Taking Notes: 'Final Frontiers: CGI and the Science Fiction Film' (2006) by Stacey Abbott

電腦動畫在現代的電影當中,佔有舉足輕重的地位;尤其是科幻片,特別仰賴 各種特效,利用動畫效果呈現出種種科幻場景已經成為必然。本篇論文探討的是特效和電腦動畫與科幻電影的關係;除了視覺上的效果,電腦動畫的技術更回過頭來 影響科幻電影的敘事方式以及對於特定科幻議題的探索,另一方面,廣泛採用電腦動畫的結果,也連帶使得其他類型電影避免不了被「科幻化」的情形。

Abbott, Stacy, "Final Frontiers: Computer-Generated Imagery and the Science Fiction Film", in Science Fiction Studies #98 (2006), pp. 89-108.

p. 89
Recent genre theorists have attempted to rethink this dismissal of the sf film by reconsiderting how the genre makes film technology its subject. As Annette Kuhn has argued, the genre is ideally suited to display technological advances and developments through its futuristic narratives. In the sf film, the narrative will often stop for the contemplation of the spectacular special effects being used to represent the depicted world. As Kuhn suggests, "since the films themselves are often about new or imagined future technologies, this must be a perfect example of the medium fitting, if not exactly being, the message" (7). Brooks Landon, in his discussion of contemporary digital effects, takes the arguement further by suggesting that the medium is in fact the message and that the emphasis on the spectacle of film technology is enough to make a film science fiction regardless of its narrative content. ......

Furthermore, the relationship between science fiction and special effects (FX) is often mutually dependent since the genre needs special effects to showcase its future worlds and technologies while the imaginative demands of the stories themselves have spearheaded new developments of FX technologies. ...... As Michele Pierson explains, however, that
p. 90
period of synergy between the futuristic visions of science fiction and the futuristic quality of the new special effects is short-lived since the "phantasmagorical projections of the future often only achieve the glamour and allure of the truly novel in that brief moment before the techniques used to bring them to the cinema screen have grown too familiar" (102).


In this article, I will demonstrate that the use of computer imagery specifically transforms genres such as horror, fantasy, and the martial arts film into a form of hybridized science fiction. I will trace how sf films have contributed to the development of computer-generated effects and then consider how the genre has responded to the domestication of the technology by turning away from brave new worlds to explore the new frontier for CGI, the representation of the body. I will therefore not focus on the spectacular nature of these effects but rather on how the infinite malleability of digical technology has extended our understanding of the "indexicality" of the image (as discussed by Laura Mulvey and Philip Rosen) by challenging and reshaping our conception of the body and its boundaries. While Brooks Landon once predicted a future for science fiction in which the media offers the "realization rather than just the representation of SF narrative" (The Aesthetics of Ambivalence XXV), the real
p. 91
development and applications of computer technologies within film production at the turn of the twenty-first century have increasingly led to a convergence between "realization" and "representation." This convergence is located within this reconception of the body both on-screen and off, as the traditional sf cyborg has escaped the confines of the representational space and entered the real world of film projection, where actor and computer technology are increasingly being merged into a new form of digital/human hybrid.

The Development of CGI through Science Fiction
p. 91
...... As he [Lev Manovich] explains, the history of cinema has consistently perpetuated the myth of "capturing" reality through the technology's photographic properties and as a result the history of realism in the cinema is "one of addition," in which each new technology -- such as sound, panchromatic stock, and color -- is presented as offering enhanced realism to the photographic image and emphasizing just how "unrealistic" previous images were (186). ...... With the developments in CGI, however, the concept of realism takes on new meaings. According to Manovich, "achieving synthetic realism means attaining two goals -- the simulation of the codes of traditional cinematography and the simulation of the perceptual properties of real life objects and environments" (191-92). In other words, the computer-generated images must look "real" -- i.e., must reproduce the necessary proportions and textures of the original object -- but they must also look as if they were filmed with a "real" camera, therefore maintaining certain photographic properties such as motion blurring, depth of focus, and the grain of the film stock. As Manovich argues, "although we normally think that synthetic photographs produced with computer graphics are inferior to real photographs, in fact, they are too perfect. But beyond that we can also say that, paradoxically, they are also too "real" (202). With the increasing implementation of CGI in cinema, the development of the technology required an engagement with a language of "realisms" that acknowledged the individual characteristics of vision and perception. The sf genre, a genre of imagined realities, became the locus through which the technology could develop and increasingly attain these realisms.
p. 92
t was the film The Abyss (1989) that first managed to use CGI to create an artificial entity that seemlessly to exist within the "real" (represented) world. ......

...... The differences between the two cyborgs capture the shift in FX technology from the industrial special make-up and mechanical effects of the T-800, achieved through prosthetics and animatronics, to the post-industrial digital imaging and computer graphics of T-1000. As with The Abyss, the challenge in using digital effects in Terminator 2 (T2) was to enable the T-1000 effortlessly to blend with the real world and believably to transform from one form to another. ......
p. 93
In addition to making the impossible possible through the photo-realistic quality of these transformations (or, in the case of The Abyss, the alien effects), these sequences introduced to the sf film an increased self-awareness of the wonders of this new technology, which has increasingly been built into the texts themselves. As Michele Pierson explains, the films provide a narrative space within which to gaze in awe at the magic of the effect: ...... The best example of this moment of spectatorial address, however, takes place in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993), the first film to use CG effects to create live creatures rather than aliens or machines. In this film the link between the science-content of the film and the technological effect is clearly established in the first scene to display the CGI dinosaurs. ...... The film uses developments in CGI technology to bring the dinosaurs to life on the screen in full view, realistically portrayed
p. 94
in three-dimensional space. The moment when palaeontologists Alan Grant and Elly Saddler arrive on the island and see their first "real" dinosaur is designed to instruct the audience in how to respond to this wondrous sight.

...... While the story goes on to criticize the recklessness of modern science's creation of dinosaurs, the film allows the audience to enjoy the wonder and thrills associated with this recklessness. This film, however, demonstrates another key element of modern special effects, which is the short-lived nature of that wonder at the novel and the spectacular. While FX artists continued to outdo the realism of the dinosaur effects in the film's two sequels, ......, that first moment of seeing a dinosaur achieved with such realism and romanticism can never be repeated.

While Jurassic Park challenged FX artists to create realistic living creatures, The Matrix (1999) gave them the opportunity to experiment with computerized methods to manipulate and control the representation of space and time. The film tells a dystopian narrative in which the world as we know it is revealed to be a virtual reality (the Matrix) maintained by a computer program, while the real world is an apocalyptic landscape in which the last free humans are at war with the machines they have created. To construct these two distinct realities, FX technicians created numerous physical and digital effects, but where the film broke new ground was in its representation of the virtual world in which motion can be controlled by the mind.
p. 95
While many critics praised the film for its cunning combination of spectacular action with a metaphysical narrative exploring the dehumanizing threat of technology, it was ultimately upon the quality and innovation of the special effects that the review focused. [see some critics' viewpoints in this paragraph] ......

Science Fiction and the CG-Body
p. 96
With computer-generated effects increasingly being used by other genres to convey different forms of spectacle, the sf film has turned toward its own limitations to form the subject of its fictions, especially in terms of the representation and manipulation of the body. ......

...... The use of computer-generated technologies within these films [Minority Report (2002), I, Robot (2004)], however, has relocated the emphasis from society to the body itself.

Digital effects are able to manipulate the representation of the body in such a way that they visually embody the fusion of human tissue with technological hardware, enabling the human body to be distorted beyond its physical capabilities. Mary Ann Doane has suggested that traditionally the body has been represented as finite and absolute, a simple empirical fact (182). ......
p. 97
As Maria Angel argues, the modern view of anatomy is to see the "opened body replac[ing] the opened book as the source of anatomical knowledge" (29). She explains that "this modern fascination with the contortions and folds of things, their hidden depths and structures, corresponds to an epistemological obsession with hidden interiors in which knowledge is sought and from which knowledge can be withdrawn" (35).

In the 1980s the horror genre exploited contemporary anxieties about maintaining the sanctity of the body by using special make-up effects to rupture its boundaries in such films as Alien, An American Werewolfe in London (1981), The Thing (1982), and The Fly (1986), and to represent the body as an enigma full of unanswered questions about its constitution and health rather than as an empirical resource. Today science fiction film uses digital technology not to rupture the boundaries of the body but rather to stretch and extend the body beyond its usual limits. It also serves to make the invisible visible. ...... [見本段與下一段,關於上述論點的分析,尤其是 Hollow Man 特效的意義]
p. 98
Digital technology is, however, not only used to traverse bodily boundaries but to extend and distort them. What is unsettling about the new technology is the manner in which it can take an indexical image and effortlessly transform and reshape it in ways far beyond the capabilities of photographic manipulation. ......

[先探討 FX technology 與真實演員的關係,取代?抑或互動?]
p. 105
...... film genres have become increasingly hybridized as the new technology facilitates a rethinking of the body and transforms genres such as horror, martial arts, and fantasy into a form of science fiction. The interdependence of humanity and technology is seen not only in the stories projected on the screen but in the production process itself, with its creation of ever more elaborate CGI cyborgs. The very techniques of filmmaking are increasingly the science fiction of today.

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