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Eye tracking the sublime in spectacular moments of science fiction film

posted on 01.01.2015, 00:00 authored by Sean RedmondSean Redmond
In this chapter I will explore science fiction film spectacle as a particular type of endangering sensorial experience. Employing eye-tracking technology to assess where a small group of viewers look, I will contend that through its spectacular set pieces, science fiction film creates two distinct gazing regimes. First, such spectacular scenes create an experience of sublime contemplation where the viewer is (haptically) lost in the wondrous images liquefying before them. These moments of sublime contemplation create the condition where the viewer feels as if they have had an outer-body experience; one that has been cut free from the borders of the linguistic-led self of everyday life. Second, I will argue that certain scenes of science fiction spectacle work to commodify the viewing experience, creating a gazing pattern that is ‘driven’ by the mechanics of the event moment, by the theme park ride aesthetic and the logic of late capitalism.
Set in this sensible, empirical context, the sublime dangers of science fiction film can be considered in two distinct ways. On the one hand, when the viewer is caught gazing in a moment of sublime contemplation there is embodied transgression and transcendence: here I will postulate that the viewer exists purely as a carnal being, or are newly if momentarily constituted as post-human, in the impossible present or possible future world that has been spectacularly imagined for them. On the other hand, when the viewer is presented with a spectacle that demands attention to the mechanics and drivers of the scene as it unfolds, a viewing position is created where the very rhythms of the theme park ride is created, where capitalist life is simply being re-engineered. Sublime and spectacular science fiction endangerment, then, liberates and destroys, and it is the encounter between these two vexing poles that is of central concern in this chapter.

My focus will predominately be on the eyes, on vision. Undertaking a small-scale empirical study that uniquely utilizes eye tracking technology, this chapter will concentrate on what viewers attend to, gaze at and ‘contemplate’ when viewing two differently constituted ‘spectacle’ sequences: the sun explodes scene from Sunshine (Boyle, 2007) and the Godzilla enters Manhattan scene from Godzilla (Emmerich, 1998).


Title of book

Endangering science fiction film


AFI Film Reader Series

Chapter number



32 - 50



Place of publication

New York, N.Y.





Publication classification

B1 Book chapter; B Book chapter

Copyright notice

2015, Taylor & Francis




S Redmond, L Marvell

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