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Mostly photography and some other musings.

Posts tagged Science fiction

The hypothesis of God, for instance, gives an incomparably absolute opportunity to understand everything and know absolutely nothing. Give man an extremely simplified system of the world and explain every phenomenon away on the basis of that system. An approach like that doesn’t require any knowledge. Just a few memorized formulas plus so-called intuition and so-called common sense.

― Arkady Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic

I’m amazed that still no one has done a film about this book, Arthur’s C. Clarke Rendez Vous with Rama. I’ve read this one a few times. For me is one of the best ones from his author. Maybe, the idea can be like Solaris but here is less about philosophical ideas and more about just simple exploration. It is a much more straight forward and easy to read novel. Some say that it even has no real plot. And that if someone would make a film of it, it would just look like a documentary about exploration of an alien place. And that’s all right. Is precisely that, a description of an alien environment. And still, one just cannot stop reading, looking for more answers, new places, new things. The curiosity increases with each page turn. But there is no sense of conflict in the story, or between the characters, or anything. Maybe that’s why it maybe difficult to translate this to a film.

An object approaching our solar system is detected. An expedition is sent, because that object is known to be a gigantic cylinder. When the expedition arrives, they have to manage a way to this space ship, that apparently has no doors. When they find their way to the interior of the cylinder, what waits for them is just darkness. The novel basically creates a mental image of the interior of this ship. It doesn’t give you answers about what this cylinder is. Who made it. What is doing in our vicinity in the solar system. The sense of scale is amazing: 8 km long stairs. 50 km from north hemisphere to south. A sea belt 10 km wide in the middle of the cylinder. Structures high as cities. It’s own internal weather. Artificial day and night. Weird findings like three-legged spiders, sharks in the sea, trash processors in the cities. They call them biots. It is not clear if there were living beings or robots of some kind. Everything is shown little by little, step by step. Only one thing was clear at the end. Ramans do everything in threes.

This little novel became a bit of obsession for me. And that obsession drove my to read this more than a couple of times. I even started a home project using CG tools trying to recreate that environment. Some day I will try to finish it. You can find loads of visual interpretations of how Rama and its inhabitants should look:

And this leads me to my first question. Why there is no film about this? It seems that David Fincher was trying to make one since 2000. Starring Morgan Freeman. Not much has transcenced about this project, it looks abandoned since then. This quote tells what their intentions were at some point:

“We wanted to make a film that when kids leave the theatre they don’t buy action figures, they buy a telescope.”

David Fincher on Rendezvous with Rama (2008), December 2005

In this site, Stel Pavlou talks about a script draft that was delivered to Morgan Freeman and David Fincher in 2008. But nothing new about this possible film.

This short film made by students looked really promising, the ending is just great, although the CG looks dated for today’s standards:

And here, a great critic of the book, although I would really like to see a film made of this:

I know that most of the times, films based on books are not the best thing, but this is something I would like watch.

There are also some an old games, graphic adventures, based on this. One from 1984, and another made in 1996. Some of the images posted here are from the user’s manual of those games. And lastly, there are sequels to the first book. To be honest, I found them a bit disappointing. I think they try to explain too much. And that somehow spoils the original idea.

You know what they say about wishes. This film goes even further. These wishes can kill you. Stalker is a Russian film directed by Andrei Tarkowsky in 1979. In some remote place there is an area, called the Zone, where weird things happened a few years ago. That area now is kept by military forces, and only a few people dare to enter there. They must be lead by a stalker, a kind of hunter that knows how to avoid getting killed in the path to the wish granting device that lies in the centre of the Zone. In this film, a writer and a scientist use the services of a stalker for trying to get what they most wish.

The film is based on a novel called Roadside picnicI haven’t read this novel, I just watched the film some time ago. In the novel, they describe how some alien waste was left in specific spots on earth, like the waste people can leave in a picnic area. Those wastes are strange devices with some very unique properties. Some of them are lethal while others seem innocuous. Only specialised stalkers are able to go there and find these artefacts. The most important one is the wish machine, that grants wishes to whoever comes close. That comes with a twist. Two persons need to reach the device. The first one gets eaten by a thing called  “Meat Grinder” and meanwhile the second one gets a bit of time to reach the “Golden sphere” where wishes are granted. As you can see, its not easy. Other devices improve your health, or transform everything into a mucus, or just make a loud noise, without any apparent danger. The book goes into details with all these things and their effects. Stalkers at the same time, are exposed to all sort of contamination and side effects. They use bolts or metallic parts attached to their clothes to detect how the gravity in certain areas behave, because it is know that gravity and light act weird in dangerous places. It is also known that their children are born with horrible deformations.

The film takes only some of these themes and in 160 minutes tells the story of these three characters trying to find their way to the Zone. During their trip, they talk about the place, what they expect of it, what are their plans after their wishes are granted. The romantic vision of the writer versus the pragmatism of the scientist brings some interesting dialogues. When they get closer to the place, things change a bit and a few interesting plot twists happen. Some important questions arise, like, what’s exactly a wish? And how a machine or device knows what we wish? What if a hidden, possibly malicious wish, is chosen instead? Is that device a judge that could punish instead of reward us, possibly with death?

It is a very slow film. I already said that about the same director’s film version of Solaris. It is his trademark, it seems. Stalker has some shots of almost 4 minutes where nothing happens, or not even a word is said. I remember that I watched this film in parts, along a few days, and a friend of mine asked me if I had paused the video, because nothing appeared to change in the screen. It wasn’t paused, characters were talking, and I was just amazed by the photography. Almost hypnotized. There are shots in sepia colours. Other shots in gorgeous colour when they are in the Zone. Great light in interiors. Carefully chosen compositions for those almost static shots… It’s visually unforgettable.

I need to read the original novel, at some point. Meanwhile, here you have a link where you can watch the entire film. I’d rather grab a DVD version to really appreciate its photography. Also, you will need coffee, tea, whatever wakes you up, and 160 minutes of your life without distractions.

There is also a game loosely based in some of this ideas. It happens in Chernobyl, a proper Russian Zone, and things like weird artefacts and the wish machine make an appearance, I’ve heard. I haven’t played this one though.

When I first saw the trailer of Solaris, I thought that it could be a good science fiction film. I love Science fiction. There is something that I have always enjoyed about science fiction, since I was a child and I saw Forbidden Planet or  War of the Worlds or Starwars! Films that almost everyone who likes science ficition have seen at some moment in their life. To me there are different levels on this genre. It can be a  “We now have spaceships” film, or it can be a more profound thing that makes you wonder “What do I just have seen?”. 2001: A Space Odyssey falls in this category, while Starwars belongs to the other one.

As I said, when I saw that Solaris trailer, I found it interesting because of that “what is this exactly?” feeling. I did a bit of research and I found the  Stanislaw Lem novel on which the film is based. Also, I heard about the original Russian film, directed by Tarkovsky. So, expectations about this new version were high.

The novel is really interesting. A hundred or so years ago, in a not so distant future, a kind of planet with weird properties has been discovered. People on earth have no clue about what makes that planet behave so weird. Its been decades since the discovery of the planet  and the book goes into details about all the studies which have been carried, trying to understand that strange place. Its been so long and the knowledge about it so big that there are even philosophical and religious movements described in the book based on the findings of years of observations. It is not only that the planet is inhabited, but the planet itself is the only living being. During decades missions have been there to explore, and the last one, has sent a help message. Someone goes there to see what happens, and then is when everything gets even weirder. I won’t go into detail, but basically, this planet has the ability to read the deeper parts of the human mind and use that knowledge to try to communicate with humans, somehow. Efforts in trying to understand this phenomena span for decades without result  That’s where this novel really got me interested. In most science fiction films or novels, it seems really easy for two different species to communicate and become friends, or the opposite case, engage in a terrible war because some other reason. Here it is not like that. Humans are just ants and the planet Solaris completely interferes with the mind of these people in the space station, making them believe that things long time kept in their minds are there in the station, with them, as visitors.

Then I watched the film, the “new” version directed by Steven Soderbergh. I had not guts to watch the Russian one, and more learning what Stanislaw Lem thought about it:

I have fundamental reservations to this adaptation. First of all I would have liked to see the planet Solaris which the director unfortunately denied me as the film was to be a cinematically subdued work. And secondly — as I told Tarkovsky during one of our quarrels — he didn’t make Solaris at all, he made Crime and Punishment.

via Lem about the Tarkovsky’s adaptation.

One thing I really enjoyed, and I still do, is the Cliff Martinez soundtrack. Really atmospheric and great for closing your eyes and try to relax. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoyed the film. I find it deeply moving and full of meanings and interpretations. Of course, you can say that it only focuses on the love story between Dr. Kelvin and Rheya. That’s what Lem said about this adaptation:

Summing up, as “Solaris”‘ author I shall allow myself to repeat that I only wanted to create a vision of a human encounter with something that certainly exists, in a mighty manner perhaps, but cannot be reduced to human concepts, ideas or images.  This is why the book was entitled “Solaris” and not Love in Outer Space.

via The Solaris Station – Page 2.

It’s also true that most of the themes found in the book are missing. All those “solaristic” researches and philosophy are gone. Descriptions of the planet and other nice details are gone. There are some hints of that scattered in the film, for telling that yes, there is a weird planet somewhere that we don’t understand and nothing more. It is a more a psychological drama than a science fiction film. The things that happened between Dr. Kelvin and Rheya are quite dramatic. Themes like not feeling ready for paternity, tragic loss of loved ones, grief, which are common in any adult relationship, are mixed here with the weird effect that planet Solaris has on humans. One thing I found really disturbing is the lucid dream like feeling of the film. At the beginning, when Dr. Kelvin arrives to the station, he is asked about his sleep habits. One wonders if what really is happening is that everybody has hallucinations because of sleep deprivation. But then, things get more complicated with the presence of the visitors, that seem to react and feel in the same way as their original copies, people long time dead or very far away. They show a disturbing self-awareness. They resuscitate if they are killed. Dr. Kelvin tries hard not to get emotionally engaged with the new Rheya, but that proves to be and impossible task, until the end. And ending quite different from the novel one, a bit confusing maybe, that leaves you thinking “what do I have just seen”,  for a while…