Satellites of the Sun

This will be the first of a couple of posts covering  a couple of the interesting short films I’ve found in the online archive of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).

Satellites of the Sun

Click the picture to be taken to the video

First up Satellites of the Sun by Sidney Goldsmith.

There’s something gloriously ominous about this animation. It has a colour-on-black design overlaid with a deadpan narration which adds up to a film with a remarkably dark tone. It also avoids the normal cliché of Also Sprach Zarathustra and instead offers a wonderful score by Eldon Rathburn.

As we journey through the solar system we see the construction of a space telescope (hubble?) watched over by an astronaut as his crewmate tumbles over and over in time to the music. In another scene we see a lander apparently orbit 1685 Toro. I should mention that despite what it says in the film Toro isn’t in fact our “second moon”. It’s actually an asteroid locked in a similar orbit to our own – something that dates the film. There are also several illustrations of the surfaces of the planets as observers imagined them at the time of the film’s production. There’s an almost science fiction quality to it.

Satellites of the Sun was originally intended as an update for the remarkable short film Universe (itself was a source for 2001: A Space Odyssey) and aimed at Canadian schools. However Sidney Goldsmith decided because of the work involved he would make something wholly original.

I’m glad he did. Watch the film and be chilled by the faceless astronauts while your mind expands to take in the immensity of our Solar System.


So what happens after?

Zombies are everywhere. They are climbing up out of the sewers, chasing people across deserts, running, jumping, hopping and scotching… they are everywhere. People have needlessly inserted them into literary classics and even had famous dead presidents chase them in ludicrous action films. I think it’s fair to say that, “Vampires are so last year darling.” [Please say that with an East European accent.] In recent years, following the apocalypse of the American Dream and the collapse of the modern myth, Zombies have been chosen because it is suggested they are more than the sum of their rotten parts.

I’m getting a bit bored of them if I am honest. There’s only so many takes on the patient zero story I can stomach. I think it’s time for them to go back to the grave for a bit. Or is it?

Take a look at this short film. Spoiler asks the question, “What if we won?” and I think it answers it well. If there’s a TV show or a film about zombies to be made I’d like it to explore this universe.

No more patient zero. No more riffs on Day of the Triffids. No more hicks in the Midwest. Something different please.


What should spaceships look like?

Good question isn’t it?

I once had an exchange over the latest Star Trek film and at one point my other correspondent said, “And another thing, I hate the way the Romulan ship looks like a big jumble of knives.”  I paraphrase but his problem was that the Romulan ship didn’t look like a “proper” spaceship.  Certainly not for the Trek universe.  I pointed out that we’re talking about a fanciful fantasy set in space… why shouldn’t the Romulan ship look like whatever it wants?

This week the BBC news service wonders the same thing, What Should Spaceships Look Like?

And today I thought I would watch 2001: A Space Odyssey again.  Kubrick‘s attention to detail in the ship designs he chose is impressive, I know that he hired staff from NASA to help.  There’s an obvious American feel to the space sections.  The machines all look as you would expect an American ship designer to turn out – almost rigidly functional – and there’s no mistaking that this is what spaceships should look like.  It’s almost a cliché.

You can even see a similar design ethos in the early Star Wars films:  clunky, rigid, spacey craft that nevertheless zip around at fantastic speeds.  It’s popularly known that they are a direct riposte to the sleek futurism of the Star Trek universe.

So what should a spaceship look like?

Well anything you like really.  It’s not like there are aerodynamic limitations in space.  There might be limitations based on whatever method of propulsion (rocket ships… need rockets and exhausts, but I think one of the most imaginative that I’ve ever seen is in the film The Fountain (of which I seem to be the only fan).  I’ve attached a pic to show it in its detail – but I think it clearly resembles the amniotic sac surrounding the Star Child at the end of 2001.. and bringing us back to the 60s once again.  Is there no escaping Stanley Kubrick?

The bubble looks a bit the amniotic sac of the Star Child at the end of 2001.


Is the future of films with big ideas still small? …2

I stumbled across a gorgeous trailer for a new SF short called Archetype.  Looks great.  If the film matches the trailer then I am sold.  Here’s the synopsis:

RL7 is an eight foot tall combat robot. Only problem is he’s starting to remember once being human. Now on the run from an all powerful corporation that will stop at nothing to destroy him RL7 desperately searches for the truth behind his mysterious memories before it’s too late.

Sounds a bit Robocop but still here’s the trailer.


Is the future of films with big ideas still small?

Having just watched a short film called Stasis I’ve found myself wondering how far film making has come?  Big idea SF has largely been the perserve of small independent films since the 70s – certainly since Star Wars.  Back before then large scale SF was being made regularly.  You could go to a cinema and see a seriously handled big concept SF idea on the screen and enjoy yourself.  Towards the end of the 70s these become less common and are virtually extinct by the end of the 80s. The mainstream became dominated by franchises, tent-pole films and action films in SF trappings.  Now; don’t get me wrong, I really like a lot of these movies and I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with well executed pure entertainment (a recent example might be Predators) but I would like to see some of the better elements of SF put up on screen again.  My big hope is that Inception marks a turning point.

A man floating in a tank... what's going on exactly?

All of which is a long winded way of saying watch Stasis.  It’s really good.


The Way of All Flesh

"Planet Porno Bombards Earth! ... Awesome!"

Listening to something on the radio today I was surprised at the mention of this film.  Slipping into nostalgia I realised I’ve got some fond memories of this movie – and not for the reasons most people might expect.  I remember watching it and being surprised at the comedy and wry mockery of the old Flash Gordon Serial.   At the time I remember wondering why they bothered inserting all the porn.  No seriously it’s not as bad a film as you might think.  And if gratuitous nudity bothers you then there’s always the fast forward button.

Then there’s the character names: Flesh Gordon (natch), Dale Ardor, Emperor Wang (nuff said) and … Flexi Jerkoff.  I don’t think names get much better than that.

Oh and The Great God Porno voiced by Coach.

What was most surprising was the number of serious film people involved: Rick Baker (several Oscars…), Jim Danforth (animator) and allegedly John Dykstra (yeah, the Star Wars guy).

Is  it best to leave this film consigned to rose-tinted past or worth having another look?


Sparkles be gone…

I know I am not the only one sick to the back-teeth of  “Vampire” stories.  Whether we’re talking Twilight, Vampire Diaries, etc. it’s overload time for the  dark romance  turgid teen vampire genre.  I don’t quite know how we got here but I probably blame Anne Rice.  I thoroughly enjoyed Interview with the Vampire but the sequels were somewhat less interesting.  And it turns out she’s a god botherer which explains why we end up with nonsense like Memnoch the Devil.  I’ve digressed;  I’d  just really like to see something approaching a decent complex horror story.

And don’t start me on zombies…

Maybe Werewolves are where it’s at?

I was lucky enough to get to see a half decent film in the Edinburgh  Film Festival called Outcast.  This is a small independent film featuring a mix of Irish and Scottish actors.  The premise is relatively simple.  There are a small number of gypsy types living amongst us and they have magical powers.  Two of them appear to be hunting down something, there’s a strange family living on a sink estate and there’s a monster loose in the town.

First the bad stuff.  The story is a little incoherent. Much is left unsaid and the viewer is left to fill in the gaps.  This makes you work harder than you normally have to, which in a sense is nice, but at the same time a little more detail would have been ok.   Many of the characters felt like placeholders and they didn’t grow much throughout the film. There’s also at least one character who could have been excised completely.  A couple of the story strands are left dangling so the film didn’t feel as satisfying as it might by the time you reach the conclusion.  These are normally bad signs in any movie, certainly for me, yet the film is still quite good,

Essentially this is a typical werewolf story; coming of age mixed in with forbidden love.  The central idea of magical gypsies living among us is nothing new however it felt realistic and the actors worked well with what they were given.  The film had a gritty gory feel that I thought contrasts quite well with the overly smooth safe modern horrors that have been inflicted on us recently.  The director also didn’t dwell on the beast.  It’s not shown   in any detail until the end, probably because of budget constraints, and I felt that this helped keep brooding mystery of the story intact.  There’s also some good central performances that kept me interested throughout.

I’d certainly recommend seeing the film.  It’s a nice counterpoint to the torture-porn and teen angst crap that’s being served up in the multiplexes.  If no one sees it at the cinema then I hope it gets a good figures on DVD.  And I hope the writer-director makes more films – especially if he’s going to explain the world that his characters  inhabit.

As a last thought maybe this is what horror genre actually needs.  Less zombies, less vampires (unless we return to proper scary vampires), less torture porn and more genuine scares.  Maybe it’s time for the genre to go a little underground and then return back from the wilderness lean and hungry again…


Quietly Sprinting…

In a fit of nostalgia I decided to watch of the old SF classic Silent Running.  If you haven’t seen it’s a tale of a man, a  sort-of space botanist, who is in charge of some space born biodomes which contain the last natural plant life of Earth.  One day he and the crew receive the order to jettison (and destroy) their cargo.   He rebels and attempts to save them.

That’s the essential story.  Not much happens other than he anthropomorphises two robotic drones in his need for company.  There’s also some interesting shots of Saturn (leftover from 2001 A Space Odyssey!).

In many ways this film reminded me of Moon by Duncan Jones.  In fact Jones is on record saying that he was very much inspired by it; right down to the central themes of paranoia, loss and alienation.  Also the film seems to lack a lot of tension and Dern’s acting is somewhat patchy and yet, despite this, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it; right down to being moved by the end (which I will not spoil).

It got me thinking.  Good SF is not about “SF” – not rockets and rayguns – it’s about something else.  There’s some enjoyment to be had out of pulpy novels and TV shows featuring chiselled jaws (and jawettes these days), one dimensional aliens and plots revolving around giant explosions but mostly because it’s ok to sometimes switch your brain off.  However truly satisfying SF is very rich and it’s about something else.  Frequently complex themes are explored in a mature, thought-provoking way painted onto the backdrop some otherworldly setting.  In film we might say 2001, Solaris (especially the original) and maybe Bladerunner are good examples of SF being used to talk about what it means to be human.  It seems rather odd to me that a genre that contains so much well-written philosophical discussion on the nature of things is shunned by the literary establishment as well as most general readers.  This despite the fact that we live in the SF age…

I think this is a subject that I will have to return to at some point.

Oh before I forget; for some reason whenever I think of Silent Running [in my head] I confuse it with the John Candy vehicle Cool Runnings.  No, I don’t know why.


Tentacular

I can heartily recommend Monsters. It’s beautifully shot, in fact it’s hard to believe that it was shot using pro-sumer kit. The supporting cast of local mexicans give the film a rich sense of realism.  The essential story of two people in peril trying to get back home probably didn’t  need any octupus Monsters however, without them, it might have disappeared into the morass of other such films. I certainly wouldn’t have been interested.   Because it was part of the Film Festival the director and the most of the crew were in attendance, about 5 people, so that made clapping the film at the end (something I’ve always found weird) actually worthwhile.


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