From Metropolis to the pre-Technicolor Oz, take a fantastical journey through the wildest frontiers of the silent films of the silver screen.
Ancient Rockets brings you the earliest (and cheesiest) special effects, the best and worst directors, the tour de forces and the utter trainwrecks. Forty-nine cinematic odysseys will take you on A Trip to the Moon and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, swinging upon jungle vines with Tarzan and into the terrifying laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein, from The Adventures of Prince Achmed all the way to Modern Times.
These are the pinnacles and the pitfalls of science fiction's silent movies as affectionately viewed by Kage Baker (the Company series) with acerbic wit and historical acumen. Ancient Rockets presents the mad scientists, terrifying fiends, flimsy plots, and glorious landscapes that have inspired generations of fans and filmmakers alike.
Kage Baker, who died too soon, was a fantastic writer, and her Company novels of time-travelling immortals are terrific. She was also very kind to a young writer, providing a blurb for one of my first books, which I never forgot. She also loved the movies, and in this collection she delves into some of the treasures of the silent screen era. – Lavie Tidhar
"When beloved SF author Kage Baker was battling the illness that ultimately took her life, she distracted herself by watching old science-fiction silent movies, and reviewing them for Tor.com. The 49 reviews include some films you've probably seen, and some you've undoubtedly never heard of. Now Tachyon [Publications] has collected all of them in a beautiful little book, which is so full of snark and wit that you'll feel as if Baker was sitting with you giving her commentary on these films."– io9.com
Wagon Train to the Staaaaaars!
In 1904, a couple of years after his groundbreaking Le Voyage dans la Lune, Georges Méliès tried his hand at a more ambitious science fiction epic. Voyage à Travers L'Impossible ("A Voyage Across the Impossible" though more usually translated as simply "Impossible Voyage"), is around 20 minutes long, depending on whether or not you see the cheap version or the one with the bonus footage Méliès provided to exhibitors who paid extra. The concept of the deluxe 2-disc set has clearly been around a while. Voyage à Travers L'Impossible, in addition to being a longer film, is much more painstakingly hand-tinted. Where the previous film had a palette of grays, pale greens and blues, this Voyage blazes with gold and crimson. The result, while undeniably a special-effects extravaganza, is the first ever instance of a science fiction plotline suffering at the expense of its gosh-wow visuals.
And, as with the earlier film, Méliès drew on the novels of Jules Verne for his inspiration, but more specifically he roughly copied one of Verne's own plays. The "Institute of Incoherent Geography," headed by M. Mabouloff, ventures forth on an expedition around the world. They set out in a locomotive loaded with all sorts of nifty-looking craft, including a submarine, a couple of airships, and an "Impossible Carriage" which seems to be a sort of automobile. Reaching the Swiss Alps, they transfer to the automobile and promptly have a devastating road accident, sending everyone to the hospital. Ford Explorer, I guess.
Fully recovered from this inexplicable plot digression (maybe road accidents were thought to be a laff riot in 1904?), our heroes board the locomotive once more and it chugs away across the mountains. Higher and higher it goes, until it vaults into the stars. It zooms along through space, evidently held up by its twin airships, past a few charmingly animated comets and planetary systems and one obvious sparkler left over from Bastille Day. Mais non! Here comes the Sun, and we ain't talking Beatles songs: it's the Man in the Sun, who yawns so widely the Star Locomotive flies straight into his mouth. He gasps, he coughs, he vomits fire. Does he spit the ruined train out on the surface of Mercury? Despite most synopses insisting our heroes have crashed on the sun, it's later clearly visible in the sky, so I'm going with Mercury.
The expedition members pick themselves out of the ruins of the train. This was the point where it dawned on me that there women among the members—another first for sci-fi films! I was also diverted to learn that the conical felt hat was actually worn by someone besides Chico Marx and Pagliacci. Our heroes and heroines wander around exclaiming over the scenery awhile before suddenly being overcome with the heat. Fortunately their boxcar full of glacier ice (???) survived the crash, so M. Mabouloff herds everyone into it and shuts the door. Too late, he realizes he ought to have gotten in, too, but when he opens the freezer door again he discovers all the other expedition members frozen in a block of ice. The first-ever instance of cryogenics in a film!