Science Friction

Posted: 28 October 2013

The recent poor remake of Total Recall represents all that has gone wrong in modern science fiction; it seems that this brand of art/entertainment has lost its way, but it wasn’t always like that…   

Modern digital sci fi art
Modern digital sci fi art

Long ago, a little blond moppet – as sweet as a ray of sunshine – discovered a big book called: “The Space Warriors” filled with galactic heroes, fantastic spaceships, cool droids and amazing alien worlds… and life was never the same again. Then along came the bumper compendium of stills entitled: “Alien Creatures” which contained all the extra-terrestial beasties any 7 year old needed to know, plus an astounding collection of vintage movie posters and pulp comic art, probably my first unputdownable book.

The book responsible  for starting it all (for this fan)
The book responsible for starting it all (for this fan)

Primarily, on a personal level, the wonder of science fiction has always been generated from the artwork – those tremendous depictions of otherworldly marvels and monstrosities where any artist’s imagination could run riot. Particular favourites included such masters as Chris Foss and Peter Andrew Jones. It is worth bearing in mind that without the fantastic conceptual art of Ralph McQuarrie, the original Star Wars may never have come to fruition.

Early fascination with the genre was fuelled with art posters, comicbooks, and especially B-movies from the 1950s; the likes of It Came From Outer Space, This Island Earth and The Incredible Shrinking Man have stood up remarkably well.

Possibly the best of that decade: The Day The Earth Stood Still, works on so many different levels, with its dialogue, acting, direction and effects (impressive for their day, serving skilfully to drive the tension.) As a drama, reflecting the politics of its day, it transcends the boundaries of its genre.


Will any, of the computer-generated pap of today be viewed with fondness in over fifty years time?

The marvel of traditional sc-fi is the ability to escape into different, often outlandish, worlds, but the advent of CGI has spoiled any sense of wonder the genre may have enjoyed.

Traditional sci fi art like this is seldom replicated on the big screen
Traditional sci fi art like this is seldom replicated on the big screen

The grandiose vision of 2001: A Space Odyssey was (excuse the phrase) light years ahead of any of its B-movie forebears, and could have heralded a new dawn in sci-fi movie-making. Greeted with bewilderment on its initial release (in 1968), Arthur C Clarke (one of the genre’s greatest visionaries) stated that the movie (based on his short story: “The Sentinel”) was deliberately designed to raise more questions than provide answers.

With Alien (1979) the monochromatic biomech designs of H. R. Giger enhanced a nightmarish spectacle. Subsequently, its director: Ridley Scott, chose to follow with another visually intoxicating masterpiece in 1982: the perpetually neon-lit and rain-spattered futurescape of Blade Runner – possibly the last great sci-fi movie.

Science fiction can send you to strange new worlds
Science fiction can send you to strange new worlds

In the last thirty years the standard of special effects has risen at an exponential rate. Technology has advanced to the extent that it is now regarded as having caught up with futuristic perceptions – there is some impressive digital art to be found these days – but has the quality of modern sci-fi cinema improved?

Some would argue that it has… but movies which (have to) rely on the most sophisticated effects (or provide a vehicle for a “top” star) at the expense of a good script amount to empty and insipid ventures sorely lacking in drama – a barrage of noise but no riveting dialogue to savour; lots of action but no substance; plenty of spectacle, but barely anything to nudge the cranium.

In addition, it is an extremely sad situation when older movies, especially veritable classics, have to be recycled in order to sustain the movie industry.

No originality: signifies a lack of vision. No point? You bet. No hope? Nope, doesn’t look too promising.

Does science fiction have a bright future?
Does science fiction have a bright future?

The crux of the problem lies in the fact that a veritable pool of talent in numerous creative and technical fields exists out there, but it is being neglected. Original and thought-provoking projects are overlooked in favour of supposedly safe and “bankable” remakes which – before you can say “SHAZAM!” – tank at the box office or sink without trace…

Rather than await a hopeful viewing future – can’t remember the last time a trip to the cinema was deemed imperative – this sci-fi fan will prefer to continue trawling the archives for classic art while letting the cinema-going public go and view the latest dose of drab gloss.