28 05 2010

In the late-’70/early-’80s, Disney was attempting to reposition itself in a niche away from the traditional family product that they were known for, moving instead towards darker-tinged science fiction and fantasy. This was partly in response to the success of Star Wars in 1977, as is apparent with the generally goofy (but at times surprisingly sinister) Disney live-action feature The Black Hole, released only two years later.

So when a young, independent animator called Steven Lisberger approached the company, looking for someone to finance an experimental science fiction film about video games, it seemed like the perfect fit. This was the era of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Frogger, when home computing was beginning to make inroads and the potential of all things digital seemed limitless: the so-called “silicon revolution” had just arrived. What better way for Disney to remain relevant than to release a film that capitalised on such a current trend?

That film, of course, was Tron (1982). Combining back-lit animation, traditional animation and computer-generated imagery with live-action footage, this was Star Wars for the impending Information Age. Its setting was stark yet elegant and often beautiful; its themes struck at the heart of the increasing commercialisation of a market hitherto dominated by hobbyists and academics. In short, it was the mythology for a new age.
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Blade Runner

15 01 2008

Blade Runner1982 was a good year for science fiction on film: on the one hand you had Steven Speilberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which was one of those inescapable blockbusters that was as much an event as a film; on the other hand we were given John Carpenter’s The Thing, which seemed to be the cinematic inverse of Spielberg’s offering. Transcending that dichotomy, however, was Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, a futuristic film noir that is arguably the most important science fiction film of the 1980s — certainly, it was one of the most influential.

It is Los Angeles in 2019, and within the urban decay are four rogue “replicants” — sophisticated androids that are virtually indistinguishable from humans. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a former blade runner — a detective charged with tracking down and “retiring” (i.e. killing) rogue replicants — and he’s brought back on the job to retire the current four who are still on the loose.

Blade Runner is an important film for a number of reasons. Firstly, it helped to define the “cyberpunk” subgenre: its world was a grimy, sprawling urban landscape fused with high-tech industry, and this became the paradigm upon which so much science fiction was later built. Secondly, its themes of humanity, creation and the nature of memory are dealt with seriously but never in a heavy-handed manner. And finally, it’s yet another case of a film that was relatively unsuccessful at the time of release but whose influence was so marked that it’s now regarded as a classic almost by default.
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Pink Floyd The Wall

4 12 2007

Pink Floyd The WallIn late 1979, Pink Floyd released their double-LP concept-album The Wall, a satire and diatribe that savaged the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle while including pot-shots aimed at a sadistic education system and the personal effects of war. This was bassist Roger Waters’ baby, being as he conceived of the project in isolation and wrote the bulk of the material on the album.

In tandem with the recording of The Wall were plans to create an elaborate stage show and concert film, and while the stage show went ahead, the film began to take on a different role. No longer would it be a concert film supplemented with additional dramatic footage starring Waters; instead, Bob Geldof was cast as the lead and the film would feature no actual footage of the band. Gerald Scarfe (who had illustrated the album and provided animations for the stage show) would remain the animation director, however.

The film itself, directed by Alan Parker (Fame, Midnight Express), is a pretty sombre affair. Geldof plays Pink, a rock star burnt out by excess and facing a gradual psychological meltdown, obviously still traumatised by the death of his father in World War II as well as possessing various other gripes. Pink eventually turns completely inwards, building a metaphorical wall as a defence mechanism and developing an utter contempt for the adulation of his fans.
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