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October 1997, Week 3


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Thu, 16 Oct 1997 13:03:49 -0500
TEXT/PLAIN (71 lines)
Lang Thompson asserts:
> This is an interesting idea but I'd like to point out that the four
> examples are all science fiction films and don't have any supernatural
> elements. Admittedly this can be a rather vague distinction because
> advanced technology might be indistinguishable from magic (Arthur Clarke's
> famous statement) and (b) in narrative and thematic terms ET is no
> different than an angel.  SF deals with with events plausible under our
> current understanding of science (more or less since some common SF
> concepts like time travel are impossible).  And in the four films mentioned
> (though I haven't seen Contact) only one or two characters get any kind of
> transcendence.  You might argue that the characters in "ET" find home just
> as fine as Dorothy did (& she at least got to visit Oz).
The distinction is indeed a fine one in CONTACT.  I haven't read Carl
Sagan's book, but the film is all about the reconciliation of Faith and
Reason, of Memory and Desire.  And just look at how common religious
imagery is in at least some SF films.  Who preached a message of peace,
died (or was killed) so that others might live, and then rose from the
dead himself?  Well, there's Klaatu (aka Mr. Carpenter) in THE DAY THE
EARTH STOOD STILL, ET, Mr. Spock, and John Carpenter's STARMAN (and
maybe Bowman in 2001 is a variation on the theme)--oh yeah, that guy in
the New Testament too! :-)
> Also, there's a pretty common and obvious counter-tendency that the
> visitors won't be too redemptive:  Independence Day, the Alien films, Split
> Second, Event Horizon, The X-Files (assuming that there are actually
> aliens), Starship Troopers, the Borg in Star Trek, maybe the Terminator
> films, etc.
The Bug-Eyed Monster Invader theme is indeed a constant, at least as
old as HG Wells' WAR OF THE WORLDS (and remember what Orson Welles did
with that!), but you're right--if the 1950s BEMs were substitutes for
the Reds, then what are these creatures substituting for?  (And you can
probably add MIMIC to the list, even though the bugs aren't from outer
> Many American films of the 30s & 40s with supernatural elements weren't set
> in the US but in Central Europe or England or even the Caribbean so there
> wasn't always that immediate connection to American life.
If you mean FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, WHITE ZOMBIE, etc., then you're
right as far as that goes, but there are other films that suggest the
presence of an overarching and benevolent intelligence--whether
directly or indirectly intervening in human affairs.  And, as I've
suggested in another post, the Biblical epic and its offshoots has been
another enduring genre, even if it's had its ups and downs (TV seems to
be handling a lot of that these days--PETER AND PAUL, DAVID, JOSHUA,
One really
> strange exception is the 1933 Gabriel Over the White House where a crooked
> politician becomes President and after a mystical near-death experience
> starts a fanatical clean-up-the-country program (and pretty much a
> fascist).  It's implied that some supernatural power caused the change.
Strange indeed!
Don Larsson
Donald Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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