Science Fiction – The Engine Behind Summer Blockbusters

Joan S. Reed

The tradition of anticipating (Western) summertime full-length feature films with the best special effects spectacle from the top 3D animation studios of Hollywood will never establish a deep following if not for the invention of the literature genre science fiction. Sci-fi, as it is more fondly called by movie and literature fans, encompasses a broad spectrum of topics and situations which explores the wonders of science.

Because a lot of imagination and creativity is involved, Sci-fi requires the aid of top-notch computer-generated 3D animation special effects to realistically involve viewers in the mise-en-scene or world created by the films. Thereby, Sci-fi almost always comes in the territory of fantasy (positive side of science) and horror (its adverse effects).

Sci-fi is a hotbed of ideas wherein highly attractive scientific ideas are tested within the context of a society – especially its consequences on the way people conduct their lives with certain technologies present in their lives. The more common scenarios which science fiction has thoroughly explored are alternative time lines in the future (the Terminator franchise), outer space voyage (Star Trek), interactions with aliens (ET – Extra Terrestrial), countering the laws of nature (The Matrix), and other complicated scientific principles such as time travel, psionics, nanotechnology, light speed travel, and dystopia (wherein anarchy has reigned supreme).

But just what is science fiction? Critics and fans alike are having difficulty pigeonholing a set definition for science fiction. As early as the 1970s, sci-fi was even not used to refer to the big-budget summer blockbusters of Hollywood. It was used by film critics to refer to the inferior, low-budget, B-movies.

The more popular writers of the Sci-fi genre are also at a loss about a specific definition for the entire literature realm. Mark C. Glassy suggested to use the benchmark of obscenity to determine a science fiction work – “you don’t know what it is but you know it when you see it.” Vladimir Nabokov said that if definitions would become rigorous, Shakespeare’s work of art The Tempest would have to be included as belonging to the genre. For Rod Serling, science fiction is “the improbable made possible” compared to fantasy which is “the impossible made probable.”

Sci-fi may have some roots from the imaginative nature of ancient mythologies. As for the earlier works of science fiction literature, one of the first recognized works is Kepler’s Somnium which depicts a travel to the Moon. Other earlier literature references of science fiction include Voltaire’s Micromegas and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver Travels.

Adding to the wealth of science fiction literature works are Mary Shelley’s books Frankenstein and the Last Man. Even the noted poet Edgar Allan Poe joined in on the fun by writing a story about flying to the moon. During the introduction of important technologies such as electricity, powerful transportation and the telegraph, luminaries such as Jules Verne (Around the World in 80 Days) and H.G. Wells (War of the Worlds).

There had been many paradigm shifts in the approach of science fiction writers throughout the years. Cyberpunk authors such as William Gibson started to break away from the typical optimism associated with Sci-fiprogress. On the other hand, the emergence into popular culture of the massive blockbuster hit Star Wars from George Lucas brought back the space opera popularized by Star Trek – and gave a premium on narrative and character development instead of accuracies of scientific speculation. After all scientific imaginations were only fictitious, so why bother explaining it in a detailed manner? But this much is true: science fiction has etched a solid niche in the entertainment values of people worldwide.

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