Saturday 11 October 2008

Some films plus the BFS

I'm slowly catching up with recent SFF films, and saw a couple of them last week. One is The Day After Tomorrow, about the sudden onset of a new ice age. An average-quality disaster movie requiring a high-than-average suspension of disbelief. This is due to the plot making no sense climatologically, especially because of the improbability (to put it mildly) of the suddenness and severity of the cooling effect (ambient temperature falling to minus 150 degrees in a few seconds?). Climate change is obviously a difficult subject for Hollywood. Unlike major earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, which are catastrophic short-term events, climate change takes – at least – years, and usually decades, to produce dramatic results. Rather too long a timeframe for an exciting film, so they decided to exaggerate everything by a few orders of magnitude. And, as is commonplace with Hollywood products, there is a strong focus on the family in the centre of the storm (although not to the same ridiculous extent as the remake of The War of the Worlds which I've written about previously). As is usual with modern disaster movies, the real star of the show is the CGI of the disaster itself, with a massive storm surge crashing into New York.

The other film I've seen is King Kong – the recent version. A good film, with well-played characters and a most impressive, and expressive, Kong. This one is about relationships too, but then it's meant to be. Naomi Watts provides a credibly appealing focus for the beast's affections, and their story is handled well. The only complaint I have is that the film is too long, partly because the director seems to have overindulged himself in playing for ages with an array of CGI monsters on Kong's island chasing and devouring sundry members of the cast. I kept wanting to cut these peripheral scenes short as I watched them.
Also time to catch up with some of the material from the British Fantasy Society
which has been disgorged by my letterbox over the past few months – they are an industrious lot! Regular offerings include Prism, which is mostly reviews with a few comment columns. As usual, the coverage is wide, including fantasy, horror, science fiction and graphical fiction (or comics, as I used to call them in my youth). I read (as well as write) a lot more reviews than novels these days, as I find this a useful way of discovering new authors to try.

Then there is Dark Horizons, a mix of short stories, poetry, interviews, news and chat, sprinkled with illustrations. The current issue (#53) offers a remarkably varied selection of tales, including dark fantasy, horror and comedy. My pick of the bunch is Paul Campbell's Timeless, about a middle-aged woman who is given the opportunity to review one of the key turning points of her life; a relationship which failed to work. This might sound unpromising but it is an original tale, beautifully told.

I'm still working through a couple of BFS booklets. One is A Dick and Jane Primer for Adults, a very strange and intriguing collection of stories all written on the theme (and mostly in the style) of the children's series but with an adult – and sometimes nightmarish – perspective. The other is Fantasy & SF: the Roots of Genre, which consists of extracts from two books of criticism: Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn and What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction by Paul Kincaid, with an introduction by Niall Harrison [edit to add: ooops, this last one is from the British Science Fiction Association - with apologies to them!].

Finally, a book arrived in the mail the other day, Houses on the Borderland, a substantial 300-pager with six novellas; "unsettling tales of the macabre", according to the blurb. I was a bit puzzled because I hadn't ordered it, until it dawned on me that it was another publication of the BFS that was included in my subscription. As I said, they really are busy people. All I can add is "keep up the good work!"

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