Science Fiction: Routledge Film Guidebooks

By Klapcsik, Sandor | Extrapolation, October 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Science Fiction: Routledge Film Guidebooks


Klapcsik, Sandor, Extrapolation


Enlightening Journeys through Global SF. Mark Bould. Science Fiction: Routledge Film Guidebooks. London: Routledge, 2012. 239 pp. ISBN 9780415458108. $27.95 pbk.

Reviewed by Sandor Klapcsik

Bould's thin volume delivers exactly what it promises in its cover description: an amusing and substantial reading experience. According to the description, among the many films under discussion are Voyage dans la lune (1902), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916), L'Atlantide (1921), King Kong (1933, 2005), Le Jetée (1962), Tetsuo (1989), Sleep Dealer (2008), and Avatar (2009). Hence Science Fiction selects from the silent era, non-English films, independent British and American cinema, and a few recent Hollywood blockbusters. Bould admittedly takes "roads less well travelled" (2). This is not a guidebook to Hollywood sf, but an introduction to less-known, forgotten, and relatively low-budget productions as well as films that have achieved cult status amongst fans.

In my edition, the cover image is from Flash Gordon (1980), a film celebrated by Bould as deliberate camp. He contrasts this lighthearted, parodying, and intentionally melodramatic film to Blade Runner (1982), which is interpreted as "naïve/pure camp, insisting on its own seriousness through constant allusions-to William Blake, John Milton, Frank Lloyd Wright, film noir, Christ-which distract from its lazy dystopianism ... and worn-out plot" (107). In other words, Bould transforms the existing canon of sf films by giving preference to less popular, low-budget, subversive, self-reflexive, and politically liberal films.

Bould's introduction approaches the problematics of genre boundaries by way of a thoughtful analogy with Michel de Certeau's theory of urban space. De Certeau claims that urban pedestrians intend to create fluid, hybrid, labyrinthine, and chaotic environments (i.e., postmodern spaces). The "tactics" of urban dwellers, however, is contrasted with the "strategies" of the modernist urban planner and the capitalist institutions, which try to create univocal and readable cities with clear views, symmetry, order, and clear-cut demarcations. Analogously, genres "are heterogonous, but grouping diverse films under a single rubric tends to homogenize them ... [since they] are frequently regarded as clearly defined objects, as boxes into which individual texts can be smoothly slotted" (1). Bould intends to avoid strict categorization and classification by creating a flâneur-text, a book with three chapters that "offer three journeys though global" sf films (3).

The first chapter, "The Science in Science Fiction," intends to deconstruct the traditional opposition between accurate science and engaging storyline. Bould follows Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr.'s understanding of the genre, claiming that "the science of sf can only ever be 'figurative,' 'an image of science'" (6). Thus scientific accuracy and references to traditional genre expectations or icons are balanced in many films, such as Flash Gordon, The Thing (1982), and the recent Swiss film Cargo (2009). In the latter, the rumbling noise of the spaceship mediates "between extended common sense (surely a vehicle of that size must make some noise), knowledge that an audience may or may not possess (that sound cannot travel in vacuum) and generic expectations (in some SF films, spaceships do make noise and, in some of them, they make this kind of noise)" (11). Galaxy Quest (1999), a parody of the Star Trek franchise, goes even further when "saving the 'actual' Protector from destruction depends upon fan knowledge of the 'fictional' ship"-scientific knowledge and science fictional knowledge clearly and self-reflexively overlap (12). Bould concludes that even "bad," incorrect, or absurd science may contribute to the critical potential of sf films or lead to a bizarre pleasure for the audience.

Another crucial argument in this chapter contests the view that "treats science as if it is a neutral, objective practice" (19). …

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