The cinematic products of two closely-associated imaginative genres find a shared home in Catch the Film’s Sci-Fi / Fantasy section.
Both sci-fi and fantasy germinate from the similarly rich creative soil of speculative fiction. Nonetheless, they display many characteristics and conventions that distinguish them from one another. Many films blur these lines between the genres as well.
Sci-fi and Fantasy alike employ speculative situations, settings, and characters. They explore the nature of morality, identity, desire, social structures, power, and politics. This definition may also serve to describe fiction in general. And, overall, sci-fi and fantasy imagine narratives in order to entertain and divert audiences, and examines deeper philosophical questions. But science fiction and fantasy push the form’s speculation and invention even further. Both are unconstrained by the prevailing concerns of social, historical, or even geographical or biological realism.
The manner in which each genre approaches this process differentiates them. Sci-fi is concerned primarily with exploring the possibilities and potential consequences of scientific innovation and technological advancement. Also, sci-fi is often set in the future. It features elements such as space travel, time travel, parallel universes, and encounters with extraterrestrial life. Also, sci-fi can be based on discoveries (especially) in robotics, engineering, and computing. And, also on prevailing theories in physics (quantum, astro, and theoretical). And extrapolations based on observed chemistry and biology.
Fantasy, meanwhile, is frequently less concerned with technology and the future as it is with magic and the past. Modern fantasy fiction is deeply connected with traditions of mythology, folklore, and the medieval world. It often draws on surviving literary, historical and folkloric sources from that period. Fantasy also tends to take a more mystical or spiritual view of its core issues. And, not the rational technocratic perspective common to science fiction. Like their counterparts in the science fiction genre, however, fantasy texts utilize their speculative frames to consider social, political, and moral conundrums. And also problems of the contemporary world. Both genres also privilege internal consistency and a version of self-defined “realism” in depicting their imagined realms, be they in front of us, behind us, or somewhere else entirely.
Sci-fi is by definition highly progressive in its imagining of an unfamiliar future society (near, far, or contemporary). Fantasy, by contrast, is often marked by more of a conservative tendency. Even mythologizing a lost or inaccessibly distant world in contrast to the sometimes harsh realism of our own. That said, the total world-creation possibilities of fantasy allows for greater flexibility in liberally expressing social, political and moral ideas. While science fiction often displays a classically conservative instinct in imparting warnings and cautionary tales about the potentialities of the rapid advancement of technology.
Slippage between the two genres is inevitable. But perhaps a rhetorically sharp definition by Rod Serling, writer of the television science fiction classic The Twilight Zone, makes the boundaries most clear: “Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible.”
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