Science fiction research

So What is Science Fiction? Themes and contexts part 2

I’m continuing with my research into science fiction as a whole and the breakdown of the themes highlighted in Science Fiction Cinema: From Outerspace to Cyberspace. Because my project focuses on earth-bound science fiction I won’t go into great detail about some of the themes, but this is a brief description with sample pictures of the next two that feature in both film and literature.

Travels in space and  time

Probably one of the most well-known science fiction themes in cinema. It provides stories that can be either realistic in terms of what was technologically possible at the time that the film/book was made, or pure fantasy. With space travel, the genre has taken us from the retro, colourful  This Island Earth (1954) through to the more  realistic visions of Apollo 13 (1995)  in which technology fails and human bravery and ingenuity is at the forefront of the story.

ThisIslandEarth00

This Island Earth picture available from http://www.retrocinema.wetcircuit.com/films/this-island-earth/

apollo_13_16

Apollo 13 picture available from  http://www.blu-ray.poral.net/apollo_13.php courtesy of Universal Pictures

Science fiction not only takes us beyond this world but to other times. A perfect example of this is Back to The Future (1985) in which a DeLorean car is made into a time machine. It highlights the brilliance of the mad scientist but more importantly that time is a concept that should not be tampered with; that every time an alteration is made in the past, no matter how small, it can have far-reaching consequences in the future.

“Time travel broadens the visual scope of science fiction because it allows its stars to be shown in various costume styles and interacting with important historical events” (KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. pg. 26)

This makes the theme particularly popular in cinema providing the chance to use all manner of technologies and design approaches available to the filmmaker. At the opposite end of the scale, the much darker approach to time travel can be seen in films like The Terminator  and  Twelve Monkeys (1995) both showing the future world as dystopian or post apocalyptic and the present as a preferable time to live in. Here changing things in the present can be seen as a good intervention, preventing the cataclysmic events of the future. In these films maybe we can learn something from knowing what the future is, then time travel becomes humanity’s saviour.

“The Dystopias of recent Hollywood science fiction have a seductive appeal to some viewers, combined with a sense of horror.” (KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. pg. 27)

Time travel, post apocalyptic and dystopian themes combine well with horror and is another good example of themes overlapping in science fiction. I will look at some of these cross overs in later posts.

twelve-monkeys-bruce-willis

Twelve Monkeys available at http://www.scriptgodsmustdie.com/2010/09/format-18-screen-direction-the-absolute-last-word/ courtesy of Universal Pictures

terminator 2

Image from  The Terminator 2: Judgement Day  available at   http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1147444736/tt0103064?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_prd_41

References:-

KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000.  Science Fiction Cinema: From Outerspace to Cyberspace. London: Wallflower Press

http://www.retrocinema.wetcircuit.com/films/this-island-earth/ [sourced on 22/01/14]

http://www.blu-ray.poral.net/apollo_13.php [sourced on 22/01/14]

http://www.scriptgodsmustdie.com/2010/09/format-18-screen-direction-the-absolute-last-word/ [sourced on 23/01/14]

http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1147444736/tt0103064?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_prd_41 [sourced on 23/01/14]

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Categories: General research, Science fiction research | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So What is Science Fiction? Themes and contexts part 1

Science fiction or science fact? For me it’s a case of science fact to come… It’s a speculative future based around what is already known, what is being discovered and possibly what  could be if  humans continue with over consumption or certain kinds of technological advancement.

According to KING & KRZYWINSKA science fiction can be broken up into different themes. I will look at each of these in turn over the next week or two:-

Human versus science (technology)

Dystopian versus Utopia

Travelling in space and through time

Gender and sex

Images of the scientist: from nerd to madmen

Others: Aliens, Cyborgs and Artificial Intelligences

Horror

post modern

“Spectacle and speculation sum up two key dimensions of the genre. In imaginatively figuring the future(or an alternative past or present) science fiction films can be seen to some extent as measures of the hopes and fears of the cultures in which the films are produced and consumed”(KING, G., KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000)

I think that this statement does go some way to explain what the genre is and  the reasons behind the popularity of science fiction as a whole.

It is educating and allowing us to test our fears, push them to the limits. Science fiction is about the good and bad in society and my project  sub genre of the dystopian and post apocalyptic story  takes the audience or reader into the realms of terror, albeit as a result of man  or as an act of God ( meteors, earthquakes, viruses).

“Many science fiction films can be read as explorations of the fate of humanity in a world often depicted as increasingly dominated by the products of science, technology and rationality.” (KING, G.,KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000)

A brief description of the themes:-

Human versus science (technology)

Within this theme we see films that show the central character as a human, usually fighting against or having to deal with technological advancements, good or bad including aliens, cyborgs, artificial intelligence etc.. They often use the fear of technology as storyline and show the potential or fate of humanity. These stories usually show human emotion and intuition as obsolete and the rational thought of science as the dominant  force.

Dystopian versus Utopian

Two complete opposite worlds. Utopia is shown as perfect untroubled worlds in which there is no crime or disease. Science is seen as the saviour of mankind. These worlds are idealistic but are often  soulless and less human. In Utopia, the scientist is heroic and a visionary. But, there is a tendency to use the utopian film to show that perfect usually means oppression.

“Science is supposed to offer a means of challenging ancient superstitions, beliefs and prejudices, providing a more rational way of understanding and behaving” (KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p 13)

But this approach to science removes the human and is a form of oppression. This leads to dystopia.

logans

Image above from Logan’s Run (1976) picture courtesy of MGM available at http://www.imdb.com/media/rm3395655680/tt0074812?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_sf_3

A perfect example of utopian becoming dystopian, an idealistic life with one draw back–that life has to end at the age of  30.

Dystopian worlds are utopian worlds that have failed. In these films science and the scientist are seen as evil. Technology is a threat to  humanity which in turn puts the human and human emotions back in the centre of the story. This is probably one reason why Dystopia is more dominant in cinema as the characters are more believable and easy to relate to. It also provides the emotion needed for good story telling.

“Any kind of realised utopia might be rather tedious., lacking the tension and conflict often basic to narrative” (KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p 16)

Both the themes of human versus science and dystopia versus utopia can overlap, as the central driving force of science and the control/advancement of technology are present. Films like The Matrix (1999)  fall into both themes as humans are used as energy to power a race of machines.

the-matrix

Image sourced from http://www.repugnant-conclusion.com/the-matrix.html courtesy  of Warner Bros

References:-

KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. Science Fiction Cinema: From Outerspace to Cyberspace. London: Wallflower press

http://www.repugnant-conclusion.com/the-matrix.html [sourced on 21/01/14]

http://www.imdb.com/media/rm3395655680/tt0074812?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_sf_3 [sourced on 21/01/14]

Categories: Dystopian and post-apocalyptic philosophy, General research, Science fiction research | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Science Fiction: A brief history

This last week I  looked at the origins of science fiction. What’s interesting is the way the genre reflects its time, not only socially but aesthetically. Science fiction as a genre began back in the 1890’s with writers like H.G. Wells with such novels as War of The Worlds and The Time Machine both of which show a cultural fascination with the future of mankind. Combining science and the power of the divine apocalypse, stories of dying worlds and alien attacks opened up the imagination and spurred on the continued growth and interest in the genre throughout the 20th Century. As cinema developed in the early 20th century novels were turned into film, with H.G. Well’s The Shape of things to Come. The visually bold  Metropolis in 1927 depicted the city as a vertical, mechanical image of capitalism, which aesthetically and socially was very much a product of its time. (BARNWELL, J., 2004, p100). Metropolis introduced the world to the city of the future.

hg wells npr images7U5SULWN met metropolis-from-above

Above images from Metropolis and War of The Worlds http://2012.futureeverything.org/music/dieter-moebius-polinski/    https://film110sp12.pbworks.com/w/page/50385313/Metropolis’s%20Influence%20on%20Future%20Film   http://www.war-ofthe-worlds.co.uk/war_of_the_worlds.htm

It’s no surprise that aesthetically films took on elements of the decades in which they were made. Metropolis used art deco for its posters and Russian constructivist art, an art movement  that spanned the years between 1913-1940s. “Constructivist art is committed to complete abstraction with a devotion to modernity, where themes are often geometric, experimental and rarely emotional”

VladimirTatlin-Monument-to-the-Third-International-1919-20

Art work by Vladimir Tatlin: Monument to the Third International” (1919-20, Moscow) http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/constructivism/

Science Fiction continued to reflect the social, political and cultural climate as it progressed through the 20th Century. During the 1950’s the film industry turned its attentions to the teenage audience also, producing low-budget B movies that were built on the popularity of magazines such as EC Comics and Weird Tales (1923-1954) (KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p4). So cinema was constantly drawing on inspiration from literature. It also drew on the political climate.

“Many can be related to concerns about the cold war and/or nuclear weapons, including a large group labelled ‘invasion narratives’ ”

This was hardly surprising given the devastation seen world-wide at the end of World War 2 with the bombing of Hiroshima. We saw what was possible with science, both the good and the bad, and science fiction continued to feed on this.  Invasion films were also in the social arena at this time as the momentum of the space program grew., though this was not a new concept with the earlier works of H.G.Wells. Technological advances made it possible and all the more real. Space travel was driven by the cold war and space race between USSR and the US and in 1957 the world saw Sputnik 1, the first man-made object in space, closely followed by the first human in space in 1961.

Then came the films during the 1960′ and 70’s that looked at science fiction in everyday life with mundane suburbia being turned on its head with films like Village of the Damned (1960) and  The Stepford Wives (1975). This was a result of America’s sociologists fearing that the American suburban family was ” … sinking into a morass of suburban conformity and complacency.” ( KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p 6)

So science fiction continued to find inspiration in the social contexts and it seemed that audiences wanted more. The film industry knew that these kinds of films were a lucrative business. “Suddenly, science fiction films were viewed as financially profitable and audiences  flocked to the theatres and craved more” (filmsite.org. on-line)

Money had its part to play in the audience/popularity story and later in the 20th century cinema was able to take audiences to far off galaxies in a visually realistic and engaging way with Star Wars (1977). Star Wars used the age-old tale of good versus evil and was often referred to a ‘western’ in space ( KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA, T., 2000. p 10). It mixed genres including fantasy with the presence of a magical force that binds everything together known as ‘The Force’. Spectacle had finally arrived in Hollywood and technology seemed to be leading the way in terms of how things were being produced and were going to be produced in the future.

But the social context always had an influence over the story that was to be told. The years following saw Virtual Reality/ computer versus human films  like The Lawnmower Man and The Matrix Trilogy . Invasion films like Independence Day continued to pull the audiences with special effects and the post apocalyptic/dystopian futures have seen a rise in popularity again due to environmental issues/politics and the war on terrorism  with The Hunger Games , The Road , The Terminator  combining horror and science fiction and creating all too believable outcomes for humankind.

References:-

KING, G., & KRZYWINSKA Science Fiction Cinema: From Outerspace to Cyberspace. 2000. London: Wallflower Press

BARNWELL, J., Production Design: Architects of the screen. 2004. London/New York: Wallflower Press

http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/constructivism/ [sourced on 15/01/14]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_exploration [sourced on 15/01/14]

http://www.filmsite.org/sci-fifilms2.html [sourced on 15/01/14]

http://2012.futureeverything.org/music/dieter-moebius-polinski/  [sourced on 15/01/14]

https://film110sp12.pbworks.com/w/page/50385313/Metropolis’s%20Influence%20on%20Future%20Film [sourced on 15/01/14]

http://www.war-ofthe-worlds.co.uk/war_of_the_worlds.htm [sourced on 15/01/14]

Categories: General research, Science fiction research | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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