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The Sci-Fi Movie Stigma

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the looking-forward-to-diamond-age dept.

Sci-Fi 572

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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'Twas always this way (5, Insightful)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 7 years ago | (#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'.

Re:'Twas always this way (0)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461173)

Yeah, but not so much so as post-Star Wars.

Even Asimov's "I, Robot" was butchered by Hollywood.

Re:'Twas always this way (4, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461299)

Even Star Wars was hard get get moving though. I don't think Star Wars itself was necessarily the reason for this. Lucas had to make all sorts of concessions to make the movie happen and it just happens that one of the concessions made him billions of dollars and very powerful.

The industry just seems unwilling to depart from established formulas. The result is that everything they do frequently is a beat-down version of something else done before. It's ironic that the industry behaves this way when the rare departure often results in movies that are ridiculously popular... example, Napoleon Dynamite. (Let's face it-- "quirky" would be an understatement to describe the feeling of this movie.) Another example might be clerks... hrm... weren't both of those independant films? I know Clerks was. Perhaps what this shows is that the movie machine is uncreative and cares nothing about the audience save that they surrender their dollars.

Re:'Twas always this way (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461417)

Perhaps what this shows is that the movie machine is uncreative and cares nothing about the audience save that they surrender their dollars.

That's it, you hit the head right on the nail. Whatever puts the butts in the seats and the $$$ in the coffers.

Re:'Twas always this way (1)

cyborg_zx (893396) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461553)

Well of course, but this is hardly a new phenomena. Back in the days before TV was popular it was even more like this - since people went to the cinema *A LOT* more than they do today.

I think it's slightly unreasonable to expect any situtation to deviate that much from a normal distribution though.

Re:'Twas always this way (2, Insightful)

abandonment (739466) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461399)

I-Robot was a special case - it wasn't SUPPOSED to be based on the story, was written & created completely independently, and then the movie studio threw the license onto it afterwards.

There should be some kind of law about abusing licenses...*cough**shadowrun**cough

Re:'Twas always this way (1)

non-Euclidean (1025664) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461719)

Not quite. Originally Harlan Ellison came out with a screenplay that was actually related to the underlying subject (perish the thought). However, Ellison being Ellison, and studio heads being clowns, his screenplay was never used.

Re:'Twas always this way (1)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461419)

Even Asimov's "I, Robot" was butchered by Hollywood.

After "Bicentennial Man" (*shudder*), I had hoped that the Good Doctor's work would not be further reduced to trash by Hollywood... but I was wrong. I'll have no part of "I, Robot", the Holly-weird version. I was sad that Harlan Ellison's version didn't get made; although still not as close to the original book as i would have liked, it would have been a thousand times better.

Re:'Twas always this way (1)

OwnedByTwoCats (124103) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461669)

I read the collection of stories titled "I, Robot" years and years ago. I even found "The Rest of the Robots".

I found "I, Robot" to be an enjoyable film. It wasn't a film adaptation of the collection of short stories. The only way that could be done is as a series. Get past the title, and enjoy the tale, I say.

Re:'Twas always this way (4, Insightful)

georgewad (154339) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461219)

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 (3, Interesting)

khasim (1285) | more than 7 years ago | (#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:'Twas always this way (2, Insightful)

charleste (537078) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461277)


Re:'Twas always this way (3, Insightful)

georgewad (154339) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461487)

Man! I should hand in my geek card.
Bladerunner is one of those very rare movies that deviates greatly from a great book and still kicks ass.
Can't believe I forgot to list it.

Re:'Twas always this way (3, Informative)

Seumas (6865) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461473)

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.

No (5, Insightful)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461127)

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:No (2, Interesting)

jimbobborg (128330) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461209)

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:No (2, Interesting)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461633)

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

Exactly right (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461257)

Additionally, the advent of special effects made the movies that went before look cheesy.

Re:Exactly right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461721)

Cheesy in comparison; if you compare the special effects of the sci-fi movies with contemporary movies, they were generally limited by the state of the art at the time. But it's the same with any technologically-limited field; if you look at what was done 50 years ago, it will generally look remarkably cheesy compared to what is being done today.

Star Trek linked to pedophilia? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461291)

This has very little to do with the article, but the L.A. Times recently published an article regarding the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit [torontopolice.on.ca] that focused on their fight against child pornography ("Sifting Clues to an Unsmiling Girl" [pqarchiver.com] ). They are the law enforcement organization that photoshopped the victims out of child porn photos in order to get the public's assistance in identifying the backgrounds (it worked). In any case, the article had this amazing claim:

On one wall is a "Star Trek" poster with investigators' faces substituted for the Starship Enterprise crew. But even that alludes to a dark fact of their work: All but one of the offenders they have arrested in the last four years was a hard-core Trekkie.

Wow. All but one in four years. Seemed rather unlikely to me.

So, I called the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit and spoke to Det. Ian Lamond, who was familiar with the Times article. He claims they were misquoted, or if that figure was given it was done so jokingly. Of course, even if the figure was given jokingly, shouldn't the Times reporter have clarified something that seems rather odd? Shouldn't her editors have questioned her sources?

Nevertheless, Det. Lamond does confirm that a majority of those arrested show "at least a passing interest in Star Trek, if not a strong interest." They've arrested well over one hundred people over the past four years and they can gauge this interest in Star Trek by the arrestees' "paraphenalia, books, videotapes and DVDs."

Det. Constable Warren Bulmer slips on a Klingon sash and shield they confiscated in a recent raid. "It has something to do with a fantasy world where mutants and monsters have power and where the usual rules don't apply," Bulmer reflects. "But beyond that, I can't really explain it."

I asked Det. Lamond if this wasn't simply a general interest in science fiction and fantasy, such as Star Wars or Harry Potter or similar. Paraphrasing his answer, he said, while there was sometimes other science fiction and fantasy paraphenalia, Star Trek was the most consistent and when he referred to a majority of the arrestees being Star Trek fans, it was Star Trek-specific.

Re:Star Trek linked to pedophilia? (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461489)

That is indeed interesting and I'd have to agree with the notion that it's about fantasy where the normal rules don't apply and the like. But I wouldn't go so far as to say there is a link to pedophilia at least not in the "star trek causes pedophilia" sense. I have also heard an attempted connection between star trek and homosexuality as well, but it's not entirely likely that one causes the other either.

I think what is in common is that fans tend to be those that feel as if they don't fit in with the world around them. Star Trek offers a more ideal outlook on the future where everyone is equal, no one is held back and no one has to work for a living if they don't want to.

Re:No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461309)

"The ultimate reason is that the major film studios are afraid to innovate"

Worse - they're afraid to ask the audience to think. TFA mentions "The Last Mimzy" and it's story basis - the story was pretty
scary, given the children's rapid estrangement from normal humanity, and the film is a feel-good sop.

Re:No (5, Insightful)

ajs (35943) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461423)

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.

Re:No (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461463)

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't believe me? As yourself, is Harry Potter's first adventure about a philosopher's stone, or a less intellectually-taxing "sorceror's" stone?
That's right: dummed down.

Re:No (1)

harrkev (623093) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461535)

In a way, George Lucas WAS the reason. He did not invent the space opera. But, he did make an awesome one -- one that, in a sense, defined what good sci-fi "should" be. It sort of became the gold standard of sci-fi movies and in Hollywood, it appears that screenplays are judged against that as a standard. If the script in question is another space opera, that that is acceptable. On the other hand, sci-fi movies that are not space operas may be judged as differing too much from the "Star Wars" archetype and canned as being too risky.

Of course I could be wrong about all of this. My perspective is that of a kid who was about eight years old when Star Wars came out. I am not in the movie industry. I am just a sci-fi fan from a young age.

End of story. Right here! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461131)

Jules Verne wrote Science Fiction.

Persons who don't respect science fiction are worse than illiterate.

End of story. Nothing to see.. Move along...

Solaris (3, Interesting)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 7 years ago | (#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 (1)

ShrapnelFace (1001368) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461189)


Also- Content is a challenge in writing this genre. Basically, you take the humanity off a planet and put it into space. Then you have to come up with a reason why this would be more interesting, and back that with a challenge to the lead characters.

Then what you are left with is "why the hell is this happening in space rather than on Earth. Wouldnt it be cheaper for production to film this in Toronto?"

Re:Solaris (2, Interesting)

qbwiz (87077) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461443)

Science Fiction doesn't have to occur in space. For example, novels where it doesn't:
Brainwave, The Caves of Steel, Blood Music, Queen of Angels, The Demolished Man, Fahrenheit 451, Childhood's End, Camp Concentration, Permutation City, Beggars in Spain, and a thousand other novels. There are some relatively legitimate reasons why you would want to set it in space, though: you want to depict a possible future, and you believe that having people in space will be an important part of that future, or you believe that, for things like first contact, colonization, or isolation stories, that space is the best place to depict those ideas.

Re:Solaris (1)

barutanseijin (907617) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461407)

No way! Had i not read the book and seen the original, i would have had no idea of what was happening in the remake. More importantly, the remake was not half as visually interesting as the first. In fact, it's an almost an insult to Tarkovsky to even compare the two. I also thought the remake lacked most of the philosophical inquiries into the difference between Self & Other. It was quite gripping if you're into that particular epistemological aporia. The remake was just melodrama. And better actors? I don't get that either.

Re:Solaris (1)

linguizic (806996) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461545)

I thought the acting in the soviet version was quite good. It helps to know some Russian though I think. The Soviet version stayed truer to the book, which I appreciated, though Steven Soderberg version is still a good movie.

Damn you Lucas!!! (4, Funny)

VitrosChemistryAnaly (616952) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461159)

Noooooooooooooooo! [ytmnd.com]

Re:Damn you Lucas!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461405)

Khaaaaaaan! [khaaan.com]

wtf is this guy talking about ? (3, Insightful)

unity100 (970058) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461179)

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.

Re:wtf is this guy talking about ? (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461279)

He wasn't saying any of those commented on the "human condition", he was saying they were the prime influence on Lucas. I think what he's getting at, is that there is a severe lack of sci-fi movies that address modern concerns in any sort of capacity without at least being 50% action. Sort of like hollywood is saying, yeah, you can talk about whether someone who has been geneticly engineered still counts as a human or not, so long as every other scene has something blowing up, or a shoot out.

Re:wtf is this guy talking about ? (1)

seven of five (578993) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461305)

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.

Re:wtf is this guy talking about ? (1)

john82 (68332) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461409)

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.

Re:wtf is this guy talking about ? (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461425)

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 from film cheese.

Re:wtf is this guy talking about ? (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461637)

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 ?
Read the fucking summary again, they specifically use Flash Gordon as an example of space opera WITHOUT a reflexion on human condition. Sheesh!

woah now wait (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461193)

You can't just blame Lucas. No one knew that the audiences would eat it up and that's what happened and that's where the blame lies: the audiences. The dude tried to get all cerebral with THX-1138 but the general movie audience didn't bite. With Star Wars, they came in whores.

Re:woah now wait (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461213)

"they came in whores."

Wow. Just...wow.

Re:woah now wait (1)

eln (21727) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461281)

Best. Mistake. Ever.

Might this yet change (Re: Ender's Game)? (4, Interesting)

HikingStick (878216) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Might this yet change (Re: Ender's Game)? (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461351)

I am waiting to see if the movie adaptation of Ender's Game (by Orson Scott Card) will receive similar treatment (be actionized).
That movie when it's released will either be great, or it will be terrible. Not because it will necessarily be a bad movie when compared to others, but because it has so much great potential that anything less than awesome is a complete dis-service to the book.

Re:Might this yet change (Re: Ender's Game)? (1)

HikingStick (878216) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461695)

Agreed. About it I feel similar to hearing about the LOTR movies before they were released. I really hoped they didn't get screwed up (IMO, thankfully, they didn't). Ender's Game holds the same potential, but will they be able to portray it in a way that makes it plausible enough to suck us in?

Re:Might this yet change (Re: Ender's Game)? (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461737)

Bad news...it's not going to be great. There's too much setup involved, even for a simple story like Ender.

Did you happen to read Card's novel of Abyss? without the 100 pages of setup, the movie just doesn't have the background to feel complete. You can't convey the complex systems necessary to fully render a science fiction film in 120 minutes. Fantasy as the same problem - it took LOTR over 9 hours minutes, and there were still gaps.

A good science fiction novel will let you believe you are in a world which is completely different from ours, and you must understand that world to empathise with the characters and plot. Action films put the whole "other world physics" on hold - you get to ignore the believability and instead end up with a commonplace story and cool special effects - add a little nekkid skin or lots of blood and guts, and you've got 120 minutes of mindless entertainment. And mindless entertainment sells.

Re:Might this yet change (Re: Ender's Game)? (5, Insightful)

thrawn_aj (1073100) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Might this yet change (Re: Ender's Game)? (1)

HikingStick (878216) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461739)

Let's agree to disagree on how much EG highlights the human condition, but I will concur that cramming anything of depth into a film slot will always leave out much of the subtext that made the written works come to life. But that is true in every genre of literature, not just sci-fi.

I partially blame... (5, Insightful)

nebaz (453974) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:I partially blame... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461623)

The Sci-Fi channel also brought Dune Messiah/Children of Dune to the screen (not to mention a version of Dune which actually does justice to the novel) They also aired Firefly after it was dropped and brought us Battlestar Galactica. While none of these are strictly movies, it does show that Sci-Fi is interested in adult science fiction and capable of pulling it off. If Sci-Fi picked up Ender's Game, the Foundation series, the Rama series, etc., I have no doubt they'd do it right. That they use cheesy low budget monster sci-fi to pad their line-up is beside the point.

Meanwhile, George Lucas can't even stop screwing up the stuff he did right the first time! Likewise the rest of the movie industry (Planet of the Apes, Time Machine anyone?)

oh dear lord (3, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461289)

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:oh dear lord (2, Funny)

ettlz (639203) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461361)

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


You forgot Zardoz!

You did it on purpose, didn't you?

Re:oh dear lord (1)

sydb (176695) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461547)

And you both forgot THX-1138 for goodness sake.

Re:oh dear lord (1)

sydb (176695) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461589)

And that was a good Lucas film, too.

Re:oh dear lord (1)

Hawthorne01 (575586) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461699)

"The Andromeda Strain" (1971)
"Silent Running" (1972)
"Soylent Green" (1973)
"West World" (1973)
"Futureworld" (1976)
"Rollerball" (1975)
"Omega Man" (?)
"Planet of the Apes"
All of which have visions of the future that makes eunthenasia seem happy.
If "Thinking" = "AHHHH!!!!! WE'RE DOOMED! DOOMED, I SAY!!!!", count me amongst the happy people who want and are working for a better life for my kids than what I have now.
Science fiction can and does give us hope that the future is someplace that I would want to spend the rest of my life.

Re:oh dear lord (1)

bugnuts (94678) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461567)

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.
I gotta agree with you here. I remember seeing light sabres in other movies, but Lucas did it extremely well for the time. It's funny, since he grabbed a horribly cliche script but made it look good.

There were some really good "thinker" series, many of which had trouble with funding, such as Dr Who, B5, Blake's 7, and several on the Sci Fi channel that were cancelled. Of these, B5 and Blakes 7 concentrated on the human (or alien) condition . But the vast majority were cheesy and poorly written, hoping the special effects would overcome poor scripting and acting (such as the old Battlestar Galactica, but many others whose names escape me as I poisoned my brain with booze to forget the terrible pain of bad sci-fi).

However, in a bit of a contradiction, one of my favorite recent sci fi movies would be classified as action: The Fifth Element.

Re:oh dear lord (1)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461607)

Don't forget Farenheit 451 [imdb.com] . Excellent Bradbury book made into a compelling movie. Was a lot of fire...

Human condition? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461303)

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, the films that are most panned (yes the Odd numbered ones) are the ones that often deal with more of the human condition and less action movie with Star Trek thrown in. (Not to say the others didn't have human condition issues either. Look at First Contact and Wrath of Khan.)

It might be hip or even fun to blame George Lucas for ruining science fiction films, but this is just a big mistake. Hollywood was unwilling to any science fiction before George Lucas, so honestly, some sci-fi, even overly "opera-ish" is better than none. Honestly, this isn't a trend that sticks to science fiction. Look how many books they've screwed up in Hollywood.

There's plenty of SF movies (4, Insightful)

L. VeGas (580015) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461311)

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:There's plenty of SF movies (1)

Jerf (17166) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461493)

I say it this way: Hollywood actually doesn't do a half-bad job with science fiction, provided they don't realize it's science fiction.

Space Opera is like a strange attractor; show even the slightest sign of it (space ships, heck, space at all, ray guns, most aliens), and you'll get sucked in by the time the story iterations are done. I can't speak for the Manchurian Candidate because I haven't seen it, but the others you mention survived by completely not looking like Hollywood's bastardized idea of sci-fi.

Re:There's plenty of SF movies (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461503)

BJM was pure fantasy, no science-related aspect to it. It was still an intelligent, thought-provoking film.
Of course, describing it as "fantasy" has the same troubles as "science fiction" - most people would define fantasy as "anything with elves in".

Re:There's plenty of SF movies (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461603)

Agreed, in fact a lot of people love sci-fi without even knowing it:

The Metamorphasis


Alice in Wonderland

The Bible

zzzZZZzzz *snore* (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461313)

That's because "science-fiction movies that actually said something about the human condition" are incredible snore-fests, or depressing, preachy, quasi-intellectual, pompous kuck. Both are great solutions to insomnia. To wit:

2001: A Space Odyssey
Silent Running

Blame Disney Too (1)

Romwell (873455) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461315)

The same can be said about pretty muc hevery other genre. Hollywood goes by the standard "follow-the-pattern" scheme, where they just stamp out modified copies of what made big bucks. So saying that Lucas killed Sci-Fi is like saying that Disney killed cartoons (or "animation"/"animated moveie"): names a single hollywood cartoon/animation that doesn't look like it was produced from Disney's grave (yes, anime doesn't count since it's japanese. flash animation also doesn't count, there's fantastic stuff on newgrounds.com, but it's pure creativity without any involvement of Hollywood).

Wait, what? (1)

ALeavitt (636946) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461321)

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?

Re:Wait, what? (1)

Langalf (557561) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461353)

It supposed to be "The Last Mimzy" (from TFA), based on "All Mimsy were the Borogoves".

Re:Wait, what? (1)

nuzak (959558) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461415)

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.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

businessnerd (1009815) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461527)

Check your spelling. It's called "The Last Mimzy". I've seen some previews for it. The notable star is Rain Wilson (Dwight from "The Office") and looks like it is geared mostly towards kids (The E.T. audience?).

Re:Wait, what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461537)

Does anyone realise that mimsy [urbandictionary.com] is a quaint British slang term for, erm, a lady's front bottom?

But... (2)

jeevesbond (1066726) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461329)

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.

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461611)

I thought Blade Runner was great until I read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" by Philip K. Dick. Blade Runner was based on this story, but "Do Androids Dream.." makes BR seem like StarWars.
Other Philip K. Dick stories have been ruined by movies too. "Total Recall" for one and that completely botched "Minority Report" come to mind. "A Scanner Darkly" came out alright.

Well what else is there? (1)

pair-a-noyd (594371) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461335)

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, then fine, let it be space opera.
I like the original "Space Westerns" concept. I am currently watching every episode of "Lost in Space" which I grew up with. It's the ultimate in cheesy sci-fi with very little "sci" and a whole lot of "fi"

Really, what else can fiction be but fiction?

Three things (2, Interesting)

Otter (3800) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461341)

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.

Where does 'contact' fit into this? (1)

chebucto (992517) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461343)

It's a recent, cerebral sci-fi movie, and a pretty good one at that. Though it may be the exception that proves the rule: most other good sci-fi movies have been, at least in part, action movies. Though that's not necessarily a bad thing: The Arrival was a somewhat cheesy action/sci-fi flick, but was surprisingly good at the same time.

If Hollywood insists on making space-opera movies, perhaps they should adapt some of Iain M. Banks' books to the silver screen.

Or there's compromise... (1)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461363)

... 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.

Science fiction? No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461369)

Star Wars is not science fiction. It's fantasy.

right (3, Insightful)

mastershake_phd (1050150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461377)

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?

Sci-fi ranking by the imdb... (1)

Life700MB (930032) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461403)

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] !

Re:Sci-fi ranking by the imdb... (1)

YodaYid (1049908) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461691)

"Just" future-based action movies? Star Wars and The Matrix had more philosophy and depth than many other "serious" movies. The Matrix isn't even future-based, really - it imagines that we are living in the Matrix NOW. The Alien series has a lot to say about political hegemony (an evil superpower is trying to weaponize the Alien - that's why it keeps coming back). These movies are using action as sugar to get some very intense and subversive medicine down.

2010, Contact, there are others (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461427)

whats wrong with them?

There are many good sci-fi films.

Just apparently they don't fit the need of the writer?

How dare they... (1)

AvoidTheNoid (772246) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461471)

I was enjoying this article until they crapped upon Total Recall. Yes, the movie has be Schwarzeneggerized (try saying that three times fast) but it still maintains its Dickness. Sure, there's plenty of great action in the movie, but the the amazing part of the film is that we don't know if it ever happened. Pure Dick. Paul Verhoeven is awesome.

good SCI-fi movies are the low-budget ones? (1)

wlodek_j (160693) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461479)

One Point O

There are "Sci" in them. "Fi" does not dominate. Visual effects are where really needed.
Because of low budget? Maybe. I do not complain.

Big budget are (in most cases) just fiction flicks with visual effects. But SCIENCE-fiction?

Science Fiction? (4, Insightful)

Etherwalk (681268) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.)

I disagree with attribution of crappiness to genre (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461667)

There are many good scifi films and shows with excellent premises, panoplys, and plot lines.

gattaca, rather dark, many complained it was boring, but it had a lot of soul and made the assertion that no matter how dominant technology became, human faith and will will ultimately make the difference.

green legend ran - an excellent earth legend with cautionary warnings about ecology and a seamless tie into the bible.

babylon 5 - excellent overarcing and complicated plot lines, a coherent and real ending, and every action take is well explained in the plot.

andromeda - again a plot line laid out a full 3 seasons in advance, but it should have ended at the episode entitled "the unconquerable man"... the final ending in season 5 left much to be desired, probably because of sudden and early cancellation.

blade runner - seriously do i need to justify blade runner to you?

akira - the final 30 minutes of this movie coalesce into a dense visual poetry that explains exactly what a god is.. not to mention the detail put into the animation was not equalled until ghost in the shell the movie over a decade later.

ghost in the shell stand alone complex - complicated plotlines dealing with obtuse philosophical concepts and the relative moral positions of those involved (the "evil" terrorists? the "evil" government agents of section 9 who literally assassinate for political convenience?)

What are these "scifi films" of which you speak? (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461497)

seriously, scifi hit it's peak as a genre around the late 90's.

i dont know if it's the whole post millennial dissillusionment or just plain lack of wherewithal to pioneer new plots***, but i'm just seeing precipitous drops in scifi content, even in anime, which to me has ALWAYS been synonymous with scifi. The scifi channel is now primarily horror, controversial paranormal investigations, and (WTF) ecw wrestling. NONE OF THOSE QUALIFY AS SCIFI!. And heck i havent seen a new scifi anime released in over 2 years now (and no gundam doesnt really count)

so i have to ask.. what is this scifi of which tfa speaks?

***(most of the good series from the late 90's early '00 were first laid out in the 60's)

catering to the audience (3, Interesting)

fred fleenblat (463628) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461521)

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)

Not confined to movies (4, Interesting)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461555)

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.

Dune (4, Insightful)

dedazo (737510) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461565)

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.

Lucas the cause? (1)

nuzak (959558) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461569)

Much as I can't stand GL, it's curious to point the finger at him when SF was basically dead as a movie genre because it was already associated with cheezy space operas. In fact that was the source of his problems in getting funding! I'm having a hard time following how the blame was reached, unless it was that GL simultaneously legitimized and homogenized the genre -- and that's quite debatable.

One problem is the definition of "sci fi", and whether it has to focus on technology qua tech. If you count "fantasy" in the SF genre, it's a freakin renaissance: look no further than Lord of the Rings and Pan's Labyrinth.

Now if you go by the original movies of the SciFi Channel, I think we can all agree that SF is the pits ;)

So... (1)

Cereal Box (4286) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461573)

... You blame Star Wars for ruining the public's perception of sci-fi but still worship Star Wars (at least, the original trilogy), Star Trek, Babylon 5, Doctor Who, etc.? Shows/movies like that are what created the public perception of sci-fi. They're all about spaceships, goofy-looking aliens, "phasers set to stun", etc. It's all just a tad bit too nerdy for regular people.

Sci-fi fans made that stuff popular, so I'd say you have no one to blame but yourselves...

Re:So... (1)

cyborg_zx (893396) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461645)

Star Trek = morality play in space
Babylon 5 = first novelised TV show
Doctor Who = wildy varied

These are not the best examples.

they're not alone... (2, Insightful)

sammy baby (14909) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461587)

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.

Serious Sci-Fi?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461609)

C'mon down from that high horse there, buckaroo. What or who exactly is a "more serious science-fiction writers and reader"? Who designates them as more serious?

Science Fiction is just a thematic categorization of a fantasy writing placed in the future or focused on technology. It is frivolous, no matter what the setting, plot or characterization. It is escapism in its purest form. Inhale deeply.

To say that what many percieve as "campy" science fiction is less serious than "space opera" is folly. Neither is serious, they simply provide a different presentation of content and delivery mechanisms. It is a matter of taste.

I HATE doctor who for what I see as its silly premise, loved the Jurassic Park series, for its measured use of science fact, and lost my interest in Star Wars after enjoying the first one.

Just my 2... Collect the whole dime!

Thinking SF... (1)

nurbles (801091) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461619)

How do movies like "12 Monkeys", "Brazil", "Dark City", "Donnie Darko", "Outbreak", "The Abyss", and others fit in to this theory?

Also, how do movies that had some action mixed with many interesting ideas like "The Matrix" and "V for Vendetta" fit in?

And what about TV movies/series? Like the "Alien Nation" flicks, series such as "Dead Like Me" and "The X Files".

And anyway, before anyone plames Lucas, don't forget the sweaty, unthinking masses that vote with their ticket dollars. Hollywood will generally invest in whatever will get the largest part of the great unwashed horde to part with their money. Teach them to think and read and not only will the movies be better, but likely, so will everything else...

Until then, enjoy "American Idol", "Survivor", "Wife Swap", etc...

Alien (1)

Edward Ka-Spel (779129) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461643)

Actually, I blame Alien and Aliens for the problem. It's not the Sci-Fi action flick that I have a problem with. It's the alien/monster/horror Sci-Fi movie that I have a problem with. Go to Blockbuster and look in their SF section. Nearly every movie will have a monster/alien that the hero has to fight. Most of the action/SF movies now days aren't even included as SF. Just an action movie.

You forgot Minority Report (1)

Provocateur (133110) | more than 7 years ago | (#18461661)

That was pretty decent (ok Philip K Dick purists flame me now). They even went out on a limb with A Scanner Darkly so there are still risk takers out there. Sometimes I wish SciFi channel would make an hourly series but with different stories being featured each week or something. It doesn't have to say something; just make us think once in a while, e.g. what if there *were* lesbo biker chicks on Mars, trying to quit smoking?

Obligatory Star Trek Troll (Trowl?) (3, Insightful)

gorehog (534288) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Gattacca (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461665)

This is the best argument that good sci-fi that's more than action can be made in modern times.

Off the top of my head (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18461679)

  • Frequency
  • Contact
  • Signs
  • Solaris
  • Primer
  • Butterfly Effect

I don't think the tendency towards making action films is any more prevalent in the sci-fi category than it is in most other categories. Hollywood has certainly spent quite a lot on sci-fi films that aren't exactly action/adventure flicks. Of the films I mentioned above, only Primer was an indie.

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