Archive for April, 2016

BDO

Our Sci-Fi perspectives are all askew thanks to the Internet. Open your browser, start a search for any Big Dumb Object and there you go; an instant return within the tidy framework of your screen. But, we’d argue, familiarity has bled away the impact of these once majestic imaginings making them commonplace.

Comic and pulp science fiction covers always struggled to convey the sheer vastness of their subject matter – despite the best reproductions of Jack Kirby and Chris Foss’ art. So it wasn’t until the advent of the large format art book and special effects driven cinema that the sheer size of some Sci-Fi imaginings could be recreated.

Racing swiftly up the timeline: Larry Niven’s Ringworld, Paper Tiger’s coffee table publications, the Earth orbiting space station in 2001, the Imperial space ships and bases of the Star Wars franchise, the stranded extraterrestrial craft of Alien, Halo’s, er, halo, John Cassaday’s depiction of Galctus’ space ship in Planetary, the Dreadnought of Activision Blizzard’s Destiny… However, when you get to the latter the sense of diminishing returns already weighs heavy on a contemporary audience. The Dreadnought, while initially sparking the sense of unbridled exploration, ultimately becomes definable, a recognised cartography and, as such, its power to inspire is diminished.

Returning to Niven’s Ringworld, the beauty of its depiction is that the internal perspective which Louis, Nessus and the other protagonists experience keeps slipping from their comprehension. Like StanisÅ‚aw Lem’s Solaris, or the alien object in Alastair Reynolds Pushing Ice, there’s the constant reminder that they simply can’t get their collective heads around the “here be dragons” periphery of the map.

While it’s obvious that we’ve been banging on about the upcoming Sci-Fi epic No Man’s Sky, procedurally generated, and some vastly structured games – such as Fallout and Final Fantasy – have become the new Big Dumb Objects. Sprawling, expanding worlds filled with “oos” and “ahs” at every new horizon crossed.

Novels, like video games, can still capture these spaces, as can radio, but for all the wonderful visual efforts out there, the truth is we’ve become desensitized. The gargantuan has been captured, replicated and commodified. Hopefully, there are those out there who will contest this. If there are, Drozbot is looking forward to hearing about examples that do indeed buck this troubling trend – correspondence welcome written on the back of one Triganic Pu.

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Peter Goodfellow DADOES

There’s no separating sleeping, dreaming and the creative process. From Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1608) to the suspended animation beds of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), Sci-Fi and sleep are inexorably linked.

We’ve talked about waking dreams before on this site, referencing films like Brainstorm (1983) and Videodrome (1983). But rather than the lucid dream of virtual reality, or how we tap into our unconscious processes in order to create – wonderfully illustrated in a recent BBC article on Dion McGregor, let’s instead consider the representation of sleep within the genre.

Look at the plethora of available sleep apps, alongside the monitoring devices such as Fitbit, Misfit and Moov, and it seems as though we’re already living in a once dreamed of tomorrow when it comes to technology and sleep. It’s interesting to note. however, the somatic conflict within this.. The blue light emitted from devices has already been linked to a ‘waking up’ of the body’s natural sleep patterns, and yet apps to help you doze off and stay asleep are still rife.

Elsewhere the promise of deep space travel using human hibernation to reduce life support payloads, has taken an interesting step towards reality thanks to NASA funded research. It’s also the cornerstone of a host of plot devices that have allowed for sleep to be used as a time machine. Think of Savi in Dan Simmons’ Ilium or Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) at the sublime end of the spectrum, and Fry from Futurama or Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973) over at the ridiculous.

Another interesting by-product of cryogenic sleep is that other oft-used Sci-Fi trope of the Methuselah effect. Like Rip Van Winkle or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carpenter, protagonist sleeping until the world changes around them – or turning their lifespan into something episodic rather than linear – opens yet more creative worlds of possibility. (Just consider Peter Wayland cheating terminal illness in Ridley Scott’s untidy Prometheus (2012).)

Reality altering, time travelling, life extending… As in the real world, the mysteries of sleep just keep the creative juices flowing, especially when it comes to the fantastical.

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First person shooters have come a long way since the early days of 3D Monster Maze (1982) and Wolfenstein 3D (1992). As far as gaming goes, we’ve seen a massive expansion of experience, where the shooting elements are now just part of a much wider and deeper engagement with any virtual world. Metroid and Mirror’s Edge have added platforming to the mix, whereas Bio Shock and Mass Effect have supplied all the background stat tinkering that was once the preserve of Japanese RPGs. Films however, and Sci-Fi films specifically, have dragged behind some of the best video games of the past decade.

While the short form of the music video proved to be a better suited platform, a couple of films have attempted to pull off the technical feat of seeing the world through the eyes of the protagonist. Admittedly, these have been little more than experiential sequences within a longer, more customary third-person narrative. Lawn Mower Man (1992) had the benefit of entering a virtual game world where the computer generated graphics were experienced in the first-person by the audience. While the visuals now appear dated, and the film itself wasn’t one of the best scripted, credit has to still be given to Brett Leonard and his team – it was over a decade before Jon Farhat attempted to replicate the experience for Doom (2005).

Jump cut to recent years, and it’s been the internet rather than movie studios that have pushed the boundaries in first-person cinematography. Last year, Realm Pictures created an engaging video/game mash-up in which Chat Roulette participants were encouraged to engage in a Doom-esque first-person survival horror. That said, it’s Ilya Naishuller who has taken this story telling technique to new levels. Originally creating one of those aforementioned music videos for Biting Elbows that had all the hallmarks of an action Sci-Fi narrative, he’s now pushed the envelope to a full length feature with Hardcore Henry. It’s early days critically as the film has only just been released, but respect is definitely due to this opening attempt at unifying the converging milieu of games and film. Who knows what may come out of this inevitable elision, but rest assured we won’t have to wait another decade before seeing the next entry in this emergent media.

Sadly, such immediate visceral highs remain unobtainable for a percentage of the population due to the very simple reason that first-person perspectives can induce nausea. All our best wishes, then, to the clean up crews on Alton Towers’ new Galactica ride – especially after all the recent evidence coming out of the growing virtual reality community.

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