Alien: Covenant

We know what will happen the moment we hear about the “next generation” human embryos aboard the colony ship: a xenomorph will impregnate them. Here though, the marriage of the fine-honed excitement of the Monster-slaying story arcs of ancient Mythology to the richness of existential inferences from the initial run of films – that Evolution occurs along a little-understood plane of immanence, that Life on Other Worlds is likely to be at least as terrifying as life on this, that Aliens allegorize aspects of organic behaviour not yet fully-explained by Scientists, that the xenomorph represents something about species’ will to survive, much, indeed, as did the alien Shapeshifter from John Carpenter‘s remake of The Thing (1982), that there is, in short, something real and meaningful going on – is exchanged for a blood-spattered retelling of the European occupation of North America as the Colonization of Other Worlds:

Alien: Covenant

Archipelago

 


I’m going to an archipelago. I’ve always loved them, whether via maps, by boat or on foot. Here John Clute elucidates their meaning and use in works of science fiction and fantasy:

http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/archipelago

I’d dearly love to play the roleplaying game of the same name, the third version of which is freely available from Matthijs Holter and Jason Morningstar:

https://norwegianstyle.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/archipelago-iii/

 

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Sensory Deprivation

“A typical setup might be a tank of lukewarm water in which the suitably garbed subject floats, supplied with air but cut off from such normal senses of Perception as sight, hearing and touch.”

A new entry from David Langford at the SFE on Sensory Deprivation:-

http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/sensory_deprivation

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The Beast Must Die


“This film is a detective story,” intones the voice-over at the beginning of The Beast Must Die, “in which you are the detective. The question is not, who is the murderer but who is the werewolf? After all the clues have been shown you will get a chance to give your answer … Watch for the werewolf break.”

The alternate version released as Black Werewolf omitted the werewolf break, with little or no impact on either the plot or the strangely syncretic register of this Horror in SF, a movie that combines the set-up from Agatha Christie‘s Ten Little Niggers (1939; rev vt And Then There Were None 1940) with the action from Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” (January 1924 Collier’s Weekly), itself subsequently adapted into the film The Most Dangerous Game (1932). Director Paul Arnett disagreed with producer Milton Subotsky about the addition of the gimmick but those that enjoy The Beast Must Die as a piece of period kitsch – there are overtones too of Blaxploitation in the soundtrack and casting, of early 1970s Television thrillers in the helicopter pursuits and estate-wide surveillance Technology, and of the more strained efforts of Hammer Film Productions to diversify in the film’s somewhat ham-fisted attempts at Equipoise – now seem to regard the interpolation of the werewolf break as delightfully reminiscent of a bygone era.

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The OA


Already, during the first episode of The OA, one of the integral tethering points of Fantastika to a logic of sense – that events inside the fictive space should be read as literally happening – is disrupted. Transgression and Equipoise are put to fantastika’s traditional purpose of subjecting the fixity of the world to “fruitful instability” but there is little ontological framework by which to direct The OA’s system of Metaphysics: everything is diegesis and doubt. The fact the viewer does not know The OA’s true origin story means that we cannot properly invest in The OA‘s narrative arc; unless perhaps it is to question the very basis of consensual narrative. A film like Guillermo Del Toro‘s El laberinto del fauno [“Pan’s Labyrinth”] (2006) by contrast begins and ends its tale of a fallen princess oppressed by all-too-real forces in a Secondary World [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], making itself all the more concrete by turning its narrative full-circle. The OA‘s refusal to let its audience know where it stands complicates any attempt at interpretation, a decision accentuated by placing credit sequences at unusual junctures in episodes of unequal lengths, disjunctive pacing and switching between points-of-view and, most tellingly, by alternately supporting The OA’s version of events and throwing them into doubt. We are not showing you the literal truth, the makers of The OA are saying, because a human being literally does not know where she comes from or why she is here.

A science fiction story – even one written by a fabulist – would not play the game in quite the same way. Russell Hoban‘s Fremder (1996) uses a fictionalized version of quantum Physics to assert a subjective understanding of reality:

Centricity of event as perceived by a participant in the event is reciprocal with the observed universe: the universe configures the event and the event configures the universe. Each life is a sequence of event-universes, each sequence having equal reality subjectively and no reality objectively. Objective reality is not possible within the sequence, therefore subjective reality, regardless of consensus, is the only reality.

The OA

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


The overall effect is to (a) humanize and (b) expand the Star Wars project along familiar lines. The plot-holes – Bodhi Rook experiences a Memory Edit by a Supernatural Creature that is simply forgotten, the back-and-forth McGuffin of the Death Star schematics in fact bears very little logical examination and the last-minute romance between Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor is rumoured to have been accentuated by reshoots – seem to be an interesting feature of conversation for the fans rather than any reason to doubt the efficacy of the franchise. The economics speaks for itself. Rogue One is one of a number of recent sf films and tv series that successfully insert a strong female lead into action narratives without including other women among the major protagonists: it is difficult to build a meaningful dramatic triad around such a character without reverting to “father” or “lover”; hence, Jyn begins the movie by doing it for her dad and ends it holding hands with a man (see Women in SF). If certain sequences of Rogue One seem familiar to fans of science fiction cinema, it is more than vague similarity: editor Colin Goudie mapped out the film before shooting began by using footage from other films, in much the same manner employed by the Duffer Brothers during the pitching process for tv series Stranger Things (2016-current): the interrogation scene from Aliens (1986) was used to stand in for Jyn Erso’s first meeting with the Rebel council for instance, and a scene from Wargames (1983) was used to pace-out the sequence in which Jyn and company break into the Imperial data banks. This does not harm the overall effect: originality is not required. George Lucas reacted positively to Rogue One after making some disparaging remarks about Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – he has since apologized to Disney – and there are rumours he may become more closely involved in future spin-offs, all of which will be standalone projects that refer to the central corpus of nine films without affecting their events. Disney’s investment seems securer than most:-

Rogue One

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The Mephisto Waltz


The Mephisto Waltz eschews the traditional approach to a story of the supernatural – much of the tension of which comes from not knowing to what extent it is true or by what means it is making itself felt to the otherwise rational sensibilities of its protagonists – in favour of colourful effects, fancy dress and lurid dream sequences. The film has all of the allure and none of the ambiguity of the subgenre of folk Horror from which it inherits its visual register: a black dog wears the latex face of a man, California socialites enjoy Sex unrestrained by the bourgeois confines of marriage and a soft-focus female-only nudity extrudes decorously onto the screen at opportune moments. Where the typical “folk horror” set-up might involve an isolated location at which apparently-outmoded beliefs announce themselves through some violent or supernatural event, one of the form’s late-1960s variants reverses the metropolitan person adrift in a landscape motif to bring the Fantastika of the old country to the City, often via a secret society of witches or Satanists. The success of Rosemary’s Baby (1967), adapted from the novel by Ira Levin, set the tone for this slow-burn urban alternative: the more gradual the crescendo of its narrative, the greater the impact of its final scene. The Mephisto Waltz swaps the tension of not quite knowing for the drama of not knowing what might happen next. It is easy to see why the film failed at the box office and easy too to see why it has since gained a cult following:-

The Mephisto Waltz

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