To the Editor:
Susan Sontag deserves a large shazam medal . . . for sitting through so many extra-terrestrial potboilers, but my impression of science-fiction and monster pictures differs somewhat from hers [“The Imagination of Disaster,” October 1965].
They are made primarily for a youthful audience, as is shown by their total lack of sophistication, the irrelevance in them of emotional relationships, the fact that older characters are generally portrayed as evil or misguided. The youthful hero is usually involved in a conflict with an older person and almost always wins out. . . . In the straight monster pictures, the same young hero, possessing good old horse sense (sometimes reinforced with nuclear weaponry) defeats the supposedly omnipotent, indestructible monster—who appears to be a father-symbol. . . .
Another salient feature of these films is their xenophobia—though to protect foreign film revenues and relations with the Iron Curtain countries, the foreigners are not earthly ones, but outer-spacers . . . whom we can all hate freely on sight. . . .
But the oddest thing about these films is the absence for the most part of religion—no Earth God is called upon to intervene and destroy the alien monsters. . . . This is rather unusual for an industry most of whose products tell us constantly that faith can make the blind see, the lame walk, the drunk sober. . . . In the earliest horror films, after all, we learned that a crucifix was handy for stopping vampires. Why doesn’t the same thing work on . . . the Thing, the Mysterians, Rodan, etc.? . . .
The final ineluctable moral of these films is that Man (or Boy) will prevail against . . . whatever it is that comes from wherever it comes to destroy us. True, we lose an awful lot. Our cities are razed and millions of people are killed. . . . But at the end somehow man is still there, building a new and bright . . . world. Miss Sontag is correct in bringing up the “Unthinkable.” Herman Kahn’s thesis finds its roots in these apocalyptic popcorn sellers. . . .
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . May I say that the examples Susan Sontag gives of dialogue lines in science-fiction films are neither characteristic, “hilarious,” nor to the point. “Wait professor, there is someone on the telephone,” is so general that it could show up almost anywhere, as could “We must do something about this.” The line, “Come quickly, there is a monster in my bathtub,” is frankly an insult to the genre. It certainly isn’t an example of something that is “wonderfully, unintentionally funny.”
Perhaps Miss Sontag’s feel for the subject could be sharpened by a few more pertinent reminders: “Professor, do you know your daughter’s in that high-pressure chamber?” “Our bazookas are powerless against it, sir.” . . . “Governor, call out the National Guard and surround Central Park.” “Within 15 minutes after it lands, the Bronx will be a desert.”
New York City
To the Editor:
I found Miss Sontag’s study . . . truly insightful . . . but would like to take issue with her conclusion—that “There is absolutely no social criticism, of even the most implicit kind, in science-fiction films.”
. . . While it is quite true that these films do not dissect particular social conditions leading to the fantasied holocaust, nor analyze contemporary society in its specific aspects . . . yet they do evaluate certain prominent features of that society and deplore them. . . .
One of the major themes of these films, for example, is the massive destruction of this world due to some human fault. . . . The Mysterians (1959) are driven to seek a new planet because theirs is being made uninhabitable by incessant war; in The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1962), bomb testing leads to the desiccation of Earth.
Science-fiction films also contain less apocalyptic, but still vital, themes. . . . A good example is The Creation of the Humanoids (1964), which is about the discrimination of bona fide humans against their artificially-created counterparts. The movie could be variously characterized as dealing with the alienation of the intellectuals, the growing importance of technology in the control of human life, or, even more concretely, the problem of race relations. . . .
In short, that all these films do criticize society and even contain an implicit warning to us in their depiction of . . . disaster seems to me undeniable. The spectator in the audience. . . . is being asked to emerge from his apathy, to become aware of the intense and immediate danger, and to do something about it, before it is too late.
Forest Hills, New York.