Monthly Archives: May 2013

Robot fornication and homage to the science fiction of yesterday

Can machines develop emotions? Are they capable of love? What separates man from machine? These are all hotly contested questions of futurism and science fiction, yet to enjoy the Disney film Wall-E, you sort of have to let these questions fall to the wayside.

Wall-E is perhaps the only family post-apocalyptic film ever created, taking place at a time in which the Earth has been mangled and made toxic, no longer with any ability to sustain life. Humanity, of course, leaves on a galactic cruise, waiting in outer space for machines to clean up the mess left on the planet. As the cleanup takes longer than expected, humanity continues to tour the galaxy, with subsequent generations becoming fatter and lazier, forgetting what typical 21st-century human life is actually like.

While the film is adorable, it hits too close to home in its sad, satirical forecast. Is it just a matter of time until we become pod people, losing our bone structure and becoming so fat and weak that we are rendered unable to move ourselves? I guess this is neither here nor there for the purposes of this discussion, which will focus on the portrayal of the film’s lead characters, Wall-E and Eve. And for the purposes of this discussion, we do away with our doing-away with the aforementioned questions. This isn’t about enjoying the film; it’s about having a good, weird science fiction discussion. And believe me, it’s going to get weird and un-family friendly pretty quickly. Continue reading

The true sounds of outer space

Outer space is silent. This is something we all know and are all told from a very young age in the classroom. But what does this really mean? What is it like to be in a perfect vacuum? Very few have actually experienced complete silence, and without sticking your fingers in your ears, it’s hard to get an idea of what complete silence is like. No wind. No cars. No chirping birds. Nothing. If you close your eyes while sitting in a quiet room, you’ll notice there is much more peripheral sound than you had initially thought.

For All Mankind is fascinating in that it takes us as close to outer space as any other multimedia experience. From a sonic perspective, we hear the booming sounds of the rockets during takeoff, the crackle of the radio, and — once we arrive in outer space — we listen to the prerecorded tape cassettes the astronauts have taken onboard and the non-diegetic sounds added to supplement space. On top of all of this, the astronauts narrate the journey to the moon, providing commentary that provides additional perspective. Yes, this is still about as close to outer space as we can get from Earth. But what would For All Mankind be like if it took the next step, allowing viewers to see real life in outer space? Certainly, it wouldn’t be quite as entertaining. It would likely be difficult to sit through a feature-length film with no narration. (It would also be more difficult to understand what is happening.) Continue reading

Sonic science fiction project proposal — Those Happy Times When Heads Explode: Terrorizing audiences by sonifying the intangible force within science fiction cinema

In many science fiction films, sound is added to suggest a force unseen. In Star Wars, Darth Vader’s distant death grip using the force is accompanied by ominous, low tones. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, sequences featuring the monolith are accompanied by screaming, tense music. And of course, building feedback leads to an exploding head in Scanners. This project, Those Happy Times When Heads Explode, will explore the practice of frightening audiences by sonifying intangible inner states within science fiction cinema.

The project’s primary objective is to outline a framework and theory regarding how this sonification functions and how it can be used to maximum cinematic effect to frighten audiences. This also involves examining the boundary between diegetic and non-diegetic sound, as this sonification often affects fright and terror through its deliberate blurring of this boundary.

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In Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Richard Dreyfuss handles alien encounters much better than I would

If I were parked in a truck in the middle of nowhere and all of the sudden lights from above started rattling everything, the first thing I would do is change my pants. Next, I would find some aloe for my half-sunburned face. Then just maybe I’d pull a Richard Dreyfuss and rip out all my plants and build a dirt mound in my kitchen. Just maybe.

"The contemporary art world is going to eat this up."

“The contemporary art world is going to eat this up.”

I’ve seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind numerous times, but my most recent viewing was the first time I was able to pick up on some of the more subtle details of the film. (I guess I should thank Michel Chion for cueing me into some of these in his book, Film: A Sound Art.) There is a significant amount going on internally within the film’s characters. I seemed to take this for granted in the past, apparently just thinking it was “natural” that common visions and tones would find their ways into the character’s minds. How did these images and sounds get there, and how successful is the film at portraying this mental infestation?

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Storytelling from the other side: THX 1138

It’s easy to forget just how creative George Lucas can be. Sometimes the Star Wars franchise becomes so commonplace that you forget how thought went into it, and all the amazing creations it boasted. (But it certainly doesn’t help Lucas’ case when he goes back and destroys everything he ever worked on.)

 

Nonetheless, Lucas’ supreme creativity renders THX 1138 an incredibly challenging film to watch. After viewing the film, I even needed to search online for a synopsis to be 100 percent sure I knew what had just happened. Much of this can be attributed to its unconventional storytelling style. What’s perhaps most inventive is the use of “android” narration. Most of the film’s key elements are presented through cheery, prerecorded voices. In many ways, this makes the android environment even more off-putting. It’s like your creepy uncle who seems way too happy about everything. If he’s that happy about everything, he’s obviously not to be trusted.

 

"I have cancer! Isn't that great?!"

“I have cancer! Isn’t that great?!”

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