Experimental sci-fi

Wired's Steve Silberman reports on 'Pi' and 'Requiem for a Dream' director Darren Aronofsky's latest effort, a low-budget science fiction film called 'The Fountain'.

Silberman has high praise for the movie and, I have to admit, I find the idea of sci-fi without CGI refreshing.

By bucking the conventions of CGI and using an ingenious application of microphotography to simulate space, Aronofsky has given the scenes in the nebula a handwrought quality that evokes the luminous etchings of William Blake. [...] Aronofsky's team discovered the work of Peter Parks, a marine biologist and photographer who lives in a 400-year-old cowshed west of London. Parks and his son run a home f/x shop based on a device they call the microzoom optical bench. Bristling with digital and film cameras, lenses, and Victorian prisms, their contraption can magnify a microliter of water up to 500,000 times or fill an Imax screen with the period at the end of this sentence. Into water they sprinkle yeast, dyes, solvents, and baby oil, along with other ingredients they decline to divulge. The secret of Parks' technique is an odd law of fluid dynamics: The less fluid you have, the more it behaves like a solid. The upshot is that Parks can make a dash of curry powder cascading toward the lens look like an onslaught of flaming meteorites.

The only unfortunate thing is that the feature brought to mind a Wired feature by Mark Frauenfelder from 1999. It concerned a film called 'For the Cause', then in production, which was potentially very interesting because its director was making use of desktop technology to challenge Hollywood special effects houses.

The film sank without a trace.

Oddly enough, I found myself in the local video shop recently. Having plumbed the depths of the new releases, I decided to look at the older films. Failing to find anything dramatic in the drama section or comedic among the comedy titles (horrific films were not hard to find, and not just in the horror section) I decided to look at the science fiction section. The poor quality disgusted me.

Now, I admit that I have what could be described as snobbish tastes - in other words, I like a lot of foreign films that involve lots of talking and very little action - but seriously, there's an awful lot of tripe out there, particularly from the US.

Take science fiction, since that's the form mentioned above. In my time I've read a fair few science fiction novels. I wouldn't call myself a fan, but there are some interesting stories out there - particularly by Mssrs. Gibson and Dick. Science fiction cinema, on the other hand, is almost uniformly dire. (Don't even mention television.)

Most of them are just gadget obsessed adventure films competing with one another to be the 'ass-kickinist' DVD on the shelf. Yawn.

It's hard to even know why these films are called "science" fiction at all. Now that all fights in films absolutely must be Kung-Fu (proof positive that the geeks have taken over) this has all become obvious, but it's not new - back in the day J.G. Ballard described Star Wars: "Hobbits in Space."

I didn't get a film in the end. I went to the pub instead.

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