You are here

CMS 272 A: Perspectives On Film: Genre

Science Fiction and Other Speculations

Meeting Time: 
to be arranged
* *
head shot for Jennifer M.  Bean
Jennifer M. Bean

Syllabus Description:

Professor Jennifer Bean [she/her/hers]:

Course Instructors & Office Hour Appointments                                      

Mr. Calac Nogueira (

Ms. Anna Parkhurst (

Mr. Long Tran (

Ms. Yumo Yan (


Course instructors are available for individual office hour meetings, as needed.  To request a 15 minute time slot and a zoom link, please email the respective instructor at least 24 hours in advance between M-F.  You may send an email request during the weekend, but do not expect a response until the working week begins.


This course examines the development of science-fiction cinema, predominantly films and media produced in the U.S., from the early twentieth to the early twenty-first centuries.  At the broadest level, science fiction offers an artistic and intellectual space to speculate on what is in relation to what might be.  It is a vehicle for expressing and questioning ideas related to technology, history, society, and identity.  As Samuel Delany writes, “Science fiction is a tool to help you think.”  We can also understand the films and media objects we are studying as “speculative fictions,” meaning they encourage cognitive estrangement from the known world and compel us to imagine alternative possibilities and realities. Importantly, science fiction cinema also always engages our senses, evoking feelings that range from terror and repulsion to awe, curiosity and wonder.

While the structure of this course will be historical, our focus will be analytical, with special emphasis on genre theory and criticism, critical race studies, theories of gender and sexuality, and environmental studies.  To facilitate our engagement with the genre’s artistic-cultural history, students will develop skills for analyzing cinematography, editing, sets, décor, make-up, lighting, narrative structure, and sound design among other audio-visual techniques.  All required films and/or episodes will be streamed for enrolled students through Canvas.  Assignments include weekly quizzes, weekly informal written responses, and three formal exercises.

Asynchronous Format/Weekly Modules on Canvas

Due to the global health crisis, this course will be held entirely on-line.  While the optional 50-minute discussion sessions each Thursday will be held synchronously (see details immediately below), all required work for this class will take place asynchronously.  You will access all course materials via Canvas; you will submit all assignments via Canvas.  Work will not be accepted via email.

The course is divided into 10 weekly modules. Every module—including lectures, reading materials, quizzes, film clips, related web links, and so on—will be published by 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning each week.  Each module (except for week 1) contains at least three quizzes and/or informal written response, although some modules may include more assignments.  Your weekly module assignments are due by 11:59 p.m. Friday evening each week. The assignment window for each week’s module will close one minute before midnight every Friday.

The class design allows you to work through each module at your own pace between Monday mornings and Friday evenings.  You should plan to spend approximately 8-10 hours working through each week’s module and completing the quizzes and written responses.  You will need to set aside additional time on the weeks that a formal exercise is due (See Schedule At-A-Glance, below, for due dates of the four formal exercises)

Required Films and Recommended Films

All required films for this course will stream on our Canvas site and will be published at least two weeks in advance of the respective module.  Hence, they will be available if you prefer to watch the required films over the weekend, prior to the start of the given module. On Canvas, required films will appear as a link in the respective module; they also can be located under "Assignments" on the left side of the home page.

The recommended films also will stream on our Canvas site.  The films listed as recommended (see Schedule At-A-Glance, below), will likely be discussed during the respective week’s lectures and will be used to provide additional historical or aesthetic context.  But you are not responsible for familiarity with the entirety of any recommended film, only for the scenes or elements from those films discussed in lectures. The recommended films will appear as links in the respective module; they also can be located under "Pages" on the left side of the home page.

You are responsible for viewing and studying all Required films in their entirety. View these films carefully.  If you are watching the film on your own and other people are nearby, use headphones.  Be comfortable and focused.  Try not to interrupt your viewing experience by pausing the film or by multi-tasking, etc.  Remember that most every film we will study, especially in modules 2-8,  was designed for a large screen in a public theater.  Your engagement with these films will be severely hampered if you view them in a distracted manner. 

Synchronous Discussion Sessions: Sci-Fi Film Club via Zoom

A weekly 50-minute discussion session, which we fondly refer to as the “Sci-Fi Film Club meeting,” will be held synchronously on Zoom from 3:30-4:20 each Thursday.  These synchronous sessions are optional.  They provide a space for you to talk through course materials and ideas about the films we are watching with your peers and in conversation with the instructors.  Zoom links will be posted at the "top" of each respective module.  You are encouraged to attend the Thursday Sci-Fi Film Club meetings as often as you can!

Film Analysis

A central objective of this course will be to familiarize yourself with film analysis.  We will learn to name and assess the array of audiovisual techniques used by filmmakers, especially those categorized as “Mise-en-Scène,” “Cinematography,” “Editing,” and “Sound.” The three formal exercises in this class (see list immediately below as well as the Schedule At-A-Glance) require you to understand these techniques and assess their meanings relative to a given film/media text. Course lectures and informational videos will illuminate these terms and concepts.  We also encourage you to bookmark this website, the Yale Guide to Film Analysis, for ongoing reference:

Assignments and Evaluation

Quizzes and Informal Written Responses: 60% of final grade (expect at least 3 per module); formats include multiple choice, true/false and informal written response..  Due every week at the close of each module on Fridays, by 11:59 p.m.  Once you open a quiz you will have a set number of minutes to complete the Multiple Choice or True/False answers before the system closes.  (There will be 2 minutes allotted per question; hence a 5 question quiz will be open for 10 minutes, a 4 question quiz will be open for 8 minutes, and so on.) Once you open the prompt for an Informal Written Response you will have at least 30 minutes to write your reflection. 

You will not receive feedback on your informal written responses. Here’s how the numbers break down:

5 Excellent

4 You’re doing well, but stay focused.

3 Your response shows a relationship to the class materials but the concept lacks clarity.  We suggest you schedule an office hour visit.

2 Are you watching/reading all the required materials and lectures? If you’re confused, please schedule an office hour visit.

1 You may be guessing. 

0 Missing a response.


Formal Exercises: 40% of final grade

There are four formal exercises in this class; each is worth 10% of your final grade respectively.  You will be provided a detailed description of each exercise at least a week in advance.  All formal exercises are worth 25 points each. All will range from 1 to 1.5 pp.  These exercises include:

Exercise 1: Analysis of Mise-en-Scène and Cinematography 

Exercise 2: Editing Segmentation 

Exercise 3: Sound Thinking 

Exercise 4: Script Treatment for Watchmen, Season 2, Ep. 1

Academic Integrity

You must complete all assigned work on your own. You are expected to be familiar with the University’s policies concerning academic misconduct as outlined in the Student Conduct Code.

Evidence of plagiarism or academic dishonestly will result in an automatic failure of the quiz or assignment, and may result in further disciplinary action.

UW Statement on Access and Disability Resources

If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to your professor at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.

Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructors, and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form: (

Trigger Warning

Please note that many of the films we will watch this quarter, especially those produced after the 1960s, have been rated "R" for reasons of graphic violence, language and nudity.   One episode of Watchmen, in module 9, offers a specific trigger warning for photosensitive viewers.  If you find these types of images intolerable, contact one of the course instructors immediately.  You may also wish to look for an alternative class.

Weekly Schedule At-a-Glance: 

 Please note: this schedule is a "living document" and is subject to change.  Alterations will be announced at least a week in advance of the respective module's publication.  

1. Syllabus and Introductions, March 29-April 2

A brief introductory lecture/overview of the course (approximately 30 minutes) will be released on Wednesday morning, March 31.  Watch the lecture, then take a 4 question Quiz on this syllabus.  Also, introduce yourself to us by responding to the prompts provided.  You should complete these minor tasks by Friday, April 2 by 11:59 p.m.  These are your only requirements.  THIS IS A VERY SHORT WEEK!

Links to "How to Speak Movie: Mise-en-Scene," as well as "Cinematography" will be provided for those who are new to film studies and would like to get a head start.  Those same links will re-appear in modules 2 & 3 respectively.

Finally, for fun, we have provided an "optional film": Contact (1997).  Since your required films for Module 2 are very, very short (about 40 minutes total), you may wish to indulge in this sci-fi experience to get in the ‘mood’ of the class, as it were.  


2. Early Cinema and Technological Modernity, April 5-9

Required Films: Trip to the Moon (1902, Georges Méliès), 12:42; The Flying Train (1902), 3 min., Onesime Horloger/Clockmaker (1912, 8 min.), and “How to Speak Movies: Mise-en-Scène” (15 min.)

Recommended Film: Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang)

Thur April 8,  Sci-Fi Film Club Meetings at 3:30-4:20

Module 2 assignment windows will close Fri. April 9 11:59 p.m.


3. Mad Scientists & The Studio System, April 12-16

Required Films: Bride of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale) & “How to Speak Movies: Cinematography”

Recommended Films: Frankenstein (1931, Whale), The Invisible Man (1933, Whale), and Ex Machina (2015, Alex Garland)

Thur April 15 Sci-Fi Film Club Meetings at 3:30-4:20 p.m.

Module 3 assignment windows will close Fri. April 16 11:59 p.m.

EXERCISE 1 DUE: Analysis of Mise-en-Scène & Cinematography, Sat.  April 17, 11:59 p.m.


4. The Cold War and the Imagination of Disaster, April 19-23

Required Films: War of the Worlds (1953), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), and

“How to Speak Movies: Editing” (15 min)

Recommended Films: The Thing from Another World (1951) and War of the Worlds  (2005)

Thur April 22 Sci-Fi Film Club Meetings at 3:30-4:20 p.m.

Module 4 assignment windows will close Fri. April 23 at 11:59 p.m.


5. Journeys in the Space Age, April 26-30

Required Films: 2001—A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick) and “How to Speak Movies: Sound”

Recommended Film: Star Wars (1977, George LUC as) 

Thur April 29 Sci-Fi Film Club Meetings at 3:30-4:20 p.m.

Module 5 assignment windows will close Fri. April 30 11:59 p.m.

EXERCISE 2 DUE: Editing segmentation, Sat. May 8 by 11:59 p.m


6. Aliens in the New Hollywood, May 3-7

Required Films: Alien (1979, Ridley Scott) and Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)

Recommended Film: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977) and E.T.-The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)

Thur May 6 Sci-Fi Film Club meeting 3:30-4:20

Module 6 assignment windows will close Fri. May 7 11:59 p.m.


7. Present Past, May 10-14

Required Films:  Arrival (2016, Denis Villeneuve) and Biidaaban [The Dawn Comes] (2018, Amanda Strong) 19 min., and selections from Time Traveler web series (Skawennati, 2009-2012), episode 1 (5.5 min) and episode 3 (8.5 min).

Recommended Films: Total Recall (1990, Paul Verhoeven) 12 Monkeys (1995, Terry Gilliam), Avatar (2009, James Cameron), and Interstellar (2014, Christopher Nolan).  Please note that these recommended films may also influence our discussions in modules 9 and 10.

Thur May 13 Sci-Fi Film Club Meeting 3:30-4:20 p.m.

Module 7 assignment windows will close Fri. May 14 11:59 p.m.

EXERCISE 3 DUE: Sound Thinking, Sat. May 15 by 11:59 p.m


8.  Metamorphoses, May 17-21

Required Film:  District 9 (2009, Neill Blomkamp)

Recommended Films: The Thing (1982, John Carpenter), The Fly (1986, David Cronenberg), Terminator II: Judgement Day (1991, James Cameron), The Matrix (1999, Wachowskis), X-Men (2000, Bryan Singer),  The Hulk (2003, Ang Lee).  Please note that these recommended films may also influence our discussions in modules 9 and 10.

Thur May 20 Sci-Fi Film Club Meetings 3:30-4:20 p.m.

Module 8 assignment windows will close Fri. May 21 11:59 p.m.


9. Watching Watchmen, May 23-28

Required Viewing: Watchmen (2019, HBO, season 1, eps 1-4)

Thur May 27 Sci-Fi Film Club Meetings 3:30-4:20 p.m.

Module 9 assignment windows will close Fri. May 28 11:59 p.m.


10. Watching Watchmen, cont’d, May 31-June 4

Required: Watchmen (2019, HBO, season 1, eps 5-9)

Thur June 3 Sci-Fi Film Club Meetings 3:30-4:20 p.m.

Module 10 assignment windows will close Fri. June 4 11:59 p.m.

EXERCISE 4 DUE: Script Treatment of Watchmen, season 2, Mon. June 7  11:59 p.m.




Catalog Description: 
Introduction to study of film and/or television genre. Literary, mythic, and historic aspects of film and/or television genre.
Department Requirements Met: 
Pre-req to Declare Cinema & Media Studies Major
GE Requirements Met: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
April 27, 2021 - 6:32pm