Science Fiction

Friday A/V Club: J.G. Ballard—for Kids!

The other motion picture inspired by High-Rise

|

Well, we're movin' on up/to the east side/to a deluxe apartment in the sky
Holt McDougal

J.G. Ballard's High-Rise doesn't usually pop up in those lists of libertarian-themed science fiction stories, but the 1975 novel contains a lot for anti-authoritarians to enjoy. The tale of a luxury London apartment complex that degenerates into tribal warfare, it's a brutal little fable about the gap between a planner's blueprint and the space that actual people live in. Ballard turns Hobbes on his head: Here it is a highly centralized, tightly designed society that degenerates into a war of all against all.

The book is also drily funny, with one of my favorite opening lines of the last half-century: "Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months." That sets the tone for the text right away: If you like that sentence you will probably like the rest, and if you don't you can safely stop there.

High-Rise has inspired two motion pictures. One is a new movie helmed by the British director Ben Wheatley. I haven't seen that yet. The other is one of the most bizarre serials in the history of the long-lived science fiction series Doctor Who.

Wheatley has directed a couple of recent Doctor Who stories, but this wasn't one of his efforts. It dates back to the late '80s, when the show's original incarnation was sputtering toward cancellation and hardly anyone was watching it anymore. In its final years the program took an experimental turn, and one of its odder experiments was Paradise Towers, a story that basically inserted the show's protagonists into Ballard's book. Or, rather, it inserted them into a deeply weird variation on Ballard's book, with some of the hammiest supporting actors in BBC history delivering their lines on sets that looked like they cost about £45 apiece to build. In the words of one critic, Paradise Towers is "a Ballardian dystopia performed as broad-stroked children's television."

How could you not want to watch that? Or, if your patience for low-budget sci-fi absurdism is limited, don't you at least want to check out a few minutes of it? Here is the first episode of the four-part story. You can start from the beginning or, if you prefer, you can jump to 10:45 and watch a caretaker being attacked by a cleaning robot:

Part two is here, part three is here, and the conclusion is here. My colleague Kurt Loder's review of Wheatley's High-Rise is here. (He wasn't impressed.) Reason's 2009 tribute to Ballard is here. Past editions of the Friday A/V Club are here.

NEXT: The FDA's New Tobacco Rules Will Be Terrible for Cigar Smokers Too

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Where is the article about Trump’s Conco de Mayo taco salad?

    1. Read between the lines, man. This is it.

      1. Excellent.

      2. Far out!

    2. Conco de Mayo

      Dude, conch dipping sauce is only 1/2 Mayo. its like spicy russian.

  2. The tale of a luxury London apartment complex that degenerates into tribal warfare, it’s a brutal little fable about the gap between a planner’s blueprint and the space that actual people live in.

    This puts me in mind of Jane Jacobs, who’s been in the news a lot recently. And it’s utterly baffling to me to hear people who act exactly like Robert Moses lionize Jacobs as a kind of urban planning hero. I guess what I can’t understand is, it seems a whole lot of people read Jacobs’ book, and were so inspired, they became urban planners whose singular goal is “urban renewal” and “economic development”.

    I’ll have to check this book out.

    1. Poor people are mere props in the urban planner’s inner journey of self-actualization.

      1. Sounds like the perfect summation of joe p boyle, shreek, Tulpa, Tony, Dan T, etc.

  3. The tale of a luxury London apartment complex that degenerates into tribal warfare, it’s a brutal little fable about the gap between a planner’s blueprint and the space that actual people live in. Ballard turns Hobbes on his head: Here it is a highly centralized, tightly designed society that degenerates into a war of all against all.

    This pretty much describes my day as an attorney representing numerous HOAs.

    1. HOAs were invented so full-grown adults could maintain some semblance of JR. High-level social drama in their lives.

      1. I’m in what may be the world’s smallest HOA. I think there’s 13 property owners?

        When the circle is that small, everyone understands that what goes around is going to come around, and soon.

        It works quite well, for us. My HOA fees are down 30% or more over the last three years.

  4. It’s a damn fine book and I’m sad to read that they seemed to have dumbed it down for the movie (judging by the reviews.)

    There has been a long-simmering attempt to bring Concrete Island to the screen. Christian Bale was even attached at one point (star of another Ballard-derived movie, Empire of the Sun.)

    Cronenberg’s adaptation of Crash is the only thing that has captured Ballard on film to date.

    1. Cronenberg’s adaptation of Crash is the only thing that has captured Ballard on film to date.

      Really? Kay. Is that a good thing, ’cause I didn’t much like Crash, let alone much else from Cronenberg.

      1. Well, you probably wouldn’t like the book then. I doubt anyone else could have filmed the novel, given Cronenberg’s obsession with body horror and his non-judgmental stance toward alternate sexualities.

        1. his non-judgmental stance toward alternate sexualities.

          Are you referring to the odd appendages that seem to appear in a lot of Cronenberg fare?

          1. Are you referring to the odd appendages that seem to appear in a lot of Cronenberg fare?

            I think that would just be getting started

          2. No, that’s more the body horror side of the equation. I’m talking about the fact that Cronenberg doesn’t moralize about desire. That’s the only way you are going to present a story about people who are sexually aroused by staging car crashes.

            1. That’s the only way you are going to present a story about people who are sexually aroused by staging car crashes.

              Ah. I haven’t read any of Ballard’s books. Is this type of thing a theme in his books?

              1. Auto-Symphorophilia is only featured in Crash, but the fetishization of motorized culture comes up quite often.

                1. Auto-Symphorophilia

                  You so just looked that up, you show-off.

                  1. I looked it up a while back while trying to explain the book to someone else. But I am a show off.

                    1. Apropos of nothing, I remember reading something in a Portland newspaper about a guy who was turned on by Trolleys. Not having sex in a trolley, but with the trolley… or the trolley just turned him on or something.

    2. Cronenberg’s adaptation of Crash is the only thing that has captured Ballard on film to date.

      Empire of the Sun?

      1. I’m not saying its a great movie, necessarily, but i’ve read the book like 3 times, and the movie is pretty faithful to it.

        I’m aware its more of a quasi-biography, and probably not what you mean by “capturing ballard” (which is more to do with his ideosyncratic sci-fi approach, which – gasp! – some might accuse of actually being ‘literary’)… but still. Technical nitpicking is *soooo* H&R.

      2. It was a very sanitized adaption of the book by Stoppard that Speilberg speilberged into an even more Disney version of events, especially the happy ending.

        1. But yes, I was talking more about his fiction.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.