Monday, 13 December 2010

Science Fiction

Having never really been that big a fan of science fiction films, I can't say that I was really looking forward to this lecture, however a few interesting points grabbed my attention.
Bill spoke about the concept of the 'controlled world' which is a recurring theme in many science fiction films (e.g. Forbidden Planet, Lawnmower Man, The Matrix) all of which are examples of films where humans have used technology to control everything about their environments. The example which I found the most interesting was Metropolis (1927) in which the humans construct an 'Eternal Garden' with a huge wall separating the workers of the city from the rich. This concept reminded me very much of the short story 'The Selfish Giant' by Oscar Wilde, in which a giant constructs a high wall around his perfect garden in order to keep children out, therefore controlling his environment. 

Metropolis (1927)
The Selfish Giant - Oscar Wilde

Intertextuality again! Does this mean that Wilde's story could be classed as science fiction? The giant does, after all, control his own environment and is an other-worldly being. Or did this idea just pave the way to a much more stereotypically sci-fi film? This relates to another idea which was discussed in the lecture concerning genre and whether films can ever exist exclusively in one category. One example which was discussed was the 1998 film The Truman Show, which has been described as a comedy-drama. Although it is true to say that both of these genres can be applied to this film, Bill argued that it is also a science fiction film because of the way in which Truman exists in a fictional universe or a 'controlled environment' similar to those mentioned earlier. 

It goes without saying that visual effects play a huge part in sci-fi films, as the whole point of them is to display to the viewer fantastical worlds and creatures which could never exist in reality, things which can only be achieved through cinematic effects. I was interested to learn that in the iconic chest-bursting scene the actors in the film Alien (1979) were unaware of the creature that was about to explode from Kane's chest. I absolutely love this! It just goes to prove that there is something particularly special about the use of physical props and models as they are able to provoke real, honest reactions which cannot be matched with the use of CGI. 

"You can act, sure, but when you're surprised, that's gold" - Sigourney Weaver

Signourney Weaver said at the time "All it said in the script was 'this thing emerges'...all I could think of was John (Hurt - the actor playing Kane). I wasn't even thinking that we were making a movie."  The combination of this genuine reaction from the cast along with the use of model effects which had not been done to this standard before helped to make this scene one of the most iconic from all sci-fi movies.

During the seminar, we discussed the idea that most sci-fi films have a futuristic element to them. Ivan talked about the way in which, during the 1970s and up until very recently, our idea of the future was a very sterile environment with no organic materials but instead metal, plastic and glass. Colours generally associated with the future would be silver and white, with the most common method of transport being hovercraft. However, in much more recent interpretations of the future there has been a return to much more simple aesthetics, something which Ivan referred to as 'nostalgia for the future'. 
The best example of this that I could think of, I'm afraid, is Doctor Who. Having a younger sister who is obsessed with all things Doctor Who-related, this is probably the best sci-fi reference I have. In the episode 'New Earth', we see a view of earth in the year five billion and twenty-three, and it is everything that you would expect from a view of the future.

New Earth - Doctor Who
The Doctor then revisits New Earth 30 years later and everything is much less sterile and gleaming white. Instead, the people of New Earth seem to have returned to very old fashion tastes and although they are surrounded by new technologies, they appear to be from years before even the present day. 

This was a clever concept as it forces the viewer to break their stereotypical views of what the future might be like. Although the hover cars still remain, they now resemble dirty subway trains instead of shiny bubble cars like before. This concept of futuristic ideas being influenced by old techniques and technologies is known as 'steam punk', something which is being featured more and more prominently in the world of science fiction.

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