As the plaudits pile up on Alfonso Cuaron for his visionary approach towards the visceral space thriller Gravity, this new found enthusiasm for a genre, often dismissed as popcorn-fodder-escapism begins to beg the question – just why is it that sci-fi has historically been ignored come awards season?
And to elaborate further on that ponderous rhetoric – has the success of Gravity been able to demonstrate that sci-fi has finally evolved as an art form to the point where it is now deemed a palatable format, no longer misaligned with the B-movie exploitation serials of old?
This blinkered cynicism, which has been the cause of much debate over the validity of the genre, has managed to rob a number of later canonised cult sci-fi drama of the adulation that its writers and film makers so rightfully deserved first time around. But could it be that the central themes running through the likes of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, as well as its grandiose set pieces and game-changing Vangelis soundtrack, were so ahead of its time that the-powers-that-be dared not to endorse such powerful ideas that ultimately questioned the sanctity of the human condition.
These existential flourishes seem to be something which are now very much at the core of sci-fi while providing a platform for the metaphysical to be observed through art. The genesis of which was through the complex and often surreal narratives of the likes of Philip K Dick and Arthur C Clarke, who provided the literary backdrop to a renaissance in Brave New World-esque territory, almost as a reaction to the pulp fiction which had dominated the genre .
This galvanised a cultural wave that transcended modern science fiction cinema from its 1950s Theremin toting anachronisms, to a multi dimensional format which mused on a bold melting pot of ideas with an often surrealist and post modern social-political agenda.
Acclaimed visual effects artist Doug Trumbull, whose credits include 2001 : A Space Odyssey and the aforementioned Blade Runner, was very much a pioneer in the evolution of sci-fi and was able to make the difficult transition into the director’s seat on the criminally under rated Silent Running, which helped bridge the gap between technical poise and artistic merit.
Trumbull’s creative vision allowed both aspects to carefully compliment each other, while placing more focus on character development and performance; with a stellar turn from veteran actor Bruce Dern that gave the genre a renewed sense of credibility.
Similarly in the case of Gravity, it seems Alfonso Cuaron has attempted to reinvent the wheel, utilising groundbreaking visual effects without having to compromise on either performance or good old-fashioned storytelling.
Despite all of its abstract ideas and underlying subtext, Gravity is very much a meat and potatoes tale of redemption, which as a result has been able to connect with people on a human-emotional-level. With sci-fi now ready to shake off its stigmatic shackles following the film’s recent reception at this year’s Oscar ceremony, hopefully these sentiments will now be embraced by the academy, as they finally appear willing to boldly go where no man has gone before.
IMDb: Gravity (2013)
A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after a catastrophe destroys their shuttle and leaves them adrift in orbit.