James Cameron’s Science Fiction film “Terminator II” uses various conventions of Sci-Fi to not only engage viewers, but entertainment them. Science fiction uses various futuristic elements to convey powerful comments about society. This is most effectively done through his powerful and relatable social comments. His central social comments force audiences to question their own world and like all Sci-Fi texts explore how possible this actually is. The dominant social comment explored by James Cameron is that Technology will be our downfall. Other social comments that are also relevant are that humans have an intrinsic need to adhere towards morals and ethics that can’t be taught and that it is in the human race’s nature to destroy themselves. James Cameron clearly explains the social comments through various film techniques. Similarly, Henry Slesar’s short story ‘Examination Day’ relies heavily on its powerful social comment to effectively engage readers. While both texts make significant social comments, various other sci-fi conventions are also used to keep responders entertained.
The dominant social comment that entertains the audience in an effective way explored by James Cameron is that technology will ironically be our demise. Cameron cleverly juxtaposes the opening scene of the hustle and bustle of lively Los Angeles to the close up traffic in 2029. However, in this shot the cars are destroyed and an empty playground further indicates the dystopian world of our society. The diegetic laughter of the girl on the swing and the non-diegetic music in the background creates suspense. The extreme white fade out to a dramatic close up of the empty swing swinging back and forth which then brings us to the close up camera shot of a human skull being crushed by the terminator clearly reveals that technology will lead to our demise. With the war of the robots being shown in the opening scene, audiences can immediately conclude that the genre of thriller is brought to the film as suspense is immediately introduced in the opening scene.
This war indicates from the outset that technology will be our demise. While the irony of machines destroying humanity is immediately established as a significant social comment in this sci-fi text, Cameron begins to explore the characteristics of humanity in his second social comment. Throughout the film, Cameron relies on the humorous juxtaposition between the T100 and John Connor to highlight the emotional and idiocentric characteristic that are inherently human. It is through this and several other film techniques that Cameron’s second social comment is explored; that being human, is not something that can be taught. The moral and ethical justifications that are intrinsic to being human is clearly explored in the scene where John attempts to explain why, “You can’t just go around killing people”. John’s dialogue is contrasted with the T100’s question; “why not?” close up camera shots of their contrasting facial expressions highlights this significant idea, that despite our natural inclination “destroy ourselves”, reason and morality is only inherent to us Johns invalid explanation, “because you just can’t … this stuff is important”, highlights the barrier between machine and human.
Through this social comment audiences can easily link the text to the science fictional genre. This barrier is further explored when John humorously attempts to ‘humanise’ the Terminator. Through various satirical scenes Cameron reveals humanity’s saving grace is intact their emotions which are ironically aligned to weakness. When the T100 asks, “why do you cry?” The T100’s crying motif mixed with several film techniques symbolises the disparity between machines and humanity. In an age where technology is seen to advance the human mind, the T100’s inability to understand why people cry highlights the superiority of humans, “we just cry.” Again further explaining the social comment we can still relate the film to the sci-fi genre. The third idea explored by Cameron is the ironic self- destructive behaviour of humanity. Using real life examples Cameron attempts to create a logical link between the creation of the destructive, abominable Terminators and the weapons that are already leading us into destruction “it is in your nature to destroy yourselves”.
While the terminator metaphorically highlights the paradox of our constant creation of destruction, it is the female protagonist Sarah Connor, who provides a fresh face and new insight into sci-fi revealing the contrast between the destructive creation of men and the beautiful, creation that only women are privileged to endure, “Fucking men like you built the hydrogen bomb. Men like you thought it up… You don’t know what it’s like to… create a life… All you know how to create is death… ” . Her use of repetition and expletives highlights Cameron’s feministic approach to this social comment, symbolising men’s obsession with creating destruction.
This not only makes this sci-fi film unique and original in its exploration of this common theme, it also allows audiences to question why humans are so obsessed with playing “God”. Similarly to ‘Terminator II’ the short story ‘Examination Day’ also explores Sci-fi convections in similar ways. Like ‘Terminator II’, ‘Examination Day’ is driven by its powerful and dramatic social comment. While subtly revealed to be set in the future, unlike ‘Terminator II’ this is not the dominant focus in the text. While the commentary is different to that of ‘Terminator II’, both texts entertain audiences primarily by focusing them to question their own lives like all sci-fi text, thus posing the ‘what if’ question.
The short story ‘Examination Day’ hyperbolically explores a world where governments obtain ultimate control. This is brought to the readers in the opening paragraphs when Dickies parents are discussing a “Government intelligence test they give children at the age of twelve”. It is “the moisture in his mother’s eyes” when readers are aware that the story they have been told has contrasted what really is happening. Even though the links to sci-fi aren’t as clear as the ones in ‘Terminator II’ we still see the connection through the thriller genre. As both Mr and Mrs Jordan try to avoid the conversation about the test suspense begins to develop as we understand that the test will possibly resemble a big part in the Jordan family’s life.
As Mr Jordan explains the details of the test further we learn that the government will provide Dickie with truth serum. In this event readers are immediately informed that the government play a big role in everything which is making civilization less utopian and more dystopian. Is through little key things during the story we can see a resemblance to a futuristic world such as ‘Terminator II’, “Your classification number is 600-115”. Unlike ‘Terminator II’ this short story utilises various literary techniques to explore this powerful social comment, relying on descriptive language and body gestures to capture the mystery and anxiety relating to this exam. Furthermore the repetitive image of the “moistness of his mother’s eyes” heightens suspense, hinting towards the significance of this “Government intelligence test”. Like ‘Terminator II’ this text uses various sci-fi conventions such as the embedded thriller genre to effectively engaging audiences, keeping them entertained.
As the denouement reveals the unpredictable twist, “we regret to inform you… his intelligence quotient is above government regulation”, the disturbing social comment become clearer “…whether you wish his body interred by the government, or would you prefer a private burial place?” Slesar’s clever use of inversion as Dickie fails the intelligence test because he is too smart, seems to be warning readers about the dangers of power and control, and the need for people to be more engaged and aware of governments and other organisations that may abuse their power. Like most sci-fi texts, ‘Examination Day’ challenges our own world, and contemplates what may happen if we do not take more responsibility and interest in the powerful bodies that govern the people. Again, it is this dramatic yet relatable social comment that most effectively engages readers by shocking them much like ‘Terminator II’.
While ‘Terminator II’ looks at humanity’s ironic destructive nature and dangerous over reliance on technology, ‘Examination Day’ focuses on humanity’s often gullible and negligent over reliance on powerful forces such as the government. While both texts are strongly driven by the relevant and powerful social comments, both texts follow the conventions of sci-fi through their mutual futuristic settings, advanced technology as well as the utilisation of other genres within; specifically the thriller genre. Along with powerful film and literary techniques, both texts entertain audiences.
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