Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Conventions of Science Fiction Films

There is always a question on conventions of the genre. You will need to be able to reference other films when you answer this. Over the last few weeks, there have been any number of sci-fi films on TV and we have a selection of the video server that you can access from outside school. You have been reminded several times to watch some.
Let’s say the question gives you FOUR typical science fiction conventions and asks you to write about them. To ensure you get some marks, you’ll need to refer to TWO actual films. Some of these categories will blend with others
Dystopian futureMetropolis (1927), Elysium (2013), Terminator 2 (1991), I Am Legend (2007) – and many more… How is the idea of a Dystopian future used in these films? A little bit of Wikipedia research will soon answer that, even if you haven’t seen the films. Dystopian films are often meant to be a warning against something – class division (Metropolis, Elysium); increasing technologisation of society (Terminator2 – but I’m sure you can think of other examples)
Alien InvasionIndependence Day (1996), The War of the Worlds (1953 and 2005), The Thing From Another World (1951), The Mist (2007). Do the same. Why do the aliens invade? How are they defeated? Talk about a couple of significant points – all these films, for instance show Americans overcoming the alien forces, though The Mist has a tragic ending. Independence Day had Americans from all walks of life united to defeat the invaders; in The Mist, they bicker and quarrel and remain divided so many are killed; even at the end, the ‘hero’ kills his son and the survivors (but doesn’t have the nerve to kill himself, as they had planned), fearing that the aliens are about to get them – but it turns out that the sounds of alien craft they heard were from the army who were in the process of defeating the aliens.
What do these films have in common – big set pieces – think of the battles in Independence Day or the scene where the scientists put the virus on the mothership - and special effects, CGI in the more recent films. Most – The Mist being the exception, seem to extol American ideology in that people pull together to defeat the bad guys.
A lot of alien invasion films depict the aliens as bad guys without much in the way of a motive, like the way Indians were depicted in countless Westerns in the past, but sometimes that isn’t the case. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) shows mankind willing to benefit from alien knowledge and the aliens returning people they had abducted in the past and allowing people from earth on board their ship for further study.
Many alien invasion films of the 1950s symbolise the threat America felt from Russian invasion – in The Thing from Another World, the scientist who wants to befriend the alien is dressed in a fur hat and has a Lenin beard. In The War of the Worlds (1953 version), the people initially approach the Martians to be their friends, but are instantly killed, as if warning people what would happen if you befriended the Russians. As in other genres, not all films were like this. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) is a stark warning against arms build-up. When the alien arrives, he is shot by a panicky soldier and a huge robot emerges from the alien craft and disintegrates the army’s vehicles and weapons, but he has come to earth to warn them about the creation of weapons and their use and reminds them that if they don’t join the other planets in peace, earth will be destroyed and left as a burnt out cinder, which, of course, the fear of many people who were against the build-up of nuclear weapons.
Space travel/other planets – way too many and too many variants to mention, but, come on, think of the Star Trek movies, exploring space and trying to create peace amongst warring peoples but not before getting involved in some serious CGI action of their own. Star Wars (1977)? Battles between rebels and various regimes – and we can see this in some of the dystopian films where a rebel force or a rebel group or even just a rebel hero (Elysium) fight the system. More ‘realistic’ space films, like Gravity? Space films that take a different turn of events, like Alien (1979), where the crew of a space cargo ship are diverted to another planet and unknowingly, pick up another life form which escapes onto the ship, grows and terrorises them, picking them off one-by one until only the Last Girl – in this case, Ripley – is left to use her ingenuity to kill it. This is also notable for involving conspiratorial elements, because the company the crew work for forced them to pick the alien (though it’s not made clear why) and one of the crew is a lifelike robot, whose treachery isn’t discovered until later. So… this one ticks off the artificial life/dangers of advanced technology box too.
Again, in these films, you’re looking at big set pieces and mostly CGI, although earlier films relied on more primitive special effects. Forbidden Planet (1953) features a group of Americans who land on a planet occupied by a stranded scientist, Morbius and his daughter. Morbius claims his craft. Morbius has been using the technology of an extinct native race, The Krell, which he discovered in a vast underground complex. He refuses to turn it over to the astronauts, but that night an alien invader (no CGI, but animated by Disney animators on a special contract because the film was made by MGM) attacks their ship. Later, they realise the Krell machinery was built to materialize anything the Krell could imagine and this has affected Morbius who has unwittingly created the monster to keep the earthmen away. Eventually, they start an irreversible reaction in the Krell machine and escape the planet to see it blow up from space – though not before Morbius has perished. A major feature of the film was Robby the robot, created by Morbius using Krell technology – though he’s a good ‘guy’ in the film. He was so popular that he tuned up (under a different name) in other films of the period.
Technology – think of technology gone wrong. The Demon Seed (1977) – Proteus, an advanced artifical intelligence programme, takes over the house of its creator, trapping his wife inside, where he forces her to conceive (don’t ask the details…). Although the programme is destroyed, the resultant child, initially encased in metal, turns out to be a clone of the couple’s existing child but speaks with Proteus’ voice.
Terminator 2 (1991) – in the future, an army of robotic warriors terrorises the remaining human population, so the humans send a good terminator (Schwarzenegger) back in time to protect the future leader of the resistance and his mother while the robots send an evil, more advanced terminator, to kill them. This is the second film in the sequence and in the first, Schwarzenegger played the evil terminator, so, at first, people assume he’s evil here and he dresses all in black and rides a motorbike to add to that feeling; ironically, the real evil terminator initially disguises himself as a policeman. It’s best not to think of the logic of this, but the arm of the terminator (who had also come from the future) in the first film will be used to by the company SkyNet to create artificial intelligence so Schwarzenegger and the rebels – they’re rebels because no-one in authority will believe them – have to destroy the arm – and after destroying the it and the evil terminator, the good terminator has to sacrifice himself to stop his body being used to develop an artificial intelligence that will turn evil.
Environmental disaster/genetic engineering – it was a common theme in 1950s film, reflecting the fear of radioactivity and the atom bomb, that things would mutate and create havoc – hence the giant ants of Them! (1954) or the sea monster awoken from the depths of the sea (Godzilla – a Japanese film (1954)). These are strange films that warn of the dangers of science but often like Them!, use science to defeat them. Same happens in The Thing From Another World, where the soldiers and scientists use science to create an electrical field that destroys the alien, even though the chief scientist is represented as a traitor. Of course, this theme is picked up in films showing the dangers of technologisation.
Look at the Jurassic Park/Lost World films for the dangers of genetic engineering gone wrong. Look at Mimic (1997) – a plague carried by cockroaches is destroyed by Dr Susan Tyler when she uses genetic engineering to create a Judas breed in which the metabolism speeds up so they starve themselves to death, but… this genetic engineering has created a breed that can grow and mimic humans. Susan’s husband manages to destroy the eggs of thousands of the creatures, but the male leader is lured by Susan into the path of an oncoming subway train and is killed.
I Am Legend – do some research…

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