With that first shot [of Star Wars], new cinematic technologies redefined
space, displaced narrative, and moved cinema into a revived realm of
spectacular excess … Star Wars exploded the frame of narrative cinema,
referring back to early cinematic and precinematic spectacles.1
Here, Scott Bukatman argues that the special effects-driven science fiction films of contemporary Hollywood are the leading edge of a shift away from the traditionally narrative-focused models of classic Hollywood and towards an immersive hyper-textuality in which the film as such is merely one part of a seamless mesh of ‘collective, immersive experiences’ including theme park rides and virtual reality programmes, in all of which narrative codes are ‘swept away in an aural and visual crescendo’.2 Science fiction itself surrenders its traditional role as the proponent of rationalist, technological solutions to new and initially terrifying situations (in which regard it contrasts to the irrationalist frenzy of the Gothic tradition represented in movies by the horror film3) in favour of a hyperbolic visual excess that pushes towards a postmodern delirium. To the extent that narrative remains part of this new (and New) Hollywood dispensation – which Bukatman does not fail to relate to the evolving corporate entertainment environment of exploiting properties on crossmedia platforms, and which extends, he suggests, beyond the generic bounds of SF to constitute a new industrial dominant in contemporary Hollywood – it paradoxically testifies to the possibility, or likelihood, of its own possible supersession by an anxiously over-emphatic storytelling, using the tools of the classical narrative cinema in a way that suggests a lack of confidence and sophistication in its own capacity to communicate story information, or the audience’s ability to process it.
Bukatman’s 1998 essay is itself, one might say, an intensified iteration of other analyses during the 1990s of contemporary Hollywood film that