Sunday, 21 June 2015

Ascension (2014)

Ascension is a mini-series telling the story of 600 volunteers sent to colonise a new world orbiting the star Proxima Centauri. There's a problem though - Proxima Centauri is over 4 light years from Earth and it will take several generations to reach their new home. The series starts 50 years and one generation into their 100 mission.

There have not been many true Generation Starship stories portrayed on the screen and, being a fan of Brian Aldiss' "Non-Stop", I was looking forward to watching this one. So what makes this different to Battlestar Galactica and  Pandorum? For a start the volunteers leave Earth in 1963, the time of the Cold War, of Mutually Assured Destruction, and pre-civil rights. Secondly there a BIG twist. I won't give it away but it is entirely fitting with the time period.

Ascension is not Hard Science Fiction, nor on the other-hand is it truly Space Opera. What it is, is Social Science Fiction. How would a group of people socially evolve given that they are small in number and are removed from any of the usual forces that promote change. For example one of the largest causes of change within society is technology: from the telephone, to paperback books, to transistor radios, to the pill, to home computers, to the internet, to mobile phones. All of these have fostered changes within society and if technology stagnates then so too will society. We need external forces to drive us to get better, to improve, to evolve. Unfortunately because the show is a mini-series of 6 episodes, they are limited in how much of this they can show. There are themes of male entitlement versus burgeoning feminism, body image, free will, and equality but these are subservient to the main story arc.

So how does it look? Terrific. The opening few minutes left me a little nonplussed as it seemed to be taking place in a large hotel rather than a starship with all the women wearing ball-gowns and the men in naval uniforms, but then the viewpoint moves. The camera pulls back through the corridors and maintenance floors to a central hub, up vertically through several floors, up through a dome to the outside of the ship and into space. A stunning shot. The inside of the ship has that 2001/Silent Running aesthetic which is great - very 60s.

Ascension may not be the perfect Generation Starship series I've been waiting for but it is a very interesting attempt within a limited format. I really liked it.


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