Special Edition: the Science Fiction Blockbuster

Episode 10: The blockbuster edition

Big and Small

Editorial

We are just coming to the end of the season of the cinema blockbuster, dominated by American product and the science fiction spectacle. These science fictions are big pictures in almost every way: big budgets, big special effects, big stars, big cross-overs, distributed in big cinemas to big audiences.

However, these bejewelled behemoths to size and scale are also (arguably) invariably light or thin or small, on story and characterisation, performance and philosophy, on sophistication – they are the products of capitalist film production, the ‘Yale locks’ or ‘kiss curls’ of the twentieth century, producing a neo-liberal narcissism.

Ant-Man (Reed, 2015) captures perfectly this collision between, and yet effacement of, big and small: a summer superhero blockbuster which involves state of the art special effects intended to shrink everything before it. Ant-Man is big on scale, heavy on familial, individualist and romantic ideology, and yet small and light on the tragic politics of war and destruction.

Of course, the science fiction blockbuster has a wider set of reference points and a much longer history: in cinema, forms or versions of the blockbuster have been found from the birth of narrative film, if not before; and in literature, television, and gaming, the sense and purpose of scale, event, has marked the production and consumption of science fiction. The blockbuster isn’t simply big or thin but the constant in the way science fiction addresses its audiences.

In this science fiction blockbuster special edition, our authors brilliantly discuss the ways through which the blockbuster is manifested: Mark Jancovich reads the 1950s science fiction film in terms of scale and extension; Alex Funke focuses on the Super Special Effect and its impact on filmmaking processes and practices; Sean Cubitt spends time with the contradictory ideologies of Guardian of the Galaxy; Tanya Krzywinska and Douglas Brown explore the convergences and affordances in the age of the transmedial blockbuster;  Stacey Abbott sits with the fabulous forms and flows of spectacular science fiction television; and Liam Burke nimbly discovers the blockbuster in the superhero text.

Taken together they engage in textual and contextual analysis; story, form and narrative; ideology, power and commodity; transformations and consistencies, and pleasures and speculations. There is rich discovery here, a bigness in ideas and illustration – blockbuster writing of the very best kind.

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