Runaway And The Immersible Future

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I’ve watched many science fiction movies in the low and high end of the budget and prestige spectrum, both for fun and to decipher what makes for effective storytelling in science fiction so that I may apply it to my writing.

I don’t have all the answers to making science fiction an accessible genre for everyone. Still, one aspect of storytelling that works regardless of genre is reliability.


In a greater or lesser measure, can you see yourself in the characters you see on the screen? Specific to science fiction, you want to add the ingredient of immersibility. How accessible is the future your story is set in? 

For a fictional future to have some range of verisimilitude for the viewer and/or reader, it requires the feature of immersion, a measure of believable immersion. To a greater or lesser degree, Can you see yourself in it? You may be able to immerse yourself in this science fictional universe immediately. In some stories, an adjustment period might be required, like a first-time viewing of Blade Runner (1982). 

The images that open this film are both gorgeous and slightly alienating. The dialogue exchange between Leon and Holden is confusing and ends shockingly. After the initial shock of dis-recognition and after you’ve been exposed gradually to this world, you can see that life functions very similarly to where you are. After watching a little more, you can imagine yourself there. One of the great features of Blade Runner is that the immersibility factor increases in proportion to curiosity. If you are the kind of movie watcher (or reader) who needs things broken down for you, Blade Runner is not for you. It demands participation, but it rewards your curiosity with the richness of details.

Michael Crichton’s Runaway (1984) also demands viewer participation in a different latitude because it’s a murder mystery. Sgt. Jack Ramsay (Tom Selleck) is investigating the first robotic homicide committed by a household servant unit. He discovers a suspicious circuit pattern in the unit, leading him on the trail of dead informants and Dr. Charles Luther (Gene Simmons). A robotics scientist who designed a computer chip capable of giving a robot the ability to identify specific humans and target them for destruction.

Runaway is a well-written and directed science fiction/murder mystery that unfortunately failed to connect with audiences of 1984. An engaging story with a ruggedly handsome lead and a submerged science fiction catalyst. A narrative in the science fiction genre requires an element that separates it from mainstream literature, an aspect of the fantastic without which the narrative cannot happen. In Frankenstein, you only have a story with Doctor Frankenstein’s creation, the Creature. In Blade Runner, the sci-fi element is everywhere; architecture, cars, interior design, fashions, gadgetry, and advertising. In the movie Runaway, the science fiction element is the robotic units that serve or work alongside humans. And have been doing so for long enough that no one questions this until a household servant unit kills an entire family except for the baby. In Runaway, the science fiction element is submerged. (In science fiction novels, consider the contrast between a book like Neuromancer and Flowers For Algernon).

In the movie Runaway, you’re not subjected to the visual jolt of Blade Runner. Instead, the world presented to us looks similar to the one you would have moved through in 1984. The machines that make your life easier have submerged below your consciousness threshold, so they’re just another thing you use, much like we’ve become used to the fantastic devices we own. It’s not until these machines are corrupted from within by Dr. Luther that we become aware of them, and our perception of them changes. They are a threat. But lucky for us, there’s the Runaway squad within the police department, and Sgt. Jack Ramsay is on the case. Runaway moves like a police procedural with a hero in the classic tradition of Gary Cooper or John Wayne, from the homicides that act as the catalyst incident to a hero with specialized knowledge of machines, which makes him uniquely qualified to handle this long-distance threat.

Runaway is an enjoyable movie that puts you in the lead’s shoes. You experience the thrill and excitement of finding clues, chasing leads, going through a few low-key action scenes, and a tense finale where the lead overcomes personal fears to become a true hero.

All without the visual fatigue that can happen when exposed to a science fictional universe that is too alien, too exotic for you to adapt to. The concentration and focus that should go into following the characters and the narrative now go into wrapping your head around the world’s strangeness. And you’re likely to tune out at such a demand being placed on you.

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