If sci-fi movies have taught us anything, it’s that the future is hardly a safe place. Whether it’s invading aliens, rogue robots or a repressive, dystopian regime, science-fiction worlds need defending (or attacking), meaning the genre is forever filled with a wide, often fascinating array of weapons, going all the way back to the classic raygun.
There’s seemingly no limit to the range of death-dealing devices cinema has come up with for its futuristic (or cosmically fantastical) adventures, from an arrow guided by whistles (as seen in Guardians of the Galaxy) to, well, the planet-destroying Death Star. But the weapon has to feel right for the movie in question, and in turn can tell you a lot about a particular film’s aesthetic and theme – as the selection of classic sci-fi blasters included in Prop Store’s upcoming Entertainment Memorabilia LA auction reveals.
Forbidden Planet (1956) Blaster Pistol
This classic, space-operatic take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest perfectly encapsulates ’50s sci-fi, with its bright, clean, smooth-edged vision of the future, which reflects the era’s sense of broadly optimistic technological progress, despite the darker fears and concerns which lurked beneath (thanks to the escalating Cold War). The sidearms carried by the crew of United Planets Cruiser C-57D are therefore probably the first thing you’d imagine if someone said the word “raygun” to you: solid, chunky and with a glowing, conical tip.
Of course, it doesn’t look much like a real-world weapon, but Forbidden Planet was notable for being the first major sci-fi film to be entirely set many lightyears from Earth. Everything about it was, quite literally, out of this world.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) Borg Forearm Phaser
Over time, the raygun evolved into the familiar form of the phaser in Star Trek – a weapon most notable for reflecting the show’s (and film series’) progressive, Utopian tendencies by including a non-lethal setting. Although in the wrong hands it can still disintegrate people (in a neat, clean way that kept both the original series and its Next Generation follow-ups suitable for family viewing), as this auction’s Borg forearm phaser reminds us.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) Rebel Trooper Blaster
There’s a very telling difference in style between the guns of Star Trek and Star Wars. To a large degree, this is down to the fact that the former series is set in a defined future, whereas the latter is mythically positioned in a dim, distant past. And that word ‘mythical’ is important: George Lucas deliberately drew from a variety of popular myths to create his universe, including Arthurian legend, the Wild West and the war movies he grew up on during the late ’40s and ’50s.
So rather than imagining what weapons might one day look like, the Star Wars creative team instead grabbed recognisable bits and pieces from weapons that already existed. Hence this Rebel Trooper Blaster, which was based closely on the Sterling submachine gun, a firearm that was standard issue in the British army from 1953, though was brought in as a replacement for the Sten during World War II.
Of course, it has some ‘futuristic’ touches, like its scope and its flash suppressor, but it has a tangible, scuffed relatability that shot through every aspect of the original trilogy and made it so visually remarkable and effective.
Aliens (1986) Vasquez’s M-41A Pulse Rifle
Star Wars wasn’t the only sci-fi to look back to World War II for its inspiration. When designing the iconic pulse rifle, carried by the ill-fated colonial marines on the xenomorph-infested moon of LV-426, director James Cameron and armorer Simon Atherton drew from the look of the M1A1 Thompson submachine gun, which was used during that conflict. However, it does have a more modern touch thanks to its grenade launcher element, which was drawn from the SPAS-12 pump-action shotgun – a French weapon manufactured in 1979.
It’s notable that, unlike most previous sci-fis, the primary firearm of Aliens is a projectile weapon, spitting bullets and bombs rather than laser blasts. Given the inspiration of the Vietnam War on the story (overconfident, well-armed troops being overwhelmed by a foe while they’re far from home), this makes a lot of sense. The closer the colonial marines look and feel to the GIs sent to the jungles of Southeast Asia, the harder that parallel hits home.
These pieces featured in this blog and over 1300 more lots of iconic props and costumes will be open for bidding in our Entertainment Memorabilia Live Auction – Los Angeles starting June 1st. See the full auction catalog HERE.
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