Traditionalist and libertarian themes in science fiction and fantasy: Part Fourteen – A variety of films and TV shows
By Mark Wegierski
The never-ending James Bond series may be mentioned here. It should be said here, that Sir Ian Fleming's original books (and, indeed, some films from this series) were sometimes rather more anti-Soviet, than is usually considered to be the case. For the most zealous leftist intellectuals, even such a banal series was said to have been “legitimating Cold War attitudes”.
Somewhat more politically correct was the television series, Man from U.N.C.L.E. (the United Network Command for Law Enforcement), which was somewhat a reference to the idealistic concept of the UN. The struggle was against an international criminal organization with the rather harmless sounding acronym, T.H.R.U.S.H., which was supposed to represent the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.
Television Series of the 1970s
After his incredible success with the original Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry attempted to begin a new series, under the title, Genesis II/Planet Earth. It presented the Earth in a “post-apocalyptic” period, that is, after a nuclear war and other catastrophes. A scientist from the 1990s, “frozen” in a cryogenic capsule, “awakens” in a new, strange world. One of the technological elements in the series was a system of a superfast underground subway. The first episode of the series portrayed a conflict of a utopian liberal society with a city of cruel mutants, who were not grotesque, but even more physically attractive than human beings, who enslaved normal humans with the help of “electronic wands”. The second episode (which would today be seen as highly politically-incorrect), portrayed a society ruled by women – where the hero, played by John Saxon, resolves the problem of female dominance by simply seducing the queen of the tribe.
The television series Six Million Dollar Man, and Bionic Woman, ran for a number of years. The basis for both shows was the reconstruction of a human being after an accident, with various artificial “enhancements”, for example, artificial legs with the ability to run with the speed of a car. Actually, the series belonged to the “action-adventure” genre. Nevertheless, it presents itself today as a rather conservative show – the clean-cut white hero and heroine are in the “special services” of the American government, fighting against various evildoers. Their boss also looked very serious and clean-cut. The show avoided the massive concentration of minorities, which became virtually de rigueur in American television series in the later 1980s, the 1990s, and today. Especially appealing were the episodes portraying the protagonists’ encounter with space aliens, and the “Sasquatch” serving them. The space aliens looked simply like highly attractive human beings.
Another series, which moved generally speaking in the direction of parody, was Wonder Woman. The series was memorable mostly because of the looks of the heroine (Lynda Carter) and her companions from the “Island of Women". Especially effective was the episode where she met an incredibly attractive, male space alien, resembling a Greek god.
This British series is one of the longest running television series in existence. The central figure is the time-travelling Doctor, who is a bit of an eccentric, and is helped by various young, attractive, intelligent women from throughout the milieus that he visits. The rather low-budget special effects in the series are counterbalanced by the clever story-lines and witty dialogue. Dr. Who is usually shown as a skeptic about various mysterious milieu that occur throughout the series. Nevertheless, his cheerfulness, good humour, and devotion to reason make him a positive example of a decent humanist. Interestingly enough, Canadian traditionalist philosopher George Parkin Grant admitted to liking this show very much, and said he watched it frequently.
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
Demon Seed and Saturn 3 -- parodies emerged from semi-serious movies
These two films raised a similar theme, that is the concept of a machine (a computer or a robot) which wants to have sexual relations with an attractive woman. It was doubtless difficult for the films to avoid becoming parodies.
This film portrayed the world “after the nuclear holocaust”, with a small group of people riding in a radiation-shielded vehicle across the so-called “danger zones”. The special effects were quite interesting, along with Sean Connery playing the role of an American military officer. One wonders if the happy conclusion to the journey does not strain credulity somewhat?
Death Race 2000/Deathsport
These two, rather similar movies, portrayed “gladiatorial” type combat in a dystopic American future. The contest in the first movie depended on the running over of the largest number of pedestrians during a massive race across America. It could be seen as rather sarcastic social commentary.
The Andromeda Strain
This film, set in the contemporaneous world, is considered as one of the best science fiction films in the “scientific thriller” category. What’s interesting is that, using a minimum of special effects and conventional science-fictional tropes, a very fine and suspenseful movie was made.
Polish Speculative Movies and Solaris
One of the most prominent fantasy movies of the Polish cinema was "Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie" (The Saragossa Manuscript) (1965), based on an early nineteenth century fabulation by Count Jan Potocki. This was apparently one of the favorite movies of Jerry Garcia (of the famous rock-group, The Grateful Dead).
A film similar in some ways to the V series was "Wojna Swiatow - Nastepne Stulecie" (The War of the Worlds – The Next Century) (1982), which was probably a refracted commentary on the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981.
The film "Seksmisja" (Sex Mission) (1984) is a light-hearted sci-fi comedy, which spoofs “gender wars”, showing a future society consisting only of women, which is turned upside down when two men from the past, who are thawed from cryogenic deep freeze, show up.
One of the most prominent Polish science fiction authors is Stanislaw Lem. His metaphysical novel, Solaris, was made into a famous, very intellectual movie by the Soviet director Tarkavsky. There was a new movie from the book made by director Steve Soderbergh a few years ago, although most consider Tarkavsky’s version to be the better rendering.
Two Cinematic Superhits from the Late 1970s/Early 1980s
The traditionalist elements in two very popular American science fiction movies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T., are rather thin. The first, is a concentration of one of the most powerful myths of the second half of the twentieth century, that is, about U.F.O.s or so-called “flying saucers”. In Close Encounters, this is all treated with enormous seriousness. The hero is “moved” to leave everything, in order to meet with the space aliens at the famous butte in Utah. Although, from a more scientific standpoint, the film is full of inconsistencies, on the level of the inspiring “special effects”, it makes a very strong impression on the viewer.
The film E.T., on the other hand, portrays the so-called “human” or pleasant side of an extraterrestrial. In this movie, the powers of the American government virtually play the role of “monsters” whereas the alien is “human" and pleasant. This very popular film was seen by some as excessively maudlin, and full of scientific inconsistencies.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.