1498 – QUEST (1984)

vintage original Quest poster

Directors and Producers: Elaine Bass and Saul Bass

Based on a story by Ray Bradbury

Quest is without a doubt one of the most remarkable Sci-fi movies ever made, in a league of its own. No matter that it is just a mere 30 minutes, concept, length, aesthetics they all agree with each other. I think it is only available via a new re-release of the PHASE IV (1973) DVD (another wonderfully weird and rare movie), otherwise only a low rez copy available on YT and even this does not lower its impact and for whom I am deeply grateful. You feel like going back to see it again and again. Interestingly it also credits as co-producer Mokichi Okada Association, linked to an organic farming pioneer from Japan, founder of a Japanese new religion the Church of Messianity (1935) based on healing rituals and channeling ‘divine light’. There is no direct explicit link in the movie other than that, but I can see why Mr Okada or his followers would support such a Sci-fi or even commission it

Quest 1984

Definitely for Jodorowsky and Frank Herbert fans, here comes a Sci-fi with a spiritual dimension, without getting suffocated in mythological cycles or direct references of any sort. It is completely relevant, maybe even universally so, without the weight of tradition or cultural attribution. It invents a world, a universe with its own species, rituals, metaphysics and even temporality. Probably the only visible dated aspect and an important lack in this quest is the absence of feminine characters, apart from the early extended family, its only hero being the traditional gendered masculine Ghilgamesh/Enkidu type.

Quest 1984

The world-building is all of its own and there is no need of much add-ons, explanations, background story apart from the strictly necessary. You could even watch it without any text or voice-over and it would still make some sense beyond words. It accomplished what many space opera sagas such as SW have tried but never quite managed in so many episodes, to be symbolically original and inventive in a way that introduces you to a larger universe, relevant across generations and worlds. You can call it gnostic, you can call it spiritualist, occult or a piece that would easily take its place within the Hermeticist tradition, but I would abstain from that. Apart from its depiction of an initiatic parkour, it mixes stylistically modernist elements with ancient lost civilization type of gigantic temples and ruins. It also puts in perspective work by such visually innovative Scifi directors such as Alex Garland (see his recent quantum computing inspired series DEVS) or Denis Villeneuve. This 1984 Scifi Quest speaks to us today as humanity or even extra plantary humanity, especially in this difficult moment when questions of life, youth, old age seems to have heightened importance. The Coronavirus pandemic is also pointing in this direction somehow, or maybe it is just that a lot of things around us resonate with it. It is not just visually stunning but also emotionally moving and satisfying in a strange and almost trance- like way.

Quest 1984

Many have attributed an MC Escher dimension or have seen works by René Magritte reflected in it, to which I would add Piranesi’s Carceri. My thesis is that the scope could be much larger. Behind this atemporal feel, we can speculate more about the historical moment it got made. This mathematic-geometric phase space, unfolding in infinite directions in front of a POW coincides with a foundational moment in computer graphics or even VR (mostly speculatively via cyberpunk), a time when such means were low-rez and most gaming consoles fairly primitive. Yet then again, compared with Tron (1982), this is clearly not a moviemovie about the VR, cyberspace or the ultimate realism of a universe played and working according to gaming rules.

This film, at that point in time was not yet ‘post-cinematic’ (Steven Shaviro), and yet keeps announcing via cinematic means of expression thosevvery dreams of future Indie game creators. In a sense, Quest by Elaine and Saul Bass comes close to comics authors such as Marc-Antoine Mathieu Sense or The Princess of the Never-ending Castle by Shintaro Kago out on Hollow-Press (thx! Bogdan Otaku for introducing it), exploring infinite worlds and the meanders of a vast labyrinthine structures with fractal characteristics. It’s the unice itself who solicits exploration, who somehow like William James said keeps the journey going & mind searching for deeper truths. This absence of an all encompassing Internet feels almost liberating, showing how reality itself can stimulate the and simulate itself, offering maybe so much more than a holographic principle. If the Internet is superfluous as an outside reference, then Elaine & Saul Bass give us a different outlook, an entirely self-contained and infinitely branching world that expands almost in lockstep with the wanderer till the end into something that feels very much like our own challenges and trials.

In the Scifi realm, it is akin The Silver Globe by Jerzy Zulawski, another world of modified descendants, survivors from a shipwrecked spaceship, populating another planet, developing their own civilizations, technologies and rituals, far away form Earth. It could also well be a Dying Earth story like the William Hope Hodgeson’s mysterious 1912 Night Land arcologic pyramid. Anyway, within this inner subterranean realm, a world of darkness longing for spiritual and rejuvenating light, a lifetime is measured just by 8 days. They grow, mature, learn and die during one week, a bit more than Ephemeridae insects. The only hope is to travel, get out and survive and live life as a journey, transiting along a series of increasingly difficult tasks that would allow final salvation and final release from the speeded-up, shortened version of life the subterranean ancestors are destined to live. There also some messianic prophecies that somehow foretell the arrival of a youth that has all the proper signs and could break this spell and push further on than anybody else before him. There is an entire series of games, involving different material shapes and what seems like a hologram – cognitive geometric pieces and reflexes to train the young, all parts of a larger puzzle. One never knows why or when they will come in handy. Precious days pass, as the hero climbs across unearthly scenery, crossing gigantic, mostly empty structures, seemingly built in the deep past by inhuman builders, almost seeming to stretch across planetary systems, or across some fathomless abyss.

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