Archive for January, 2014

Hitch Hikers

Webbytings, or the ‘Internet of Things’ to coin the official moniker, have been in the news of late. Possibly the product of a capitalist realisation that with the Net making stuff redundant – CDs, films, books, entertainment in general – economies are in need of more, new, exciting… stuff! Which is the virtual gift horse with perfectly rendered teeth for anyone interested in extrapolating ideas. While technophile sites like Boing Boing offer open source access to nested thermostats, a deeper, sometimes darker side to house-bound tech undermines the foundations.

Philip K Dick’s ongoing narrative of smart stuff displaying all the capriciousness of humanity is an obvious blueprint for a slew of domestic tales. Just think about Joe Chip’s argument with his apartment door in Ubik, or the petulant air car in The Game Players of Titan, the psychoanalytical insights of the Johnny cab in Now Wait for Last Year or a myriad other examples. Play this along the SF timeline and you swiftly reach all the inept robotics of Douglas Adams’ Sirius Cybernetic Corporation. Nudge a bit further and we’re in the populist realms of The Simpsons and Ultrahouse 3000.

The more sinister side to smart houses – as voiced by Pierce Brosnan above – tends to lean towards an evil and controlling AI – Demon Seed played out in the homestead as seen in ARI by Arthur Choupin. But while machine intelligence remains elusive, the darker side of human nature – i.e. insidious hacking – is a plausible and depressing possibility.

A man’s house is his castle? Perhaps , “a person’s abode is their secure data enclave” will soon be more apt.

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“A romantic reimaging of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984.” Just one of the astounding media quotes being generated around Equals, Hollywood’s latest attempt to consume itself. Twilight actress Kristen Stewart has taken one of the lead roles in Big Brother: The Romcom, opposite Nicholas Hoult – best known in the UK for the edgy and smart teen drama Skins.

But let’s not be judgemental regarding any actor’s integrity accepting a script about which very little is known. Nor let us conjure images of John Hurt and Suzanna Hamilton’s under-fed, naked forms cowering against a filthy window while the thought police kick down the door; no amorphous boiler suits for Miss Stewart and Mr Hoult I’m guessing.

Instead, let’s just return to that elevator pitch. A romantic reimaging of George Orwell’s dystopian novel. That’s something to think about when you spy your next CCTV camera, or watch your next reality TV show, or buy a lottery ticket, or get pissed to displace ill-defined fears about the ‘war on terror’.

Seriously, we’re not here to discuss the political implications of surveillance culture or data capture. The idea of sleep-walking into a police state is, well, just science fiction right? Ignore the customised adverts in Zero Theorem – harking back to the iris capture promotions of Minority Report. Disregard all of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta – regardless of what you might think about James McTeigue’s filmic version. Don’t dwell too long on the personality split of Bob Arctor in A Scanner Darkly and, whatever you do, don’t consider 1984 a cautionary tale about the interdependency of information and power.

Ultimately, why not make Sexcrime more… well, ‘sexy’ in order to resonate with the contemporary cinema-going demographic?

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Modern movies? All about the mash-up. Take Salute to the Jugger, then weld the socio-political elements from that film onto Battle Royal and… hey presto, you’ve got the biggest sci-fi box office hit of 2013!

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire did manage an impressive £32.7m box office in the UK, but there were a slew of other sci-fi offerings that, critically, had more flavour to them than just billboard, teen eye candy. Looking at the recent BAFTA film nominations as well as takings, Gravity definitely leads the pack. But let’s not forget Elysium, The World’s End, Star Trek: Into Darkness and Pacific Rim, as well as Upstream Colour and Europa Report at the indi end of the spectrum. Admittedly, while the above – with the possible exception of Gravity – didn’t make it into the all-time hall of SF fame, they did prove that the genre is far from terminal. Plus it’s a line-up representative of a glut of films that, in hindsight, will look decidedly robust compared to what’s on offer in 2014.

With this in mind, only three films stand out in the coming year from my perspective, and even these – with eyes on the number of flops in 2013 – come with a ponderous air of possible disappointment.

As mentioned previously on Drozbot, the Godzilla reboot really does have someone interesting at the helm in the guise of Monsters’ director Gareth Edwards. Meanwhile, the seemingly indefatigable Wachowski brothers – after their return to form with Cloud Atlas – bring some sweeping SF tropes via Jupiter Ascending. Finally, a post-Inception Christopher Nolan brings us Interstellar, which holds the most promise of the trio despite this decidedly lacklustre teaser trailer.

Slim pickings then, but hopefully a return to 2009 on a quality front when both District 9 and Moon arrived in our cinemas.