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The Philosophy Of Science Fiction Film edited by Steven M. Sanders

1/8/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy The Philosophy Of Science Fiction Film in the USA - or Buy The Philosophy Of Science Fiction Film in the UK

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pub: The University Press Of Kentucky. 232 page enlarged paperback. Price: 18.95 (UK), $19.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-8131-9260-4.

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Having read a lot of philosophy books orientated on SF subjects in the past year, having one focusing on a multitude of SF films brought to my attention was inevitable. Films are a gestalt of talents with only the director making the overall decision as to whether the movie lives up to the script. It might be possible to track a progression in special effects or theme but philosophical themes are a different kettle of fish especially when directors often want to re-invent ideas on the screen. What isn't explored is are directors or scriptwriters out solely to produce a bankable film or make some philosophical point.

In many respects, these articles by various philosophers tend to examine the film plots far more than their philosophical meaning compared to the other books. Take, for example, that of the original 'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers' by editor/writer Steven Sanders. There is some insight into Miles Bennell's character but nothing about the aliens themselves nor why he isn't believed until it's far too late. I would have thought the philosophy would be about survival and telling apart the humans from the pod-people would be of more interest than a plot re-cap. Added to this is some confusion about the time differentials with Becky's transformation, let alone getting clothes when normally she would have been naked (a similar situation in the re-make actually did correctly). There has to be a bit of artistic licence and showing any nudity in 1956 would have changed the film classification and film time against real time is never taken totally at the same level. As such, it could hardly be regarded as a deliberate error.

Jennifer McMahon's analysis in 'The Existential Frankenstein' addresses things from both Mary Shelley's book and the James Whale directed film doesn't really address the mindset that can create life but the defeat of death. I tended to find that a little odd because the good doctor was hardly resurrecting someone who died but just using the body parts sewn back together to create a new person.

Aeon Skoble's 'Technology And Ethics In The Day The Earth Stood Still' – notice how easy it is give the title of the film from the article heading – shows its writer's thoughts that SF films can get away with few effects. That's hardly something new to us SF fans. Saying that, Skoble does give some interesting insight into the Gort robots and how they deal with planetary aggression. Philosophically, I would have been inclined to address controlling aggression by fear of annihilation to be a topic in its own right.

William Devlin's 'Paradoxes Of Time Travel In The Terminator And 12 Monkeys' has a knotty problem of understanding changing cause and effect. Apart from neglecting alternate reality divergence, there's still a matter that if the event has occurred the way it was supposed to with a time traveller involved then it's the latter who cannot change the past and has to become part of it. That doesn't say much for us to be in control of our own destinies but if it has happened then time travel is possible or the events wouldn't have been laid down the way they happened. Time travel is confusing enough for the man in the street let alone a philosopher to come to grips with. Having said that, Devlin does give some insight into 'Twelve Monkeys' but doesn't spot that reality is created by events. The more of these articles I read here, the more I think that the film connection would have been easier to bounce off and examine the issues involved rather than the film events.

Jason Holt's 'Terminator - Fear And The Paradox Of Fiction' moves away from just discussing the film. He makes a strong message for Cameron using three emotional fronts. You fear the Terminator, you pity Sarah and admire Reese which plays highly with the emotional content of the first film. I think he finds it harder to work out why our genre films hit our emotions especially with something that can't really exist in real life but as with all SF films, it depends on how much the reader buys into the reality of the situation not whether it's possible or not. I do think he misses the point that SF fans grasp what is going on and get the bigger picture faster than non-SF fans and why we tend to find general genre rather straightforward in comparison.

Jerold Abrams 'The Dialectic Of Enlightenment In Metropolis' sites the references from the Fritz Lang film in the SF films that followed over the decades. Although I can understand that from a writer or director POV, I doubt if many modern day SF fans have actually seen 'Metropolis' to make that connection or deem it purely as a homage. Considering that the DVD priced has rocketed I doubt if many outside the earnest fans can afford a copy anyway. Abrams making a case for that might be accurate but it's not exactly examining the philosophy of the film which is really the establishment controlling its workers by replacing its female role model, Maria, with an android (soon as the inner casing got a flesh coating it ceases to be a robot by the way). That in itself doesn't make the story Science Fiction. After all, a human stand-in would have been equally effective. At the time, Lang just saw it as a means to look futuristic. As to how original Lang was, Abrams neglects to check on Karl Capek's 1921 play 'R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots' which predated 'Metropolis' by six years dealing with worker unrest and an obvious influence. This chapter could very easily have examined the control of people across the films as a means to show the reader how much freedom is really out there which would have made for greater philosophical debate.

Alan Woolfolk's piece, 'Detachment And Rebellion In Alphaville' makes an interesting observation that Science Fiction is less about science but about disaster and often on a broad scale. I think that alone makes for some interesting thinking because I couldn't disagree with him.

Mark Conard's 'The Matrix, The Cave, And The Cogito' also makes an interesting observation that for Neo to have some god-like control of the reality outside of the Matrix itself then that, too, has to be another digital reality. Doesn't say much for the choice of the red or blue pill he took, does it?

I should point out that this isn't a bad book and the above reaction I've given means I've gotten something out of it. The real problem is there should have been more philosophical debate from the issues these SF films raise then a plot analysis would have made it more useful. Still, if they've cleared the air with this one, they might do that with a second book.

Science Fiction fans like subject areas where they can debate things so this book can be used as a stepping stone for that. Whether the non-SF fans would have as much interest, I'll leave you to decide.

GF Willmetts

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