Sunday 10 November 2013

Packaged for your easy consumption

As I was trying to convince you to watch Dredd recently, I made it pretty clear that there is something to be had in a particular generation of science fiction films. Films like Predator, Total Recall, RoboCop, and Escape from New York, and a pile of others are entertainment first and foremost, but they don't fail to deliver on the philosophical nutrients that one generally associates with science fiction. This is the history of sci-fi. It's a fucking infiltrator. They suck you in with the sex, and the violence, and the spaceships, and the test-tube spandex-monkeys with the ray-guns and cybernetic breasts, and all of a sudden you're engaging in something that makes you think, "well, shit. Society, man". It's a fantastic fucking con.

Traditionally, science fiction has been a pretty full on cock-fiesta. For nearly its entire history it's been predominantly made for boys, by other boys, and as a result it's full of boy stuff, and I'm not presenting this as some kind of breakthrough or anything of that variety. The conscious effort made to actively market this stuff at the testicle-club is a well documented practice within the industry. This isn't to say that girls don't get down with science fiction, or that they don't make it. I know tons of girls who roll deep in the flavour, and Mary Shelley invented modern science fiction. That's a lady name, for the time being. It's just that there hasn't really been a conscious effort to market it at women until recently.

It's just, I guess where I'm at on the whole marketing of sci-fi agenda is that it is a good thing. I mean pure science fiction is kind of like pure engineering or pure mathematics in that it is interesting, and it really does have its place, but I really like to see really clever applied mathematics and engineering. They're much more awesome. So, you watch a science fiction film that is actually a horror movie, or a drama, or a romance, or a war movie, or whatever else is the flavour of the month and you're getting something else. Well, sometimes you are, but other times it's just a setting in which the stuff happens.

I talked about Dredd being a siege movie, and it is. It's claustrophobic, it's desperate, it's got all that good siege movie stuff that makes them fun to watch. You really get to watch the scales tip, which you should in a siege movie. You know that bit where it is the bad guys who start to get desperate, and their capacity for unreasonable destruction gets way out of hand? It's got that. It's got more though, but you don't have to engage with that if it's not your scene. But it's there if it is. I really gyrate for this sort of thing. It's hard-wired into my pleasure centres.

I like that Predator and Alien are both your pretty straight forward cabin movies. One is set in a jungle and the other is set in a space truck. One has elite combat-veterans with big-guns and the other has space-truckers. It's basically the opposite of a siege movie. Everyone is trapped, and they're all going to die, and it's a lot of fun. There is more to it though, if you want it. It's optional. There's an invisible check-box.

The problem is that they don't do this as much as they should. Quite often I find my frontal lobe being repeatedly beaten with 'the concept' by heavy handed science fiction, or I am watching something that is the cinematic equivalent of that vapid chasm of an heir to some great creative legacy. The kind of film that writes cheques against its thematic DNA without the slightest understanding of what it's getting itself in to. AVP. Either of them. Minority Report. That first Judge Dredd they made back in '95. Bayformers. Most probably the as yet incorporeal American live-action adaptation of Akira.

Dredd isn't unique in being an exception to this trend, but the vast majority of the Twentieth Century history of the genre is more or less about flying something clever so far under the radar that eight year olds will read it, and get the philosophy for free in the box, and for the most part it's like they're not even trying anymore.  

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