Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Do Our Science Fiction Movies Hate Science?

Yes, according to an essay Ryan Britt published in The Awl last month. In his thoughtful piece, with which I mostly agree, he discusses the distinction between the super-abundance of science fiction we get in Hollywood blockbusters, and the "serious" science fiction film we much less frequently get from that source--namely that the latter
derives its story and aesthetic from a concept that does not yet, as we know it, exist—aliens, robots, spaceships, time-travel—and the rest of the movie examines the repercussions of that science fiction idea. Serious science fiction . . . has people or society at its center. And this may sound axiomatic, but the serious science fiction film takes its concept seriously.
Britt is less clear on the defining characteristics of the Hollywood science fiction we tend to get, but it's not hard to get what he's talking about: films that have no real interest in such concepts, except as a basis for spectacle and action and terror. Naturally he has no problem coming up with excellent examples of each, with perhaps the most striking the difference between the first Star Trek film back in 1979, and J.J. Abrams' recent Star Trek: Into Darkness:
The original Star Trek: The Motion Picture . . . has at its center a basic science fiction conceit, which the movie in turn, takes seriously: How would an artificially created creature of extreme intelligence and power cope with the idea that it was created by hopelessly flawed organic creatures? You might call this film slow, boring, or even worse; pretentious, but in almost every single way, it is the most serious science fiction film of any of the big screen Star Treks. This summer’s Star Trek Into Darkness, in comparison, is mostly people punching each other.
Nonetheless, as he notes, the line can get blurry, and the pervasiveness of "un-serious" science fiction has changed the face of the serious films, with the result that (as with the recent Elysium), "serious SF movies are often just as violent as their dumb cousins—and can be frighteningly anti-science," with the result that there is "an anti-technology knee-jerk tendency in nearly all Hollywood SF."

All true, and quite well-stated by Britt. And a much needed corrective to genre boosters who look out at popular culture and misread it as demonstrating that science fiction has conquered the world. It is much more accurate to say that the situation has been exactly the reverse, that the world as we know it--the world which sees only broken promises and terrible blowback in the Future but does not dare to seriously ask why, let alone what is to be done; the world with its stupid Frankenstein complexes and lowest common denominator standards--has instead conquered science fiction. And that is a thing to be regretted.

Whitewashing the Past: On the Manga and Animè Front
And Now For Something Slightly Different (Maybe): The Summer Movies of 2014
The Late Summer Box Office (The Weekend of August 23-25, 2013)
Seasons and Years in Review
The 2013 Summer Movie Season in Review
A Summer Box Office Update: The Would-Be Blockbusters
New This Week: Star Trek: Into Darkness

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