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SFFH in Film, TV, and other NonTextual Media

Tuesday 30 April 2002

§ TV Guide's 50 Greatest Shows of All Time includes

  • The Simpsons at #8,
  • The Twilight Zone at #26,
  • The X-Files at #37,
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer at #41,
  • Twin Peaks at #45,
  • and Star Trek: the Next Generation at #46.

(But not the original Star Trek...)

§ Here's a detailed, well-informed article by Alexander Star in Slate about "The Filming of Philip K. Dick". discussing Blade Runner and other past films (among them, a 1992 French adaptation of Confessions of a Crap Artist) as well as Minority Report and other potential films...

But the best cinematic treatment of Dick's concerns may be a movie with no explicit connection to any of his writings: last year's Memento. The materials of the film are deliberately generic: We trace a tired murder mystery through the anonymous motels, deserted warehouses, and leafy villas of the B-movie ecosystem. Against this plain backdrop, the film's cognitive dislocations stand out dramatically. ... Dick himself was fascinated by the reversal of time. Influenced by a case study by the existential psychoanalyst Ludwig Binswanger, he returned again and again to the notion of a moldering "tomb world" where all the usual processes of growth and development that characterize life are reversed. In his spectacular 1969 novel UBIK, he envisioned a strange environment where everyday objects revert to earlier versions of themselves: Sleek modern elevators and airplanes become antiques, and "all the cigarettes in the world are stale." In a film scenario for the novel, Dick suggested the use of older and older film stocks and directing techniques as the film progressed. (Nothing ever came of it, though John Lennon did express some interest in filming Dick's equally remarkable novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.)
(There's also a link to Star's 1993 New Republic article about PKD.)

§ Speaking of Blade Runner, here's a Gadfly article by John W. Whitehead (with references to Bukatman, Sammon, and Spinrad) about the film, which was released 20 years ago.

No film sets have ever so surrounded the actors as those in Blade Runner. Adapted from Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), Scott gives us his great masterpiece of "future noir," paying homage to the Expressionism that ruled in many of the dark classics of the 1940s. Most, however, do not know that it was a seven-year odyssey to bring this film to the big screen. In fact, the great difficulty and draining circumstances surrounding the making of Blade Runner may have been why it took Scott so long to regain his stride—and only recently with Gladiator (2000), Hannibal (2001) and Black Hawk Down (2001).

§ So what did China Miéville think of The Lord of the Rings? (With some background on Tolkien's idea of fantasy as "consolation".)

The Guardian review of the film managed completely to miss this point, complaining about the 'leap of faith' necessary to inhabit the film's universe and sneering at actors 'deadpanning' lines about orcs and elves. This is precisely the film's strength. The actors are not 'deadpanning' but acting, immersing themselves in Tolkien's world. Jackson is admirably out of step with the Hollywood mainstream, in which directors wink at and nudge their audience tediously, undercutting passion with heavy-handed 'referentiality' and in-jokes. This is the postmodernism of philistines, and Jackson disdains it. Instead he cares passionately, even about something as flawed as Tolkien's work, and commits to it totally. The film is rich with this integrity.
Socialist Workers Party January 2002

Wednesday 10 April 2002

§ Forget Joseph Campbell, the origins of George Lucas's Star Wars saga lie in 20th century genre SF, especially in E.E. "Doc" Smith and Leigh Brackett. But it's a better story to play up the classics, as Time Magazine did in its 1980 profile of Lucas.

The long and noteworthy career of Leigh Brackett, needless to say, figures in none of this; her links to a despised genre made her invisible to the pop-culture savants at Time. Lucas himself, who had guardedly acknowledged three years earlier that he enjoyed science fiction, now offers a carefully pruned reading list. "I wanted 'Star Wars' to have an epic quality, so I went back to the epics," he says. "Whether they are subconscious or unconscious, whatever needs they meet, they are stories that have pleased or provided comfort to people for thousands of years." Not only that, they aren't protected by copyright laws.

Better still, "the epics" make for an infinitely classier set of influences than stories rooted in what remains one of the most stubbornly down-market literary genres America has produced. Would an eminence grise like Bill Moyers want to be seen trifling with spaceships and ray guns?
— Steven Hart, "Galactic Gasbag" in Salon April 10, 2002

§ Earlier in the week Salon published a "Masterpiece" article by Mark Holcomb about the early '60s TV series The Outer Limits.

The heady synthesis of [Joseph] Stefano's dark vision and [Leslie] Stevens' ethereal ambition made "The Outer Limits" a far richer experience than the other science-fiction and fantasy series of the era. While justifiably adored, shows like Rod Serling's jazzy, pedagogical masterwork "The Twilight Zone" and Gene Roddenberry's insta-kitsch classic, "Star Trek," persist largely because they never stray far from the rationalism that drives most American entertainment. ... "The Outer Limits" wouldn't, or couldn't, cater to such needs.
Salon April 8, 2002

§ And earlier in the "Masterpiece" series was this on 2001: A Space Odyssey.

...although Kubrick and Clarke toyed with the idea, we never actually see the aliens, which is perhaps the best decision made in "2001: A Space Odyssey." Sci-fi aliens that we do see in cinema are almost always a disappointment; they rob us of our imagination -- something Kubrick never lets happen in this film.
Salon March 5, 2002

§ Speaking of 2001, was its film sequel really all that bad?

[Peter] Hyams’s movie is 180-degrees different than 2001, but utilizes the now-famous symbols that Kubrick birthed—the monolith, the fetus, the astronaut David Bowman, and the spaceship Discovery ...

Many would suggest that this very concept was an outrage, that Kubrick’s symbols were somehow holy and should exist only as he left them, as wonderfully rich enigmas. Hyams and Clarke took a different view; 2001 was a film that demanded an intellectual and spiritual response from anyone who saw it; 2010 was their response.
— Daniel Kraus, Gadfly Online

§ A large part of the success of The Lord of the Rings lies with computer culture, and the way it looks at the world, says Sherry Turkle.

Frodo, the hero of "The Lord of the Rings," is part of a fellowship, although it is more properly called a fraternity: in Tolkien's world, the men bond. The few females are loved and feared as icons or charms.

And the computer culture, by and large, is a world built by engineers for engineers, by men for men. (This is a culture that found it natural to have "abort, terminate, and fail" as three choices on a screen prompt.) Like Tolkien's world, most computer games are about mastery through violence; they serve as a socialization into the computer culture for adolescent boys.
New York Times March 7, 2002

Friday 5 April 2002

§ Gene Roddenberry's famous liberal Utopianism has been subverted by the latest Star Trek incarnation, Enterprise...

Science fiction routinely gets away with subversive gestures that would never be allowed in any realistic program. Thus it is that people who don't watch Star Trek are probably unaware that its vision of our future is socialistic, anti-imperialist and passionately committed to expanding the list of sentient life forms who are judged to have rights and acknowledged to be persons. ... [But] watching the first season of the latest Trek vehicle, Enterprise, I've felt...nausea and horror. It takes Star Trek so far backward that it's like Buffy becoming a sex slave chained to a bed for the rest of her television career.
All the previous Star Trek series, over three decades, have been about becoming progressively more catholic, more aware of the astonishing diversity of the galaxy, the provincial limitedness of one's own assumptions and one's own potential to harm people who are different. The newest offering is a frank vehicle for white male suprematism and resentment.
— Donna Minkowitz, The Nation March 25, 2002

§ You've heard of the Saturn Awards, perhaps, but, you don't think they mean much of anything, Paul Riddell hopes:

The fact that Tomb Raider and The One were even nominated for Best Science Fiction Film is an argument for taking everyone from the Saturns out back and beating them with garden hoses until they repent. The same for The Mummy Returns getting a nomination for Best Fantasy Film or Jeepers Creepers for Best Horror Film. A little romantic comedy like Serendipity being recognized for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor is a nice touch considering the fantastic elements, but this is from the same crew that completely ignored the parallel reality aspects of Run Lola Run three years ago. The TV nominations are even more of a joke...

Everything nominated for Saturn Awards:

RevolutionSF March 15

§ Andy Duncan writes...

The March 17 New York Times has an interesting profile [lead paragraph link], by Karen Durbin of Elle, of Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron. At the end, Cuaron discusses an upcoming project:
"'I've been writing this science fiction thriller thing that I hope will be my next movie,' he said. Called 'Children of Men,' it describes a world in the not too distant future in which, for reasons unknown, no children have been born for 18 years, with the prospect that humanity will cease to exist. The premise is a classic trope of post-apocalyptic science fiction, but Mr. Cuaron is inflecting it with contradictory shades of dark and light, not to mention his own buoyant spirit.

"He launches into an excited description: 'The U.S. collapses, Europe collapses and one of the last remaining civilizations is England, because it's an island. But it's become a police state. I like movies that deal with contemporary issues, like terrorism and refugee camps and globalization and immigration and deportation and communities.'

"'Ultimately,' he says cheerfully, 'it's a movie about hope.'"
That it may be, but Locus readers also will recognize the screenplay in progress, as Durbin and her editors apparently didn't, as an adaptation of P.D. James' sf novel The Children of Men. I don't know whether Cuaron intentionally let Durbin think this was all his original idea, but if he did, I guess we can chalk it up to his buoyant spirit.

§ Jay Kensinger has made a 40-minute movie of Paul Levinson's "The Chronology Protection Case". The novelette, first published in Analog, was a Nebula nominee in 1996, and marked the first appearance of Dr. Phil D'Amato, NYPD forensic detective, who appears in The Silk Code and The Consciousness Plague. Kensinger and Levinson will be on hand for the debut screening of "The Chronology Protection Case" at I-CON 21, on April 20, in Stony Brook, NY.

Levinson also is interviewed in "Fantastic Voyage: The Amazing History of Science Fiction," a 90-minute documentary to be shown on the History Channel this May.

§ A series of online petitions (and emails to Locus Online) protests SciFi's cancellation of the series The Invisible Man...

§ Backlog:

"Lord of the Rings" vs. "Star Wars": Peter Jackson's glorified video trivia game doesn't hold up to the grandly human epic that defined a generation.

Salon Jan. 9, 2002

December Media Refractions

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