Serious about sci-fi
I have written about science fiction in the cinema before and students of the Film Culture course will know that the genre features in it too. At this time of year I am occupied most evenings – and on rainy afternoons too – watching the latest releases and catching up on what I have missed this year in order to have a view about which films to vote for in the 2017 BAFTA awards.
To me, there is simply no substitute to watching movies on a giant screen and sci-fi has to be seen this way to be fully appreciated. There has been much talk about the resurgence of science fiction, especially out of Hollywood recently and one only has to sit in the cinema and watch the current flush of trailers to see what is in store over the festive season. I feel an obligation to watch many of the latest offerings out of a sense of duty, rather than curiosity or in the faint hope of some enjoyment. These trailers simply reinforce the heart-sinking emotion of base cliché, the triumph of CGI over a decent script and a narrative that prohibits the suspension of disbelief. Successful science fiction requires the audience to leave its incredulity at the cinema entrance and to go with the flow and I doubt very much that Morten Tyldum’s Passengers will do that for me. Roland Emmerich had a hit in 1996 with the thoroughly idiotic but enjoyable Independence Day. He did a ‘take two’ this year with a real dog, Independence Day Resurgence. I can only hope it cost the studio dear.
Thankfully there have been and remain notable exceptions and the course explores some of the great and landmark works of sci-fi. Perhaps a name that can be added to the pantheon of great directors – Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, Georges Méliès and Ridley Scott amongst many, might be Denis Villeneuve whose latest release, Arrival, is well worth watching in my opinion and most definitely on a very large screen! Beautifully filmed by Seamus McGarvey and with a wonderful soundtrack, sound design and score by Abel Korzeniowski, the film uses the familiar theme of extra-terrestrial invasion to explore the great universal themes of love, loss and communication, playing intelligently with the idea of non-linear time. The film stands alongside other fine examples, Stephen Spielberg’s 1982 family favourite, E.T – the Extra-Terrestrial, Nick Roeg’s wonderful 1976 classic staring the late David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth and Byron Haskin’s 1953 classic, The War of the Worlds. This was a movie that reflected much of America’s Cold War paranoia. For those who haven’t yet seen Arrival, I won’t spoil the end, but it is worth reflecting on the final message of the film in these socially and politically disruptive times.
As an aside, the female lead, Louise, played by Amy Adams is the second film I have seen her star in this year, the other being another terrific movie, Nocturnal Animals, directed by Tom Ford. Question. Will either be nominated for any awards?
So, is Villeneuve the latest cinematic master of sci-fi? Well, he is tackling one of my all-time favourites, Ridley Scott’s 1989 classic, Blade Runner – including Harrison Ford returning as Dick Deckard in a sequel, Blade Runner 2049. But we shall all have to wait another year to see if he cuts the mustard. According to his IMDb profile his favourite film is 2001 a Space Odyssey so he can do little wrong in my book. He is certainly a new-generation Hollywood director whose work stands out and is worth further study.