Beginner’s Guide To… Hard Sci-Fi

by Tom Dunn

“Look Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over”. – HAL 9000
Things are all getting a little bit weird on the Discovery One. Sent on a mission to Jupiter shrouded in secrecy, with only two fellow human companions and an AI program for company, Dave’s claustrophobic life on the ship takes a U-turn when said AI, HAL 9000 – famed for his infallible logic systems – miscalculates some data, plunging the computer into an all too human desire for self preservation. In the face of this, Dave’s compatriots lack the emotional resonance driving HAL, Dave himself experiences his own existential crisis, and along the way the mysteries of the universe are revealed with the help of a giant black board.

This is hard Sci-Fi, this is real life (possibly). Unlike so-called ‘soft’ Sci-Fi features, such as I, Robot or Independence Day, which use their otherworldly foundations as a springboard for SFX action, ‘hard’ Sci-Fi relies on its genre’s sense of high concepts to realise a world in itself; in short, the science and narrative become one, so that, at least on the surface, the films are about a particular scientific venture. Yet these seemingly technical premises; off-world colonisation, interstellar travel and the development of artificial intelligence allow an exploration of deeper, far more engaging issues that relate to us all – the will to survive, human emotion and the purpose of existence. The possible sterility of humanity’s future is well realised through stark, cold stages of white corridors and ominous tubing, the organic element often an invasion upon this clinically minded society that forces a terrible confrontation with the limits of science and understanding.

As a genre, hard Sci-Fi reached something of a peak in both Hollywood and World cinema in the 1970s, and, despite well known classics, has somewhat faded into obscurity over recent years. However, with the acclaim recent genre revival Moon gained, we may well be headed back to the future once more, again coming face to face with ourselves in the most unlikely places.

Must See Movies:

La Jetée (1962)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Silent Running (1972)
Solaris (1972)
Stalker (1979)
Blade Runner (1982)
Children of Men (2006)
Moon (2009)