Future technology

F.P.1. Doesn’t Answer

The earliest available feature film based on a modern sci-fi novel, this German 1932 melodrama concerns the then outlandish idea of a floating gas station for transatlantic flights. Filmed in three different languages with different casts, it’s not exactly a neglected masterpiece, but with talent like Curt Siodmak, Hans Albers, Charles Boyer, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt and Sybille Schmitz, it’s certainly a forgotten sci-fi gem. 6/10

Doctor X

This early colour film (1932), impeccably directed by Casablanca-maker Michael Curtiz, is a stylish and atmospheric old dark house thriller with a gruesome sci-fi twist. Unfortunately it’s also an attempt at Groucho Marx-style comedy with a Lee Tracy in the lead as a wise-cracking reporter, whose comedy repertoire isn’t up to the task. Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill shine, and the whole thing has the delicious look and feel of a faded pulp magazine. 7/10

Just Imagine

A very early sound film, this 1930 US sci-fi musical comedy tries to combine Metropolis, A Princess from Mars, The Ziegfield Follies and stand-up comedy. With predictable results. Despite being the brainchild of Hollywood’s hottest musical writers, the music is dull, the SF worse and the comedy painfully unfunny. The film looks good, though. 3/10

Woman in the Moon

This 1929 movie is the grandfather of the modern space rocket movie. Fritz Lang’s German silent film has a reputation for being over-long and sluggish during its first half. But if you like Lang’s spy yarns, the build-up is pure cinematic delight — and when the actual space voyage gets underway, it is as riveting today as it was 90 years ago. Thanks to the help of the world’s leading rocket scientists, the scientific accuracy is eerily prophetic. 9/10

The Inhuman Woman

A hallucinatory explosion of art deco and visual experimentation, Marcel L’Herbier’s 1924 film L’Inhumaine has divided critics and audiences for decades. Its bold design and innovative editing inspired a generation of directors, but many find its script thin and its characters one-dimensional and uninspiring.

High Treason

This 1929 film was Britain’s attempt to create its own Metropolis. The stunning art deco visuals are counteracted by a clumsy and overtly naive script. Maurice Elvey’s direction is fluid and competent, but the actors are stuck with paper-thin characters who lack motivation. Modern viewers of this pacifist yarn set in 1940 will marvel at the accurate predictions of things like TV and Skype. (5/10)

The Mysterious Island

Borrowing the name of Jules Verne’s bestseller, this problem-ridden 1926-1929 production features good acting, some remarkable special effects and a solid-ish script, but alas, the schizophrenic semi-talkie-semi-silent film is just as equally horrible in many ways, with toy submarines and crocodiles substituting for dinos. (4/10)