Arcus Animation Studios, UK
Film review by Micky Remann, Jena
“Species after species struggled to a certain degree of consciousness, only to succumb to some flaw in its own nature.”
That’s a strong opening statement to be heard in a full dome show and one wonders which direction it will take. A narrating “I” is introducing himself, first seen as a silhouette set against a country scene with flowers nearby and a lighthouse in the distance. If the starting point of the film is in an idyllic earthly neighborhood, the narration soon lifts off, exposing us to a galactic beyond, where human standards no longer apply. The “I” takes us on this journey in a luring, almost hypnotic storyteller’s voice, making it clear that this is not your science teacher explaining astronomical facts. I don’t know if this is a Newcastle area dialect but the tone it creates reminds one of a Celtic bard. This voice turns out to be a reliable companion who ushers us into the wilder and unfamiliar realms.
Trying to visualize the tremors of faster than light travel is not uncommon in fulldome shows. However, “Star Maker” never pretends to show mechanical space ships en route to other planets or galaxies. It’s the subjective mind’s eye that is visiting these other and inner worlds.
The makers of Star Maker (irony intended) decided to employ their considerable animation skills not just to prove how good they are at it, but to create a distinct visual atmosphere to correlate with a literary text, the novel “Star Maker” by William Olaf Stapledon, published in 1937.
Some of the animations look like you could have seen them in other astro and cosmos shows before. But the concept for the visualizations did not make the mistake of wanting to illustrate the story word by word. The credits list a whole team of animators and each of them brought their own style into the fore, leaving sufficient room for interpretation and individual association. At one point, Wassily Kandinsky seemed to have left a quote of his art in the stars.
Although the visual styles vary from scene to scene, the overall mix of 2D animation, kaleidoscopic patterns, hand drawn and abstract paintings never lacks coherence. The rhythm and rhyme of story and visuals is well balanced throughout the whole film, and the specially composed score (by Barry Hyde, The Futureheads) adds an occasional, poignant emphasis in the increasingly dramatic story.
Stapledon’s novel is both soothing and haunting, awe-inspiring and devastating, and the fulldome show captures these conflicting qualities in an always adequate, sometimes truly brilliant way. A movie version could never be as effective as a fulldome show in drawing the audience into the intellectually and emotionally challenging dynamics of hope and doom, exhilaration and annihilation.
Closely following the original novel of Stapleton – to call him a science fiction writer would not be totally wrong, but mainly misleading – the narrator tells of heightened states of lucidity, of spirits and super beings with a dubious Nietzschean flavor. Through the eyes of the “I”, we follow the rise and collapse of tribes and super tribes and how in these star systems the individual is being coerced into following ideologies of cruelty and hate, watched over by forces with a “diabolical glee”. The rise of fascism in 1937 is clearly reflected in the dystopian parts of the Star Maker.
Some eons and galaxies onward we encounter a society of fragile stars moving joyfully around each other, dancing in synch and harmony with a communal galactic mind. (This part reminded me of “Kometentanz”, the fulldome theatre performed in the Jena festival in 2014, based on a 1904 play by Paul Scheerbart.)
The further the “I” ventures out on his spiritual initiation towards the Star Maker, the more we are disturbed by the impression of being trapped on road to destruction and self-destruction. “And as the expansion of space swept my composite body apart I saw that I had but a short time to live”.
Star Maker offers strong and convincing arguments for the expansion of the fulldome medium towards metaphysical science fiction.
12th FullDome Festival, May 25, 2018