Science Fiction Film & Television

From sacred to scientific

Epic religion, spectacular science and Charlton Heston’s sf cinema

Science Fiction Film & Television (2019), 12, (3), 303–322.

Abstract

Charlton Heston was an epic actor who went from literally playing God in The Ten Commandments (1956) to playing ‘god’ as a messianic scientist in The Omega Man (1971). Best known for playing Moses, Heston became an unlikely science-based cinema star during the early 1970s. He was reimagined as a scientist, but the religiosity of his established persona was inescapable. Heston and the science-based films he starred in capitalised upon the utopian promises of real science, and also the fears of the vocal activist counterculture. Planet of the Apes (1968), Omega Man (1971), Soylent Green (1973) and other science-based films made between 1968–77 were bleak countercultural warnings about excessive consumerism, uncontrolled science, nuclear armament, irreversible environmental damage and eventual human extinction.

Heston’s transition from biblical epic star to sf anti-hero represents the way in which the role and interpretation of science changed in post-classical cinema. Despite the shift from religious epic to science-based spectacle, religion remained a faithful component of Hollywood output indicating the ongoing connection between science and religion in US culture. This article considers the transition from sacred to science-based narratives and how religion was utilised across the production process of films that commented upon scientific advances.

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Works cited

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Wood, Michael. America in the Movies, or, Santa Maria, it had Slipped my Mind. New York: Columbia UP, 1989. Google Scholar

Booker, Keith M. Alternate Americas: Science Fiction Film and American Culture. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006. Google Scholar

Brereton, Pat. Hollywood Utopia: Ecology in Contemporary American Cinema. Bristol: Intellect, 2004. Google Scholar

Boulle, Pierre. La Planéte des Singes, 8th ed. Trans. Xander Fielding. London: Penguin, 2001. Google Scholar

Chafe, William H. ‘American Since 1945’. The New American History. Ed. Eric Foner. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997. 159–80. Google Scholar

Chambers, Amy C. ‘The Evolution of Planet of the Apes: Science, Religion, and 1960s Cinema’. Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 28.2–3 (Fall 2016): 107–23. Google Scholar

Clements, Jim. ‘Grey Lady Down in the Depths with Charlton Heston’. Marquee (Jan/Feb 1978). Charlton Heston Papers 1941–1992 (Collection 173). Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science Collections. Los Angeles. Google Scholar

Cornea, Christine. Science Fiction: Between Fantasy and Reality. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2007. Google Scholar

Dean, Joan F. ‘Between 2001 and Star Wars’. Journal of Popular Film and Television 7:1 (1978): 32–41. Google Scholar

Dyer, Richard. Stars. London BFI, 1998. Google Scholar

Elley, Derek. The Epic Film: Myth and History. London: Routledge, 2014. Google Scholar

Fishbane, Michael. The Midrashic Imagination: Jewish Exegesis, Thought, and History. Albany: State U of New York P, 2012. Google Scholar

Geraghty, Christine. ‘Re-examining Stardom: Questions of Texts, Bodies and Performance’. Reinventing Film Studies Ed. Christine Gledhill and Linda Williams. London: Arnold, 2000, 183–202. Google Scholar

Geraghty, Lincoln. American Science Fiction Film and Television. Oxford: Berg, 2009. Google Scholar

Heston, Charlton. The Actor’s Life: Charlton Heston Journals 1956–76. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1980. Google Scholar

Heston, Charlton, Kirk Douglas, Hugh O’Brian, James Stewart and Gregory Peck. ‘Gun Control 1968’. Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers Records. Box 16, folder 167. Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science Collections. Los Angeles. Google Scholar

Hillier, Jim. The New Hollywood. London: Continuum, 1992. Google Scholar

Ingraham, Laura A. ‘Conservative In Hollywood’. Policy Review 36 (1986): 18–23. Google Scholar

Jancovich, Mark. ‘“Charlton Heston is an Axiom”: Spectacle and Performance in the Development of the Blockbuster’. Film Stars: Hollywood and Beyond. Ed. Andy Willis. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2004. 51–70. Google Scholar

Kael, Pauline. Reeling. Boston: Little Brown, 1976. Google Scholar

Keane, Stephen. Disaster Movies: The Cinema of Catastrophe. London: Wallflower, 2001. Google Scholar

Kermode, Mark. Silent Running. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Google Scholar

King, Claire Sisco. Washed in Blood: Male Sacrifice, Trauma, and the Cinema. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2012. Google Scholar

King, Geoff. New Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction. London: I.B. Tauris, 2002. Google Scholar

Langford, Barry. Film Genre: Hollywood and Beyond. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2005. Google Scholar

Langford, Barry. Post-Classical Hollywood: Film Industry, Style, and Ideology Since 1945. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2010. Google Scholar

Laycock, Joseph. ‘Where Do They Get These Ideas? Changing Ideas of Cults in the Mirror of Popular Culture’. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81.1 (March 2013): 80–106. Google Scholar

Leibowitz, Ed. ‘Charlton Heston’s Last Stand’. Los Angeles Magazine (Feb 2001): 64. Google Scholar

Luper, Clara. Behold the Walls. Oklahoma City: Jim Wire, 1979. Google Scholar

Mourlet, Michel. ‘In Defence of Violence’. Stardom: Industry of Desire. Ed. Christine Gledhill. New York: Routledge, 1991. 233–6. Google Scholar

Murray, Robin L. and Joseph K. Heumann. Ecology and Popular Film: Cinema on the Edge. Albany: State U of New York P, 2009. Google Scholar

Myers, Fred. ‘Movies: Sci-Fi Triumph’ [review of 2001: A Space Odyssey]. The Christian Century (26 Jun 1968): 845. Google Scholar

Nadel, Alan. ‘God’s Law and the Wide Screen: The Ten Commandments as Cold War “Epic”’. PMLA 108.3 (May 1993): 415–30. Google Scholar

Neale, Steve. ‘“The Last Good Time We Ever Had?” Revising the Hollywood Renaissance’. Contemporary American Cinema. Ed. Linda Ruth Williams and Michael Hammond. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill, 2005. 90–108. Google Scholar

Oswalt Jr, Conrad E. ‘Hollywood and Armageddon: Apocalyptic Theme in Recent Cinematic Presentation’. Screening the Sacred: Religion, Myth, and Ideology in Popular American Film. Bolder, CO: Westview, 1995. 55–63. Google Scholar

Pendreigh, Brian. The Legend of Planet of the Apes: Or How Hollywood Turned Darwin Upside Down. London: Boxtree, 2001. Google Scholar

Raymond, Emilie. From My Cold Dead Hands: Charlton Heston and American Politics. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 2006. Google Scholar

Ross, Steven J. Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Google Scholar

Ruppersberg, Hugh. ‘The Alien Messiah’. Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema. Ed. Annette Kuhn. London: Verso, 1990. 32–8. Google Scholar

Russell, James. The Historical Epic in Contemporary Hollywood. London: Bloomsbury, 2007. Google Scholar

Shaw, Tony. Hollywood’s Cold War. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2007. Google Scholar

Slotkin, Richard. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America. New York: Atheneum, 1992. Google Scholar

Sobchack, Vivian. ‘Beyond Visual Aids: American Film as American Culture’. American Quarterly 32.3 (1980): 80–300. Google Scholar

Sobchack, Vivian. ‘“Surge and Splendor”: A Phenomenology of the Hollywood Historical Epic’. Representations 29 (Winter 1990): 24–49. Google Scholar

Torry, Robert. ‘Apocalypse Then: Benefits of the Bomb in Fifties Science Fiction Films’. Cinema Journal 31.1 (1991): 7–21. Google Scholar

Wilson, Michael. Planet of the Apes [Final Revised Screenplay]. (18 Apr 1967 [with further revisions dated: 4/24]). Box 24a, folder 3. Franklin J. Schaffner Collection (MS1), Archives and Special Collections. Shadek-Fackenthal Library, Franklin and Marshall College. Lancaster, PA. Google Scholar

Wilson, Michael. Planet of the Apes [Shooting Script]. (5 May 1967 [with revisions made up until: 7/27/67]). Box 24a, folder 5. Franklin J. Schaffner Collection (MS1), Archives and Special Collections. Shadek-Fackenthal Library, Franklin and Marshall College. Lancaster, PA. Google Scholar

Winogura, Dale. ‘Dialogues on Apes, Apes, and more Apes’. [Special Planet of the Apes Issue]. Cinéfantastique 2.2 (Summer 1972): 16–37. Google Scholar

Wood, Michael. America in the Movies, or, Santa Maria, it had Slipped my Mind. New York: Columbia UP, 1989. Google Scholar

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Details

Author details

Chambers, Amy C.