Boy: ''What do you call a blind dinosaur?''
Man: ''I don't know; what do you call a blind dinosaur?''
Boy: ''A 'doyouthinkhesaurus'.''
Certain films are destined to be remembered long after they were first shown. Some films are of such artistic quality that they linger in the memories of cinema audiences for decades. Others are remembered for technical breakthroughs. This can be camera technique, lighting, editing, film format, sound, or special effects. The films of Lucas, Spielberg and Zemeckis are definitely in the latter category. Star Wars (Lucas) made in 1979 still feels fresh today, not to mention The Return of the Jedi (Marquand) from 1983. I watch the now eight years old science fiction film Back to the Future (Zemeckis) and still wait for it to become outdated. But in twenty, thirty, forty years from now, they are going to feel a little dated. You can see the blue screen outlines in Back to the Future, the stop-motion animation in Star Wars and Return of the Jedi. Our minds cease to become so forgiving with time when we can see how the special effects have been achieved by watching the film. It's a bit like seeing a magician. Once you know the tricks, the excitement lessens. Enter Jurassic Park.
Prior to seeing the film my senses had been bombarded with every possible instance of media exposure a film can have. Radio, newspapers, magazines, TV and cinema all joined in the happy merry-go-round of hype-building coverage devoted to Steven Spielberg's latest cinematic achievement. I had seen trailers, interviews, behind-the-scenes reports and, naturally, reports on how all the special effects were made. I usually try and avoid all this coverage to enable me to see each film with as open a mind as possible, but somewhere during all the channel flipping, quick turning of magazine pages and re-tuning of radios, I got fed up with the extra work and decided instead to see as much of it as possible. After all, I already knew the basic story.
Having suffered the commercials prior to the film, seen the trailer for Arnold Schwartzeneggereggeregger's latest film The Last Action Hero, which incidently is one of the better trailers I have seen for a film, Jurassic Park kicked off to a grand start. During the first half an hour of the film I sat frantically trying to work out what was matte painting, what was actual location, which dinosaurs were models, which were filmed using stop motion and blur photography and which were computer animated. I couldn't. My brain halted trying to weigh all the factors in and correlate them with what I was seeing and finally ignored my attempts and spent the following one and a half hours just enjoying the experience.
There is only one word to describe the special effects in Jurassic Park. Mind-bubbling. They surpass anything and everything I have seen to date, on film or otherwise. The techniques used build on the ones used in Terminator 2, but in T2 you can see that the computer animated terminator walks a little oddly, moves slightly unnaturally at certain times. In Jurassic Park they might as well have genetically engineered dinosaurs and filmed them live. Terminator 2 was released in 1991, Jurassic Park in 1993. What science fiction films will be like in 1995 I cannot imagine in my wildest dreams, and I'm a guy with a pretty vivid imagination, but I'd really like to see Ridley Scott direct the film version of William Gibson's Neuromancer with Syd Mead as conceptual artist and Denis Muren in charge of special effects.
The story of Jurassic Park is quite simple. All the classic ingredients of a Spielberg adventure/children's film are in there, in suitable proportions and sprinkled with political correctness. The acting is quite good, but the characters are stereotypes, leaving little room for Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Rob Peck and Jeff Goldblum to use their well developed skills. This, however, shouldn't lead you to think that the only thing worth seeing are the special effects. For each film, you must ask yourself, ''What is its purpose?'' and judge it accordingly. Steven Spielberg is an entertainer. His films are created to take you into a different world for two hours, to make you forget who you are, where you are and all the little things that bug you normally during the day. I can think of few films that manage this as well as Jurassic Park.
Time for a mental exercise. Imagine that you are on a safari. You are travelling into the vast unknown in a climate controlled, state-of-the-art double decked bus, gazing through the large panorama windows at the new sights outside. Some are familiar from books, film or TV, many are new. But your vision is only so good. Beyond your range, you can't see the small details. You may see a small lake and a stream leading to it (remember, ''safari'' means to travel, not necessarily on the Savannah). You can see the stream leading off into the distance, but you can't see where it comes from, or in detail see what it looks like far away. So, the bus stops and you are free to walk off in odd directions, as long as you don't feed the animals and are back in fifteen minutes.
Film is a wide subject, but it takes influences from many, many different sources, which together are vastly greater than film. Science fiction films are only a part, a fairly small part, of all films that are made. Add to this that it can be interesting to delve into areas that are not film, but yet related. Consequently, Rumour Control doesn't have to limit itself to film. OK? Everyone still with us? Good. Refreshments will be served upon returning to the tour bus.
I have just seen a television program about the cyberpunk movement. Not the literary genre, but the real thing. Around us, in the real world; or at least in the United States, which may or may not equate to the same thing. The point being that the attitudes of cyberpunk exist; the lifestyles of console cowboys, ripper docs and solos have been adapted by some people, even though the technology of the cyberpunk literary genre, upon which these lifestyles build, doesn't exist. At least, not yet. Which to me proves what I have suspected for a long time. That cyberpunk is an attitude, not a level of technological achievement. But what is more interesting is that, unlike what was stated in said TV-program, William Gibson didn't predict a future. He envisaged a possible future, but the result of this toying with ideas is that various diverse fractions of modern society are actually consciously striving to realize this possible future. It is as though there is something inherently irresistible in the concept of cyberpunk that grasps the human nature, a situation that I don't feel entirely comfortable with.
For example, one of the people interviewed in the program was a medical doctor. He is one of a group of people conducting research into the areas of prosthetics and sensory enhancement, ostensibly to enable people with grave motoric or sensory system damage to lead a normal life. However, in the same breath, he happily admitted that a few years into the future when medical science has caught up with medical fiction, were a sufficiently wealthy person to walk in through his office door and request wings grafted on to his back, he would happily undertake the task of reforming this person's chest muscles and perhaps even go so far as to look into the possibility of enabling this person to glide with his or her new wings (the weight to wing surface ratio would exclude the ability to climb to any altitude from standstill).
Personally I find this all rather unsettling, but it does illustrate one very interesting point; for any beneficial use of new technology (or any technology at all for that matter) there exists a downside. Any piece of equipment can be used in a harmful, malicious or just plain ridiculous manner as easily as it can be put to benevolent, thoughtful and constructive use. I just hope that human nature will suppress the negative aspects as much as possible. I guess Future will prove me right or wrong.
Another phenomenon intrinsically linked to the concept of cyberpunk is net-running. The electronically generated virtual reality of cyberspace, designed to allow a person to see, feel, hear, smell and perhaps even taste the data in a computer system, doesn't exist today, but the globally spanning network of computers commonly referred to as the Net does. Hence, net-running, i.e., illegally entering other organizations' databases for whatever purpose, is possible and very much a contemporary activity. Net-runners, for want of a better expression, come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from teeny-boppers who get a rush out of seeing a new login message to neo-anarchists who enjoy planting malicious viruses that destroy as much data as possible. However, a large number, possibly the majority of net-runners, do it out of political conviction, for the cyberpunks are as political as environmentalists or the peace movement. Fundamental to their conviction is that information has an inborn desire to be free, available and shared by all. They are at constant battle with corporations, governmental organizations and others who attempt to hoard information out of the public eye, for the purpose of using it to their own benefit, possibly under the pretext of corporate or national security. ''Information wants to be free'' is apparently a popular slogan among the underground cyberpunks of the 1990's.
Again, this leads to an interesting reflection. Whereas hackers, crackers, net-runners, or whatever you wish to call them, are generally considered to be anything ranging from a public menace to a major hazard to social stability, they are in one sense a force of underground warriors trying to preserve the remnants of democracy in an ever more tightly controlled world, where privacy is becoming a relative concept affordable only to the rich or initiated. Yet, at the same time, they are massively irresponsible, for who are they to determine which databases should be destroyed or corrupted? They have appointed themselves judge, jury and executioner, guided by a higher ideal of Justice, firmly convinced that they alone have understood where the world is heading with ever increasing speed. As ever, the medallion is multi-faceted.
Personally, my reaction is that of Mr Spock: ''Facinating''. I don't think that the world is going to become the dark, dim future that Gibson envisioned, nor do I see cyberpunks as noble warriors, draped in white, fighting for the common good of all mankind and human rights to all. What I am convinced of is that cyberpunks exist, that they are here to stay, and that they are going to make sure that they keep a close monitor on whoever has their hand on the tiller of this boat we are all stuck in. Woe betide he who underestimates their power.