In Haunt

By Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn (Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, Manchester Metropolitan University. Author of titles including Postmodern Vampires: Film, Fiction, and Popular Culture, previously interviewed by Haunt Manchester here). 

For The Love Of Sci Fi

Following on from the enormously successful For the Love of Horror event in mid-October this year (see here for my extended review on the superb convention and special guest interviews), Monopoly Events and Andy Kleek presented the 5th convention For the Love of Sci-Fi (previewed here) on 7-8 December 2019 at Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Trafford. It was an extraordinary weekend, packed with superb cos-play, fantastic traders’ stalls with every conceivable collectable on display, and special guests from the world of Science Fiction and Fantasy. As I have come to expect from Monopoly’s superb horror event, there were open Q&A interviews with Hollywood stars and new-comers, open to fan questions and discussion, and autograph and photo opportunities all weekend, including rare meet and greet opportunities. While the tempo and staging of this event seemed slightly more intimate than the For the Love of Horror convention, the love of the genre was nonetheless extremely evident, and the fans that underpin its success were as evident in their ardour and devotion!

For The Love Of Sci Fi

I am always astounded at the creative artistry on display for cos-playing at these events, perhaps because I am not an avid cos-player; that said, judging by the spectacular displays from all ages in the cos-play competition, I could be convinced to have a go, if only because it seems like so much fun.  Of particular merit in terms of costume and cuteness were two young contenders: a pint-sized Goblin King from 80s classic Labyrinth (1987) and the Demogorgon from Stranger Things (2016 - ), both of whom were clearly caught up in and slightly overwhelmed by the excitement of the event; echoing the words of the glorious cosplay MC, it proved to be ‘parenting done right’ to have these young creative kids celebrated for their love of creatures and imaginative fun. The adults were, nonetheless, equally devoted: only at conventions such as this can you readily find solid interpretations of Bane (from The Dark Knight Rises [2012]) and his arch nemesis Batman; Star Wars universe villains and heroes Darth Maul, Boba Fett, and Chewbacca;  RoboCop’s (1987) Officer Murphy, Flash Gordon(s), He-Men and Skelators (Masters of the Universe series [1983-85; 2002] and Dolph Lundgren’s 1987 live-action film),  and the occasional patrolling UniSol from Universal Soldier (1992). These are but a few small examples of the artistry and superb variety I encountered — it was nothing short of a multiverse of trans-generic crossover!

For The Love Of Sci Fi

Furthermore, displays of props from classic sci-fi cinema (Ed -209 from Robocop and the power loader from Aliens [1986]) were stunning to see on display—they were, to my mind, a little smaller than I imagined, but made tangible the displays equally reminded me of the rich tactile nature of practical mechanical sets and world building that underpins the realism of the genre. The centrepiece installation was the huge Colonial Viper from Battlestar Gallactica, an enormous ship that featured front and centre in the exhibition centre. What was evident throughout was the sheer devotion to the genre by Monopoly events, and the genuine awe and respect sci-fi commands among fans.

As with other Monopoly/Kleek events, the trader’s hall always promises to be a particularly apt place to get those necessary pop culture gems, and time as stocking fillers for Christmas! Consisting of a superb array of collectors’ items ranging from t-shirts, costumes, pop vinyls and posters through to craft works, sculpture, paintings, artistry and collector’s rare-to-find items, it’s a perfect place to find that rare or surprise gift for the sci-fi devotee in your life. This time, while armed with some fantastic pop vinyls, I also discovered the fantastic Black Halo design company who specialise in slate artworks, and I am now the proud owner of a masterful rendering of the Alien Queen from Aliens (you can find them on Facebook). Theirs was one of the many stalls that offered suitable artworks that transforms any home into a sci-fi/fantasy themed haven.

For The Love Of Horror

The convention guests were, of course, the main attraction: the Q&As all featured informative live discussions (save the wonderful Brian Blessed, who needed no prompting at all to get the discussion going) and often featured insightful audience questions and interesting anecdotes ranging from screen production histories to personal career moments. Highlights from this packed weekend include action star Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV; Universal Solider), Karl Urban (J.J. Abrams Star Trek series; DREDD), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon; Predator 2), Ray Park (Star Wars; X Men) and Al Leong (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; Die Hard) alongside the wonderful Sam Jones (Flash Gordon, Ted), Peter Weller (RoboCop), Warwick Davis (Willow; Return of the Jedi; Harry Potter) and his daughter Annabelle Davis, to name a few. Charlie Heaton from Netflix’s runaway Gothic 1980s smash hit Stranger Things also made a special appearance – Heaton spoke of his experience being cast on the Netflix mega-hit and how the screen chemistry of the cast has led to some of his most rewarding acting experiences.  

For me, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to ask Dolph Lundgren (pictured below, in conversation) a question relating to his superb TEDTalk in 2015. Asking him about the whole experience (his talk concerns his experience of familial domestic violence and forgiveness), his answer, framed as an opportunity for personal catharsis and to give voice to his own grief, felt important and generated a quiet yet authentic ripple of audience applause. Lundgren’s intellect (as a former Fulbright scholar at MIT in chemical engineering until he ventured in to acting) and everyday approachability shone through in a manner rarely captured so truthfully in a convention space, which was moving to witness. Ray Park (Darth Maul from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) closed off the last session of the convention in another unusual manner, asking for audience participation in an impromptu class of Wushu fighting stances. Throughout his Q&A, brimming with enthusiasm and boundless energy, Park leapt and effortlessly spun in a series of kicks, stances and poses that captivated and energised the crowd, demonstrating his talent onscreen as a stuntman and actor, and off-screen as a martial arts teacher to those who clambered on-stage to join him. Witnessed by a smaller crowd but remembered by all in attendance, for a few brief moments, Darth Maul was teaching them how to move, stand, and feel like a Kung Fu master onstage with him, be they Sith or Jedi, in a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.    

Interview

Speaking to two stalwarts of the science fiction, fantasy and action film world, 1980s acting legends Sam Jones and Danny Glover told me about their respective screen careers and how much the convention world means to them. Glover was particularly self-deprecating about his screen career, saying that he is always keen to make a connection with fans, to be the one who always ‘takes the time to take the picture with them’, to speak to people as he finds them, as his unique position always presents amazing opportunities and is a great privilege. Known for his work in the Lethal Weapon series and Predator 2 (1990) (and the first Saw film [2004]) to name a few, Glover’s screen legacy is sustained through his genuine and dynamic presence irrespective of the genre in which he is working. A hit at the convention among fans and media, Glover presence exudes a rare blend of humility and talent, and professes a genuine love of storytelling that rings true. Of all of his heroes that he talks about, he speaks most affectionately about his own father, and how inspirational he was to him. It is touching to see how Glover recall and share insight in to the genuine warmth and support his father gave him, and how he is determined to pass on that good feeling of hope and positivity as best he can to others, through his work onscreen, and as an activist and storyteller.  

Saturn award winner Sam Jones was particularly interested in discussing the finer points of science fiction and action cinema and his diverse background (he was a marine) prior to his breakthrough in Flash Gordon in 1980. Also professing the importance of visual storytelling, Jones reiterates the importance of storytelling for society at large, and how he is delighted to be contributing to that, particularly as it relates to the power of narrative over creative vanity for its own sake. Speaking to him about the rediscovery of his earlier screen legacy for a new generation in Seth MacFarlane’s adorably lewd hit Ted (2012), Jones said he was a little reluctant with some aspects of the script as it had echoes of the decadence of the 1980s, but equally also saw that it was a fun extension of playing with aspects of his screen image. Jones was convinced to sign up for Ted because, in part, MacFarlane told Jones that he was a very inspirational part of his decision to work in the creative industry. Such inspirational origins for his casting was irresistible to Jones, in that, while steadfast in his belief in being a creative force for good as Flash Gordon, in Ted, he was offered a rare opportunity to humorously reflect and enjoy that power of his fandom too. Still full of the energy of a 1980s go-getter with all its Reaganite optimism, Jones is a force to be reckoned with in the flesh, and one who is savvy enough to know his legion of fans care deeply about his work as Flash Gordon, and his screen legacy. 

We cannot wait to see the 2020 convention get underway next year and to meet some of its prestigious guests, including Eleven (Millie Bobbi Brown) from Stranger Things.  Tickets can be purchased from the site here – we’ll see you there!

Photography also with thanks to Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn. 

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