Posts Tagged ‘Ridley Scott’

The Film Programme Tonight on Radio 4 on ‘Alien’

May 11, 2017

Tomorrow the next instalment of the ‘Alien’ franchise, Alien: Covenant, opens in Britain. Michael Fassbender, who plays the androids David and Walter in the movie, and director Ridley Scott, were interviewed this morning on BBC breakfast TV.

And at 4.00 O’clock this afternoon on Radio 4 The Film Programme, presenter Francine Stock will also be talking to Ridley Scott. The blurb for the programme in the Radio Times runs

Back in 1979 Alien opened up a new era in science fiction movies – a technical masterwork with a terrifying vision, an era-defining lead performance from Sigourney Weaver, and an unforgettable scene involving John Hurt and an upset stomach. It spawned a franchise, with original director Ridley Scott having now made Alien: Covenant. He talks to Francine Stock.

The Influence of Metal Hurlant on Science Fiction Cinema

April 25, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece I found on YouTube about the influence French Science Fiction comics had on Star Wars. This short video by the same poster, Abstract Looper, explores the profound influence the artists of the French adult SF comic, Metal Hurlant, known to the Anglophone world as Heavy Metal, has had on modern Science Fiction cinema. Metal Hurlant was founded in 1974 by Les Humanoides Associees Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, Dionnet and Philippe Druillet. The video shows the striking visual similarities between scenes and designs in the comic’s various strips, and the films Mad Max, Alien, Blade Runner, Nausicaa – Valley of the Wind, Avatar, the original 70s Battlestar Galactica TV series, Hellboy, Prometheus and the Matrix. There’s a clip of Ridley Scott saying that when he made Alien, he was influenced by the visual material produced by Moebius and the French magazine. Guillermo del Toro also confessed that he was influenced by Richard Corben, another of the magazine’s artists. Terry Gilliam also states that the magazine was an influence on him. As does James Cameron. Rutgar Hauer, who played Roy Batty in Blade Runner also appears, telling how the producers visualised the future as already old. In fact, the producers of Blade Runner based their vision of Los Angeles on the towering cityscapes of Philippe Druillet. As well as Druillet, Dionnet, Corben and Moebius, another of the comic’s creators, the Franco-Yugoslavian artist Enki Bilal, was also influential. Also making the point are the similarities between the comics’ art and the concept drawings produced for the Alien and Matrix movies.

You could also add the Judge Dredd movies to this list as well. 2000 AD’s creator, Pat Mills, hates superhero comics. When he launched the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic way back in the 1970s, he was influenced by the French SF comics. Which naturally includes Metal Hurlant. Judge Dredd’s look was created by Carlos Ezquerra, a Spanish artist living in London, who has an artistic style very similar to Moebius.

As an aside, I was also pleased that the interview with Ridley Scott also had Russian subtitles. This shows how much the world has changed since I was at school. This was the years of the new Cold War, created by Thatcher and Reagan, when there were real fears of nuclear Armageddon. I felt profoundly optimistic when the Berlin Wall fell, along with Communism. There seemed at last a real possibility of a genuine, lasting peace between eastern and western Europe. I believe very strongly that it has been a massive improvement in world affairs that the peoples of the former eastern bloc can come to Britain to live, work and raise families.

And I am appalled and angry that Trump and the Democrats are pushing a new Cold War with Putin, and thus endangering the world all over again.

Warning: Heavy Metal was an ‘adult’ comic, which means that there’s some cartoon nudity. This was the magazine that was filmed as The Heavy Metal Movie, and which became notorious for the female nudity of the ‘Taarna’ sequence, which in turn inspired the episode ‘Major B***age’ in South Park. This may have changed, however. In an interview in the comics press a few years ago, its British editor stated that the magazine was dropping the nudity, because it was irrelevant given the amount of real nudity on the Web. He promised that the magazine would still be sexy, however.

Chris Foss on Working with Giger and Moebius on ‘Dune’

April 24, 2017

Chris Foss is one of the great masters of British SF art. Apart from painting numerous book covers, he also worked as the concept artist for Alien, Superman, and the version of Dune that was being made by the Franco-Chilean surrealist, Alejandro Jodorowsky. Sadly, his work for Alien and Dune was never seen. Ridley Scott rejected his depictions of the ‘Nostromo’ for alien, as he thought it was far too interesting and would distract the audience from the main action. And despite extensive preparation, Jodorowsky’s Dune was never made. The studio pulled the plug at the last minute. It wasn’t a wasted effort, however, as the work Jodorowsky and the French comic artist, Moebius, had put into Dune was used by them as the basis for the comic book series, the Metabarons.

A documentary came out a few years ago about the making of Jodorowsky’s Dune. Jodorowsky states that he wanted it to blow the audience’s mind. It was to have the effect of taking LSD, but without actually using the drug. Certainly the concept art looks truly awesome. Apart from Foss and Moebius, Jodorowsky also employed as concept artist H.R. Giger, the creator of the ‘Alien’. Giger produced various designs for Vladimir Harkonnen’s cast, and for a train, very much in his distinctively nightmarish style. Among the actors lined up for the film were Orson Welles as Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha. Jodorowsky’s son, Brontes, was to play Paul Atreides. And the Emperor of the Galaxy would be played by the great surrealist egotist himself, Salvador Dali. But only for half an hour. So Jodorowsky and his team intended to fill in the rest of the time, that have been occupied by Dali, by using a robotic version of him. It’s a pity that the film was not made, as with those artists and performers, it truly would have been a genuinely mind-blowing experience.

In this clip, Foss talks about how wonderful it was working with Moebius and Giger, but says that he enjoyed it because what he was doing did not interfere with them, and their work did not interfere with his own. Looking on YouTube a few years ago, I found that Foss had put up a series of short videos about himself and his work, so if you’re interested, try looking to see if they’re still there.

Trailer for Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant

December 26, 2016

Looking through YouTube on Christmas Day, I found a trailer for the next instalment in the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant. Directed by Ridley Scott, this follows on from his not-quite Alien prequel, Prometheus, which came out in four years ago in 2012. The blurb for this runs

Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with ALIEN: COVENANT, a new chapter in his groundbreaking ALIEN franchise. The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.

Directed by Ridley Scott

Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollet, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby.

The trailer shows the Covenant landing, and a scene with one of the David robots, played by Michael Fassbender. On landing, one of the crew steps on a bizarre set of bulbs, which releases some kind of spore. There is also a proper Alien egg hatching, ready to birth a facehugger. The sequence begins with one of the female characters refusing to let one of the other women out of room with a man, who is clearly in the agonies of some kind of transformation, or the eruption of an Alien from their body. It ends with two lovers in a shower having their tender moment interrupted by an Alien attack.

According to the YouTube page, it opens on May 19th.

This is another movie that I’m looking forward to, along with the sequel to another of Scott’s SF masterpieces, Blade Runner 2049.

The Alien has now become one of the classic Hollywood monsters, alongside the Predator, and older creatures like the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolfman. Several critics have pointed out that Alien was basically a ‘B’ movie, but treated like a Hollywood main feature. I’d say that this was a fair statement. The basic story – alien gets on board spaceship to run amok killing the crew – was the storyline of another, very definite ‘B’ movie of the 1950s or ’60s. The same critic remarked that it could have – and very nearly did – come from Roger Corman, the great director responsible for churning out any number of them. Fortunately, Dan O’Bannon, the script writer, objected and the studio found Ridley Scott instead. What elevated the movie far above it’s ‘B’ movie plot were its stylish direction by Scott, its superb special effects and the way its script broke a number of conventions and gender stereotypes. It was one of the first SF movies to have a strong female lead in Ripley. Another critic has pointed out that as well as breaking gender stereotypes, Ripley also broke another Hollywood convention in that she was basically a hard, by-the-book character. These types usually die before the end of the movie, but not before they perform some noble gesture that shows they’re OK really. Ripley goes by the book, and doesn’t want to let Kane in to infect the ship with whatever attacked him. She’s right, but it’s a hard attitude, and she’s overridden by Ash, who appears to be acting from simple compassion. The reality is otherwise, and, as everyone whose watched or heard of the film knows, carnage ensues. But Ripley survives to the end, and finally beats the monster.

And, of course, what really made the monster one of the classics was its unique quality and the dark beauty of its realization by Swiss Surrealist H.R. Giger. The Alien’s two-stage life cycle – facehugger and then the monster itself, is genuinely alien. It isn’t like anything on Earth. Its gestation inside humans is based on the ichneumon moth, which lays its eggs in captive caterpillars. These serve as living larders as the developing larvae hatch and eat their host from the inside. It plays on the fear of parasitism, and was intended by the writer and director to make the men in the audience afraid of rape and a malign pregnancy, rather than women.

And when it finally emerges and develops, the monster itself does not look like anything on Earth. The film was before CGI and a little before animatronics, so it really was another ‘man in a rubber suit’. However, it’s design was so unique that it didn’t look like one. It was both cadaverously thin, like a spindly, distorted human corpse, but with an insect carapace. It also had a tongue with its own mouth and set of teeth, and appeared to lack any kind of external sense organs. There are no eyes or ears that you can see. Finally, there are the strange tubes emerging from its back.

Stylistically, it was one of the biomechanical creatures that formed Giger’s oeuvre. These were a disturbing mixture of the biological and mechanical, so that organically derived shapes had the shapes of, and acted like, machines. The Alien was so uniquely strange and disturbing, that it’s influenced the design of other malignant beings from space since then. The aliens in Independence Day show Giger’s influence, as did the ‘Sleazoids’ in an X-Men storyline of about the same time, and the Cythrons and their armour in the Slaine strip in 2000 AD, for those comic fans of a certain age.

There’s also supposed to be an Alien 5 in production, which will apparently see the return of Ripley, Newt and the surviving Space Marine from James Cameron’s Aliens. I don’t know much about this, however.

The Alien franchise is now 3 1/2 decades old, and like Hammer Horror’s Dracula, or Star Wars, doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping. From the trailer it looks like the latest instalment could be well worth going to, if you’re a fan of what Mark Kermode has called ‘gribbly monsters.’

Blade Runner Sequel Teaser Trailer

December 20, 2016

I found the teaser trailer for the sequel to Ridley Scott’s SF classic, Blade Runner, on YouTube yesterday. The film’s entitled Blade Runner 2049, and is set 30 years after the events of the original movie. It stars Harrison Ford, who is reprising his role as Rick Deckard, and Ryan Gosling. It won’t be directed by Scott, but Denis Villeneuve. Scott was going to be the director, but I think he’s too busy with other projects. While I’m disappointed that he won’t be sitting in the director’s chair, from what little I’ve seen and heard of it, Villeneuve is an excellent choice. The movie is due to open in cinemas in June next year (2017).

As you can see, the trailer’s very short and doesn’t give very much away. It begins with Deckard’s line from the original film about Replicants being like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a problem. And if they’re a benefit, then they’re not his problem. It also seems to have the same run-down, towering cityscape of the first movie, but also adds what looks like a desert. The film’s score also seems to follow the original movie’s brilliant soundtrack, composed by Vangelis, in being played on synthesiser, though it has a rougher, grittier tone. And also there’s the same vehicles carrying adverts for people to move off world. Also the desert scenes have the same diffuse, golden light Scott used to create such a moody tone in the scenes Tyrell’s apartment in the original movie, but this time far brighter and more intense.

I’m really looking forward to this flick, but I do have some reservations about it. Blade Runner is now rightly recognised as one of the great SF movies of 20th century. William Gibson, one of the inventors of the Cyberpunk SF genre, said that he felt distinctly unnerved when he saw it. He was writing Neuromancer at the time, and was somewhat dismayed to find that the film had beaten him to portraying the same kind of future he was writing about. Grant and Naylor, the creators of Red Dwarf, have also admitted that it was Blade Runner that inspired them to create their own SF show. That was very obvious in the episode aired several years ago on satellite/ cable, where the crew of the Red Dwarf go in search of their creators on Earth, one of whom is a genetic engineer. ‘Noses’, the scientist says in answer to their questions, ‘I only do noses’. Which is, as fans of Blade Runner will recognise, a parody of the line the Chinese genetic engineer gives Batty and Leon when they pay him a visit: ‘Eyes. I only do eyes.’

My fear is that Blade Runner is such a classic, and the movie so perfect in itself, that the sequel will be unable to add anything new or match the original. Part of the reason many people will terribly disappointed with George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, apart from its many flaws, was that the original films had set the bar so high, and the fans had waited so long for it, that when it came out it was almost bound to fail expectations. I hope the same isn’t true of this attempt to revisit one of the greatest SF movies.

Giger’s Dune Sandworm

July 19, 2015

I found this extremely cool concept painting of a Dune sandworm by H.-R. Giger over at the 70s Scifi Art tumblr page.

Giger Dune Sandworm

Giger, who died last year, is best known for his work on Ridley Scott’s Alien, and for designing the creature, ‘Sil’, for Species. He was, however, one of the concept artist, along with Chris Foss and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, who worked on the designs for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film version of Dune in the 1970s. That never got made, as the film’s backers dropped it at the last minute. Jodorowsky himself and his co-workers have said it’s because, in Hollywood the producers want to be far more involved than simply just putting up the money for the film. They backed out simply because they didn’t know who Jodorowsky was, or quite understand what he was doing.

The other reason was probably the sheer cost of the film itself. Jodorowsky himself has said that he hired Salvador Dali the play the Galactic Emperor (!). Dali demanded a million dollars, and stated that he would only play the Emperor for half an hour. Astonishingly, Jodorowsky agreed, and the contract was duly signed. Standing in for Dali in the rest of the movie would be a robot.

Giger’s own designs for Dune have been published, and are on-line, as are Foss’. His plans for the Baron’s spacecraft, the Galactic Emperor and his palace, and for spice freighters and attacking pirate ships have been published in the album of his work, 21st Century Foss, by Paper Tiger.

After Jodorowsky’s version collapsed, Ridley Scott was hired about a decade or so later to make the 1980’s version. It’s for his, later version of the film that Giger made the above design for the worm. Unfortunately, Scott’s brother died, causing him to abandon the project. As a result, it was then passed on to David Lynch.

Lynch’s film has been critically panned, and the received opinion of it is negative. It’s widely held to be a notoriously bad movie. I have to say that I like it, and I think it’s actually a good film. It’s main problem is that it tries to compress Herbert’s lengthy and complex novel into a single movie. It really needs to be split into about three, as the Dune 2000 miniseries did, and Peter Jackson with The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Even as it is, I think Lynch’s version still holds up and is massively underappreciated.

As for Scott, he went on to make Bladerunner, which is now justly recognised as one of the great SF film classics. And despite the failure of Jodorowsky’s film version, Jodorowsky and Moebius managed to use the material they had produced for it in their SF comics. The film’s look and concept designs are even credited with influencing later, successful SF movies like Bladerunner and Alien.

Two years ago a documentary on the making of Jodorowsky’s Dune came out. I’ve looked for it on the shelves in HMV and elsewhere, but I’m afraid I haven’t been able to find it this side of the Atlantic on DVD. It is, however, on the net.

Here’s the trailer:

jodorowsky states that he wanted to produce the effect of taking LSD without having people take the drug. Looking at the designs created for the movie by Giger, Moebius and Foss, and Jodorowsky’s own, unique take on the material, it would have been an awesome and truly mind-blowing experience.

Which is what good SF does. C.S. Lewis, the fantasy novelist and Christian apologist, was a strong fan of Science Fiction at a time when it was regarded, in the words of Brian Aldiss, as ‘worse than pornography’ by the literary elite. He wrote three SF books himself, strongly informed by his own Christian convictions: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra/ Voyage to Venus and That Hideous Strength. He declared that ‘Science Fiction is the only true mind-expanding drug’.

He’s absolutely right, and it’s a tragedy that too many people have got ensnared by chemicals, rather than picking up a good paperback.

Simon Pegg and SF and Comic Book Infantilism

May 23, 2015

I was on holiday last week, which was why I haven’t put anything up for a few days. Never mind – I’m back now, and ready to pour more scorn, criticism and bile on the Tory government and the establishment sycophants and global corporate exploiters that support it.

But before I do, I’d like to tackle one issue that’s been bothering me, ever since I read about it in the papers and Radio Times last week. Simon Pegg got in the news for claiming that contemporary culture was being infantilised through Science Fiction, comic books, and the movies that were based on them.

As Pegg himself admitted, this is deeply ironic comic from him. He’s made his name as an SF and comic book nerd. In Spaced, the comedy he co-wrote, he played a struggling comic book artist/writer, who worked behind the counter at his local SF and comic shop. As well as the zombie rom-com, Shaun of the Dead, he also wrote Paul, his homage to science fiction geekdom, in which he and Nick Frost play a pair of SF geeks, who stumble upon the real alien that the US government has kept secret ever since the Roswell crash. The interview in the Radio Times, in which he made the comments, begins with a discussion of his role as Scotty and one of the writers on the new Star Trek movie.

Pegg made his comments about the infantilising effects of comics and SF when talking about how he was trying to smarten up and not be a ‘slobby husband’ for his wife, Maureen. As part of which, he had stopped drinking, turned to living a healthier life style, and stopped dressing as a teenager. The Radio Times then went to state how this new, adult perspective had changed his view of Science Fiction and comics. It said

This new grown-up perspective chimes with Pegg’s views on the culture in which he made his name and plies his trade. As Mark Gatiss said in Radio Times last month, “The geeks have indeed inherited the Earth.” On the other hand, this empowers the fanboy who wrote an autobiography called Nerd Do Well.

But on the other… “Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and The French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed.

Now, I don’t know if that is a good thing. Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science-fiction and genre cinema. But part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things comic books, superheroes … Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!

It is a kind of dumbing down in a way, “he continues. “Because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about … whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”

Now Pegg hasn’t said anything that a multitude of other, SF writers haven’t said before. Ray Bradbury, the author of The Martian Chronicles, famously said that the ‘Golden Age’ of Science Fiction was thirteen. Brian Aldiss, who amongst his various works wrote the short story, Supertoys Last All Summer Long, on which the Kubrick/ Spielberg film A.I. was based, was highly unimpressed by Star Wars. In his history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree, he made the sneering observation of its massive fan popularity that ‘a thousand throats thirsting for escapism must be slaked (if not cut)’. Many SF authors moved away from writing SF over their careers, such as Christopher Priest. Priest denies that he was ever an SF writer, but does not despise the genre or its fans. He’s said that he still has affection for the genre. Michael Moorcock, the editor of the SF magazine, New Worlds, leader of the SF ‘New Wave’, and author of the cult Elric novels, in the edition of the 1979 series on SF writers, Time Out of Mind, also stated that Science Fiction was essentially an immature form of literature. Moorcock then considered that the reason why so many SF writers had stopped and gone on to other forms of literature was simply that they’d grown up.

The great Polish writer, Stanislaus Lem, made pretty much the same point from his own personal experience in his book on Science Fiction, Microworlds. Lem’s an extremely highbrow Polish writer, who amongst his various works wrote Solaris, which was later filmed by the Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky. Lem has been very strongly influenced by the South American ‘magic realist’ writer, Borges, and was deeply impressed by Philip K. Dick. In Microworlds, he talks about the ‘transformation of trash’, in which the shop-worn props of Science Fiction – robots, aliens, mutants and spaceships – were transformed into a new kind of serious literature by Dick. He hoped, through his own writing and literary criticism, to make a similar contribution and raise the literary standards of the genre so that it could take its place as serious literature. He abandoned this, and the genre itself, as impossible.

Moorcock also began his career keen to raise the literary standard of Science Fiction. He was keen to import the experimental styles explored by William S. Burroughs and other, contemporary, literary writers. Again, in Time Out Of Mind, he talks about how he find his attempts to do so rejected and condemned by the SF old guard, particularly Frederick Pohl.

Now it’s fair to say that much Science Fiction is escapist fantasy, as is much literature generally. Nevertheless, much Science Fiction literature and cinema has tried to tackle serious issues. SF at times has been the ‘literature of warning’, exploring the terrible consequences that could arise if a particular political, social or technological course is pursued now. It’s also been used to critique and criticise existing society. This was particularly true of SF in the former Soviet Union, where writers like the Strugatsky brothers wrote in the ‘Aesopian mode’, to present Science Fictional fables to say obliquely observations about the true state of Soviet society, that could not be said openly.

It’s possible to draw up a list of Science Fiction novels, films and short stories, that have made serious points about human existence and the state of society. Most fans of the genre undoubtedly have their own favourites, or can think of others, that also do this. This is just happens to be the list I’ve drawn up at the moment.

1. War of the Worlds.

H.G. Wells’ novel of the devastation of Earth by Martian invaders had its origins in a discussion between Wells and his brother about the destruction of indigenous, primitive societies, by European colonialism. Wells wondered what it would be like, if a similarly technologically superior invader came and did the same to Great Britain, the leading imperialist power of the late 19th century.

The book remains relevant to contemporary society even today, more than a century after its publication. Stanislas Lem has praised the book for its depiction of the nature of total war, and what it feels like to be the victim of an invader determined to wipe you out utterly. Lem lived through the Nazi invasion and occupation of his home country. Apart from their aim of exterminating the Jews in the Holocaust, the Nazis also saw Poles, along with Russians, Ukrainians and the other Slavic peoples as ‘subhuman’, who were to be worked to death as slave labour. Their treatment of the Poles was similarly brutal. Lem felt that Wells’ novel of alien invasion gave a far better depiction of what the Nazi occupation was actually like, than many purely factual accounts of this dark period in his country’s history, to the point where he got annoyed with them and discarded them.

2. Brave New World.

Aldous Huxley’s classic dystopian novel of the dehumanising effects of biotechnology, in which humans are artificially gestated in hatcheries. In this technocratic, hedonistic society, real culture has withered away and society itself grown static because of the concentration on the purely sensual.

3. Rossum’s Universal Robots.

Karel Capek’s stage play introduced the word ‘robot’ into the English language. It was one of the very first to explore the possibility that humans could one day be overthrown by their mechanical creations. The robots in the play aren’t mechanical so much as artificially created humans, very much like the Replicants in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Capek was writing at the time working class, radical Socialist and Communist revolutions had broken out in central and eastern Europe, and the play can also be read as a parable about their threat to the bourgeois European order.

If anything, the book has become even more relevant today, as scientists and social activists have become increasingly alarmed at the threat that robots might shortly do exactly as described in the book. Kevin Warwick, the Reader in Cybernetics at Reading University and former cyborg, begins his pop-science book on robots, March of the Machines, with a chilling depiction of the world of 2050. In this world, the machines have very definitely taken over. The mass of humanity have been exterminated, with those few remaining either living wild, if lucky, or enslaved as domesticated animals by their mechanical masters.

Some international agencies share this alarm. There is a pressure group actively campaigning against the construction of killer robots. A few years ago the international authorities were so alarmed that they actively forbade the use of such robots on the battlefield after one country made the suggestion that such machines should be used today, based on existing technology.

4. Silent Running

After working on 2001, Doug Trumbull wanted to produce a less coldly-intellectual, more emotional SF film than Stanley Kubrick’s epic. This was film is one of the first with a ‘green’ message, about humanity’s destruction of the environment. It’s about one astronaut’s quest to save the last green spaces from Earth, now preserved on spaceships, from destruction. He disobeys the command to scupper his ship and return to Earth, and takes them to safety in the rings of Saturn.

Other films exploring similar themses include Zero Population Growth and Soylent Green. In Zero Population Growth, the world is massively overpopulated to the point where most animal and plant species, including domestic pets, have become extinct. The government therefore mandates a total cessation of reproduction for a generation. The film tells the story of a couple’s attempts to preserve the life of their child after the wife finds out she’s pregnant. The husband and father is played by Oliver Reed, who was a brilliant actor as well as notorious drunk.

Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston, and based on Harry Harrison’s book, Make Room! Make Room!, was the first SF book to explore the possible consequences of the global population explosion and mass starvation.

5. Solaris

Based on Lem’s novel of the same name, Tarkovsky’s novel explores the problem of communicating with a genuinely alien intelligence, and what this would say in turn about human nature. The story follows the attempt of an astronaut to find out just what is happening aboard a space station orbiting the eponymous world. The planet itself is one vast organism, which creates replicas drawn from the human explorers’ own minds to try and work out what they are. One of these replicas takes the form of the hero’s ex-lover, with whom he begins a second, doomed romance.

Among its comments on space and humanity’s place in the universe are the lines ‘There are only a few billion of us. A mere handful. We don’t need spaceships. What man needs is man.’

The film was remade about a decade or so ago by Steven Soderbergh. His version is shorter, but apart from adding a sex scene and making Snow, the physicist, a Black woman rather than White man, there really isn’t much difference between the two, to the point where in some places they’re shot for shot the same. I prefer Tarkovsky’s original version, but you may feel differently.

6. Stalker

This is another movie by Tarkovsky, based on the novel by the Strugatsky brothers. The stalker of the title is an outlaw, who makes his money taking people into, and retrieving objects from, a mysterious, forbidden zone. In the book, the normal laws of nature do not apply within the zone, and its hinted that it is due to the crash of an extraterrestrial spacecraft. In Tarkovsky’s version, the zone is result of some kind of disaster. Tarkovsky’s film explores the nature of guilty and responsibility as the various characters attempt to venture further into the zone. The highly polluted, dangerous environment has a destructive effect on the biology of those entering into it. The Stalker himself has a disabled daughter, Monkey. Some hope for humanity is indicated by the fact that, although she cannot walk, Monkey nevertheless has developed psychokinesis.

Although this is another classic of Soviet, and indeed SF cinema generally, I think it’s seriously flawed. Tarkovsky cut out most of the special effects sequences from the books on which Stalker and Solaris were based, in order to concentrate on the human characters. As a result, the film suffers from a lack of genuine, shown menace, and instead is verbose and actually rather boring. Also, the central character in the book is far nastier. In the final scene in the novel, he wilfully sacrifices his accomplice to one of the Zone’s traps, so that he can retrieve the central, alien object coveted by everyone venturing into the zone – a golden ball that grants wishes. This is a film, which in my view does need to be remade by a director like Ridley Scott.

7. Blade Runner.

Apart from its sheer immense style, and the beauty of some of the scenes, this is another film that attempts to explore human nature through the mirror of its artificial, bio-mechanical opposite. Although it’s told from Deckard’s perspective, in many ways he’s actually the villain. The Replicants he hunts are bio-engineered slaves, who have escaped their bondage and come to Earth in the hope of extending their extremely short, artificial lifespans. They can’t, but in the process grow and develop in psychological depth and as moral beings. To the point where they are morally superior to their human creators. The penultimate scene where Batty saves Deckard from falling shows that he has passed the Voight-Comp test, which judges a subject’s a humanity according to their empathy and desire to save a trapped, struggling animal. It also has one of the most quoted poems in SF cinema – I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe, ships on fire off the shores of Orion…’

8. They Live.

This alien invasion drama is also a sharp satire on modern, global capitalism. A homeless construction worker discovers that the world is secretly dominated and exploited by skeletal aliens, who are at the heart of global capitalism. While it’s a low-budget action piece, Carpenter has said in interviews that he intended to give it an extra element by using it to criticise contemporary politics and economics. In the film, humanity’s exploitation by the interplanetary corporate business elite and their human shills and partners is responsibility for mass poverty, unemployment and homelessness – all to boost profits. If you cut out the aliens, this is pretty much what the bankers and global corporate elite have done and are still doing today. And it’s got the classic line, ‘I’ve come to do two things: kick ass and chew gum. And I’m all out of gum.’

9. V For Vendetta

This is another film, which has been denounced by the author of the work on which it’s based, in this case the SF strip of the same name by Alan Moore, which first appeared in the British anthology comic, Warrior before being published by DC in their Vertigo imprint. The strip was very much a product of its time – Thatcher’s Britain, and the new Cold War with the former Soviet Union. The strip envisaged the emergence of a Fascist Britain following a nuclear war between the US and the Eastern bloc. Moore has said in interviews that the strip attempted to explore the moral ambiguities of violence, whether it can be justified against innocents as part of a wider campaign against an unjust system. He also wanted to make the point that many of the supporters of the Fascist regime could be considered otherwise good people, just as many otherwise decent Germans supported the horrific Nazi regime.

It’s a superhero movie, which does nevertheless accurately show the realities of life in a Fascist dictatorship – the mass internment of political prisoners, arbitrary censorship, and experimentation on those considered subhuman or ‘dysgenic’ – in the language of eugenics – by the authorities. It lacks the contemporary relevance of the original strip, as Margaret Thatcher and the Tories did have strong links to the far right. Thatcher was an admirer of Pinochet, for example. The strip explored many of the issues thrown up by contemporary stories of corruption in the political, social and religious establishment, like paedophile clergy. Despite Moore’s rejection of the movie, it’s still a piece of genre, comic book cinema that does try to make an extremely serious point about Fascism and intolerance by placing it in modern, 21st century Britain.

10. Children of Men

Based on the book by P.D. James, and starring Clive Owen and Thandie Newton, this is another dystopian yarn. This time it takes a completely different view of the future and its perils from Soylent Green and Z.P.G. In this future, humanity has been afflicted with mass sterility. No children have been born for 18 years. Owen plays a policeman, charged with protecting an immigrant woman – Newton – who carries the only child to be conceived for over a decade. As a consequence of the sterility, society in volatile and unstable. Only Britain has a relatively stable system thanks to the establishment of a Fascist-style dictatorship.

Although fiction, James’ book nevertheless explores a genuine social issue. Globally, populations are falling, to the extent that some demographers have predicted a population crash sometime in the middle of this century. In Britain and much of Europe, they’re below population replacement level. This is particularly acute in Japan, and is one of the causes of that country’s massive investment in the development of robot workers. Much of the fall in birth rates is due simply to people limiting the number of children they have in order raise their quality of life. There is, however, the additional problem in that the sperm counts of western men is falling, to the point that during this century a significant number will be considered medically sterile. Children of Men is another dystopian work that is chillingly plausible.

It’s possible to go on, and add further works of serious SF cinema, such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and The Zero Theorem and Gattaca, with its depiction of a stratified society ruled by the genetically enhanced. Now I have to say that I agree with Pegg that an awful lot of SF films since Star Wars has been escapist fantasy, and can see his point about some of it having an infantilising effect. This is by no means true of all of it, as I’ve attempted to show.

Even films like Star Wars that are pure, or mostly spectacle can be worth serious discussion and consideration, if they’re done well. For all its escapism, Star Wars was astonishing because it showed a detailed, convincingly realised series of alien worlds, machines and space craft. Moreover, the second movie – The Empire Strikes Back – did present Luke Skywalker with a genuine moral dilemma. His friends Han Solo, Leia, Chewbacca and the droids have been captured and are being tortured by Vader and the imperials. Skywalker is faced with the choice of trying to help them, and in so doing losing his soul, or preserving his moral integrity by letting them suffer and die. His confrontation with Vader present him further with another, particularly acute moral dilemma. Vader reveals himself to be his father, and so if he kills him, he commits parricide, a particularly abhorrent crime. This also has literary antecedents. In one of the medieval Romances, the hero is faced with the revelation that the leader of the foreign army devastating his lord’s realm is his father, and so he is confronted with the terrible dilemma of having to kill him.

Now I don’t think that the potential of Science Fiction to explore mature issues and genuinely relevant problems has been fully explored in the cinema. One of the solutions to the problem is for fans of genre cinema to try and support the more intelligent SF movies that are released, such as Moon, which came out a few years ago. This would show producers and directors that there’s a ready audience for genuine, thought-provoking, intelligent SF as well as the gung-ho, action escapism.

Blade Runner to Be Re-Released in Cinemas This Month

December 2, 2014

Good news for fans of quality SF. According to Mark Kermode’s blog for 28th November, last Friday, the BFI are releasing the final cut of Ridley Scott’s epic Blade Runner to be shown for one day in cinemas around the country on December 14th, 2014. According to Kermode, the film will also be shown nationally for a week next year. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/markkermode/posts/The-Mystery-Of-Blade-Runner.

Kermode makes the excellent point in the post that most people have probably only seen the film on the small screen, and not as it was originally intended to be seen at the cinema. This is a film that truly deserves and rewards being seen at the cinema on a large screen. As for Blade Runner itself, we’re only four years away from the time it’s set in 2019, and there are no Replicants nor off-world colonies. This doesn’t matter in the slightest, as it’s still one of the great, classic SF movies which transcends its limitations. Highly recommended.

In Search of Moebius’

September 30, 2013

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After Alan Moore on V for Vendetta, more comic book stuff. Last year, 2012, saw the passing of Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, one of the great auteurs of French, and indeed, world comics. Originally broadcast on BBC 4, I found it on Youtube. It traces the career and work of Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, from his from his modest background, as the child of a single parent following his mother’s divorce. He describes the shock he experienced at art school, when he encountered the better-off, and more polished bourgeois students. He never completed his training, as in his third year his mother married a Mexican, and he went with his mother to live in Mexico. The ancient country’s open landscape of deserts strongly influenced his later work. Back in France he launched the Western comic, Blueberry, scripted by Jean-Michel Charlier.

He then moved on to become one of Les Humanoides Associes, with Bernard Farkas, Philippe Druillet, and others who founded Metal Hurlant. Metal Hurlant was the French original of ‘Heavy Metal’, one of the first adult comics. Heavy Metal was later filmed as a cartoon of the same title. It comprised several individual stories based on the strips in the original comic. The ‘Taarna’ sequence in the movie was based on Moebius ‘Arzach’ strip. He was asked by the Chilean director, Alejandro Jodorowsky, to work on his abortive film version of Dune, providing concept drawings alongside Chris Foss and H.R. Giger. When the film fell through due to budget problems and the reluctance of the major cinema chains in America to screen it, Moebius then went back to comics. He continued to work with Jodorowsky, and together they produced the strips Arzach and The Incal.

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One of the classic images from Arzach.

He returned to the cinema to work once more with Giger and Foss on Alien, where amongst other things he designed the spacesuits worn by the crew of the Nostromo. Back in comics, he and Dan O’Bannon, one of the writers of Alien, created the Long Tomorrow strip, a future ‘noir’ story about a private detective. The vast city depicted in the strip influenced the design of the great metropolis in Ridley Scott’s ‘future noir’, Blade Runner. In 1987 Moebius went to America to work with the mighty Stan ‘the Man’ Lee on the Silver Surfer comic book, Parable. This strip met a mixed reception. Several of the comics’ creators speaking in
the film thought that it was largely well received by the Marvel comics readership.

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Others said that comics fans are quite conservative, and didn’t really like Moebius’ distinctively continental style of story-telling. Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, was quite critical of the attitude of the American comics industry towards their European cousins. He felt that, although they were impressed with their work and wanted them to work on their comics, they nevertheless did not want them to work in their characteristic manner. Instead, they wanted to fix them so that they conformed to American conventions. Moebius himself was quite content to work on the superhero strip, but the others talking were much less than enthusiastic about the genre. Mike Mignola credited Moebius with inspiring him to leave superheroes behind. Jodorowsky was highly critical about superheroes, and went on to express his complete contempt for them and America. In the 1990s, Moebius once again returned to the cinema to provide the designs for Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element.

The film also touched briefly on his divorce and remarriage. His former partner on Metal Hurlant, Philippe Druillet, noted that wives of comic book artists are all strong women. While the artist simply wants to draw, they’re the ones, who are interested in percentages and the financial side. He believed that they had to be, as comic artists are all really children, who need a mother to protect them.

The film’s talking heads comprise a veritable gallery of some of the leading figures in American and French comics, including Smilin’ Stan Lee, the founder of Marvel, Jamie Lee, the artist on Marvel’s X-Men, Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, Jodorowsky, Druillet and Moebius himself. In contrast to his bizarre heroes and galaxy-spanning quests, Moebius himself comes across as a quiet, affable man, though one of speakers said that they would be afraid of Moebius the man. The documentary gives a fascinating insight into the life and career of one of the great figures of Science Fiction comics. R.I.P., big man.

Warning: Metal Hurlant was one of the very first adult comics, and inspired similar magazines in America and Britain, such as Epic Illustrated and Warrior, in which Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta first appeared. These comics explored issues around sex, and so a few of the drawings contain sex and nudity.

The movie can also be seen on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNas99oEXBU.