By Don Simpson | June 14, 2010
Director: Dave Gargani
David Gargani’s documentary Monsters from the Id (a title which cleverly references Fantastic Planet and works on several levels) presents a very simple yet dire message: the United States has lost its admiration for scientific discovery and achievement. The pinnacle of interest in science was reached during the 1950s when science fiction films (and television programs such as Disney’s Tomorrowland) portrayed scientists as heroes and role models – something we rarely witness in the science fiction of today. Back then, patriotism and faith in science worked hand-in-hand (just as patriotism and creationism are now bedmates). The heroes of the science fiction films of the 1950s were intellectuals. Science fiction films promoted the importance of education – they made children think, fed their inherent sense of wonder and imagination, and prompted them to ask a lot of questions.
The general consensus has historically been that the science fiction, alien invasion and monster movies that dominated the silver screen in the 1950s were merely allegories for the fear of communism and the atomic bomb; but Monsters from the Id reasons that these films represented the last romantic age portraying people’s dreams and fantasies. According to Monsters from the Id, the 1950s were probably the last truly optimistic decade.
The sheer variety of clips from a menagerie of science fiction films – both popular and obscure – is reason enough to check out Monsters from the Id. Mashed-up with a beatific electronic soundtrack, the visual and audible collage is like a science fiction geek’s dance party. The party gets put on hold time and time again when the talking heads of Dr. Leroy Dubeck, Dr. Patrick Lucanio, Richard Scheib, Gary Coville and Homer Hickam pop onscreen to wax philosophically on subjects ranging from the meaning of science fiction films to the disappearance of heroic scientists from popular culture – but I suspect that the geeks will abide the interruptions.
Speaking of geeks…science fiction is one of my favorite genres of cinema, primarily because of its intellectually challenging nature. I grew up on films like Star Wars and The Black Hole and television programs like Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek and Dr. Who. I was (and still am) quite the dreamer and I have always had an intense curiosity about the universe but somehow I never had much interest in becoming a scientist or astronaut. Growing up in the 1970s, my generation was pushed to become successful and make a lot of money, not become intellectuals – and I fear that this tendency has grown more and more prominent with every generation born since the 1970s. So, in an odd sort of way, maybe I’m proof of Monsters from the Id’s theory?
Scientific research is becoming more important now than it ever has been. At this point the earth’s only salvation will be science. We desperately need scientific discoveries that will address both the causes and the symptoms of climate change; just like in the 1950s when humans were desperately trying to send a rocket to space and the 1960s when humans were trying to send a manned spacecraft to the moon…except now the stakes are actually important to the survival of our species and our habitat. (Not that the space race did not have its merits.)
So…will future societies ever admire scientists as much as they did in the 1950s? Can cinema be used once again for scientific propaganda? Can cinema be used once again to convince the populace about the importance of scientific education and research? And, in order to do these things, does the tone of science fiction need to change? Should science fiction heroes return to relying more on brains than brawn?
For more information on Monsters from the Id visit: www.monstersfromtheid.net