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View Full Version : Is there a future for serious SF?



Jim
2007-Jul-02, 03:27 PM
There was an article in the Houston Chronicle this weekend on the Future of Futurism (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ent/movies/4932037.html). It discussed serious SF as opposed to the flashy stuff we're getting now (like the Transformers movie), all style and no substance.

For those of us who care (and no, we do not live in our parents' basements), the future of futurism is an urgent matter indeed. Is science fiction thriving amid the pyrotechnics, or is it dying a slow and hideous death...

So, any thoughts? Is science fiction being "dumbed down" and "blinged up" to appeal to the masses, or is enough "true" SF still available? Do they both have a place in the Grand Scheme? Or do you care?

My thoughts... SFX is becoming the tail that wags the dog. Some of the results are fun in an eye candy way, but I wish there were more of the old stuff. The Day the Earth Stood Still had limited sfx, but told a solid story; Forbidden Planet was a good combination; so was Deep Impact (imo) while Armageddon was sfx with just enough of a plot to get from one stunt to another.

Oh, I love the article's last paragraph:
"There's been this geek Renaissance. Everyone wants to be a geek now; all the cool stuff is geeky," Wellington says. "The geeks have won."

R.A.F.
2007-Jul-02, 03:56 PM
Is there any "true SF" still available? In my opinion, only in books.

SeanF
2007-Jul-02, 03:59 PM
Is there any "true SF" still available? In my opinion, only in books.
Which is part of the problem, I think, with the article linked in the OP.

Sci-fi movies are not getting "dumbed down" any more than other kinds of movies. And sci-fi books are not getting "dumbed down" any more than other kinds of books.

The problem here isn't sci-fi, it's Hollywood.

R.A.F.
2007-Jul-02, 04:11 PM
The problem here isn't sci-fi, it's Hollywood.

I agree...a recent example...

The I Robot movie...which really didn't have much to do with the Asimov Robot stories because (I imagine) the "suits" decided that those Asimov stories didn't have enough "action" in them.

I would really like to see the Harlan Ellison screenplay made into a movie.

Perhaps someday...

NorthGuy
2007-Jul-02, 04:30 PM
Good quality hard sci-fi has always been a rare comodity in the movies. I guess I'd have to actually do the math and go to IMDB and count up titles and dates to know if it's any more rare now then in the 50's or 60's. Remember, the 1950's had Plan 9 from Outer Space as well as The Day the Earth Stood Still. Much of the fodder for MST 3000 came from the 50's and 60's.

novaderrik
2007-Jul-02, 06:50 PM
has anyone ever claimed that the Transformers movie was supposed to be hard core sci fi?
probably not- but i'm gonna see it tomorrow.. yay... my 21 year wait is over. and i'm taking my 6 year old nephew. he loved the cartoon version, and really wants to see this one.

and the "problem" isn't with hollywood- whenever they do put out a "good" sci fi movie, no one goes to see it. their job isn't to educate the masses- their job is to make money entertaining the masses. and most people could care less about how accurately things are depicted in a science fiction movie- as long as there is a love story and a lot of cool explosions.
if you want "good" sci fi- you gotta finance it yourself.

m1omg
2007-Jul-02, 07:48 PM
Yes let's be optimistic.
It is better than B and C 1950-1960 "rubber scifi" movies

Noclevername
2007-Jul-02, 07:56 PM
"Serious" science fiction has always been separate from light, fluffy mass escapist entertainment. One makes you think, and the other relieves you of thinking.

Romanus
2007-Jul-02, 11:32 PM
Lots of good points in this thread...

1.) As stated, Hollywood exists to make money; light space opera has made money, so they will continue making it. If someone came out with a brilliant SF movie about nanotechnology or genetic engineering, and it made a bundle of money, you'd start seeing more movies in that direction--because they'd know the market is there.

"Is there any 'true SF' still available? In my opinion, only in books."

2.) I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me totally agrees--the best SF I've read blows the best I've seen on the big or small screen out of the water. However, perhaps it's unfair to compare them directly; as Noclevername wrote, they do different things. I read an article by a SF author who argued as much--that movies and books *should* be different.

Nevertheless, I do think there are good SF movies out there. For instance, one that I think is horribly underrated is "Strange Days". Here is a movie with minimal special effects--what's there is almost entirely fake blood,extras, and stunts--that does what good SF does: makes us ask, "What if?..." What if people could record their perceptions and play them back for others? What would be its uses and misuses? How could you let go of a past love if you could endlessly replay your dates? Take out the worst of the violence, and the ideas here would, IMO, do any SF story or novel proud--though I'm sure "Strange Days" wasn't first, by a long shot.

I see the dilemma as similar to that between "art" flicks and "mainstream" cinema. Everybody loves "Amelie"--but was it a domestic blockbuster? "Armageddon" was panned, but it grossed half a billion dollars worldwide. Yet, art films aren't going away, nor are lucrative potboilers...

I think the solution to this problem--if one exists--is simple: follow the lead of art films. Art films typically have two things in common: they're low-budget, and use good but often little-known actors. With excellent CGI and digital editing equipment within amateur budgets, I don't think there's any reason there couldn't be as steady stream of "indie" SF films that tickle the brain, with perhaps a few capturing the interest of major studios.

Let's not forget that George Lucas himself was a relative unknown before the studio gambled on "Star Wars"--a gamble that continues to influence the genre. I don't think there's any reason to believe that something similarly daring can't capture the public's imagination; perhaps we need to have more faith in the viewing public.

WaxRubiks
2007-Jul-02, 11:57 PM
I never understood what was escapist about a bunch of stupid explosions in movies.

Doctor Know
2007-Jul-03, 12:38 AM
I never understood what was escapist about a bunch of stupid explosions in movies.

It's probably because those explosions are being exchanged between two dimensional cardboard good guys and bad guys. You don't have to put a lot of thought into who to root for or their deeper motivations.

Escapism from the complicated real world where those explosions might be taking out innocent bystanders.

Disinfo Agent
2007-Jul-03, 01:13 AM
and the "problem" isn't with hollywood- whenever they do put out a "good" sci fi movie, no one goes to see it.Please refresh my memory. When was the last time that happened?

I agree with Jim. The flashy stuff, in some version or another, has been there almost from the start. Perhaps it even helps get more people interested in the serious stuff. The problem with science fiction is just part of a bigger picture of racing to the bottom.

tdvance
2007-Jul-03, 03:05 AM
I would consider "Destination: Moon" a good science fiction movie. The special effects were not like today's, but the story was great. The only annoying thing was the "dumb guy" character (not himself an astronaut, but was on the craft to replace a sick astronaut) to give the other astronauts an excuse to explain things to the audience.

Tucson_Tim
2007-Jul-03, 03:29 AM
I would consider "Destination: Moon" a good science fiction movie. The special effects were not like today's, but the story was great. The only annoying thing was the "dumb guy" character (not himself an astronaut, but was on the craft to replace a sick astronaut) to give the other astronauts an excuse to explain things to the audience.

I second Destination Moon (in spite of the dumb guy :)). The matte/background paintings by Chesley Bonestell are gorgeous. Not bad for 1950.

From IMDB:



The panoramic view of the lunar scenery was a Chesley Bonestell painting 13 feet long, mounted on wheels and rolled past a stationary camera. To make the stars appear brightly luminous, 534 holes were punched in the painting and illuminated from behind.

novaderrik
2007-Jul-03, 03:30 AM
Please refresh my memory. When was the last time that happened?

I agree with Jim. The flashy stuff, in some version or another, has been there almost from the start. Perhaps it even helps get more people interested in the serious stuff. The problem with science fiction is just part of a bigger picture of racing to the bottom.
i don't know of any specific examples- i'm just a part of the general public that likes to see stuff blow up, and enjoy a nice loud "THUD" to go along with it, even if it is in space.
how did 2001 do at the box office? i honestly don't know..
as far as i know, it could have done as good as like Waterworld or Ishtar in the theaters- no one saw them, and all the critics pointed out how truly awful and boring they were. but over the years, built built up huge cult followings and made lots of money in video sales.

hhEb09'1
2007-Jul-03, 06:36 AM
and enjoy a nice loud "THUD" to go along with it, even if it is in space.gaah! for a second there, I thought you said CHUD! :)

Gillianren
2007-Jul-03, 06:38 AM
Some time ago, I looked up how well Serenity did in the box office, and it was just depressing. If you ever want to have all of your negative stereotypes about the American public confirmed, pick a year and look at movie grosses.

hhEb09'1
2007-Jul-03, 07:00 AM
Some time ago, I looked up how well Serenity did in the box office, Let's see, does this (http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0379786/business) say that it cost $40M, and took in $25M? I looked up C.H.U.D. (http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0087015/business), it made $3M

Van Rijn
2007-Jul-03, 08:14 AM
as far as i know, it could have done as good as like Waterworld or Ishtar in the theaters- no one saw them, and all the critics pointed out how truly awful and boring they were. but over the years, built built up huge cult followings and made lots of money in video sales.

I saw 2001 when it came out. I loved it, my parents loved it, and it was a fantastic movie. Not like those pieces of garbage you mentioned.

novaderrik
2007-Jul-03, 08:20 AM
I saw 2001 when it came out. I loved it, my parents loved it, and it was a fantastic movie. Not like those pieces of garbage you mentioned.

well, i tried watching 2001 on a few occasions, and i couldn't sit thru it.
i loved the concept, and respected it for what it was- but i couldn't make it thru. i consider myself a member of the general public..
how many other people had the same response as i did?
and i've never seen Waterworld or Ishtar, in case you were wondering.

Disinfo Agent
2007-Jul-03, 10:19 AM
I went to see Waterworld in the theatre when it premiered, and would love to get my money back, though it wasn't the worst I've gone to see, alas. One film that I actually slept through was 2001: A Space Travesty, starring Leslie Nielsen. That kind of sophomoric humour was just not for my age.

Ronald Brak
2007-Jul-03, 10:31 AM
I have some theories about Waterworld and how almost all land came to be underwater. Either an immense icey body broke up in earth's orbit, dumping huge amounts of water on the planet, or a strange form of political doctrine came into power and in order to make everything equal they bulldozed all the continents into the oceans. Or possibly the world was taking over by land owners who tried to increase the value of their real estate holdings by reducing the amount of available land and got carried away.

ineluki
2007-Jul-03, 11:00 AM
So, any thoughts? Is science fiction being "dumbed down" and "blinged up" to appeal to the masses, or is enough "true" SF still available? Do they both have a place in the Grand Scheme? Or do you care?
[/I]

I think the majority of SF was always "Mainstream", that's why
Sturgeon's_law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law)
was formulated.

The same applies to a lot of things in Hollywood, i.e. Musicians as Actors isn't some new invention, just remember Elvis.

Jim
2007-Jul-03, 12:39 PM
I think the majority of SF was always "Mainstream", that's why Sturgeon's_law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law) was formulated.

The article mentions Sturgeon's Law.

Serenity is a good example of a science fiction movie that managed to blend plot, character, and sfx action quite well. Yes, it's very disappointing that it didn't do better.

TCM ran The Incredible Shrinking Man last night. I remember that movie from when it was fairly new, and it has worn well. The sfx are good for the day, which means a bit cheesy by today's standards. It had good, well developed characters. And it had a story to tell, and told it well.

I'd call both of these examples of good, well presented, serious SF.

m1omg
2007-Jul-03, 01:41 PM
GATACCA is "Present-day" movie that is more than diamond hard SF about eugenic dystopia.
I love that film :) !

Tucson_Tim
2007-Jul-03, 02:07 PM
well, i tried watching 2001 on a few occasions, and i couldn't sit thru it.
i loved the concept, and respected it for what it was- but i couldn't make it thru. i consider myself a member of the general public..
how many other people had the same response as i did?
and i've never seen Waterworld or Ishtar, in case you were wondering.

Comparing 2001 to Waterworld and Ishtar. Wow. :rolleyes:

Tucson_Tim
2007-Jul-03, 02:09 PM
TCM ran The Incredible Shrinking Man last night. I remember that movie from when it was fairly new, and it has worn well. The sfx are good for the day, which means a bit cheesy by today's standards. It had good, well developed characters. And it had a story to tell, and told it well.

Yes! I watched it last night also and it does have a good story.

Disinfo Agent
2007-Jul-03, 02:21 PM
And Gattaca wasn't exactly a flop.

Fazor
2007-Jul-03, 02:22 PM
I'm not big into sci-fi movies/television anymore. If something different than the cliché "Space faction one verses evil Space Faction two, with LASERS!" comes out, I might enjoy it. I know this goes against what a lot of you BAUTers feel, but if something's setting is in space, it's almost automatically too cliché for me. When I do find a sci-fi movie I enjoy, they tend to be more the future visions of life on earth. Or, my favorite setting, deep in the ocean (a-la Sphere, although as always the book was soo much better than the movie).

Disinfo Agent
2007-Jul-03, 02:50 PM
If something different than the cliché "Space faction one verses evil Space Faction two, with LASERS!" comes out, I might enjoy it.In all, Star Wars is just six films... :)

Fazor
2007-Jul-03, 04:51 PM
In all, Star Wars is just six films...
IMHO about 3 films too many ;) But what do I know? I might just be bitter because they just now finally started shooting Indy 4

SeanF
2007-Jul-03, 07:19 PM
and the "problem" isn't with hollywood- whenever they do put out a "good" sci fi movie, no one goes to see it.
Please refresh my memory. When was the last time that happened?
I was going to respond to this, but Gillianren beat me to it:


Some time ago, I looked up how well Serenity did in the box office, and it was just depressing.
I sat down and watched Serenity again this weekend. The first time Wash said, "I am a leaf on the wind..." I got a lump in my throat. :shifty:

Disinfo Agent
2007-Jul-03, 07:31 PM
I might just be bitter because they just now finally started shooting Indy 4I'm wary about that, too. No, not really wary, to be honest. I just don't expect anything good out of it. I probably won't even go see it. It's just outside my radar.

Gillianren
2007-Jul-03, 09:33 PM
I sat down and watched Serenity again this weekend. The first time Wash said, "I am a leaf on the wind..." I got a lump in my throat. :shifty:

I'm tearing up because you mentioned it.

Story I heard about Indiana Jones IV: Callista Flockhart has chosen not to be in it, because she's too young for Indiana Jones. (Though apparently Shia LeBouef will be in it. Seriously, what's his agent on?)

Noclevername
2007-Jul-03, 09:45 PM
(Though apparently Shia LeBouef will be in it. Seriously, what's his agent on?)


Money.

3rdvogon
2007-Jul-04, 12:40 PM
I think we need to separate some factors in this discussion.

Firstly - what may or may not be created on screen.

Secondly - What makes a good SciFi story.

As to the first the technology today and the technology comming along shortly will enable small budget producers even amateurs to make Movies that even big studios would have been scared of funding as recently as the 1970s.

Probably the most obvious example of this is "Star Wreck - in the Perkining". Now I am not holding that up as an example of a great SciFi production. It does however show that a bunch newbies working with largely begged or borrowed materials were over a number of years able to produce something with superior images than Hollywood was able to produce in the 1950s.

Now this trend is likely to continue, allowing small producers and TV companies to create things that do not look like they were made out of bits of salvaged cardboard. Therefore the capability exists to produce quality SciFi on screen, with a small budget and therefore not needing to compromise the writer's original idea by throwing in a few extra explosions just to increase boxoffice sales. In that respect SciFi will be democratised.

It may even go further than that maybe it will become an audience participation event if one considers what the future use of something like son of "Second Life" might be. Perhaps a future SciFi production will be an on-line interactive event a "role play" run in a HiRes Hiquality graphical environment - something that lies between SL today and the Matrix.

That however is only part of the problem. The other issue is the story.

Here we have to come back to what is SciFi about its origins and its asperations. You can debate all you want about what was the first SciFi story and did SciFi start with, Wells - Verne or Mary Shelly. The underlying truth though is that SciFi emerges in a society that can foresee a world in which things in the future may be different or done in a different way from today. It is inextricably tied to the idea of scientific discovery and progress (even those post nuclear holocaust stories need that as a start point). Therefore it is no surprise that SciFi as a story telling concept (and here I draw the line between SciFi and pure myth & fantasy) largely grew out of the industrial age.

To be of any merit SciFi stories need to explore the scientific "What If's". Take something we know today look at where it might be going and suggest what the implications and outcomes might be while at the same time fit in how we humans would cope in that new world.

In order to do this writers of SciFi stories need to have a basic premise around which to construct their story and that premise if people are going to buy into it needs to meet some criteria.

A. Can we recognise from the world we know now how such things as described in the story might come about.

B. Is the premise of the story something new - for example Nuclear wars and invading aliens are not exactly a sensational new idea.

C. If the basic SciFi premise is not new then can the human interaction and response to it be portrayed in a new and interesting way.

This last one is rather tricky because in a sense you are not really presenting a new SciFi story rather just creating a different dramatic interpretation of an old idea.

Now going back to the start of this thread. I would ask the question are there enough new ideas left for SciFi writers to use as the basis for their extrapolations or have they all been done to death.

Is there anything more to be said about the future of AI or genetic engineering for example - Nanotech devices have already found their way into the SciFi mainstream on several occasions, so is there any fertile ground remaining in this area.

Wells had Anti-Gravity - Aerial Warefare - Time Travel - Alien Invasion all open to him as new and largely untried concepts - is it now getting too tough for today's SciFi writers to come up with an original idea? I do not pretend to know the answer but things must be more difficult now than they were 50 or 100 years ago.

Romanus
2007-Jul-04, 04:35 PM
^
My impression of reading the genre nowadays is that new ideas are less important than *any* idea well-used. Like "Scherzo with Tyrannosaur"--there's nothing original about time travel back to the Mesozoic, but the crux of the story itself is, IMO, very original. Characters also mean more; compared to older SF, it seems like character development and complexity is much more important than it used to be, ideas notwithstanding.

Just my two bits.