“Science Fiction? Isn’t that that stuff about bug-eyed monsters and lasers and Wil Smith?”

Posted: March 21, 2011 in critique, sci fi

Every couple of weeks, some new movie comes out that purports to be science fiction, and as a raving geek, I will tend to go see it. I am almost always disappointed. I want “Foundation”. I get “Independence Day”. I want “Dune”. I get “Independence Day” disguised as something called “Battle: Los Angeles”. I want “Stranger in a Strange Land” and I get “Dances With Wolves”-oh, I mean “Avatar”. I want “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and I get “Blade Runner”. Maybe it’s me. It usually is, of course, but it bugs me anyway, and here’s why.
Back in the day, in what they refer to as the Golden Age of Science Fiction, you had writers like Isaac Asimov, A. E. van Vogt, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, et. al., writing about galactic empires, colonists in space, the impact of new inventions on society, the thoughts of totally alien intelligence, and the like. These stories made readers think. What would life be like if we had artificially intelligent machines? How would humankind adapt to life on new worlds? What impact would sentience from another star have on the day – to – day life of the average New Yorker? These, and thousands of otjer questions were asked by a fairly diverse group of thinkers – amateur futurists, really. Some were navy men. Others were tinkerers and engineers, or astronomers, or physicists. What they all shared in common was a love of words, of ideas, of the phrase, What If? (I think that was the name of a publication that was popular, once. Don’t quote me.) Another thing they had in common was that their works appeared in “pulp” magazines. Cheap paper, lurid illustrations on the cover. Giant brained, claw – men from Venus clutching screaming blond maidens in form – fitting space suits while lantern – jawed Marlboro men blasted at them with their sparkly ray guns. Editors would change the names of an author’s cherished story from a nuanced, thought provoking remark into a one – word, smack you upside the head assault or a title dripping with prurient interest. They did this, of course, to sell magazines. Even so, these stories still retained their germ of an idea that got through. Money was made, brains were expanded, and everyone was happy.
This I cannot say for the movies that pop up all the time. Movie executives meet up and say, “well, what about a movie about a pirate, but in Space? And instead of a parrot on his shoulder, let’s make him a smart-assed little robot with Jack Black’s voice? And can we put Megan Fox in there, somehow? Preferably as naked as we can get without getting a hard R rating?” (As I type this, I feel bad, because somewhere, there’s a Hollywood type going, “And let’s put Wil Smith in it too, but in a dress…”) Movies are a business, I know. More than that, they are a BIDNESS, which, if you hail from my neighborhood, means that it’s all about making mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money. Keepin’ that income comin’ in. Fine. Make that loot. But, damn, can we make more than one movie while we’re at it?
The Empire of Asimov is not the Empire of Herbert, or of van Vogt. Clarke’s aliens weren’t Heinlein’s, or Bradbury’s. Harrison’s over-populated world wasn’t the same one as Brunner’s; Butler’s shapeshifters weren’t…well, anybody’s. You get the picture. But every movie I see seems to trot out the same tired scenario that can be discerned a mile away by anybody with half a brain and just a passing acquaintance with video games. Science fiction is supposedly the literature of the imagination, and it can be, in some instances, be made into film that opens the mind to challenging new vistas and perceptions (“Twelve Monkeys”, anyone?) What’s more, money can be made, and it doesn’t always have to come in the form of Happy Meal tie-ins (“Alien” comes to mind here).
And here we come to the real crux of the problem. Money. Crappy movie gets made, with lots of explosions and lasers and blood sucking freaks from another world, and we spend mad loot to go see it. This says to the Hollywood big wigs, that the public wants more of the same, this time with more Rene Olmstead ass and Justin Bieber.
Oh, crap.I think I just pitched the gritty reboot to Logan’s Run, y’all. Sorry ’bout that.

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

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