But it did seem for long stretches to develop an allergy to action, with the result a bifurcated structure that drove some fans crazy. In any case, there is something magical about so optimistic an ending to such a downbeat series. The second issue of Transformative Works and Cultures , an online peer-reviewed journal devoted to popular media and fan communities, is now out — another splendid and substantial package of theory, praxis, and reviews.
My own U. I highly recommend it, along with the rest of the issue. To see the other entries, click here. Popular guides to the practice of special and visual effects — from the battered library books I pored over as a kid to contemporary coffee-table tomes devoted to landmark films like Jurassic Park and FX houses like Industrial Light and Magic — tend to follow certain patterns in their introductory pages. The Forbidden Planet saucer, of course, appears at the top of this very blog. And I have no major objections to how these images are deployed in FX histories — apart, perhaps, from the predictable way they are used to set up a kind of rhetorical bank shot: tokens of outdated techniques, antique curiosities which by their laughable artifice set off the supposedly advanced methods, films, and artists belonging to whatever era the book happens to be published in.
One can imagine an alternate history of science-fiction film focusing exclusively on spacecraft and the ways in which they have been set in motion. Such a history would range from the wire-mounted toys of Flash Gordon to the slow-moving majesties of A Space Odyssey , whose relatively huge miniatures were photographed a frame at a time and coyly choreographed to Strauss. Such a history would note the development of traveling mattes, enabling the compositing of ships against starry backgrounds and looming planets; it would rightly hail Star Wars as the first film to bring together bluescreen-generated mattes and motion-control cinematography — computer-driven cameras whose every move can be repeated at any scale and duration — to crowd the screen with hectic swarms of swooping spaceships.
And it would surely remark, with Star Wars , the emergence of the space battle as a larger semantic structure within the SF genre: in this case, battles staged and intercut according to templates borrowed from World War II movies. Years before sampling invaded the landscape of popular music, George Lucas and ILM did it in film with a reference reel cut together from Tora! But at a certain point, diminishing returns kicked in: Return of the Jedi gave us the most complex, crowded battle to date, throwing hundreds of ships into the orbital space of Endor, but the result — like the rest of the film — was a confusing mess.
By the time of the prequel trilogy , the space battles of Star Wars had become as routinely busy and bland as a screensaver. Reminiscent of the pirouetting 3D spaces of first-person shooters, the image dramatically and even wittily alludes to the fact that, in motion control, the models hold still while the camera itself relativistically imparts movement. Situationally, such battles are not that different from the bloated space circus that opens Revenge of the Sith What makes them different is the camerawork: the battles are filmed as though by live hand, roaming uncertainly around the frame, zooming in to capture engagements and explosions a second after they happen.
Strikingly, though, shakycam has also percolated to sites beyond TV narrative, including scientific simulation, where it dovetails with the visual regime of CG FX. The camera move suggests to me a new kind of screen phenomenology, as distinct a microgenre in its way as bullet time and floating 3D titles. Call it a logic of action — a filmic package blending technique and style, mise-en-scene and cinematography, objects and space. It is, perhaps, the first true subjectification of the space battle , and the arrival of a new paradigm in the unique languages and codes of science-fiction media.
Our FX, which simultaneously construct not just the objects of space combat but our roaming window upon them, have always been about impossible viewpoints but then, so has narrative cinema itself, implanting us as perfect, invisible diegetic witnesses.
Absence of From Science Fiction | Fantastical Andrew Fox
The battles of BSG may mark the point — as we leave the stiff, immobile frames of Flash Gordon behind and move fully into digital depiction — where framing itself emerges as a subtle expressive tool in visual-effects methodology, shaping our perceptions and understandings in ways for which we do not yet possess a vocabulary. Or perhaps I should say CG posing as photorealistic, for what nearly passes muster in one year — the liquid pseudopod in The Abyss , the lipsynched LBJ in Forrest Gump , the entire casts of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within , The Polar Express , and Beowulf — lapses into reassuringly spottable artifice the next.
Of course, by casting its films in this manner, Pixar retreats from true uncanniness. Humanity has always been an easier sell when it comes to cartoonish abstractions; ask anyone from Pac-man to Punch and Judy.
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The uncanny valley actually kicks in when a simulation comes close enough to almost fool us, only to fall back into uncomfortable, irreducible alterity. Such is the fate, I think, of Watchmen.
Science fiction. Fantasy. The universe. And related subjects.
Watchmen is still a rather miraculous object, an oddly introverted and idiosyncratic epic whose very existence lends support to the idea that fans have become an audience important enough to warrant their own blockbuster. Tastewise, the periphery has become the center; the niche the norm.
Intimacy is the name of the game — that and passing the object from hand to hand until it is worn smooth as a worry bead. The principal focus of all this discussion will undoubtedly be the pros and cons of adaptation , for that is the process which Watchmen foregrounds in all its contradiction and mystery. Watchmen simply takes faithfulness and fidelity to a cosmic degree, its mise-en-scene a mimetic map of the printed panels that were its source.
Watchmen verges, that is, on emulation , and its spiritual fathers are not Moore and Gibbons but Turing and von Neumann. But back to the uncanny valley.
Part III - After the New Wave
But CG is merely the latest offspring of a vast heritage of manipulation, a tradition of trickery indistiguishable from cinema itself. In flashes, the film fools us into forgetting that another version exists; but then the knowledge of an original, an other , comes crashing back in to sour the experience. It is not reality and its digital double whose narrowing difference freaks us out, but the aesthetic convergence between two media, threatening to collapse into each other through the use of ever more elaborate production tools and knowing appeals to fannish competencies.
At stake: the very grounds of authenticity — the epistemic rules by which we recognize our originals. Whether intentionally or through limits in the technology, Dr. He is, both diegetically and non-, a walking visual effect. Presciently, the print version of Watchmen — published between and , when CG characters were just starting to creep into movies see Young Sherlock Holmes — gave us in Dr.
Manhattan our first viable personification of digital technology. The metaphysical underpinning and metaphorical implications of the print Manhattan, of course, are radioactivity and the atomic age, not digitality and the information revolution. But in the notion of an otherwordly force, decanted into a man-shaped vessel but capable of manipulating the very fabric of reality, they add up to much the same: Dr.
Manhattan — synthespian avant la lettre. The point is simply to be present , sharing breath with other viewers even if they exist only as an extrapolated throng beyond the darkened chamber of my living room. And present, of course, with the show itself as it spins its final variations on a theme, its last acts of parole from a lovingly-established langue. In this sense, being with a series as it draws to a close is something like hospice.
In the case of BSG, though, watching live has its drawbacks. I know, I know: as a professional nerd who divides his loyalties between Star Trek and Star Wars , the marketing of my own passions back to me should have long ago lost its power to scandalize. Glen Larson conceived BSG back in the late s as a televisual answer to that redefining juggernaut of science-fiction media, Star Wars , and in this sense the show has been cashing in from the very start. Better to boldly go than to run scared; better to launch a wagon train to the stars than to circle the wagons and pray for survival.
Ironic, then, that several series later, Voyager would fall into the same delayed-gratification trap of a constantly thwarted quest for earth. I went to see it several times in matinees at the Campus Theater in Ann Arbor, holding my arms sunburned and peeling from a canoe trip on the Huron River stiffly in front of me. Projected on a huge screen with all commercials excised, the opening hours of BSG — its primal scene of civilization and military order knocked permanently akimbo by sneak attack — regained the mythic resonance Glen Larson had always intended them to have, a resonance channeled from Pearl Harbor by way of Star Wars.
At 13, my first encounter with nostalgia, fittingly motivated by texts themselves obsessed with lost golden ages. Whether in the replaying of videotapes and DVDs, the sequelization of movies, the serial sinewaves of TV narrative, or the radial expansions of transmedia, there is always more to be had — more to be discovered, judged, dismissed or cherished. I started off as a big fan of TSCC, a series which, especially as it hit its stride at the start of season two, seemed on its way to assuming the mantle of the nearly-departed Battlestar Galactica.
Reflecting the new tone of SF on television, Chronicles is moody, nuanced, and — with its tangled motifs of time travel and maternal distress — introspective to the point of convolution. I have nowhere near the same appreciation for Dollhouse , which seems to me the very definition of misbegotten: a rather obvious, emptily sensational concept yoked to an unimaginatively-cast lineup of unlikeable characters.
Placing the shows together on Friday night seemed like a certain death sentence — cult TV fans will never forgive the sin NBC committed against the original Star Trek in , leaving its third season to wither on the ice-floe slot of Fridays at 10 p. Cult TV has cult viewing habits associated with it, and one of the things we fans do is relocate episodes to spaces in our schedule better suited to focused, attentive viewing.
In a word, we timeshift. The sagging numbers for Dollhouse and Chronicles both received a giant boost when DVR statistics were factored in, suggesting not just that the shows might have some life in them yet, but that new technologies of viewing may make the difference.
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The new technology I refer to is monitorial : the ability to track and quantify this collective behavior. Now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem! Jacobsen Cinema Journal James McConnachie and Robin Tudge. I made this to be a starting point so anyone can make a ship with this gun.
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