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The Sci-Fi Movie Stigma 572

Posted by Zonk
from the looking-forward-to-diamond-age dept.
An anonymous reader writes "MSN has up an article that explores why Sci-Fi is associated with cheesy Space-Operas and children's movies, and cerebral Sci-Fi films don't make it unless they are adulterated into 'Action' flicks. The piece covers upcoming projects like 'The Last Mizmey' and 'Next', and points the finger at the ultimate culprit: George Lucas. 'When Lucas made Star Wars in 1977, he was paying tribute to a subgenre of science fiction that he loved dearly as a boy: the space opera. But although the breathless serial adventures of Flash Gordon and his ilk had their pleasures, they were often treated with tolerance, at best, by more serious science-fiction writers and readers. Nevertheless, the success of Star Wars changed the movie industry's perception of science fiction forever. As much as we love Star Wars for what it is, it nearly killed Hollywood's willingness to fund science-fiction movies that actually said something about the human condition.'"
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The Sci-Fi Movie Stigma

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  • by Mikkeles (698461) on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:40PM (#18461109)
    'points the finger at the ultimate culprit: George Lucas... Star Wars ... '

    It was always this way even before Lucas, with the possible exceptions of 'Things to Come' and '2001 A Space Odyssey'.

    • by georgewad (154339) <georgewad@nOspam.mac.com> on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:46PM (#18461219) Homepage
      How about 'Forbidden Planet', 'The Day The Earth Stood Still', 'Silent Running', 'Soylent Green', 'Dark Star', 'Logan's Run'...
      Even 'Deathrace 2000', 'Running Man' and 'Robocop' had socio-politcal statements to make.
      • Bladerunner (Score:4, Interesting)

        by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:48PM (#18461251)
        One of the better movies.

        And don't just look at Hollywood. There's some great Science Fiction coming out of Japan. Such as Ghost in the Shell.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by podperson (592944)
          Bladerunner is almost the exception that proves the rule.

          It's a a good action movie that uses ideas from the book it's based on as texture. It has some excellent dialog, almost none of which comes from the book.

          Oddly enough, Philip K. Dick is pretty much the most filmed SF author, and every one of his books, including Bladerunner, ends up being an action movie, despite the fact that none of his books even remotely resemble something that might be made into an action movie.

          Bladerunner is perhaps the most fai
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by charleste (537078)
        ...Bladerunner?
      • Soylent Green wasn't "about" people, it IS people!
      • How about you RTFA?

        After the serials of the '40s and the atomic monster movies of the '50s, science-fiction cinema seemed to grow up right alongside the literature itself in the '60s, culminating in the ultimate marriage of the two: "2001: A Space Odyssey." Director Stanley Kubrick went right to the source for his visionary classic, enlisting Arthur C. Clarke to write the screenplay with him and presenting perhaps the most serious, adult treatment of science-fiction themes to that date. Other literary adaptations followed. Kubrick did it again in 1971 with "A Clockwork Orange," while "Logan's Run," the remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Soylent Green" and the cult favorite, "A Boy and His Dog," all brought real science-fiction novels or novellas to the screen with varying degrees of success. Even nonliterary offerings such as "Silent Running" and Lucas' own "THX 1138" made sobering statements. But "Star Wars" effectively ended all that, substituting space battles, nonstop special effects and simple good-versus-evil archetypes for the more complex shadings and themes that marked science fiction to that point.

        Seriously - this would be an interesting article to discuss if people actually read the article instead of treating this as another opportunity to publicly flaunt their indie cred. "Wath me list of sci-fi movies that show I'm so hardcore sci fi."

        There goes any hope for an interesting discussion... /me cranks up "indier than thou"
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by CodeBuster (516420)
          Seriously - this would be an interesting article to discuss if people actually read the article instead of treating this as another opportunity to publicly flaunt their indie cred.

          Perhaps you are simply asking to much, this is Slashdot after all, but in response to your selected quote from the article I would offer the explanation that the movie business, like the music business and indeed the rest of popular entertainment, has become increasingly focused on the blockbuster or "hit" concept where an ext
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Seumas (6865)
      Go to a Star Wars, Star Trek or comic book convention.

      If one can't figure out why the sci-fi genre isn't taken seriously by the time one gets back home, they'll never get it.
    • by mrbooze (49713) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:31PM (#18462035)
      More importantly, why is it George Lucas's fault that audiences don't go to cerebral sci-fi films? It's not like they haven't made any over the years since then (Solaris, etc), they just usually don't get many people into the theaters.

      Frankly, audiences don't clamor for cerebral films of any genre. The Fault, Dear Brutus, lies not in our Star Wars, but in ourselves.
  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:40PM (#18461127) Homepage Journal
    As fun as it might be -- George Lucas is not the ultimate reason for this. The ultimate reason is that the major film studios are afraid to innovate and want every film to be a sure thing. He didn't make hollywood that way.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by jimbobborg (128330)
      Not sure if my memory is correct, but this was one of the first "blockbusters." Hollywood got the idea that they could make hundreds of millions of dollars per movie, so they started banking on this concept, especially during the summer.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Stormwatch (703920)
        I read somewhere that Gone with the Wind started this concept.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by houghi (78078)

          I read somewhere that Gone with the Wind started this concept.


          Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.
    • Additionally, the advent of special effects made the movies that went before look cheesy.
    • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ajs (35943) <<moc.sja> <ta> <sja>> on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:57PM (#18461423) Homepage Journal
      Very, very true.

      It's also true that Star Wars was more responsible for a mental-block on the part of those looking back at film history than it was for a change in later films.

      Some films that came before Star Wars:

      • Invisible Man, The (1966)
      • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
      • Planet of the Apes (1968)
      • Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
      • Time Machine, The (1960)
      • Andromeda Strain, The (1971)


      Some films that came after Star Wars:

      • Blade Runner (1982)
      • Back to the Future (1985)
      • Twelve Monkeys (1995)
      • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
      • Gattaca (1997)
      • Pi (1998)


      You will notice that when you search for movies from these different periods, the primary thing that leaps out at you is that movies that treated science fiction as a serious genre (Pi, Gattaca, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Andromeda Strain) are about evenly spaced. There aren't a lot of them, but they get neither more nor less frequent over the decades... We just have rose-tinted glasses when it comes to history.
    • As fun as it might be -- George Lucas is not the ultimate reason for this. The ultimate reason is that the major film studios are afraid to innovate and want every film to be a sure thing. He didn't make hollywood that way.

      Definatly. The author really needs to go watch Logan's Run if he wants to see what Hollywood sci-fi was like before Star Wars (it's a laughably bad movie with an interresting story and it got two Oscar nominations).

      The sci-fi genre was dead in hollywood before Star Wars made a gazillion bucks and motivated producers to fund some. The fact that intelligent sci-fi is hard to find is not Lucas' fault, it's because all Hollywood movies are dummed down to please the lowest common denominator of movie goers.
      Don'

  • Solaris (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wiredlogic (135348) on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:42PM (#18461153)
    The best recent "cerebral" Sci-Fi movie has been the Solaris remake with Clooney. I found it much more preferable to the Soviet version. It has better actors and an interesting twist was added in the end.
    • Re:Solaris (Score:5, Informative)

      by gorehog (534288) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:16PM (#18461745)
      Check out Children of Men. It's excellent.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by raddan (519638)
      Yuck. I disagree. Maybe it was a good film, but it was nothing like the book. In fact, I'd say it was only tangentally related to the book, which is a masterpiece of sci-fi and psychological horror, and I think, the best example of the genre. The Russian version is waiting for me when I get home (Netflix), so we'll see if I change my mind. "2001: A Space Odyssey" is, to me, the only movie that has accurately captured the essence of a good sci-fi book.
  • by VitrosChemistryAnaly (616952) on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:42PM (#18461159) Journal
    Noooooooooooooooo! [ytmnd.com]
  • by unity100 (970058) on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:43PM (#18461179) Homepage Journal
    Hollywood's willingness to fund science-fiction movies that actually said something about the human condition

    "human condition" what is that ?

    what "human condition" does Flash Gordon series contain ? or early superman series ? they are run-off-the-mill american dream robotized characters that are fighting absurd evil characters that contain no humane feelings - just evil, for evil's sake.

    im not a star wars fan, but boy, star wars contain heaploads of stuff for "human condition" than any of the sci-fi stuff this guy is talking about - its about humane fears, good and evil, greed, comradeship, high ideals and lowly cravings.
    • what "human condition" does Flash Gordon series contain ? or early superman series ?

      None, and that's the point. Flash and early superman were cheap junk. Star Wars is expensive junk.
       
      Of course, Joseph Campbell would have disagreed.
    • by john82 (68332)
      Never was there a finer commentary on the human condition than "Plan 9 From Outer Space".

      There have been plenty of thought-provoking SF movies before and after Star Wars. If anything has been harmed by his success with that franchise, it's been artistic side of his own career.
    • Star Wars is good and all, but it's kiddie tripe compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Blade Runner, or even the recent films The Fountain and Children of Men.

      Even Disney films contain elements of "good" and "bad", but having such things does not make them classics for descriping the human condition.

      Disclaimer: I love B-, C-, and D-grade science fiction. I can appreciate the cheesiest movies with awful special effects and no redeeming plot lines. That doesn't mean I can't distinguish story-telling art fro
  • by HikingStick (878216) <z01riemer@hotmail . c om> on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:46PM (#18461211)
    I am waiting to see if the movie adaptation of Ender's Game (by Orson Scott Card) will receive similar treatment (be actionized). It has much to say on the human condition, and would be a great catalyst back toward intelligent science fiction as commentary on the human condition and current events.
    • by thrawn_aj (1073100) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:01PM (#18461501)
      Bad example IMO. While Ender's Game was brilliantly written, to say that

      It has much to say on the human condition
      is a stretch. The fact is, and SF fans (like myself) should get used to it, most serious SF is NOT simple enough to be adapted to a 2 hour movie without serious losses in clarity. "2001" was understandable only if you'd read the book. Well, by understandable, I mean, all the nuances and the undercurrents. I would say that SF is more suited to the mini-series arena, with Dune being a perfect example. The ill-fated Riverworld is another. SF has a LOT to say about the human condition. However, I feel that the best medium for it will remain books because unlike other genres, which are fairly easy to visualize, the SF writer is precisely the person who goes beyond current memes, else he/she is a failure. Instead of blaming Lucas for the current state of SF cinema, I would applaud him for bringing at least one facet of SF into the public perception, Gordonian though it may be :P. Perhaps if the Sci-Fi channel focused on promoting more intelligent shows instead of the mindless dribble that panders to the paranoid schizoid crowd (wtf do psychics or Government conspiracies have to do with SF? :O), we have a better chance of seeing some of the greater SF works (Asimov's Foundation or Clarke's RAMA - a superb PC game was made of this a decade ago) showcased in all their glory. Of course, the sad fact is that most "SF fans" or at least people who call themselves that are simply X-files fanbois who never grew up.
  • by nebaz (453974) on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:49PM (#18461263)
    The SCI FI channel. They seem to cancel all the good series and throw on mindless movie of the week drivel. (And WRESTLING? What's up with that?) It's too bad, I used to like the network.
    • A few years ago, some friends of mine and I pitched the Sci-Fi channel, and I heard directly from a very highly-placed executive that the network was actually making a conscious effort to move away from SF programming and do more "Scare Tactics" style programming in an effort to capture portions of the SpikeTV market.

      I foolishly (for the goal of selling a show to them) observed that running away from the very thing that made the network popular -- and was in the damn name, by the way -- probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but the geek in me overpowered the hopeful businessman. Oh well.

      Those craptacular movies you're referring to (I did two of them: Python and Deep Core) used to go directly to video in the USA, while also being sold to foreign markets to make back money for their investors. However, with the advent of basic cable and channels like Sci-Fi, they usually are produced by, and air on one of those stations (think Lifetime, TNT, etc.) before heading off to the bargain rack at the car wash.

      One of the points made in TFA is that intelligent movies have been replaced with action movies, and thoughtful plots have been replaced with explosions and spectacle. One of the reasons I tend to agree with the parent on Sci-Fi being part of the problem here is that they still translate these movies into several different languages, and distribute them all over the world; an explosion and a scantily-clad starlet are essentially the same in any language or culture, so it's easier to sell those films (to Sci-Fi and to the foreign markets) when they're simplistic, "four-color" 90-minute packages, instead of complex 2001-esque masterpieces.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by blitz487 (606553)
        "One of the reasons I tend to agree with the parent on Sci-Fi being part of the problem here is that they still translate these movies into several different languages, and distribute them all over the world; an explosion and a scantily-clad starlet are essentially the same in any language or culture, so it's easier to sell those films (to Sci-Fi and to the foreign markets) when they're simplistic, "four-color" 90-minute packages, instead of complex 2001-esque masterpieces."

        It couldn't have been that hard t
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Thumper_SVX (239525)
        I agree completely. However, this isn't just a problem with the TV market; the book sci-fi market has taken a similar tack in recent years. Honestly, I look at the shelves of recent sci-fi novels, and the ones I've read (an unfortunately much smaller number since I've had kids!) and I found that many of them are rather vapid regurgitations of earlier works, or action crap-fests that essentially try to boil a movie down into printed words.

        I honestly am starting to feel that the problem is cyclic; that the "d
  • oh dear lord (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a hoo.com> on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:51PM (#18461289) Homepage Journal
    I remember pre-SW sci-fi.
    With only a few exceptions, it was all cheesy, and almost all action based. Lucas just made the action part look damn good for the time.

    1970 Science fiction movies:
    "The Andromeda Strain" (1971)
    "Silent Running" (1972)
    "Soylent Green" (1973)
    "West World" (1973)
    "Futureworld" (1976)
    "Rollerball" (1975)
    "Omega Man" (?)
    "Planet of the Apes"

    Some thinkers, mostly action based.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ettlz (639203)

      "The Andromeda Strain" (1971)
      "Silent Running" (1972)
      "Soylent Green" (1973)
      "West World" (1973)
      "Futureworld" (1976)
      "Rollerball" (1975)
      "Omega Man" (?)
      "Planet of the Apes"

      Zardoz!

      You forgot Zardoz!





      You did it on purpose, didn't you?

    • Don't forget:

      It.
      Them.
      Return to the Planet of the Apes.
      Escape from the Planet of the Apes.
      Yet another Planet of the Apes movie.
      The recent "Planet of the Apes" remake.
      Star Trek the Movie (#1,2,3,4,5,6,....)
      Star Trek the Next Generation (#1,2,3,....)
      Flintstones, the movie.
      An Inconvenient Truth.
      Plan 9 from Outer Space.
      Earth Girls are Easy.
  • Human condition? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    You want human condition? That franchise was driven into the group *points to Star Trek*. For as much crap as some people like to give ST for not sticking to science too well, go watch any series (except Voyager or Enterprise, they may make you gouge out your eyes) and tell me the series did not cover the human condition. Paramount paid for that franchise, though it probably also helped keep Paramount afloat on a few occasions. You might even see some of the human condition in the ST films. Actually, t
  • by L. VeGas (580015) on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:52PM (#18461311) Homepage Journal
    There is quite a bit of popular science fiction cinema that's not space western. It's simply not marketed as such. Off the top of my head...

    The Truman Show

    Being John Malcovich

    Manchurian Candidate

    Movie makers and marketing companies want their films to attract as broad an audience as possible. To call something "science fiction" automatically creates expectations in people's heads.

    It happens in publishing as well. Margaret Atwood is a very famous example of someone that has intentionally distanced themselves from the label.

    To name me is to limit me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      There is quite a bit of popular science fiction cinema that's not space western. It's simply not marketed as such. Off the top of my head... The Truman Show Being John Malcovich Manchurian Candidate

      I was coming into this discussion with my own opinion about the subject, and I didn't even think about the movies the parent mentioned. I think the issue is that some really really good sci-fi movies don't immediately jump to mind when you think about sci-fi because you're looking for things like Star Wars o

    • by FridayBob (619244) on Friday March 23, 2007 @04:24PM (#18464089) Homepage
      Have you seen Primer (2004) [imdb.com]? This is Sci-Fi the way it ought to be. Everything in a story like this seems normal except that little bit of scientific speculation. Or might that actually be possible as well? And weeks/months/years later, you're still talking/thinking about it.

      Movies like Star Wars may be entertaining in their own right, but they have little to do with science. That stuff has more in common with Lord of the Rings: Fastasy-Fiction, except with spaceships and lasers. Star Wars is basic Swords and Sorcery... err, light sabers and The Force.
  • I can find plenty of info on "Next," but what in the hell is "The Last Mizmey"? Googling mizmey turns up a distressing dearth of information. Are you sure that you didn't just make that title up when you couldn't think of a second sci-fi film in production?
    • by nuzak (959558)
      It's a kid's movie. I think it's spelled with an 's' and not a 'z'. The advertising for it is unescapeable, and my gf for some godforsaken reason wants to see it.
  • by jeevesbond (1066726) on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:53PM (#18461329) Homepage

    But what about Blade Runner [imdb.com]? That's about as serious as Sci-Fi gets and was made later than Star Wars.

    I believe the problem is more with Hollywood studios not wanting to take any risks, always sticking to the same formula. The genre is irrelevant.

  • I mean come on, it's science FICTION, FFS..

    Who is to say how Sci-fi should be presented since it's bullshit from the get go.
    Some people may get a chubby over the more recent Star Trek shows because they throw in some actual scientific lingo but it's just buzz words that make the eyes of the masses glaze over. Anyone with a decent IQ knows they are just spitting out buzz words and on a very rare occassion they throw out an actual working theory.

    Hell, it's entertainment. Leave it alone. If it's space opera
  • Three things (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Otter (3800) on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:53PM (#18461341) Journal
    1) The science fiction audience spends its time online now. The few people who still go to movies aren't interested in exploration of the human condition.

    2) Related to #1, thoughtful drama is the province of television now. Movies (and this is where Lucas and Spielberg are responsible) are about explosions.

    3) Realistically, how good, or how thoughtful, a movie was 2001, anyway? It's as overblown and boring as Heinlein novels that the sci-fi fanboys also insist are Really Important.

  • ... movies that say something about the human condition have to have the message neatly and quietly tucked away into the background of space shoot-em-ups. In real sci-fi, the sci-fi is the SETTING, not the PLOT. Period pieces set in the PAST are treated with high regard by virtually anyone, whereas period pieces set in the future are regarded mostly with "why isn't there more shooting?" Also, I can't wait for Next... it actually looks like someone took a sci-fi idea, and made a good movie out of it.
  • right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mastershake_phd (1050150) on Friday March 23, 2007 @01:54PM (#18461377) Homepage
    Hollywood are a fickle bunch anyway. They rarely take chances, and when one succeeds, they copy it for for years. How many movies have there been about the urban kid who no one believed in who was good at dancing? Flash and 30 second trailers sell more than substance. Oh and Star Wars says nothing about the human condition? Are you kidding?

  • TFA seems to be right, as most of the top ranked Sci-fi flicks at the imdb are just future-based action movies:

    1. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
    2. Star Wars
    3. The Matrix
    4. Metropolis
    5. Alien
    6. Aliens
    7. 2001: A Space Odyssey
    8. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
    9. Blade Runner
    10. Donnie Darko

    Rest of the list, here [imdb.com].

    --
    Text link ads, the easiest way to earn money with your web [text-link-ads.com]!
  • whats wrong with them?

    There are many good sci-fi films.

    Just apparently they don't fit the need of the writer?
  • Science Fiction? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Etherwalk (681268) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:00PM (#18461495)
    Science Fiction, hell. Star Wars (And Jaws, was it?) changed the way the production studios looked at film. The amount of money involved got so much bigger suddenly that it overwhelmed the vestigial idea that movies ought to be pieces of art. It's similar to the move in publishing over the last half-century, away from a climate where your goal, when looking at a book, is to decide whether it ought to be published because it's well-written or well-crafted or has an important message, towards a climate where you decide how many dollars it's going to rank in according to a simple formula or two. Does it catch my eye on the first page? Has the author written twenty books in the genre before? Does it have a snappy snyopsis? Will the language hold someone's eye, even if it's not saying anything, because it's snappy enough?

    There are still good films and good books made, but greed has pushed the idea of being "good" rather far from the central idea of the major production houses, to the point where "good" and "bad" become conflated with "popular" and "unpopular." It's all about the money. The most popular actors are generally good, but there are countless incredible actors who never attain that sort of popularity, including some who are far better than some among the popular... because the popular people are part of the formula, and tend to bring in more money, even if their acting is worse than the acting of an unknown. The same applies to writers, and to almost all art where it's a producer/distributor generating the money, and more in it for the money than for the quality of the product. If art and culture really are the metrics we ought to use to measure the output of our civilization--if it wasn't just the Industrial Revolution that mattered, but also the Renaissance--then greed can be a terrible enemy to the quality of our productions.

    (Though I'll admit it can also help, at times--the rich artist can grow soft, with no need to change and grow. Look at how comedians change as their success does.)
  • by fred fleenblat (463628) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:01PM (#18461521) Homepage
    The pattern for the last 20 or 30 years has been for movie studios to create movies that appeal especially to teenagers. They are the most likely to want to get out of the house on friday and saturday evenings, and the most willing to part with $10 for a movie ticket. It's fun, they get to hang out with their friends, see a movie, have some popcorn, get away from homework and the parents. Whatever.

    The only reason the studioes release anything else is because they make money on DVD sales and rentals downstream. You want more sci-fi? Buy every battlestar galacta, star trek, star wars, dr. who, dune, LoTR, etc DVD. Individually they are about the same as a movie ticket + some popcorn; it will look awesome on your widescreen LCD; and it sends the message that sci-fi will be supported by the audience. (Star Wars actually went against this model because it took so long to get ep 1-3 onto DVD)
  • by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother AT optonline DOT net> on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:03PM (#18461555) Journal

    Mrs. Carroll, my English teacher in high school, was unconvinced that science fiction was on a par with classic literature, even though I trotted out examples like "Farenheit 451", "Foundation", and "Childhood's End". I got very sick of Shakespeare, Henry James, and that lot as they were continuously pounded into my head as "great writing." And now that I am partner in a company that releases a science fiction journal, I can look back and laugh. If there's any problem with science fiction right now it's the scarcity of good writers; I have to say I don't read as much current work as I did when I was kid, when I absorbed Clarke, Asimov, Heilein, Niven, Pournelle, etc.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MightyMartian (840721)
      I don't think we should knock guys like Shakespeare. Now there was a writer who understood the human condition. It's quite possible that, in English literature, no one knew it better. It's largely the Elizabethan English that makes him a tough sell.

      But I agree that the problem now is that SciFi just doesn't have any superstars left. Asimov was, at his best, one of the best writers out there (though ironically he could also be one of the worst), and the Foundation series could make some pretty good movie
  • Dune (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dedazo (737510) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:03PM (#18461565) Journal
    I think Dune represents a good example of why people don't take Sci-Fi movies seriously. Here's an incredible literary masterpiece that combines ecology, sex, religion, politics, technology and the ultimate essay on the fragility of the human spirit. Yet the movie and the two TV series that have been published not only do not do justice to the depth of the books, they ended up being, for lack of a better word, corny.

    Lynch's movie captured the "ambiance" that many people associated with Dune, but slaughtered the story. The SciFi channel series, with more time on their hands, did more justice to the story, but completely slaughtered the ambiance.

    Battlefield Earth for example, once you take out the scientology crap out of the ecuation, is a eminently fun and well done sci-fi novel. Yet the movie was a fucking disaster.

    What's the difference between the success of say, the Harry Potter and LOTR movies and the failures that are Dune and all the other crappy film treatments of fantasy/sci-fi books? I'm not sure, but hopefully someone will figure it out soon. There are a lot of excellent books out there - who wouldn't want to see a movie based on Niven's Ringworld series? Or Saberhagen's Berserker opera? - that would make fantastic movies.

  • by sammy baby (14909) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:05PM (#18461587) Journal
    Cuaron and James aren't the only ones who shy away from the title. Even hacktastic authors like Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman don't like the term science-fiction. In their introduction to the "Star of the Guardians" series (if you haven't read it? Don't.) Weis used the term to distinguish their books - which took place in space but only peripherally involved science - from books like, say, those by Greg Bear or David Brin.

    Of course, regular folks like you and me would call the one variety of books "science fiction," or maybe "space opera" (or, if you've read them, "bad"), and the other books "hard sci-fi." But if you're inherently ashamed of the genre you're exploring, I suppose such a distinction isn't sufficient.

    Bah, I say.
  • by gorehog (534288) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:10PM (#18461663)
    I'm a fan of Star Trek. All of it. Even Nemesis and Enterprise.

    However, I am also a fan of Frank Herbert, Isaac Asmiov, Kurt Vonnegut, William Gibson, and Phillip K. Dick.

    With all that said I'm going to reiterate something I said in college.

    Star Trek killed science fiction. With a phaser. Star Wars helped, but Gene Rodenberry has a lot to answer for.

    See, what they both did was take the science out of the fiction. Dune too, to a great extent. More and more often these stories are less about how science changes the human condition and instead are about how science simply enables a new setting for the same old story. The fiction goes from involving the scientific aspect to working around it.

    For instance if anyone ever tells Oedipus Rex as a science fiction story you will know it's horseshit. In any scientific culture Oedipus would have had his DNA tested to reveal his ancestry.

    IEEE Spectrum had an article on this many years ago where they pointed out that for all the SCIENCE in TOS it was always the captain and rarely the science officer or engineer who finally saved the day.

    In all fairness maybe we shouldnt blame the writers but the publishers. Whose idea is it to put Sci-fi and fantasy in the same section of the bookstore. There's nothing more iritating than browsing in a bookstore for a good scifi book and finding something with sword laden dragon hunters or somesuch. What I'm saying is that Tolkein, Leguinn, and Pratchett should go find their own damn shelves.
    • by master_p (608214) on Friday March 23, 2007 @07:05PM (#18466093)
      TNG was all about how science changing the human condition. That's why it was the best Star Trek show. DS9 was a simple soap opera, Voyager was a simple adventure in space, Enterprise was...better not tell, and TOS was cheesy.

      Where to start from...let's see...

      artificial forms' rights? the whole story of Data was about that.

      AI? Data, again. He even created a child.

      3d hologram technology and consequences? lt Barcley's holodeck excursions, LaForge's love with a virtual character.

      The consequences of very advanced weaponry? lots of stories here about balance of war.

      Racism? Federation values and mistreatment of alien races.

      Sexuality? Riker's affairs with asexual races, the trill woman and the doctor.

      Cloning? Riker's brother, Lore.

      What reality means in the presence of technology? Riker's episode in the hands of alien mind benders.

      The consequences of nanotechnology? the episode with the nano-machines.

      History and archeology? the episode where Picard finds out the common ancestor race for most races of the A and B quadrants.

      Sociology and biology? unification.

      Cyborg technology? the whole Borg story was about that.

      Religion? many episodes where Picard was treated as god.

      Politics? quite many episodes.

      Money? the structure of the Federation as an advanced form of society that does not need money.

      Evolution of civilization? Federation citizens evolved into people that aim to better themselves and not simply consume resources.

      Strange stellar and time-space continuum phenomena? plenty of episodes as well.

      Time travel and consquences? yet again, many episodes.

      Terrorism and 'cause justifies the means'? season 3, episode with terrorists possessing a super-transporter device. Maquis.

      Anti-gravity? Star Trek's home.

      Psionics and telepathy? besides Deanna Troi, there were lots of episodes where telepathic races did various things with various consequences.

      Espionage? plenty of Romulan-related episodes.

      Tortures and human rights? 'I see 4 lights'.

      Parenthood and what it means to raise children? lt Worf, his wife, his child Alexander.

      Actually, La Forge and Data saved the day in quite a lot of episodes...in fact, in more episodes than Picard did.

      See this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Star_Trek:_Th e_Next_Generation_episodes [wikipedia.org] for the list of episodes and the tremendous catalog of topics TNG dealt with.

      TNG is above and beyond all other sci-fi shows.

      Odyssey 2001? was HAL science? it was more magic than science. Artificial gravity in Odyssey 2001? yeah, it could work, but man will not go to the Stars in rotating cylinders. The monolith? increbible black magic box.

      Blade Runner? yeah, cloning. Big deal. Seen and discussed a thousand times in TNG.

      Doctor Who? let me laugh. The doctor, travelling in time, battling injustice? with a ship bigger from the inside? what kind of science is this? where is the science, actually?

      Farscape? nothing that Star Trek has not shown before.

      Galactica 2003? firearms instead of lazer guns, Christian God preaching instead of ancient Gods? no thank you sir. It is ridiculus. Galactica 1978 was much better.

      So...Star Trek did not kill Sci-fi. TNG was the most popular show, because of its tremendous diversity in topics.

      Sci-fi was killed by the mindless stupid and silly shows that followed.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Watson Ladd (955755)
      Pratchett isn't really fantasy, more parody. And part of the issue is that some books cross the line. Take Dune for instance. The Benne Gessirit have supernatural powers, and the sandworm ecology needs to be taken with a huge amount of salt, but the suits of the Fremen are pretty rigorous from a scientific standpoint.
  • Logistical Hurdles (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Shadow Wrought (586631) * <shadow...wrought@@@gmail...com> on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:32PM (#18462053) Homepage Journal
    Part of the problem with translating prose to screen has to do fundamentally with the differences in the medium. Books are about their charactes development and emotions as they confront conflicts. Movies have to show this, so they automatically have less depth in characterization. Since SciFi includes new worlds, universes, boundries, and societies, all of which have to be explained; there is less time to shape the characters. Which makes for an even shallower story. Couple that with the grand vistas that SciFi can shape and there's an even greater temptation to focus on eye-candy instead of characters.

    I think SciFi lends itself more readily to taking the easy way out. Throw in some lasers, a sweeping scene of an alien world, and you're good. But if you look at the LoTR, you can also see how well a movie of this type can be made. (I realize that Fantasy is different from SciFi, but from a Hollywood perspective they are essentially the same.) But doing so requires enormous effort and great risk- the two things for which Hollywood is least known.

  • by *weasel (174362) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:44PM (#18462235)
    Ignore the scifi angle, and compare something like Dark City to Memento.
    Both were really good mysteries, both did 'meh' business. Guess which one cost more to make and therefore, made the studios more dough?

    The only real 'stigma' against SciFi/Fantasy is that it's expensive. As a general rule, the bigger your budget, the more the studios insist on playing it safe. They aim at the big audiences more likely to earn back the investment and dial down anything challenging/quirky/contentious/etc.

    The natural target? The 18-25 action/adventure crowd.

    Why should a studio spend the extra money doing a SciFi mystery, if they cost more and gross about as much as a contemporary mystery? Similarly for a drama, comedy, horror, etc.
  • Prejudice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by digitalhermit (113459) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:48PM (#18462281) Homepage
    I've always wondered the same thing... IMHO, the problem is that there's a misunderstanding of what constitutes science fiction. It's almost like watching a play versus a movie. In a play you don't think about the set so much as the story and the acting. If the clouds in a play look like pillows it's OK. But in a movie we want a lot of visual realism.

    Many science fiction movies do a similar thing with theme. In a conventional movie it's desirable for the theme to be hidden. Apocalypse Now is only a war movie on the surface; same with Platoon or Saving Private Ryan. But with science fiction it's quite different. It's expected that the theme *is* the story. What are the consequences of genetic manipulation? What are the consequences of atomic power? If machines could think, should we give them the same rights as humans?

    But critics have been trained since high school to look for the subtext, the hidden theme. Confronted with something new, they fall into their learned prejudices. Maybe they should red more literature from non-European, non-dead authors instead of being so closed-minded.
  • Primer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by guinsu (198732) on Friday March 23, 2007 @05:53PM (#18465317)
    Wait, all these sci fi movies listed (good lists too) and no mention of Primer? If you thought Pi was indi-sci fi, this movie is a total mind fuck. It's an interesting story and well written but makes no concessions to a mainstream audience. I wish there were more like it (not that I don't like mainstream, but it's nice to see a movie push the envelope).

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