When Directors Make Big Ideas Little

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

I decided to watch Altered States because I’d heard about the influence it had on Fringe, which J.J. Abrams and company don’t make much of an effort to hide – in particular, the isolation tank which plays a major role in the first season of Fringe is pretty much identical to one of the tanks used in Altered States. Written by Paddy Chayefsky as an adaptation of his novel of the same name, which was inspired by John C. Lilly’s experiments in the 1960s into sensory deprivation in isolation tanks under the influence of psychoactive drugs, it was directed by Ken Russell – who isn’t known for working much with SF, but since he directed Tommy trippy imagery isn’t exactly new ground for him, so you’d have thought that a film about a man who sits in a tank and has hallucinations would be a perfect vehicle for him. The results, however, are kind of mixed.

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