Characteristics of the genre
According to Vivian Sobchack, an American cinema and media theorist and cultural critic:
Science fiction film is a film genre which emphasizes actual, extrapolative, or 2.0 speculative science and the empirical method, interacting in a social context with the lesser emphasized, but still present, transcendentalism of magic and religion, in an attempt to reconcile man with the unknown (Sobchack 63).
This definition suggests a continuum between (real-world) empiricism and (supernatural) transcendentalism, with science fiction film on the side of empiricism, and horror film and fantasy film on the side of transcendentalism. However, there are numerous well-known examples of science fiction horror films, epitomized by such pictures as Frankenstein and Alien.
The visual style of science fiction film can be characterized by a clash between alien and familiar images. This clash is implemented when alien images become familiar, as in A Clockwork Orange, when the repetitions of the Korova Milkbar make the alien decor seem more familiar. As well, familiar images become alien, as in the films Repo Man and Liquid Sky. For example, in Dr. Strangelove, the, distortion of the humans make the familiar images seem more alien. Finally, alien and familiar images are juxtaposed, as in The Deadly Mantis, when a giant praying mantis is shown climbing the Washington Monument.
Cultural theorist Scott Bukatman has proposed that science fiction film allows contemporary culture to witness an expression of the sublime, be it through exaggerated scale, apocalypse or transcendence.