Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stargazing - A Retrospect

Last week I was clearing some boxes out of my attic and I stumbled across a box containing some old notebooks, pieces of paper and what not. This always seems to happen to me when I try to "clean" I find something that rips me from the task at hand and I end up sitting cross legged in the middle of a floor reading or staring at pictures , remnants of a yesteryear I always seem to forget ever existed . This particular bunch of pages caught my eye and when I started reading them I was surprised to see what it was. It was an essay I had written when I was 17 , an English paper from a long forgotten time in my life . My final year at Secondary school.

We were doing our mock essays for our leaving cert (end of secondary school exams for any non Irish folk) . My English teacher handed out the list of available titles that we could choose from, One of the titles on the list jumped off the page at me "Stargazing" 

Immediately I knew what I wanted to write . The one topic that I had spent my entire childhood fantasizing about, Science Fiction. not only was I going to write about science fiction , but I was going to write about how Hollywood has represented this genre over the years and how it influenced me as a person. I figured I could be smart about it and instead of taking a literal interpretation of the title I decided to fit it to my needs.
So here is the essay as It was produced by my 17 year old brain, bear in mind this is from a time devoid of prequel trilogies, Jungle dwelling Na'vi and shameful Hollywood remakes and reboots. It is strange for me reading this again after such a long period. In my world at the time I was about to leave school and head off to college. Star Trek TNG was on TV every evening at 5pm and Star Wars had only just made its reappearance in popular culture through a small selection of novels set in an expanded universe. The prequel trilogy was nothing but a rumor filled with hopes that had yet to be dashed upon the cavernous turns of beggars canyon like a pod racer who had lost a power coupling.  I was about to travel to an undiscovered country all of my own. And for myself right now as a 34 year old so called Adult it is a long time ago and a galaxy far far away. 

   Stargazing: How the Stars of Hollywood showed me the Stars in the sky.

      "Space the final frontier.These are the Voyages of the Star ship Enterprise . It's Five year Mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations , to boldly go where no one has gone before."

With these words the TV show Star Trek kicked off its journey into the stars, and zoomed with warp speed into the hearts and minds of countless people across the world. It gave the average "Human" a glimpse into the unknown and the fantastic . For a lot of fans of science fiction Star Trek was the beginning , the launch pad if you will , into a universe of wonder that captivated child and adult alike and made them ask the question "What is out there?" . Star Trek is still going strong today, with a new crew and new adventures out amongst the stars . And while this generation of fans are lapping up tales of peaceful exploration under the leadership of the most English Frenchman in the galaxy , I for one prefer the days of Kirk and his fisticuffs with large lizard men with bulbous eyes and Spocks unwavering logic in the face of overpowering emotion. This was the original and in my humble opinion the best Star Trek, because it boldly went out into the dark of space long before we had even heard of the likes of Jean luc, Riker and Worf , they were the pioneers and the rebels of starfleet.

Which leads me onto the next fantastic adventure amongst the Stars, a tale of a small band of rebels pitted against an evil galactic empire. If Star Trek was the launch pad then surely Star Wars is the hyperspace shuttle that blasts off to take us to the destination that all Sci Fi fans My age want to go to , A Galaxy Far Far away. This is the film that pretty much created the summer Blockbuster. The craze that was Star Wars while not as prominent nowadays as it used to be defined a generation of Sci Fi fans and created so many more along the way , so much so that pop culture references bleed into every other type of medium. I myself am a true fan of Star Wars and all it's tales , be it on screen or off. The early years of my childhood were filled with pretend lightsaber battles against Darth Vader and his endless supply of Stormtroopers. Star Wars was also responsible for the birth of what is now a Hollywood staple Merchandise!  I remember the day I got my first ever star wars figure clearly. I was five, standing in the hallway of my grandparents house as my mother arrived home from a trip to the city center . I remember her handing me a brown paper bag , I also remember me ripping the bag open like a wookiee tearing off a limb revealing the toy surprise held within. A Luke Skywalker Figure in his xwing pilot uniform. I was over joyed . Two weeks later Luke was beheaded as my grandfather ran him over with the lawnmower, I had left him out in the garden while I was in having lunch and the force was not strong enough to save him. To ease the pain my Dad rushed out and picked up a new figure for me , this time I got the co pilot extraordinaire Chewbacca...the crying stopped almost instantly.

  If Star Wars and Star Trek were my Sci Fi childhood began then two films define my Sci Fi adulthood

Bladerunner for me is the quintessential brainy Science Fiction film, when I first saw it I was blown away by the amazing special effects depicting the city of tomorrow in all it's dank and dingy glory. Offering glimpses into a future where earth is over populated and polluted and artificial life is a commodity. It takes from the best film noir and mixes it with visuals of the future that even by today's special effects standard still amazing to look at. Bladerunner asked questions about mortality and humanity and leaves the viewer wondering that even if we have evolve to the stage that we are traveling amongst the stars have we lost sight of the value of what makes us human, and who are we to play at being God.

The second of the two films also offers a dark look at mans space quest 

Aliens is the sequel to the 1979 movie Alien. Unlike Ridley Scott's claustrophobic slasher in space move, it's follow up is part action movie part horror and all science fiction. Where as Ridley Scott frightens using atmosphere  and tightly wound tension set around a single organism intent on killing everything in it s wake, James Cameron scares us by using volume of numbers, loud noises and the premise that they are all coming for you and you will not survive , and boy did it work on me. It tapped into the psyche and stayed there like a xenomorph waiting to burst forth, it is a dark and dirty look at mans exploration into the stars and the consequences of trying to tame the unknown.  

These films tap into the darker side of science fiction , but it wasn't always down to trips to the cinema to blast us into the unknown, I spent countless nights sitting in my grandparents sitting room watching episodes of The Twilight zone, with episodes like Nightmare at 20,000 feet. The episode made famous for William Shanter's "There is something on the wing " . Shows like the twilight zone which first aired in the united states in 1959 , but is still shown around the world to this day allowed people to experience short tales of science fiction and fantasy more often than not with an Alien twist, without having to leave the comfort of their armchairs or if you look at a show like Doctor Who from the comfort of hiding behind the sofa. The Doctor has been off the tv screens for a while now, but it makes a return later this year in a made for TV movie starring Paul McGann, here's hoping it can garner enough interest to mark a revival. Doctor Who as a show had a unique formula that not only took in traveling through the stars but also time, allowing it to jump back to prehistoric man or forward to thousands of years in the future when man had reached out and touched the stars. 

All in all Hollywood has always had a love for all things Science Fiction. Sometimes it showcase the fantastic, sometimes the horrific. But one lesson that the Stars in Hollywood have thought me about the stars burning millions of miles above our heads that sticks with me to this day ........

                                                      In Space no one can hear you Scream.

This essay was the only time in my entire five years in secondary school that I ever received an A grade (A- to be precise ) for writing it never happened before and would never happen again. I was extremely proud of it back then, and reading again now , I'm still extremely proud of my 17 year old self for writing it. 


  1. Awesome essay, Wayne. Reminds me of being a young, bright eyed nerdling. When ER write what we know, it will usually come out shiny.

  2. Cheers Chris, Yeah Ive been feeling like that since I found it. Nostalgic for the days when the term Nerd rage didn't exist.