Films which are considered science fiction are arguably structured differently and in a more complex fashion. The spectrum and expectations are so broad for character, action, setting, period, whether it be past, present or future, that it is no wonder that the genre has been sectioned off into hybrid or sub genres over the years, such as sci fi Horror, Alien (1979) sci fi Action adventure, Escape from New York (1981) sci fi Western, Outland (1981) and sci fi Family Entertainment, E.T (1982).
It does seem that it has become increasingly more difficult to clearly “pin” down a science fiction text, as the popular genre constantly reinvents itself and at times displays, an archetypal generic framework that on the surface might look like it belongs to another genre, such as Frankenstein (1931) which many people would feel comfortable regarding as Horror. Even though the science and technology that Dr Frankenstein invents to create his monster is clearly fictional.Order now
‘It has often been noted, it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish between Horror and Science Fiction. Films like Frankenstein (1931), The Thing (1982) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) in their own ways testify to the propensity for multiplicity and overlap among and between these genres in Hollywood. It is there fore hardly surprising that water tight definitions of science fiction and horror are hard to come by. ‘ (Cook & Bernink , 1999, p 191).
To effectively question Kuhns statement, with reference to the science fiction genre we must at least try to establish key conventions which can be applied across the board to this category of films, taking into account both conventional or classic texts and hybrid films. Richard Hodgen’s suggests that ‘What makes Science Fiction involves extrapolated or fictions use of scientific possibilities, or it may be simply fiction that takes place in future or introduces some radical assumptions about the present or past. ‘ (Cook & Bennink, 1999, p 191).
This seems a fair enough interpretation of science fiction, although again if taken word for word it could also apply to texts which belong to other genres, for example James Bond films often “involve fictitious use of scientific possibilities” in regards to his gadgets. Also the villains layer which is more times than not situated in a realistically speaking impossible geographical location, in a hollowed out volcano, which doubles as a space rocket launch centre. Does that mean that the James Bond franchise could be classed as science fiction?
Even if the films do borrow certain elements from this genre to label them as science fiction would be “reading against the grain. ” The films lend themselves firstly to the spy, espionage genre and now, more recently to the action adventure genre more than anything else, another example of how a genre evolves. They arguably fit into a genre of “Bond Films” all by themselves, fulfilling a whole unique set of audience expectations in terms of iconography, the introduction or use of a new technologically advanced “Bond Gadgets” being one.
It may be the case that when trying to categorise certain texts we may have to rely on common sense rather than take Hodgens’s definition as gospel. Annette Kuhn’s, recognises the problem of demarcation between genres herself ‘One of the problems here must be the very difficulty of arriving at a critical definition of science fiction cinema as a genre, even if it is readily recognizable in practise’ (Kuhns, 1996, p 1) she goes on suggest that ‘more importantly than what film genre is, is the question of what in cultural terms, it does-Its cultural Instrumentality.
‘ (Kuhns, 1996, p 1). Science fiction stories were born from adventure stories and ‘tales of science and of the future’, these stories were associated with the likes of Jules Verne in a literary sense and dominated the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, fuelled by a second industrial revolution and a new machine age. The stories became increasingly popular and coincided with the invention of film, itself a great technological invention. It therefore seemed an obvious medium in which to present these futurist narratives.
The pioneering science fiction film Le Voyage Dans La Lune ( A Trip To the Moon) (1902), utilised many of the science fiction motifs and cinematic language we are still used to today, including the projectile shaped space rocket. The 14-minute film used very inventive film techniques, trick photography and superimposed images, fantastic special effects for the time and set the stage for what audiences still expect from this genre. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) was made after the First World War and showed the social condition of Europe.
The film set in the future shows the consequences of technology gone mad and a repressed society of workers who were forced to live underground. It featured an evil scientist a futuristic society and a female robot. It proved to be extremely influential, later providing inspiration for countless other sci fi films, including Star Wars (1977). The silent film set in the year 2000 depicted a semi apocalyptic future and perhaps expressed a social anxiety of what the future maybe after witnessing the horrors of the Great War.
Rumour has it that it was one of Adolf Hitler’s favourite films, perhaps appealing due to narratives and themes which matched or even influenced his own beliefs. If this were anywhere near the truth we can start to see how Kuhn’s statement can be applied maybe not just in reflecting social ideologies but in influencing them also. This is of course a bold statement but other examples of earlier science fiction films, have been in a sense prophetical in their predictions of the future.
Things to come (1936) showed audiences a hundred years of future events, a society, crippled by War and plague before the survivors of the apocalypse begin to rebuild civilization through advanced technology. Produced three years prior to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, the movie predicts the start of WWII in 1940, only a year later than real life. It also predicts the Second World War would be fought on land, sea and air. In addition, it predicts the use of London’s underground as a giant air raid shelter’.
(www. imdb. com). Coincidence plays a large factor when science fiction becomes science fact and it is not surprising that out of so many different perceptions of the future represented within this genre, one or two come close to the truth. It’s fair to say that that these texts based on social beliefs of the time, can make educated intelligent assumptions on what the future might have in store. Science fiction has an advantage over other genres in being able to express or mirror social anxieties of the time.
The future is a blank screen in which many different visions can be projected and depending on the current state of affairs within, more times than not an American society. These visions can range from being dystopian with oppressive governments and dominating corporations Code 46 (2003) to the more extreme catastrophic, post nuclear scenarios, Planet of the apes (1968) and The Terminator (1983). Code 46 is a good example of a recent text that mirrors our preoccupations about the increasingly rapid advance of cloning and the worrying issues of how certain groups within society are becoming more and more accepting.
This is a one of the key themes that many genre theorists believe is present when identifying science fiction, ‘the conflict between science and technology on one hand and human nature on the other’ (kuhn, 1996, p 5). The fact that this genre can use the future as a blank canvass to paint all sorts of possible outcomes, can be used in not only reflecting cultural fears, but also in answering questions and playing out realistic narratives if current “issues” within our present are not re addressed.
Code 46 is set in a not to distant future, where the cloning of human beings is not just accepted, it has become part of the norm. This leads to huge population problems, were people are segregated, those who live in the cities and those who have to inhabit shanty towns outside the boarders, simply because of over population. This area of the film possibly reflects immigration concerns the western world faces at the moment, although a direct reference is never made. Some of the issues addressed within the context of the film may well be a repressed representation, which is intended to work on a subconscious level.
In many ways the film asks the audience to re evaluate the society we live in. The issue of cloning is a dominant theme within the narrative, and the acceptance of this practise has escalated to the point were unintentional incest through partners can be a common risk. The Code 46 law is put into force to stop the conception of a child between related partners. The themes are quite relevant to our sociological state at present, as we are on the verge of a technological scientific revolution.
To a certain extent it acts as a moral warning and does ask the audience whether our not we have the right to play God and experiment with Mother Nature at all. In terms of Kuhn’s statement this future text powerfully and obviously mirrors our present, although other examples which on the surface may deal with similar themes do not seem to be as culturally relevant, if at all. Alien Resurrection (1997) another modern popular science fiction text, includes the practise of human cloning within the narrative.
Unfortunately the problem with “Genre Theory” is that it caters not only for audiences needs but is also a marketing tool used by the film industry. This film was part of a very successful franchise and although the previous Alien films especially the original, which is now, considered the renaissance of the science fiction genre, offered audiences intellectual food for thought, It seems the case that this film was very much a product to capitalise on an already established fan based audience, the subject of cloning only bought about as a plot line to reintroduce the central character back into the story.
The film catered for the audiences needs and met their expectations, with the character of Ripley, actress Sigourney weaver being present, however it would be a challenging task to even build a convincing argument that Kuhn’s theory readily applies, even though Alien Resurrection is in fact a popular Science fiction generic text, utilising all the conventions, style, iconography and cinematic language we might expect.
It might refract some of our present social trends and attitudes but it certainly doesn’t clearly reflect any. Tom Ryall’s triangle model, offers a give and take relationship between the audience, artist and text. The industry works in collaboration with audience needs to produce generic texts. The model or theory is meant to be unbiased, not giving preference to any one party, although possibly the triangular relationship is not so rigid, but sometimes floats closer to one of the circles, the industry in this case.
Robert Warshow suggests of genre films ‘that any representation to the real facts of whatever the situation it presents to describe is only of secondary importance and does not determine the aesthetic force'( Warshow, 1970) The fact that Alien Resurrection was a sequel to an already established framework, within a genre framework makes Warshows theory even more applicable. He goes on to say ‘It is only in an ultimate sense that the type appeals to its audience’s experience of reality, much more immediately, it appeals to previous experience of the type itself: It creates its own field of reference’.
In this particular case the field of reference being the other Alien instalments. It seems to be the case that Alien Resurrection was made not because there was necessarily a social need for the film but because a niche in the market guaranteed financial success. This seems to be the case with many sci fi sequels, the studios feel a need to capitalize on the success of the originals and the original social themes become less important and give way to what is perceived as audience’s overly high expectations.
Predator 2 (1990) , Terminator 3 (2003) and Escape from L. A (1996) are some more examples where any form of social representation plays second best to the industries need to cash in, but unable to introduce any new significant themes, which haven’t already been address in the originals. ‘The economic organisation of the film Industry along the lines of commodity productions is cited as the reason for the existence of genres themselves.
As the market for entertainment is notoriously difficult to predict and control, profit is dependant on the successful identification and capture of a particular audience’ (Cook & Bernink, 1999, p 141) The above statement seems even more relevant when taking into account sequels or franchise texts. Perhaps as Warshow suggests that only in an ultimate sense can genre appeal to our reality. To explore this we need to look at not only a collection of similar generic texts, but a collection that were all made in a similar period of history.