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Thursday, March 30, 2006 01:51 pm

F for fascism

Why is totalitarianism associated with science fiction?

V for Vendetta concerns a lone avenger who fights a totalitarian government, a popular theme in science fiction. Why is totalitarianism associated with science fiction? Apparently one man’s sci-fi is another man’s reality. Maybe the genre is a safe haven for political commentary. The Smothers Brothers ran into problems with their television network as a result of their anti-war stance, but Gene Roddenberry sailed through unscathed, slipping similar messages into Star Trek. The model for sci-fi totalitarianism is George Orwell’s legendary 1984. Big Brother, Orwell’s personification of the dystopian government, has entered the public’s conscience as the symbol for any form of government control. The book has been filmed twice, but the results, in both cases, are disappointing. The greatest films on the subject, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985), also happen to be the twin pinnacles of the sci-fi genre. Both have been recommended in previous columns so I will move on. Metropolis (1927) is the first significant film depicting a dystopian future. An industrialist rules a giant city divided into two classes, the thinkers and the workers. The workers are glorified slaves trapped in a tedious subterranean world. Fritz Lang’s classic, like other silent films, has its moments of melodrama and silliness, but its visual splendor more than compensates. George Lucas actually began his career as a real filmmaker before his mind was overtaken by merchandising mania. His debut feature, THX 1138 (1971), depicts a bleak futuristic underground society that prohibits sexual contact. The pacing is a bit slow, but the film has its moments, particularly a gem of a chase scene. Lucas’ later depiction of totalitarianism in Star Wars was more cartoonish, but he did manage to insert some timely anti-war commentary in the third episode. Director Alex Proyas blends sci-fi and film noir in his masterpiece Dark City (1998). A murder investigation is at the core of a more sinister plot of a civilization controlled by a mysterious group known as the Strangers who can manipulate time and reality. No film has put computer-generated effects to better use. The periodic metamorphosis of the city is mind-boggling. Just remember the immortal words “We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.” This may sound like a Bushism, but it was spoken by Criswell in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).
Available on DVD this Tuesday (April 4): The Chronicles of Narnia — The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Brokeback Mountain.
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