conduct.


Students with Disabilities: I am committed to providing assistance to help you be successful in this course.  Reasonable accommodations are available for students with a documented disability. Please visit the Disability Resource Center (DRC) during the first two weeks of every semester to seek information or to qualify for accommodations. All accommodations MUST be approved   through the DRC (Admin Annex Bldg, Rooms 205). Call 509 335 3417 to make an appointment with a disability counselor.


How to Do the 15-Minute Oral Report


1) Look over the list of possible films to report on at the end of this syllabus. These titles have been carefully chosen to fit one or more of the following criteria:


1)    They are important either because of some technical or stylistic innovation.

2)    They have been influential on other filmmakers or on society generally.

3)    They are considered “classic” films by critics and scholars, who have provided enough material for you to draw on for your report.

4)    They are available in the Holland Library collection.


Only one student can report on each title, so consider several possibilities.


2) Look up several film titles which interest you in the index in the rear of the The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies (the main textbook for this course). Read what the Guide has to say about these films and narrow your selection. Almost all of the films are discussed in the Guide, but if yours is not, ask me about it.


3) In class, sign your name next to the film you intend to report on. If your favorite is already taken, choose another. If you don’t recognize a title, try looking it up in the Guide or ask me about it.


4) At the same time, write your name on the “Student Report Date Sign-Up Sheet” for the date on which you intend to give your report. Do not put more than one name on a blank. Follow your name with the name of the film you will be reporting on.


Note: I would especially appreciate it if students reporting on versions of Frankenstein would sign up for September 13 or 18.


5) Look to see whether your film title has an asterisk following it on the sign-up sheet. If it does, that means the film is based on a story or novel which you are required to identify and read. Reports which ignore the print sources of films will receive lower grades. If you have trouble identifying the title or tracking down a copy of the book contact me. To do this successfully, you will need to begin working on your project right at the beginning of the semester, and not wait until just before the date it is due.


6) Go to Media Material Reserves in the library on the ground floor (downstairs from the entrance), check out your film and view it, taking notes. Also draw on “extras” on the disk: documentary features, director commentaries, etc. We try to have “director’s cuts,” “expanded editions,” etc. in the library so that you will have these extra sources to draw on, but if you have a superior edition from another source you may want to use that. The films are on reserve to guarantee they will be available for you. You can either view them  in MMR or take them home overnight; but be careful to return them the next day. There are stiff fines for keeping them too long. You can check out the films as many times as you need to. Again, if you delay doing this until the last minute you may find that someone else has your film when you need it; start early.


7) Use the online bibliography which you will be shown in class to look for articles and books about your film.

Borrow the materials you need, read them, and take notes. If an article you need is not in the library, contact me immediately and I will help you get it.


8) Prepare your report. Each one must last fifteen minutes and incorporate one or two short scenes from the film lasting a total of no more than five minutes.


You can use PowerPoint if you wish, or other presentation software, but you must bring your material to my office in 202H Avery an hour before class to be installed on my laptop. Do not bring other laptops to class. Presentations must be capable of running on a Macintosh laptop running System X.4. Computer-based presentations are not required. You may also speak from written notes on paper. If you would like technical help and advice, just ask me; but do so well in advance of your report due date.


Scenes can either be run from the laptop (again, you must come to my office before class and get your disc cued up) or run over the university system. Note that the distributed video system is often hard to control and cannot display full DVD resolution. If your film is available only on VHS tape you will have to use the university system.


If at all possible, choose scenes which begin at a chapter point that can be easily cued up. We do not want to take class time fast-forwarding through chapters to find a scene.


If you have the skills to rip a scene out and put it on a DVD-R, that can be useful. There is equipment for doing this in the library, but you cannot reserve it ahead of time and it is popular; so you need to start early to guarantee you will have access to it.


Here are the criteria by which your report will be judged:

  1. The clips (totaling 1-5 minutes) should be chosen to illustrate useful points. They should not be just spectacular scenes which speak for themselves. You must discuss the clips you present, explaining what makes them interesting or impressive. Analyze the clips, focusing on aspects like character development, lighting, costume, dialogue, editing, special effects, etc.
  2. Your report should concentrate on objective points of interest and is not highly subjective. You should concentrate on conveying information, including the critical and scholarly reputation of the film, and not merely giving your own opinions. Reports which consist mainly of expressing your dislike for a film mean that the individual did not begin your work early enough to make sure a film was chosen whose virtues could be understood. These are reports, not reviews.
  3. Your report must specifically draw on the scholarly and critical print sources. You must cite by author and title at least two print sources and explain something useful that they said about your film. In a very few cases, there are not enough print sources and you may use alternatives with my permission; but you need to consult with me well in advance of your report date to get help doing this.
  4. If your film is based on a book or story, you must discuss how it relates to that source. If your film is a sequel or a remake, you must have viewed the original and discuss how the new film differs from and resembles the original.
  5. Do not spend time summarizing the plot. No more than two or three sentences should be devoted to plot. Tell us what kind of film it is, but don’t retell the story.
  6. Concentrate on some of the following points in discussing your film: themes, symbolism, similarities and differences to other relevant films, narrative structure, characterization, acting, photography, editing, lighting, sound, music, continuity, historical significance, influence, social issues (gender, race, politics, militarism, etc.).
  7. Make it interesting. Think about the kinds of reports you enjoy listening to and try to make yours equally clear and captivating.