Reflections on the Golden Screen
Part Two
Blade Runner  {1982 }
From a novel by Philip. K. Dick. ---Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep ?
Director Ridley Scott's Los Angeles of 2019 is a gloomy, forbidding and claustrophobic city in an earth where animal life has been so decimated that synthetics have taken their place. Having directed
Alien three years earlier he was quite familiar with claustrophobia. Not only animals have been replicated but several versions of replicant humans created to serve and carry out nominal duties. The human androids have taken to rebelling and Rick Deckard {Harrison Ford} is an expert at destroying the rogue androids and the L.A. police enlist his aid.  
Deckard comes over as a futuristic Mike Hammer and the film noir of the 30's detective faced with futuristic problems works extremely well, especially when he meets Rachel {Sean Young} a Veronica Lake look-alike, all 30's hairdo and padded shoulders.
Deckard's first meeting with Rachel is vital to understanding the theme of the film as he routinely discovers that she also is a replicant.  It is not that discovery that bothers Deckard but her reaction to his finding out ----- she refuses to accept that she is an android and is insulted by his assertion that she is. Tyrell who constructed her and the other androids has done something unprecedented in previous models and implanted them with a memory of a previous life. Consequently, the rogue replicants Decker has been commissioned to kill want to live as long as they can in just one of many human traits they have inherited.

Rutger Hauer as the leader of the rogue replicants comes to Tyrell to ask him if he can prolong his life remarking sardonically that he has "Come to meet his Maker". Tyrell's refusal prompts his demise in a horrifying " kiss of death".
The film then follows Decker's tracking down of the replicants
and his increasing devotion to Rachel. They fall deeply in love and Sean Young's performance as the enigmatic and emotionally fragile Rachel {reminiscent of Bacall and Lake} as an homage to film noir is excellent.

In the final scenes Decker finally eliminates Rutger Hauer's replicant and Rachel and Decker walk off to begin a new life together.  But this film is never that simple -- throughout the film Decker's movements have been watched by the L.A. police detective who is in the habit of making origami paper unicorns and as Decker walks out into the corridor there is one on the floor.   It would be easy to dismiss it as a sign that the detective had been there but it is a confirmation that Decker is also a replicant.  There was always a vague frisson that Decker was not all that he seemed but it requires a Ridley Scott interview to tell us that he was indeed a replicant implanted with dreams of a unicorn ----hence the detective's obsession.
On the face of it
Blade Runner is a routine story but the film has so many hidden depths and nuances and the dialogue is so subtle that several viewings are necessary before the whole thing assumes shape. There is a nod to Ray Bradbury when Decker enters a Bradbury Hotel, there is the film noir 30's theme and not least the underlying assertion that any life is of value ---even that of an android.  But the real lesson that comes across is that the androids value the imaginary lives that they have been given far more than we humans value ours and we take too much of our gift for granted.
Isaac Asimov would have approved greatly which is the highest accolade I can give this film.  However, this is one occasion where the film is superior to the novel which is nowhere near as good and it seems that it is Philip K. Dicks' ideas that Producers want more than his writing skill or lack of it.
lm..
Terminator { 1984 }
Director : James Cameron
The early S.F. films featured robots in many guises --- cutting edge then, most of them now look like they were built in a garage with a socket-set compared with the sleek androids appearing in many of today's films. Isaac Asimov was miles ahead of the field when he envisioned a world of androids so integrated into society that they needed laws specific to them ; the famous 3 Laws of Robotics.  If Arnold Schwartzenegger's Terminator was aware of the 3 Laws he disregarded them completely as the relentless assassin from the future.
Completely lacking the subtleties of
Blade Runner's android epic, what Terminator lacks in dialogue it certainly makes up for in action and excitement as the emotionless Cyborg hunts down the hapless Sarah Connor played by Linda Hamilton. Managing to be both seductive and vulnerable at the same time Sarah is the girl-next-door faced with a virtually invulnerable machine programmed to destroy her.  Cameron recruited Michael Biehn {who played Hicks in Aliens and Johhny Ringo in Tombstone remember} to play Sarah's protector and later lover and there was a much too small part for Lance Henrikson who nevertheless excelled as he always does.
Starting slowly, the action increases as the film goes along culminating in a gripping finale as the Terminator, even more terrifying reduced to a metal skeleton, pursues his prey to a stunning finale.
T.2 Judgement Day { 1991 }
Director : James Cameron
 Arnie's " I'll be back" has entered into movie folk-lore and he was true to his word in the sequel to
Terminator. Again reprising his role as the Terminator, this time he's fighting on the side of the angels as a protector to Sarah against the formidable liquid-metal, cybernetic organism called T-1000. The T-1000 looks like the metal mercury personified, has all the properties and resilience of mercury with the added bonus of the ability to metamorphose into any shape he desires, assuming the persona of a Police officer for much of the film. The T- 1000 is a wondrous cinematic creation and goes to make up much of the film's fascination.
Sarah has had a metamorphosis of her own and slimmed down into tough, urban guerrilla protecting the young John Connor played by Edward Furlong and is fleeing from her latest nemesis aided by the now obsolete Terminator.
The plot is far more complex than the first film with some interesting time-paradox themes. Apart from Reese being John Connor's dad, it now comes to light that the first Terminator's chip supplied information vital to the workings of the Skynet Super-Computer.

The young John Connor also alters the Terminator's programming to enable him to "learn" and to not take human life.  But the real strength of the film is the sheer pace and non-stop action which hits the ground running right from the word go and increases in intensity as the film unfolds. It seems to be a hallmark of James Cameron's direction that each film he makes has this roller-coaster quality , increasingly going faster and faster and culminating in a cymbal-crashing finale.
The edge-of- the-seat final battle in the foundry and the chase leading up their getting there are exciting as anything in S.F. history and possibly up there with Ripley's battle with the alien queen. After a number of nail-biting, unequal and innovative combats the Terminator is reduced to a shambling wreck by the formidable and seemingly unstoppable T-1000 but with one last throw of the dice he sends the T-1000 plummeting into a vat of molten metal.
John Connor's re-programming of the Terminator makes the final scenes quite poignant as the Terminator sacrifices himself in order to destroy any chance that his chip will fall into the wrong hands. As Sarah Connor states at the end " what he had learned was the value of human life". There's also a single note of humour when the Terminator, now looking like a prospect for the scrap-heap comments " I need a vacation". Personally, I think that this was James Cameron's way of saying that it was he who needed a vacation after the prodigious efforts put into this movie. It would also be remiss not to state that the special-effects department and the stunt arrangers should take a special bow for some awesome film-making.
If
Terminator was a great S.F. movie then James Cameron was truly inspired when he made Judgement Day.  There's a fascinating scene when the T-1000 finds himself walking through a lake of liquid ammonia and consequently becoming so brittle that he literally shatters into shards.  In real life the same process is not just being considered but is actually now an option available instead of cremation ---- what will they think of next }.
Terminator 3 : Rise of the Machines { 2003 }
Director Jonathan Mostow
Apart from Arnold Schwarzenegger all of the usual players were absent from this film -- the most notable being James Cameron.  For a film which had been awaited impatiently for several years it was slightly disappointing and perhaps that was the problem  --- the anticipation had built up to such a height that nothing less than perfection would have sufficed, but Arnie
is to
Terminator what Weaver is to Alien and his presence alone is worth the entrance fee .  In actual fact, the film is a top-class action movie but there is too much of a temptation to compare it to what has gone before and by those standards it does fall slightly short. 
Having said that, there is much to like about the film ---not least the superb sequences during the lorry chase and the battle in the corridors of Skylab with the killing machines and the ever-changing Terminatrix.  There are some
interesting twists in the Terminatorstory not least when John Connor discovers that the Terminator
sent to protect him will eventually kill him at some time in the future.  There is also the surprising
discovery by John Connor and his girl-friend that the Terminator has been sent to protect them and
not as they believe to prevent Judgement Day and last but not least is the intriguing notion that
Skylab which was built to save mankind was the instrument of its demise.Overall Terminator 3 is
fine entertainment and goes to make up a trilogy of memorable S.F. movies but it will take a daring
Producer to make another one and until that day arrives it's "Hasta La Vista, Baby"
Predator { 1987 }
Director : John McTiernan
Predator will never win any prizes for artistic direction, memorable dialogue, intricacies of plot or even great acting but what it does have is a straight-forward, old-fashioned, slam-bang adventure story. In fact it is so retro that it even goes as far as to reintroduce the ancient device from the Saturday matinee era where, as the credits roll at the end, each character turns to the camera and gives a little smile as his name comes up ----- it's a bit like the screen version of an obituary.
Make sure you get to your seat early as the film gets underway within minutes with Dutch {Arnold Schwarzenegger} leading a highly-trained, specialised army unit by helicopter into the jungles of South America. Equipped with an impressive array of hardware and looking like refugees from the The Dirty Dozen they joke their way into their mission to a background of Little Richard belting out Long Tall Sally. All the signs read that nobody has ever messed with these guys with impunity and wouldn't we all have liked mates like these now and again.
After completing their mission with relative ease - I have to say that I'm not too sure what the mission was but part of it involved slaughtering a small South American army----- they have to make their way through the jungle to their extraction point which is when the heavily camouflaged Predator appears and begins to pick them off one by one.
Each of the unit takes on the Predator in isolation and each of them are slain and butchered until only Dutch remains. In a preliminary encounter with the creature he loses his weapons and is faced with the irony of having failed to kill the Predator surrounded by defenders using sophisticated weaponry he now must face it using primitive weapons. So, in the primeval jungle setting the duo fight a battle to the death.
The Predator is the real star of the picture and immediately takes his place in the movie pantheon of creatures from another world. The concept of an alien trophy hunter with a nightmarish visage screened by a helmet and armour and a predilection for creative butchery is the glue that holds the film together and although Gort would be appalled at the violence, Predator is extremely enjoyable despite all its faults.
Predator 2
Director : Stephen Hopkins
The clever start to the
Predator sequel with the camera panning over a "jungle" and then skimming upward to reveal it as the outskirts of L.A. and then homing in on the human jungle promised a great deal but ultimately disappointed.  Beginning with a shoot-out between police and a crazed bunch of Columbian drug dealers the tone of the film is set immediately as the bullets fly everywhere from an arsenal of artillery which would have ended World War 2 in short order.  Thriving in the ensuing mayhem, the Predator slays the Columbians with his usual mix of medieval and techno weaponry.  From that point onward, killing indiscriminately, the alien is hunted by L.A.'s finest and the F.B.I. agents who fight with each other as they clash in that now clichéd rivalry between the two.  Danny Glover does his best with the now obligatory staff of maverick cops and Gary Busey is nasty as usual as the opening scene is repeated several times with various other players such as a Jamaican Voodoo gang and subway muggers.  There's only so many times that you can have flying bullets and Predator killings without it becoming a little tiresome and there is so much of it in this film that the shock value is devalued accordingly.  The film does improve at the end with the running battle between Harrigan {Glover} and the Predator culminating in the death
of the alien hunter within his own spacecraft.  There's also a nice little
touch when Harrigan spots the trophies on the wall which include an
Alien skull and on a previous occasion when the Predator is flensing his
trophies atop a skyscraper {reminiscent of a classic Batman pose  but
overall the film is merely competent and lacks the spark of inspiration
which makes a film exceptional.
The Predator is a great creation but since the initial film it has been all
downhill, with the Alien vs Predator debacle lowering the tone
considerably.  Strangely, the Predator has been explored far more within the
pages of comic books which have placed him in far more interesting scenarios.
Given the right treatment and an inspired script there is still a great Predator
movie waiting to be made.
Steven Spielberg first dipped his toes into the waters of S.F. with Close Encounters (1977) - a sober study
of alien abductions which added little to the subject and was just a little dull; he did ,however, pay homage to George Lucas' Star Wars by placing an R2D2 figure in the spacecraft  - subtle touch which few people noticed.   He then performed one of the greatest balancing acts in the history of the cinema transforming the ungainly and plug-ugly Extra-Terrestrial  (1982)  into one the most recognisable and popular beings upon the planet.  Volumes have been written in praise of E.T. and rightly so as it is oneof the finest  feel-good movies of all time and anything I had to add would be superfluous.  Batteries Not Included (1987) was a comic look at alien invasion as was Men in Black (1997) which became tiresome after a short time.But in 2001, in yet another mood swing Spielberg left behind the Disneysque world of E.T.  et al, and turned his attention to the Daliesque and darker subject of artificial intelligence.
Artificial Intelligence A.I.
Director : Steven Spielberg
From a short story by Brian Aldiss: Supertoys Last All Summer Long.
A.I. is a multi-layered film exploring the future of robotics, the enduring nature of love, the evolution of intelligence and the future of mankind among other things --- and it succeeds on every level. It is above all else a modern fairy tale and like all good fairy tales retains the traditions of good and evil but to bring in so many themes within that context is the art of screenwriting par excellence.
David { Haley Joel Osment } is a robot boy who has the capacity to learn and above all to love. He was created by Professor Hobby { played by William Hurt } the Visionary behind the Cybertronics organisation. When Monica { Frances O'Connor } yearns for her child whose illness has placed him in suspended animation her husband { Sam Robards } brings home David. At first she rejects the thought of anyone taking the place of her son but gradually transfers her affections to David and eventually takes the irrevocable step of "imprinting" and from that point on David's love for her is undying.
Unfortunately for David, Monica's son Martin makes a miraculous recovery and returns home, displacing David in his mother's affections. The bedtime stories that Monica once read to David she now reads to Martin and listening at the door David is jolted by the story of Pinocchio who is turned into a real boy by The Blue Fairy. The super-toy Teddy prefers the company of David and Martin's jealousy inspires him to lead David into pranks which he says will lead him to win back Monica's affection but have exactly the opposite effect. When Martin tells him to cut a lock of her hair while she is sleeping Monica awakens to find David above her with the scissors in his hand. The lock of hair has floated down in Teddy's hand and he hides it in a pouch.
Forced into getting rid of David, she tearfully abandons him in the woods and accompanied by the ever-faithful Teddy, David sets off on his quest to find The Blue Fairy and become a real boy. On his travels, he comes across the love-robot, Gigolo Joe { Jude Law } and a number of ingeniously designed robots escaping from the Flesh Fair where they are to be destroyed in novel ways to the delectation of a crowd which would have been at home in the Colosseum.  Escaping the Flesh Fair, still with Teddy and Joe he travels to Rouge City and on to the drowned city of Man-Hattan where he discovers many other Davids ---created by Prof. Hobby as substitutes for his dead son.
In an act of despair, David drops into the ocean and rescued by Joe in a sub-aqua plane he eventually finds his goal -- next to the Ferris Wheel on a sunken Coney Island is The Blue Fairy.
Two thousand years later an alien race discover a frozen David and Teddy still imploring The Blue Fairy to grant his wish. They discover the lock of hair held by Teddy and using her D.N.A. the aliens bring Monica back and David is reunited with his"mother" at last - for one single day only.
The special-effects in A.I. are stunning and unlike many films they complement and enhance the story and never detract from it. The story is thought-provoking and intelligent and at times it is deeply disturbing and even depressing ---the same could be said of most of the stories by the Brothers Grimm. Nevertheless, it is a work of cinematic genius unlike anything else that Spielberg has done before and I believe that A.I. is one of the greatest  S.F. films of all time
Is there another child-actor on the planet who could carry such a role as Hayley Joel Osment has here ?
And is there another Teddy on the planet as cute and faithful as this Teddy ?
Steven Spielberg is indubitably a cinematic genius who has combined an abiding affection for his childhood memories and turned them into great films. In a supreme example of serendipity his genius has flowered at exactly the same time as the quantum leap in special-effects technology without which this film would have been greatly dimished.
Dreamcatcher {2003}
Director : Lawrence Kasdan ---novel by Stephen King
Designing an alien being is a pretty formidable task if you really think about it ----it has to be different to all those who have gone before and most difficult of all the creature must be both credible and incredible at the same time.  Not only that, if the budding alien creator wishes to draw some inspiration from life on earth, all the bases have been pretty well covered.  The parade of creatures that have inhabited our planet have filled every conceivable and inconceivable niche and crevice of evolutionary diversity and from brontosaur to bacterium most of them are far stranger than anything seen on screen.
Most of the alien beings seen on film have their origins in creatures of earth, past or present and more and more are drawing on the bizarre panoply of life under the lens.
To date, Giger's Alien is the most creative and detailed of the alien clan but the life-cycle that Giger has given to the aliens is not uncommon on earth in the insect world and there are several species of wasp alone that lay their eggs within a living caterpillar so that the hatchlings have a supply of pre-packed, fresh meat.
The Predator is an imaginative alien life-form and I for one would like to see him back someday and the concept of an alien trophy hunter who has been preying on the earth for millenia has yet to be fully explored.  However, as appealing as he is, the Predator himself is merely the amalgam of a crab's head with dreadlocks, on the shoulders of an athlete.
The plethora of giant-lizards, massive worms, reptilian humanoids appear over and over again and are just variants of some of the creatures found upon earth.  The only true phenomena are the things that don't exist upon earth ----the shape-changers, mind-readers and body-stealers and most of these are becoming cliched.
Since Roswell,  there have been numerous bug-eyed, slimy and naked aliens popping up everywhere with the added fillip that many people suspect their existence.
All this is not to say that film aliens are any the less fearsome or strange but it does make the case that very few are truly unique products of the human mind and if Stephen King is unable to bring forth a true original from his boundless imagination then we are all lost.  And Stephen King's alien is definitely not an original - in fact the author has taken an element here and there from many other screen aliens and
created a chimera of an alien creature, making
Dreamcatcher perilously close to being a bland and formulaic production.  But what does make the film different and rescues it from movie sameness is the standard Stephen King addition of the supernatural thrown into the mix, resulting in a far more entertaining and complex plot.  In fact, I would say that it is advisable to first read the book to fully understand what's going on in the film.  Damian Lewis has the burden of most of the work, adopting several personas as the monster inhabits various bodies and Morgan Freeman is a welcome addition to any film.
Regular readers of Stephen King will notice the standard themes present in most of his work  --- the children's storyline, the supernatural, and not least the Grimm's fairytale aspect of a dark and menacing forest.  The grim and forbidding forest is an ever-present in Stephen King's work, which, if the theories of A.A. Gill can be believed, betrays the author's origins.  Gill was a journalist who was interested in the battle of the Teutoberg Forest in A.D. 9 . when three Roman Legions were massacred by a horde of barbarian Germans.  The Roman Empire suffered a devastating blow to its arms and prestige and even to the present day the leader of the Germans, Arminius is celebrated as a folk-hero, never more so than during the Nazi era when he was raised to cult status.  Gill's speculation is as follows;

" The slaughter in the Teutoberg Forest divided Europe into the warm south who forever saw forests as dreadful places to be avoided and cleared, homes to dragons and trolls, antitheses of the civilized city.  And the north who understood them to be healing, protecting, mystical, spiritual places.  How you feel about a silent birch forest at twilight says more about your bloodline than your passport."
We all know how Stephen King feels about birch forests at twilight and the southern Europeans may be even more fearful after the author has filled them full of aliens as well as all the other monsters.
Dreamcatcher is good but never great and despite faithfully reproducing the book it never captures the indefinable magic that are unique to Stephen King's books
.
War of The Worlds  { 2005 }
Director : Steven Spielberg after the novel by H.G.Wells
It was only a matter of time before Steven Spielberg turned his attention to H.G.Wells's classic saga of invasion from another planet and he has welded his tried and tested formula of an ordinary family in peril onto the enduring tale. Ray Ferrier{ Tom Cruise } is the divorced husband who has access to his two children on the very weekend that the Martians choose to put their millennia-long invasion plans into effect. Plucked from Spielberg's limitless supply of wunderkind, Dakota Fanning { Rachel } plays the cute but feisty 9-year-old-going-on-90 and steals every scene in the process while Justin Chatwin as her elder brother Robbie is the angst-ridden teenager beloved of tweenies everywhere. The sharp dialogue and tensions between the three of them belie an innate love for one another and it is that rare on-screen affinity between them that is a very likeable part of the film. A stand-out scene is when Ray is making a peanut butter sandwich for Rachel and she tells him she is allergic to peanut-butter. "Since when" ? says Ray " Since birth" says a weary Rachel.
There is a sense of the film having been made in sections as the family race from scene to scene but the set-pieces are as we have to expect brilliant in their execution - the overturned ferry, the air-liner crash, the attacks by the tripods are all memorable. Not least is the sequence in the cellar when the Martian probe seeks them out and confronts a mirror behind which the family are cowering accompanied by the half-crazy urban guerrilla Harlan played by Tim Robbins. The conclusion to the cellar sequence is the killing of Harlan which is a jarring note that is a little distasteful and an unnecessary addition to the film.
Among the many scary and tense scenes one of the most disturbing does not involve the aliens at all but is the frenzied attempt by a baying mob to hi-jack Ray's car - a telling indictment of the behaviour of humanity in crisis - well some of it anyway. Perhaps Ray's slaying of Harlan is part of the same process but heroes are meant to be above that sort of thing, surely.

The influence of the original movie is pervasive and if there is ever another
War of the Worlds then it will undoubtedly be traditional for the Martians to arrive in tripartite, sleek, manta-like machines and the Martians themselves to have an amphibian appearance just as it was in the first film. There are in fact so many similarities to the original film that Spielberg could be accused of plagiarism but it is quite obvious that he holds it dear as evidenced by his affectionate nod of having Gene Barry and Ann Robinson at the door in the final sequence.
Throughout the film there are some beautifully filmed action shots of the alien tripods as they devastate the earth and it would be normal to expect the traditional grand-stand finish but the final scenes are an anticlimax to what has gone before. Many of the truly great movies are memorable for climatic scenes among iconic buildings { King Kong, Planet of the Apes, Spiderman et al } but inexplicably Spielberg has his Martian tripods crashing down in their death throes on top of what looks like a Walmart warehouse. The overall impression is that someone has pulled the plug on the funding or Spielberg has run out of inspiration which must be a first - whatever the reason it is without doubt an opportunity missed for the creation of a classic and iconic movie scene, Spielberg style, to enter the movie Hall of Fame.
There are several other missed opportunities ; Morgan Freeman has a great speaking voice but the rich baritones of Richard Burton on the Jeff Wayne album are incomparable. Combined with the music from the same album they would have electrified the film and audiences both. There is also the point that the definitive film version of Wells's novel must be set in Victorian London which is a great deal of the charm of the book.
Comparisons with the first film are an inevitability with advanced technology the most apparent difference. Computer graphics make the extraordinary into reality and Spielberg has taken full advantage of the techniques while directing a thoroughly enjoyable film. Nevertheless, I still have a sneaking regard for the original - nostalgia is a powerful force.

The number of plays, films, magazines  and books derived from Wells' Victorian novel are  quite incredible and even after all these years they still keep coming - even Superman got into the act quite recently.

 
Every so often a post-apocalypse film appears in which a "last man on earth" has a whole city to  play in.  As a general rule the earth has been devastated by an atomic war or more usually a virus which has wiped out the human race  leaving our hero to face hordes of zombies who are mutated survivors.  As zombies can only emerge when night falls, our "last man" spends his days looking for food and guns when he is not barricading himself into his apartment.  One of the earliest apocalypse films was The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston which followed the formula outlined above.   I Am Legend  is virtually the same film with small changes here and there and the use of C.G. making the city more realistic.  The Mad Max  series followed a differnt path where there were many survivors who had split into different tribes at war with all manner of weapons and vehicles cobbled together from old machinery - Mad Max  is enjoyable to a point but is basically an excuse  to produce the type of mayhem appreciated by stock-car racing fans.   Kevin Costner made two post-apocalypse films with the first in 1995 called Waterworld which almost bankrupted Costner and was universally panned by the critics - but what do they know - actually,
Waterworld was quite innovative and aboce all it was entertaining.  Undaunted by the critics, Costner made another post-apocalypse movie two years later called The Postman which was again mecilessly mauled by the press but similar to Waterworld the film was  never meant to be deep-thinking and as pure entertainment it ticks all the boxes.  Both Waterworld and The Postman were adventure movies  set in a post-apocalyptic world and were a welcome departure from zombies and cobwebby skeletons in deserted cities, but in 2009 we were once more returned to that scenario in The Road starring Viggo Mortensen.  Taken from a  Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy  The Road  was taken far more seriously by the critics and won all kind sof accolades but in reality the film is a bleak and depressing wander through a nightmarish landscape of unremitting devastation. 
 Actually, I am not too sure if apocalypse films fall into the category of Science Fiction at all - if they are then they can only be classified as a genre within a genre.  Personally, I would rather face the Alien  Queen anyday.
During the last three decades there have probably been more words entering into the English language than at any time previously;  the reason is of course associated with the technological revolution involving computer science and  a younger generation has grown up with pixels. Google,  megabytes , bandwidth and all the other expressions now  in common usage.  For an older generation all these things have been part of a sharp learning curve which has been learned as a new language - however, for most people young or old  there is one word which was virtually unknown and certainly not in use in everyday language, although it has been around for thousands of years - the word is avatar.  For the ancients of the Hindu religion an avatar was the earthly form taken by the Gods when they came to earth but as far as computers go, the word first meant an alter-ego in cartoon form and now is taken to translate as any form of dual-identity as in the film Avatar (2009)
James Cameron's  track record as a Director of Science-Fiction films is impeccable  with perhaps his greatest feat in directing the sequel to Ridley Scott's Alien and rivalling the original film.  In 2009, it seems that all the experience and knowledge he had gathered over the years came together to create what is possibly Cameron's finest film.  There may be good films and great films but there  are very few films which qualify as works of art  but Avatar is without doubt in that category.   The film opens with the arrival on the moon Pandora of Jake Sully , (Sam Worthington) a paraplegic Marine whose role is to enter the world of the native Pandoran's, The Na'vi ,as an avatar of himself to gather data for a corporate business intent on pillaging the moon for its mineral riches.  Jake  is enamoured of his new-found freedom and is reluctant to leave the world of the Na'vi and becomes even more so when he falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).  As Jake learns the ways of the Na'vi he gradually realises that, although it has its dangers, Pandora is a paradise of flora and fauna about to be destroyed by the rapacious corporation and worse still, the  nativeNa'vi face extermination.   The real strength ofthis film is the creation of Pandora and the Na'vi, and as it proceeds  disbelief is suspended as  the alien world becomes ever more realistic and its inhabitants almost come to life.  Sigourney Weaver makes a welcome appearance as does Wes Studi, as fierce as ever as a Na'vi tribesman.   Avatar works on many levels - it's a love story, an adventure story, a Science-Fiction story,it has cutting-edge technology and Cameron
has created an alien world of breathtaking landscapes -but perhaps the greatest legacy of this film is the Director's stark warning throughout of mankind's greed and disregard for other species and their habitat.     The media is full of documentaries about logging in virgin forest , overfishing the seas and killing animals for the most spurious of reasons, but perhaps it takes
a film like Avatar to really drive home those warnings.
 
 
Since  Avatar  thrilled us with its multi-layered story there has been a noticeable  dearth of  quality Science-fiction films; Divergent is pretentious at best, the much vaunted Hunger Games series are a cynical attempt to cash-in on a teenage market , quite happy to identify with Jennifer Lawrence firing arrows and flirting - Ripley would have ate her for breakfast.   I never even watched the end of Jupiter Ascending  and Oblivion  was  not worthy of Tom Cruise.   Among the crop of frankly exploitative films just mentioned there are two space pictures which have been loudly acclaimed as must-see films of the genre - Gravity was always going to be a winner when Sandra Bulloch was the damsel in distress in deep space and George Clooney brought the hankies out when he floated off to be lost forever among the stars.  The film was a triumph of CGI, won 7 Oscars and a  hatful of money at the box office.  Similarly, The Martian starring Matt Damon received all manner of acclaim and also earned a fortune for its producers, hiding the fact that Sean Bean was hopelessly miscast.  Both films were feted for their scientific  accuracy and were so true to form that they could well have been documentaries on NASA operations  - and that is where the fault lies because unless you were deeply versed in rocketry and space techno -babble then in truth both films were stiflingly boring , with The Martian in particular  merely a version of Silent RunningThe fact is that Science Fiction  is about monsters, different life forms, alien landscapes, a sense of wonder and curiosity and not mathematical formulae and parabolas.

Although the scientists may salivate over fossilised Martian microbes or bits of moon-rock the reality is that the excitement  and expectation generated  by the  real-life missions to the moon, Mars  and beyond, has been a massive disappointment; there are no Martian mammals or even the odd scorpion or spider - what would we have given to find a single cockroach even, but  the sad fact is that there's nothing there.   There are no Moon-men or Venusians and it is almost certain that our entire solar-system is the same -- for some inexplicable reason we are alone and the answers to questions about religion, the origins of life and a myriad of other questions will remain unanswered for the foreseeable future.  As far as Science Fiction goes, the dust of the Red Planet makes H.G.Wells' War of the Worlds an impossibility; we now know that we will never need Slim Whitman andThe Indian Love Call   and  Ray Bradbury's colonies on Mars will never happen.   Space exploration  has made anachronisms of previous Science Fiction  literature and future writers  will need to find other sources for their fertile imaginations.   The search for a new crop of alien worlds is not  confined to NASA scientists but is just as avidly pursued by a host of authors  and film directors and not least a few million S.F. aficionados who may have thrilled when the rockets set off for space but whose dreams of monsters and alien life-forms have ultimately been shattered. 
Arrival ( 2016) - Director Denis Villeneuve
The newspaper critics said Arrival was a great S.F. movie so I went to see it ; it wasn't great at all, in fact it was a bit boring and was just a more sophisticated take on the theme of "what would we do if aliens landed ?"
That question has been answered many times in many films but most of them end up with the military trying out their latest weapons on impervious spaceships.    Arrival bears some resemblance to The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) exploring our reaction to aliens, and in this case how to communicate with them.  It's noticeable that one again a woman is the main character in the shape of  Louise Banks played byAmy Adams, whose explanations of communication techiques are far beyond my grasp.  Jeremy Renner as her sidekick plays a very subdued role in the film while Forest Whitaker's Colonel Weber is little different to any of the military personnel in every S.F. film ever made. 
If Arrival accomplishes anything it exposes the limitations of our civilization and our visceral fear of anything new.  In a world which can't even protect its own species and the attrition rate of extinctions of native species is at an all-time high, how could we even contemplate getting along with aliens.
As far as S.F. films go, life was far simpler when giant lizards with ray-guns kidnapped scantily-clad space maidens with adapted goldfish bowls  on their heads -  at least you know where you are with them.