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Mark Kermode's Secrets of Cinema - BBC4 19th March: Superheroes

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11 hours ago, Jamie John said:

I've watched all of these and have enjoyed each of them a lot, but then I really like Kermode anyway as I typically agree with his tastes and I listen to his and Simon Mayo's radio show every week. I have to say that in tonight's episode, on Horror, some of the "tropes" felt a bit shoe-horned in, however. The idea of the savant character, for example: yes, they make an appearance in some horror films, typically supernatural ones, but I wouldn't say they were a structural convention in the same way as most of the other things he mentions. The lone female survivor idea, too - again, this happens sometimes, but probably just as often it's a male survivor, multiple survivors, or no survivors at all.

 

I think the important thing about the final girl theme is that other genres don't do this. So while there are loads of horror films where the last survivor is a man, the fact that a woman essentially "triumphs" (or at least endures) and is the protagonist for the last act of the film is really unusual in genre films, which are normally very male-centric. It's definitely a thing, where as the savant thing is less established (although now Kermode's mentioned it, it does seem to pop up in a lot of horror films).

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I was annoyed that Kermode talked about Gravity in the sci-fi episode even though it, you know, isn’t a sci-fi film.

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58 minutes ago, Comrade said:

I was annoyed that Kermode talked about Gravity in the sci-fi episode even though it, you know, isn’t a sci-fi film.

 

In what way is it not a sci-fi film?

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54 minutes ago, K said:

 

In what way is it not a sci-fi film?

 

In what way is it a sci-fi film?

 

Imagine the incredible future where humanity has a Space Shuttle, the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station. The astonishing future of 2011.

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It's a piece of fiction that's about what happens when a problem (debris collision) occurs with a piece of technology. Then the following events are all about the capabilities of the remaining pieces of technology.

 

So it may not feature robots or aliens or paths to the centre of the Earth, but it's definitely science fiction - just relatively hard SF (hard for movies, anyway).

 

Incidentally, I'm also persuaded by the argument that The Hunt for Red October is also a hard SF film. :P

 

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18 minutes ago, Comrade said:

 

In what way is it a sci-fi film?

 

It’s about the aftermath of a notional disaster whereby the debris field from a satellite being destroyed causes a chain reaction of other satellites being destroyed, creating more debris and knackering the ISS? That’s never happened, yet, so I’d say a film that focuses on it is probably within the realms of sci-fi. Plus, it’s set in space and largely in zero-gravity. Those things don’t make something automatically sci-fi, but there’s a pretty strong correlation.

 

I know what you mean about it not being SF because they take care to make sure everything is using existing locations and technology, and it’s definitely on the borders between a disaster movie and a tech thriller, but it’s a space movie about a projected space catastrophe, it feels like sci-fi to me.

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1 minute ago, Nick R said:

It's a piece of fiction that's about what happens when a problem (debris collision) occurs with a piece of technology. Then the following events are all about the capabilities of the remaining pieces of technology.

 

So it may not feature robots or aliens or paths to the centre of the Earth, but it's definitely science fiction - just relatively hard SF (hard for movies, anyway).

 

Incidentally, I'm also persuaded by the argument that The Hunt for Red October is also a hard SF film. :P

 

 

Red October definitely feels like a sci-fi film, in some respects. Tom Clancy was a huge fan of Larry Niven and used his books as a model for his own when starting out, so it’s not hugely surprising that it feels like SF. It obeys all the same rules that hard SF does, it just does it in a contemporary milieu.

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5 hours ago, K said:

Yeah, I'd be surprised if it didn't get renewed. 

 

He spoke at the BFI at their surprise it got commissioned at all and the difficulties of getting film shows on tv. It was the popularity of YouTube video essays that helped sell this concept. This season was already reduced from 6 episodes to 5 to save money.

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Red October is much more of a sci-fi film than Gravity as it involves a technology that didn’t exist at the time. Gravity doesn’t. It is about events that haven’t actually happened, but that's true of every fictional film ever. The Graduate is a speculative science fiction film about what would happen if a guy who looked like Dustin Hoffman felt ennui after graduating university and then fucked an older family friend.

 

“Being about technology” is not enough for a film to be sci-fi. The Fast and the Furious is a film in large part about cars, a form of technology. It also gets quite unrealistic at times. It’s not a science fiction film.

 

Science fiction requires the creation of an alternate world, often the future, where some kind of scientific or technological effect or advancement has created a different reality, and then exploring those possibilities. Space travel might still be exotic and out of reach for almost everyone, but it exists, people do it, and Gravity is a generally representative depiction of that, albeit depicting an extreme situation.

 

Also, turns out that I was totally right that this show got commissioned because of YouTube video essays.

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I think Kessler Syndrome puts Gravity firmly into sci-fi territory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kessler_syndrome. Someone has used their imagination to describe a specific type of catastrophic event that has never happened, but potentially could, and someone has used fiction to work through the implications of that catastrophe.  Sounds like SF to me.

 

It's a very small difference between that film and, say, Apollo 13, but it's an important one. If you had a film about an EMP over London that knocked out all computers and electronic power, then that would also be sci-fi, even if it was explicitly set in our world. In fact, it would be Goldeneye, but I would struggle to come up with a reasonable definition of sci-fi that excluded Goldeneye.

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The lines can be blurred because of how genres are mixed.

 

GoldenEye is a science fiction film, for exactly that reason... but it's also a spy film and an action film, and those genres are more prominent. (Even though Bond does relatively little discreet spying in his films, we still think of the series as a whole as being spy movies.)

 

Every single James Bond, Bourne and M:I film is arguably also a science fiction film, so is every season of 24, and so is every single superhero film (Superman's origin, Batman's gadgets, assorted villainous schemes). But no-one would ever say that SF is the primary genre of those stories.

 

Whereas in Gravity, the focus on getting the audience to understand the need to solve problems around the limitations of the spacesuit and spaceship technology means it's more strongly a science fiction film than any other genre, except perhaps disaster movie.

 

Also, does a work of science fiction cease to be SF if the thing it speculates about actually happens? If, in the early 2000s, someone had written a story about a computer virus targeting a country's military laboratory facilities, that would have been considered science fiction (or at least techno-thriller). But then the Stuxnet virus happened.

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5 hours ago, Comrade said:

I was annoyed that Kermode talked about Gravity in the sci-fi episode even though it, you know, isn’t a sci-fi film.

 

Well, it's not a Science Fantasy film...

 

It's hard SF.

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5 hours ago, K said:

I think Kessler Syndrome puts Gravity firmly into sci-fi territory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kessler_syndrome. Someone has used their imagination to describe a specific type of catastrophic event that has never happened, but potentially could, and someone has used fiction to work through the implications of that catastrophe.  Sounds like SF to me.

 

It's a very small difference between that film and, say, Apollo 13, but it's an important one. If you had a film about an EMP over London that knocked out all computers and electronic power, then that would also be sci-fi, even if it was explicitly set in our world. In fact, it would be Goldeneye, but I would struggle to come up with a reasonable definition of sci-fi that excluded Goldeneye.

 

I disagree that Kessler Syndrome makes it sci-fi. Kessler Syndrome is a logical observation of what might happen if enough satellites break apart. It doesn’t require new science or technology. San Andreas starring the Rock is a speculative film about what would happen if a huge earthquake hit California. It’s not science fiction.

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19 minutes ago, jonamok said:

I recommend a read of this excellent list of Sci-Fi authors’ own definitions of what Sci-Fi is:

 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definitions_of_science_fiction

 

Many/most do not reflect the ‘new tech’ restriction favoured by @Comrade

 

Did you read that list? Almost all of them do in fact say that sci-fi requires some kind of new scientific or technological concept.

 

Quote

Isaac Asimov. 1975. "Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology."

 

Most of of them are pretty similar to this. And Gravity doesn’t fit in there.

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18 hours ago, Nick R said:

Also, does a work of science fiction cease to be SF if the thing it speculates about actually happens? If, in the early 2000s, someone had written a story about a computer virus targeting a country's military laboratory facilities, that would have been considered science fiction (or at least techno-thriller). But then the Stuxnet virus happened.

 

Blackhat felt like a cyberpunk film, and if it had been made ten years previously, it probably would have been.

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On 16/08/2018 at 00:24, Comrade said:

 

Did you read that list?

 

Yes. But obvs only the ones that backed up the counter argument.

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On 16/08/2018 at 00:26, Uncle Mike said:

This is probably one of the most rllmuk conversations ever.

 

i know, there are less complicated ways to say Gravity is an awful waste of a film that has nothing going for it. 

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On 16/08/2018 at 03:22, LeighCb said:

More like Angular Momentum!

 

High five.

 

I very much enjoyed this, thank you.

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I think Comrade might be right on this one. Space’s hostility is a recurring SF theme but the movie’s using it the way that a similar film would use the desert or the Antarctic. A lot of SF is about fictionalising the science, even when, maybe especially, it’s addressing present day SF concerns.

 

My instinct about defining SF would be to say otherwise, but damn if I can find a meaningful example which disproves it. Even the hardest SF examples I can think of, which are efforts to use some stupid physics thought exercise the author wasted their afternoon on, place a grounded and simple and realistic point in a very extrapolated setting like a space tour company or some crap. That’s the reality of the genre, whatever the appealing definitions may suggest.

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2 hours ago, Alex W. said:

A lot of SF is about fictionalising the science, even when, maybe especially, it’s addressing present day SF concerns. My instinct about defining SF would be to say otherwise, but damn if I can find a meaningful example which disproves it.

 

How about Children of Men?

CineFix have it in their top 10 all-time SF movies. IIRC, it’s a fiction based on contemporary biological science. Naturally Comrade won’t agree it’s SF, but I’ll go with CineFix:

 

 

 

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It’s still way more of an extrapolation of current knowledge than Gravity is. Aside from some contrivances in distance, time, and orbital mechanics, the plot is as down to Earth about the nuts and bolts of space as Saving Private Ryan is about combat. It’s not interested in the consequences down the road for their own sake, it’s interested in this as a real but extreme setting for drama.

 

The idea that we exist in a society where someone might make a space ships movie that’s practically a procedural in its focus on the real processes and disinterest in speculation is kind of neat.

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If you want to be really anal (and this is Rllmuk so that’s a rhetorical question) you'd class Children of Men as speculative fiction.

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Speculative fiction about a science topic is a type of science fiction IMO but I know there’s a big split on that.

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Children of Men is a thousand times more sci-fi than Gravity, and I’d have no problem with Kermode including it in his documentary.

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