Britain’s first sci-fi film released for free on BFI Player
Staff Reporter | On 05, Dec 2014
Britain’s first ever sci-fi feature film, A Message from Mars, will be released for free on BFI Player on Friday 12th December.
The silent film, made in 1913, has been restored by the BFI National Archive. This is the first time in a century that the film will be seen at its full length and with its restored tinting and toning.
“The genesis of science fiction in British cinema has a distinguished but little known history,” comments Heather Stewart, Creative Director of BFI. “Now for the first time in a century audiences across the UK can enjoy the beginnings of British cinema’s most popular genre in a stunning new restoration and with a fantastic new soundtrack.”
The film was based on a highly popular stage play, which saw many revivals over 30 years in Britain. It features the first on-screen imaginings of Martians by a British film-maker, as futuristically clad members of the Martian court – not to mention such sci-fi staples as thought transference, instant space travel, mind control and the use of a crystal ball.
The plot – which bears a marked resemblance to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – sees a Martian condemned to go to Earth as a punishment for stealing someone’s ideas and tasked with changing the heart of a selfish man.
Thanks to a unique collaboration between the BFI and BBC Arts, the movie will be available online (on BFI Player and BBC Arts Online) for free, with a new score by composer Matthew Herbert, Creative Director of the New Radiophonic Workshop.
“A Message from Mars has such a unique visual language, from acting to camera angles, that it has required a different approach to the soundtrack,” says Herbert.
“So many conventions we associate with sound and music in film didn’t seem to be relevant. Apart from the sound design, all the musical contributions are made from recordings we made of a piano, the instrument of choice for film accompaniment in 1913. We chose a specific piano from 1913 to give it an authenticity of tone and, partly due to its age, we managed to coax a whole range of exciting textures and timbres from it.”
BBC Arts Online have also made a special film report on the story behind the restoration of A Message from Mars, going behind the scenes at the BFI National Archive and interviewing the expert curators and technical specialists who spent six months bringing this film back to life for the digital age.
A Message from Mars forms part of the BFI’s huge UK-wide celebration of Sci-Fi film and television, Days of Fear and Wonder, which explores this perennially popular genre from the earliest days of cinema to the latest Hollywood blockbusters.