Sunday, May 29, 2011

Science Fiction #6 - Blade Runner (1982)

Science Fiction is generally separated into two sub-categories - "Soft" Science Fiction and "Hard" Science Fiction. The basic difference between the two is that "Soft" Science Fiction is generally more character- and plot-driven, while "Hard" Science Fiction is driven more by the technology and realism, or at the very least plausibility, of the work. More than that though, Science Fiction that is considered "hard" is usually darker, grittier, and more cynical than "Soft" Science Fiction, which is often light and comedic. I'm more often a fan of "Soft" Science Fiction - something about the whole complicated technology/serious plot combination doesn't entertain me well. So I wasn't expecting that I would like Blade Runner, which, while not exactly logically enough top qualify as "Hard" Science Fiction, is definitely more on the hard side than not. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be totally awesome. I shall elaborate.

Blade Runner is a Ridley Scott film, like Alien, that takes place in the now near future (2019), in an over-crowded, industrial, rainy earth, completely uninhabited by animals and nearly uninhabited by humans. It's also very Asian, for whatever reason. Blade Runner is a very early example of Cyberpunk, a genre involving dehumanization and extreme corporate control. Blade Runner is a sort of Science Fiction Dystopia/Hard Boiled Detective combo where Harrison Ford, who in my opinion obviously has not played enough Hard Boiled Detectives, is Rick Deckard, a "Blade Runner," meaning that he hunts and..."retires" rouge androids (Replicants) who are used as slaves off-planet. These replicants are so realistic that it's possible that not even they know that they're a robot (This particular point has created quite a controversy over whether or not Deckard himself is, in fact, a replicant. There's even disagreement about it within the crew - Ridley Scott says he definitely is a replicant, and Harrison Ford says he definitely isn't). After a few years these highly-realistic robots begin developing emotions and blurring the lines between human and machine and causing other similar troubles, and this simply won't do, so after four years the replicants automatically die. So there four replicants hanging around on earth, looking for a way to live longer, and Rick Deckard is searching for them. It's all very exciting.

Blade Runner is based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which I have actually read, although I don't remember it well, because it was years ago. I do remember that the book was much more cerebral than the movie is. The movie does touch on the issue of humanity - What really separates robots than humans?- which doesn't seem like it would be a practical theme, but is, and has robotic animals and all that, but is doesn't really get into it like the book does. The book is much darker the movie, and tightly themed and plotted, by I enjoyed the movie more. I can see why they changed the name - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? would be hard to fit on a marquis - but I don't know why they chose to name it Blade Runner. There is nary a blade in the entire film. There is running, at least. I guess it just sounds cool - good enough reason as any, really.

This movie is visually stunning. It looks awesome. As apposed to Alien, whose special effects were just fine, and Terminator 2, whose effects were innovative but are now outdated, Blade Runner still looks great. To me, anyway. There's a huge crazy city and umbrellas and flying cars and lots and lots of rain. It's fantastic. I could probably just look at this movie and be happy. I love the way this movie looks - it's blocky and gritty and eighties-y which is awesome. The building they use in the climax is actually an existing building in Los Angeles called the Bradbury Building, which is creepy even when it's not dilapidated and abandoned. It's pretty awesome, actually - all sorts of wrote iron and stuff. Quite a lovely building.

Blade Runner was pretty great - I really enjoyed it. I actually have to watch it again - I don't think I followed the whole thing - what, for example, is with the unicorn? For now, however I will have to move on - I'm already a couple of weeks behind, and not quite halfway through science fiction.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Science Fiction #7 - Alien (1979)

So far in our Science Fiction experience we've seen (1) Time Travel, (2) A Paranoia-Inducing Plot Premises, and (3) Robots. We seen to have already covered most of the basic science fiction motifs. We have not, however, seen the very important science fiction concept that is, of course, space.

Ah, space. It's so big and lonely and blackish. Mysterious, even. It is the final frontier, as they say. The thing about space, though, is that you can't actually enter it, because you'll asphyxiate. That means that you're stuck on whatever sort of spaceship you're on until you've reached earth. That's of course the case in Alien, the Ridley Scott horror film, which is where most of the conflict comes from. (This is not, by the way, the movie with the big yellow thing that they use for lifting stuff. You know what I'm talking about. That's Aliens, in plural. I know, I was disappointed too. It is, however, the movie with the most famous tag line ever: In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream. I can't tel you how often I say that.) There's a big terrible alien on the ship that's going to kill everyone, but you can't just leave because the outside is, you know, space.

At the beginning of Alien, our cast is floating around in space in a commercial cargo ship when they hear a single repetitive distress call coming from an empty plant. They decide to go answer it. If there's one thing that Alien has taught me, it is that if I ever find my self in space, I should never, ever answer any distress call, ever. I suppose we can't really blame the characters for not seeing this coming though, because Alien is the first movie of it's kind. You didn't see a lot of science fiction horror movies before. Instead, future fictional characters will have to learn from their mistakes.


They answer the distress call, and what do you know, everyone on the planet's dead. So one of the guys gets an alien stuck to his face and eventually dies after it bursts out of his chest, which I imagine is very effective if you don't know what's coming. This is by this time pretty much impossible because it's such an iconic film scene, and that means it's not as scary as it would have been if it was a surprise. It's a good effect regardless, and you still get the suspense of wonder when it's coming.

This brings me to my next point. Alien is based mainly on suspense and the threat of danger rather than the actual alien, which works really well. It was not, however, as scary as I thought it would be. I don't know if it's because it's outdated, or if it's because I knew it was coming, or what, but I really was not even slightly scared by most of this movie. I was disappointed. Maybe I should have watched it on a bigger screen or something. The end did get sort of suspenseful, when she was in the shuttle, but that was about it. The alien itself looked really good, although there were a couple of shots where it was pretty obvious that it was just a guy in a costume. For the most part it was a really good alien though. The whole head/mouth system is really iconic, and I can see why. It's really disturbing and disgusting, like a good alien should be. I works best when it's in the really dim lighting and you can't really see it, and not because the effects not good. It's just scarier that way.

So my extensive Internet research tells me that I really need to see the sequel to Alien, confusingly named Aliens, with an S. It's supposed to be more of an action movie, directed by James Cameron, and is widely considered to be just as good as the original. Sigourney Weaver, who's first name I can't quite pronounce, still plays the same character, (Ripley, by the way. I don't think I mentioned it earlier. She's quite awesome.) but now she's this awesome action girl. Sounds fun, right? I'm going to watch it on my Netflix instant queue.

The only serious qualm I have with Alien is how seventies the technology looks. Their computers! They're huge! You can't even pick them up! How can people imagine commercial cargo spaceships and an entire alien life cycle and not be able to think up computers that can generate curvy letters? This computer can run a spaceship, but it can't make a proper C! I just don't find that believable.


There were actually robots in Alien, too, which I did not see coming.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Science Fiction #8 - Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Terminator 2, in case you don't know, is the James Cameron sequel to The Terminator, about the future and time travel and indestructible robots and stuff. I've never seen it, but I'm sure it's lovely. Terminator 2 is also about time travel and indestructible robots, this time even more indestructible, and has more explosions than ever before. In the future, you see, there's a super computer network called Skynet that's out to destroy the human race, because that's what supercomputers do. There are also nigh indestructible robots who look like people. One of these robots is Arnold Schwarzenegger.


He's evil in the first movie, but not in the second one, which is good, because I really can't imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger as evil. This is probably because I've never seen The Terminator, but there's just nothing threatening about Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's kind of awesome and ridiculous at the same time. There really isn't anything better than watching Arnold Schwarzenegger stoically riding a motorcycle with a gun, which is good, because that happens a lot in this movie.

A lot.

I suppose I generally liked this movie. I already like it a lot more than I did after I first watched it. It's definitely growing on me. The Young John Connor in it is annoying, and not really a good actor, and Sarah Connor is crazy, which gets tedious, but Arnold Schwarzenegger was pretty awesome, and the action was pretty cool. I suppose I'm at a disadvantage because I've never seen The Terminator. I don't have the background knowledge from the first movie, so I don't know why it's to the machines' advantage t destroy all the humans, or why, of all things, this robot has an Austrian accent. We hear him mimic people's voices in the movie, so why is his default voice Austrian? Beyond simply "Why not," I mean.

The effects in this are really quite awesome. There's this whole big thing with liquid metal and melting and morphing and all that jazz, and it requires these crazy CGI effects that no one had ever used before. It was way ahead of anything anyone had ever done at the time, and it looked amazing then, and still looks good today. Well, not good, actually. More along the lines of....bad. But not really bad! Just sort of bad, some of the time. It doesn't ruin your suspended since of disbelief, and it looks awesome, so it does its job still. The whole end is really cool. The end is the best part, some of the best action scenes I've ever seen. There's that terrible crazy morphing melting molting robot thing, and two Sarah Connors, which was not, by the way, accomplished through computer techniques but by using Linda Hamilton's twin sister, Leslie Hamilton, and The Terminator's thumbs up at the end, which was pretty awesome, I must say.

In conclusion: Terminator 2: Nice movie. Kind of boring if you're not into action (Note: I am not into action), but has really good action scenes and more explosions than you can throw a dead cat at. Or something like that. Nice little commentary about how we should never invent artificial intelligence ever (EVER), good story, follows its own continuity, serious/often humorous science fiction movie, unfortunately made in the 90s, which cannot be helped. Amazing special effects which undoubtedly earned it its spot on the list. I'd watch it again.

As I side note, did you know that "Schwarzenegger" is in the Blogger spell check dictionary? I bet you didn't.