The Expanse follows great tradition of hard core sci-fi movies where aliens are mysterious, vague or imagined beings (or just phenomenon), they don’t speak English (or more often don’t use language at all) and no matter how cool guns or laser swords reinforced with Jedi skills and spasmatic patriotism of selected US Marines you have (even in Texas), you are screwed .
We’ve been missing this sweet spot in sci-fi productions between advanced, galactic, type-II civilizations (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars or Altered Carbon) and first contact scenarios where humans try to comprehend super advanced technology suddenly showing up on modern Earth (Contact, Arrival or more esoteric series like “Stranger Things” and “Dark”). Most Hollywood attempts stop at delivering pump-action garbage where space is only excuse for more spectacular explosions (nope, they still haven’t figure it out) but there is hope for the genre!
Video games deliver simulated experience, thrill of taking over a role we will never have in a real life to far higher extend than movies, books and any other form of entertainment so far. They create this unmatched sense of adventure and interactivity almost like hardware wired directly to your neurons triggering real emotional response when achieving artificial goals. They’re in large extend responsible for this unbearable sense of boredom in suddenly ordinary lives that we fight on a daily basis.Modern anxiety is a function of this widening chasm between polished, exciting and distilled to the best moments matrix and dull, uninspiring day-to-day reality. We have turned into virtual adrenaline junkies, mental vampires constantly looking to have their brains stimulated or even fried. “Amusing ourselves to death” – warning formulated by Neil Postman in 1985 may be just getting shape. Just like “Z” in Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” said when looking at the world outside Oasis: “It’s so much slower”. When we became such video game addicts? We never had more engaging, time consuming and personality-alternating entertainment in history and it’s more contagious and wide-spread than malaria (and it’s just going to explode further with VR and AR dimension). It’s essential part of modern pop-culture and virtual characters are referenced on pair with music or show business icons. Video game is a modern manifestation of art and interactive entertainment mixed together – we live in a world of eclectic values and disposable aesthetics. It supplies us with fake experience and skills we will never use in the “real world” (similar to most jobs nowadays) but skills that have social, intangible value reinforcing our position in artificially created group of mutual interests.
Moving from sci-fi movies to sci-fi games seems like a childish transition and deterioration of cultural sensitivity (in the same manner as switching from books to movies for hard core intellectualism) but there is so much going on in gaming industry nowadays that Hollywood must be crumbling in its fake and forced glamour, releasing new Marvel nonsense in desperate attempt to fight it off (and contain Netflix contagion on the way as well). Games moved beyond pure entertainment long ago, especially with such noble genres like RPG or Action-Adventure and turning blind eye on them is a serious mistake for any sci-fi enthusiast. World of coded algorithms has no boundaries, CGI capability is limitless, wildest dreams and ideas can come true, narrowed only by imagination (and less by budget and technology unlike movies). There is necessary trade off though – story in most games is usually an excuse for shooting, hacking or otherwise destroying “enemies” (with few exceptions where we actually have to build a city, farm or household) – no Fellini, Bergman or Almodovar in this world yet, but story line gets increasingly complex and important in the “New Generation Games” as users grow more demanding. For older consumers this cultural revolution goes unnoticed but some games already look more like interactive movies (Uncharted, Heavy Rain or Detroit Become Human ) and when combined with VR (which is not there yet) we will get new dimension of immersive, audio-visual-sensory experience.
Another pop-culture product of prolific and colorful but recently rather tarnished imagination of Luc Besson, based on classic comic books from 60’s Valérian and Laureline. It follows a trend of burlesque sci-fi like “Guardians of the Galaxy” or strongly sarcastic superhero movies like “Deadpool” but somehow reflects theme that seems to be haunting Besson: future of humankind and life in the universe unforgettably started in “The Fifth Element” and butchered in “Lucy” (although with good idea and intentions). “Valerian” is infinitely colorful and filled with wild technological ideas but overloaded with CGI which makes your head spin like after VR overdose. It’s endless blitzkrieg on your senses, roller coaster of flashing images and music testing perception skills of jet pilots. Absurd is mixed with sparkling imagination plus there is a 15 minutes implant reserved for Rihanna to attract teenage pop-audience not familiar with science nor fiction: some kind of investment offset I believe? Noble cause but I doubt it can justify her role.
Finally! Sci-fi that looks and feels great and makes sense! What a relieve…
Remaking old ideas is a modern trait, not only in cinema. In history of culture, beginning of the XXI century will be called “era of plagiarism” or “recyclism” one day. It seems like with such an advancement in knowledge and comfort people lost ability to tell interesting stories or perhaps they don’t value them anymore (at least in America). Did our lives suddenly became so boring and mundane that we have nothing to say about ourselves? You need one glimpse at social media to realize: absolutely not! There is plenty of people who think their lives are infinitely amazing and worth sharing and they have so much to say. Attention span decreased rapidly but access to tools of expression and media increased exponentially so what is to blame? Are we already “amusing ourselves to death” like Neil Postman claimed in 80’s?
“Person of interest” seems like another TV show in an ocean of media consumption designed to drain your real life down and hook you to main characters and their interaction but there is a secret code underlying it. I don’t think it’s just “fun to watch”, entertaining to follow and great to look at. It’s all fine (apart from John Reese who could be less stiff and less invincible like in more mature revisions of Marvel and James Bond). Female cast is brilliant (although Root and Shaw get shot in almost every episode as well without minding it too much like it was a mosquito bite) and Finch is perfect but there is much more than meets the eye. It’s built on several layers, just like Matrix (at least the first one). You can enjoy watching TV show or make your mind challenged by big questions about AI, social security and political surveillance– and all this before Snowden, WikiLeaks and Manning scandals revealed just how real this subject is.
Since we’re on the brink of major revolution in astronomy (mainly due to exploration of exoplanets) sci-fi and especially Alien encounter subject becomes more relevant than ever in history. In mass consciousness blockbusters like “Armageddon” or “Independence Day” are too ridiculous to even entertain. How would “close encounters of the third kind” really look like though? Are we ready to discover other live forms in the Universe? Is our civilization and humankind mature enough to digest knowledge about universe and our place in it (however insignificant or extraordinary it might be)?
If you treat “Ghost in the Shell” as a tribute to the original manga franchise, digestible and compatible advertisement for the cyberpunk concept, you can swallow all simplifications and faults and just embrace idea of putting it on a big screen. Fans will be disappointed or even angry but not because movie is shit (even if it is) but because of their expectations. It’s like expecting peace in the world or intelligence to have the highest value – this is not how marketing works (and definitely not how the world works). It’s a product to be sold to the wide, international audience, just like penicillin, not philosophical treatise about possible implications of AI and cybernetics to a society of the future (which the original manga almost is).
It doesn’t mean you should watch spectacle of butchering classics and great ideas with a poker face but if you expect honesty from politicians and education from money-making conveyor belt of entertainment you will be disappointed forever.
We have a great sense of pride and anthropocentric superiority when we talk about “space exploration”. We have sent few space probes to the vacuum, agreed. One of them (Voyager I) is slowly entering Oort Cloud at the moment, outermost edge of our Solar System, another 2 (Voyager II and New Horizons) are not far behind but we, as humans, have only reached as far as our Moon, 380.000 km from Earth. Even in terms of our Solar System you can hardly call it “exploration”. “Visiting neighborhood” would also be an exaggeration. Technologically we are capable of leaving our atmosphere for a mere 50 years – barely one generation. This is quite a statement considering that known Universe exists for 13.6 billion years, our Sun – 4.6 billion years and distance to the nearest planet – Venus is 42.000.000 km which is over 100 times further than the Moon and to the nearest star: Proxima Centauri (4.24 light years away) – 40.000.000.000.000 km (and it would take Voyager I another 76.000 years to get there). We can definitely call ourselves “mental conquistadors” or “scientific explorers” though. Taking into consideration that 100 years ago we didn’t even know the scale of our Solar System and we were completely oblivious to existence of other galaxies, we’ve have expanded our imagination and knowledge exponentially and this progress is truly impressive and mind boggling. We have traveled in our heads much further than in space (or perhaps it’s the same in the end, as in famous Carl Sagan’s Contact?)
I was never a big fan of Mad Max franchise. First in series from 1979 looks like a B production and I honestly don’t understand how it won all these awards (although I can understand that for twenty years the film had the highest profit-to-cost ratio of any motion picture). Other movies from the same year are for example Apocalypse Now and Alien – just to give a reference point. It would be a joke to put them in the same league technically, set aside storyline or acting skills. 1981 and 1985 installments followed – improvement in terms of budget (with significant impact on special effects and overall cinematography) but not much regarding a plot. To be fair – I didn’t even know there were 3 movies done my Miller already and I couldn’t remember any of them – my memory was hopelessly meandering between Waterworld and Star Wars desert shots.