In Space No One Can Hear You Scream (Again)

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream (Again)

Sandra Bullock, Gravity (2013) and Female Stars in Science Fiction

The enormous success of Alfonso Cuaron’s lone(ly)-woman-in-space movie Gravity came as a big surprise (worldwide box office $716m and thus one of the ten highest grossing films released in 2013). Reports that its star Sandra Bullock had earned more money from this film (an estimated $70m) than any other woman had ever earned from any movie were even more surprising. Usually described as a “Sci-Fi thriller”, Gravity is situated within generic traditions that have not, traditionally, been associated with female protagonists (or, indeed, female stars). In literature, comics, television and movies, the Science Fiction label, by and large, has tended to raise expectations about predominantly male protagonists (and also, perhaps, predominantly male audiences). At the same time, male protagonists have tended to dominate in the very biggest of Hollywood’s box office hits since the late 1960s.

         And yet there are important precursors among Hollywood blockbusters (and also, of course, in Science Fiction literature, comics and television) for Gravity’s success, not least Alien (1979), which culminated in the confrontation between a lone-woman-in-space (a star-making turn for Sigourney Weaver) and a monster, and launched one of contemporary Hollywood’s most enduring Science Fiction franchises with the tagline “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream”. Other examples include James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), as well as Contact (1997), Deep Impact (1998), The Hunger Games (2012) and its sequels.

         In this lecture, I want to present some thoughts on Gravity and the contemporary stardom of Sandra Bullock as well as, more generally, on female stars in Science Fiction, focusing on Hollywood’s biggest hits in recent decades, and paying particular attention to the themes of motherhood and transformation. While the lecture is focused on developments up to and including 2013, the year in which Gravity was released, I will also consider more recent developments, especially the proliferation of female protagonists in Science Fiction and fantasy movies (including superhero movies).

         In addition to my lecture, the session will include a discussion (first in small groups, then in the plenary) of the poster and trailer for Gravity, and also perhaps of clips from other Sandra Bullock movies and/or Science Fiction films with female protagonists.

Film viewing and reading:

In advance of the session, you should watch Gravity. You can also read the following three texts. The first two deal with the role of women (including stars as well as the authors of bestselling novels being adapted by Hollywood) in contemporary American cinema, while the third focuses on Gravity:

- Peter Krämer, “‘The Girl on Fire’: Children’s Fiction, Female Stars and Contemporary Hollywood Blockbusters” (Part 1), Women’s Film and Television History Network (UK/Ireland) blog, 12 February 2016, https://womensfilmandtelevisionhistory.wordpress.com/2016/02/12/the-girl-on-fire-childrens-fiction-female-stars-and-contemporary-hollywood-blockbusters/

- Peter Krämer, “‘The Girl on Fire’: Children’s Fiction, Female Stars and Contemporary Hollywood Blockbusters” (Part 2), Women’s Film and Television History Network (UK/Ireland) blog, 19 February 2016, https://womensfilmandtelevisionhistory.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/the-girl-on-fire-part-ii/

- Peter Krämer and Rupert Read, “Gravity's Pull”, ThinkingFilmCollective Blogspot, 22 January 2014, http://thinkingfilmcollective.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/gravitys-pull.html

Biographical note:

Peter Krämer is a Senior Research Fellow in Cinema & TV in the Leicester Media School at De Montfort University (Leicester, UK). He also is a Senior Fellow in the School of Art, Media and American Studies at the University of East Anglia (Norwich, UK) as well as a regular guest lecturer at Masaryk University (Brno, Czech Republic) and at the University of Television and Film Munich (Germany). He is the author or editor of nine academic books, including the BFI Film Classics volumes on 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove, and Grease is the Word”: Exploring a Cultural Phenomenon (co-edited with Oliver Gruner, Anthem, 2019).

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