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Archive for June 9th, 2012

By Bob Clark

When pioneering sci-fi author Ray Bradbury passed away this week, there were plenty of places for the mind to turn to, reeling in the news of a great mind departing from the Earth. There were of course the numerous literary works he’d penned over the course of his decades long career as one of the most popular and thoughtful genre authors of the 20th century, and one whose influences can still be traced crystal clear through all manner of short-stories and novels. Additionally, one could think to the number of adaptations his work received over the years, from television miniseries like The Martian Chronicles or the fever-pitch crossroads of French New Wave and Hitchcockian dystopia in Francois Truffaut’s film of Fahrenheit 451, no doubt the author’s signature piece (influential enough for it to turn into a mere punchline of a title in Michael Moore’s 9/11 documentary). Beyond that, there were the years of interviews and commentary he provided on the nature of science-fiction, particularly when it came to the ways in which he resisted franchising some of his most popular works. One of the earliest items of interest I’d read about him, as a child, was that while he very often enjoyed original science-fiction films, he often despaired when the filmmakers turned to the same premise for a sequel, even when the resulting product turned out to be something as universally respected (within the genre community, at least) as The Empire Strikes Back. And as much as I’ve enjoyed the series of films represented by that sequel– one of the rare efforts to join the “better than the original” club of classics in many critics’ eyes– I have to admit that I’ve always rather agreed with him.

After all, just as THX 1138 led to the original Star Wars in George Lucas’ career, wouldn’t it have been something to have seen what might’ve followed in the path from that blockbuster-of-blockbusters, rather than just the next episode in the series? I’ve certainly held myself to little or no restraint when it comes to admiring that series, of course, and especially the much-criticized Prequel Trilogy, but at the same time I can’t deny that in dedicating his creative efforts and resources to franchising his saga, that Lucas may have very well cut short an even greater span and range of cinematic works. It’s something I wonder about when looking at Ridley Scott’s second and third features, especially considering that both of Lucas’ sci-fi features up to then had motivated the British director to consider the genre in the first place. Both staunchly works of hard-core (if not expressly “hard”) science-fiction, yet each of them miles apart from one another in theme and tone (farther apart, in some respects, than THX 1138 and Star Wars), the films Alien and Blade Runner have long since become two of the most beloved and respected contributions to the genre, as well as cinematic classics of any stripe. Once word of a sequel to the initial film went underway, it would’ve been very easy indeed for Scott to have joined that bandwagon and allow both himself and the series to repeat themselves for another exercise in bio-horror stalking in the dark (had he stayed on, it’s unlikely we would’ve gotten anything remotely resembling James Cameron’s appropriation of Heinlein-isms for Aliens, another arguable member of the “better than the first” club), but he had moved on to things both bigger and bolder (the teasing promise of the abortive Dune adaptation, and the eventual greatness of his tackling Phillip K. Dick) and smaller and weaker (basically everything up until Gladiator, with Thelma & Louise thrown in if you want to be charitable). In that sense, perhaps it’s smarter to stick with a franchise, or at the very least a genre, when you’ve got something good going, but at least he attempted something different, for better and worse alike. Or at least that’s what he’s attempted all this long until this week’s addition to his filmography, Prometheus.

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