From Alien To The Matrix: Reading Science Fiction Film by Roz Kaveney (book review)

I picked up a small pile of books about SF a couple years ago and slowly working my way through them. In many respects, Roz Kaveney’s book, ‘From Alien To The Matrix: Reading Science Fiction Film’ shows how many years ago a lot of these films came out.

The first film she looks at is ‘Starship Troopers’ and compares it to Heinlein’s original novel, pointing out how much director Paul Verhoeven didn’t like it and changed things. Although when I read the original novel, I didn’t really understand the right-wing stance Heinlein took, mostly because of my age at the time, I did understand that a society at constant war with a dangerous alien bug species would have to take on some form of totalitarianism to get its people to go to war as a means of conscription. Any writer doing that is going to look right-wing.

I’m not going to cover all the films Kaveney covers. I’m still puzzled by ‘Galaxy Quest’ which she raves over. I got the parody aspect, just didn’t think it particularly funny. With ‘Mars Attacks’, she references a woman’s head grafted to a chihuahua’s body, forgetting this is a direct reference to the second ‘Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers’ film where a hobo and his body had blended after a pod had been damaged.

The default setting for some of these books is to go into synopsis mode as if there’s a need to remind, especially at the time of publication, readers of the plot more than discuss the implications which might not fill the chapter. Take ‘Strange Days’, released to tie in with the dawn of the millennium, albeit in an SF manner, can somewhat date it. Unlike seasonal films that always get repeats, many set date films less so, more so if the date isn’t included in the film.

As Kaveney compares George Lucas to Jim Cameron, I’m going to go into reaction mode here. Lucas wanted to emulate the likes of the ‘Flash Gordon’ serials from his youth without breeching copyright although borrowing from many sources into the mix. As Kaveney points out there’s a lot of inconsistencies and he needed the liked of experienced SF writer Leigh Brackett to sort out the last two parts of the original trilogy. With Cameron, even if he wasn’t into SF, he does have a tidy logical mind and joins all the dots. Alas, in his later years, regular three hour plus films does tend to make me think he’s over-indulging rather than thinking of his viewers’ bladders.

‘The Matrix’ trilogy is given only a few pages considering its presence in the book title.

The first four ‘Alien’ films are each given their own chapters and anyone familiar with them is going to spot little mistakes which could have been corrected had she gone over the films or let someone with a little more knowledge do an informed proofread. Let’s hit a few so you know I’m paying attention. With ‘Alien’, she states Dallas was a ‘company man’. Surely, if he was, then he would be colluding with Ash and not self-sacrificing going into the airducts. He just obeyed the order that when it came to science, Ash had the final word. Ripley didn’t take Dallas’ key to access MU/TH/UR as she took her own from the storage locker outside the computer room. The captain’s shuttle isn’t really built for a crew of three considering there is only one hibernating pod, although you do have to wonder at its purpose if it couldn’t save the entire crew.

I’m more puzzled by Kaveney with the ‘Aliens’ chapter, pointing out Ripley treating Vasquez as a role model as she never spent anytime with any of the lady marines. She also calls Newt’s family name as Newton not Jorden. That might be a Freudian slip as never know how she got her nickname. She also places Bishop with the marines when they go to the cooling tower when he was in the lab. To call the Sulaco’s dropship a shuttle doesn’t look right considering what it does. To be fair, she does explain a lot more about the connections between the names Nostromo and Sulaco as both come from Joseph Conrad’s novels.

Interestingly, she doesn’t include a bibliography of which books she looked up although pointed out a book called ‘The Alien Quartet’ by David Tomson I need to check for its mistakes.

Kaveney’s thoughts and knowledge of ‘Alien3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection’ do mirror my own problems with the films and studio interference. Back in the day, though, SF films, outside of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’ rarely had sequels, let alone seen as cash-cows. Look at how long there was between the first two ‘Predator’ films. With ‘Alien3’, she says there were no survivors yet misses the prisoner Morse who was taken away. With ‘Alien: Resurrection’, Kaveney points out the androids’ names are built out of successive alphabetical initials although, oddly, not recognising ‘Call’ is actually a command code in computer language.

I wish really that Kaveney had a concluding chapter bringing all thoughts together. As it is, this book tends to come out as a synopsis analysis with a little behind the scenes history. Would I have understood any of the 41 films she mentions better for reading this book? Probably not but I am well-versed in most of them.

GF Willmetts

June 2024

(pub: I/B.Tauris, 2005. 208 page indexed medium softcover. Price: varies. ISBN: 1-85043-806-4)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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