Naturalising the fantastic: science fiction and the uncanny realism of Heroes

Authors: Hipple, D. and Round, J.

Conference: ‘Reality, Reliability and Access’: Journeys Across Media 2008

Dates: 11 April 2008


Science fiction (sf) as a genre has taken up a dominant position in film and TV production in recent decades, arguably resulting largely from the success in 1977 of those well known B-movies Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the cinema, and the consequent resurgence of Star Trek as an interminably powerful presence on large and small screens.

Such popular material has frequently presented the fantastic with celebratory flourishes of visual effects, and many viewers and critics have regarded this element as being intrinsic to sf. Indeed, the development of special effects technologies has generally been spearheaded by the requirements of fantastic film and, to a lesser extent, TV. However, where George Lucas famously waited for CGI techniques to advance sufficiently to realise his vision of the final three Star Wars films, other filmmakers and TV producers working in the genre have criticised this tendency for visual effects to become such a privileged consideration in sf, to the detriment of storytelling.

Heroes is the latest TV series to deploy state of the art effects technologies that integrate visions of the fantastic into images of the viewers’ real world, and is also the latest of several to do so in way that in fact downplays the triumphant artifice of its techniques. The audience is invited not to admire its visual achievement, but briefly to incorporate the fantastic into a traditional sense of drama. This paper considers the ways in which material such as Heroes uses advanced techniques not directly to celebrate its own creativity, but to bring to the fore the comprehensible relevance of the human stories that are being told. This paper therefore also questions some orthodox conceptions of how sf operates overall.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Julia Round