IHAO on ... Altered States

Guardians of the Galaxy!  GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY!  I am SUCH a happy camper.  I cannot think of a time I was this excited for a film to come to theaters.  Everything about the premise and all the work I've seen has just been amazing.  Everyone is giving it everything they got, and all of the actors and crew are honest about it.  It reminds me of the reason I love Arrow, and many TV shows.  People get passionate about the art they are making.  Plus who doesn't love a sci-fi-comedy-action-adventure-fantasy-superhero-blockbuster film?  Huh, ok, so there seems to be something off with my genre mojo here.  Upon seeing the film, I'll have a better sense of it.

Genre mojo is very important to me, as you can see over in the word cloud to the right of the screen (on computers, I dunno where it is on mobile ... are you reading this on mobile?  I dunno, figured I should ask.)  Genres make it real easy to make sure you know what I am talking about, and real easy to go searching for things if you want something in particular.  I say all this because I have something very important to say, especially considering GotG is coming out this weekend: STAR WARS IS NOT SCIENCE FICTION!  Neither is John Carter or a bunch of other things set in space.  Being set in space =/= Science fiction.  Science fiction is a difficult genre to truly get correct, in my opinion.  And of course, that is what you are all here for, seeing as it is blatantly the title of this blog.  Let me extrapolate on this idea for a bit before we get into the review, if you don't mind.

Action movies are easy to define (part of the reason I did a whole week on them).  They are films where the big selling point is action.  Be it kung fu, brawling, explosions, shoot outs, car chases, whatever, the selling point is the action.  The same holds true for comedies, where the comedy is the selling point, regardless of it is wit, slapstick, character, situational, or parody.  Dramas are sold by their true-story nature, not saying that all dramas are true stories, but they are all treated with the weight as if they were, even if they can be a little funny or have some action.  Horror movies are easy, they are made to be directly absorbed by those who want scares.  Thrillers are more about gripping intensity than horror.

But then you get into films that are genres because of other aspects.  Fantasy films are films that, regardless of set dressing, have the same basic tropes of good and evil, exploration, questing, making difficult decisions, all of that.  You could be set in a fairy tale land, the past, the future, space, or in the apocalypse.  Crime films, though filled with action and drama, have a specific feel about them.  So do heist films.  And musicals.  And war films, of course.  As well as westerns.  They all have specific tropes they work with.

Then you have science fiction.  It can fill a lot of those holes.  It gets thrown around when anything vaguely scientific is part of the plot.  I suspect many people would call the stupid new action movie Lucy science fiction because they use tenuous grasps on science to explain her powers.  But here is what I posit: a science fiction film is only that in genre if the science is the important part of the story.  Event Horizon is just a horror movie, set in space.  As is Alien.  Star Wars is a fantasy film, just like John Carter.  Guardians of the Galaxy will more than likely end up being an action film, perhaps a fantasy, despite its setting.  And looking through my own reviews that I tagged as science fiction, I could easily argue some of them are not that genre.

I say ALL of that to express just how perfectly Altered States exemplifies the conceits of a science fiction film.  It is about a scientist trying to make a breakthrough in schizophrenia research, looking for other states of existence and understanding.  He does this by using a sensory deprivation tank and taking hallucinogenics.  And we learn as we watch that he just might be on to something.

The film is shots incredibly well.  And the actors do phenomenally.  I really loved this movie.  I bought it because of its semi-historic nature as an influential film on things like Silent Hill, thinking it would make an interesting horror/thriller movie.  But the way this movie slowly builds towards its climax, which is breathtaking and all encompassing, it magnificent.  It is a very trim script, as we jump forward sometimes many years at a time in our protagonist scientist's life, played by William Hurt in his film debut (doing awesomely, by the way).  He plays a scientist who is all intellect, no emotion, working his way through his research, knowing he is onto something about these altered states of being but trying to find how to get in touch with them.  It is a ... difficult journey to say the least.

It is hard to really talk about the film because I do not want to give anything within it away.  It is a cleverly made, wonderfully shot, incredibly well-acted film, with an amazing score and sound design, both of which got nominations for the Academy.  It is a haunting and thrilling film, that leaves you learning with your characters.  And it does something every good science fiction film should do, which is create a deeper meaning, and express some kind of satire or allegory to be learned from.  And the emotional journey you as an audience go through with our protagonists is glorious.  It is also incredibly psychogenic, and sometimes comes across very alien, but all on purpose to deliver its ultimate goal/emotion/meaning.

This is the kind of film that upon completing it, I knew it would not be for a lot of people.  But there are some out there who are going to find this movie to be amazing, perhaps one of the best.  If anything I said here interested you, take a gander when you can.  I'm certainly incredibly glad I've seen it.

Grade: A+

Also, it is question time!  I need questions before this weekend!  This is the last stretch!  If you've been waiting to give me those questions, do it now!  Any way you can!  I'll take any and everything question possible.  I even answered one about the skillful design of the penis last time.  There is nothing off limits!

IHAO on Everything, too

August 1st, 2014

And you can bet there will be a Guardians of the Galaxy review on the 4th!

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