The Aesthetics of Ambivalence: Rethinking Science Fiction Film in the Age of Electronic (Re)production

By Brooks Landon | Go to book overview

4

The Aesthetics of Ambivalence: Spectacle and Special Effects, Trickery, and Discovery

I was recently at the Avoriaz colloquium on science fiction film. What surprised me is that, along with prizes for best actor, best screenplay, etc., they're now going to give a prize for the best minute--the most intense minute.

-- Paul Virilio, Pure War (99)

As science fiction is capable of assuming many different forms, it also affords us many different pleasures, whether they be those of narrative or spectacle, art or trash, the intellect or the emotions, escapism or self-enlightenment--or any combinations and permutations thereof. Spectacle has always seemed to play a more important role than narrative in the sciencefiction film, perhaps in part because special effects are easier to concoct than stories. From Méliès to Metropolis to Meteor, the history of special effects in film has also been the history of science fiction.

-- Donald Willis, "Variety"'s Complete Science Fiction Reviews (x-xi)

A historian rather than a theorist of SF film, Donald Willis has nevertheless offered one of the most perceptive and useful critical overviews of the genre in his brief foreword to "Variety"'s Complete Science Fiction Reviews. The reviews he has collected are themselves instructive, spanning the years 1907-1984 and offering judgments based on pragmatic film industry standards rather than on those of written SF. But it is Willis who, in keeping with his dualistic schematization of the genre and almost alone among writers on SF film, suggests that these films do not necessarily suffer from foregrounding their special effects as spectacle. "The stories in space opera now may be no more complicated than before," he quips,

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