When critics and audiences responded to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, the most recent work in the ever growing genre within sci-fi that is the epic with high(er) art leanings, I was amazed at how much had to do with the technical execution of production value. I wasn’t alarmed at the nature of the arguments, sci-fi has become the computer’s answer to what the period costume drama has been to the fashion designer; a mere way to show off the newest development, but I was a bit surprised by how virtually every piece contained at least an oblique reference to something that would be directly linked to cash and not artistry (both that it looked better because the technical was cleaner and that its quality would be determined once we’d seen how much it’d start to bring in [and then therefor validated]). You’d be fine within the latter trappings as the costumer is an actual person and the attention paid historical, but within sci-fi I find it a tad ironic that when so many films are about the coming destruction we owe unchecked technological advancement it’s then strange that so many of these films owe their entire mise en scène to what the computer can produce as long as the effects house CG artists keep receiving payment. An entire genre now largely existing in the legitimacy of the critical establishment because the digital facsimile the computer can now produce has become more appropriately realistic. So much of the awe that I saw lamented at Interstellar‘s feet was due to the scope of its world venturing interstellar travel, and how those effects softened them up enough to accept the relatively stock emoting by the real flesh players as deep and sufficiently harrowing. I don’t have a problem with most of Interstellar‘s irony, as it trades the influence of Kubrick’s 2001 as purely visual surface level set piece, dumping all of 2001’s anti-computer artificial intelligence stance. Nolan isn’t a hypocrite because he loves where computers have and can take us, and his prior films showed this with their reliance to a green screen, while finally, Interstellar openly says it. Not only are the machines our friends (TARS and CASE are HAL’s exact opposite) but solutions to many of the problems presented in the film are shown to be solved by the computer or can theoretically be solved this way in the very near future. But really my concern here isn’t the philosophy inherent in the films of Christopher Nolan, but rather how our contemporary thoughts and admiration of cinema is so often concerned (and then swayed) with the most base level visual set decoration (real or digital).
What then of a genre so tied to developing a taste level dependent on production aesthetic, an opinion that can be created with the easy infusion of cold hard cash? Let us consider a few similar films from varying financial spectrum that nevertheless feature very similar plots. Within this small sample size I’ll show, and I hope to infer that if extended further the thesis would still hold, that our opinions are being increasingly shaped by production aesthetic and thus swayed towards bourgeoisie appreciations. We’re responding not to artistic depth or originality of point, but to the quality of the production born purely from the amount of money afforded to the creators*. Continue reading