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Thread: What happened to good sci-fi?

  1. #1
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    This was posted on another board I visit, and thought it would be a good question to ask here as well.
    "This is a question that has been bugging me for some time. It seems like every year, a bunch of good-looking science fiction movies come out. Every year, I wait for them to hit the theaters, and every year, most of them stink.
    Does anybody have any insight into this annoying question?"

  2. #2
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    (Note: I am going to use the terms we disscussed on the old board to describe the sub-genere's of Sci-Fi: Space Opera, Speculative Fiction, and Hard Sci-Fi. If a new disscussion is warented, we can always open up a new thread)

    Now then, personally I don't think we've every really seen an abundance of Hard Sci-Fi in movies and in television. Truly hard and crunchy stories designed to explore how people interact with technology/physics that are portrayed as accuratly as possible has never been popular with the mainstream movie goers. While I am sure I will be corrected, I'd say that 2001 is one of the few exceptions.

    Speculative Fiction seems to be doing acceptably well, with a few very nice movies in the recent past. Personally, I thought A.I. and the film version of Bicentennial Man did a good ob at looking at the issue involving the integration of sentient/pseudo-sentient robots into human society.

    Space Opera is alvie and well thanks to George Lucas. Dispire the amount of aggrivation I feel when ever a certain character is on screen (the name starts with Jar-Jar and ends with Binks), SW:tPM was a great Space Opera. Additionaly, this years Disney movie Atlantis: the Lost Empire was a great "steam-punk" style adventure.

    So, to wrap it up... I think Sci-Fi has always been a niche market, but the niche is being fill with some petty decent offerings.



  3. #3
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    On 2001-11-08 02:31, Simon wrote:
    This was posted on another board I visit, and thought it would be a good question to ask here as well.
    "This is a question that has been bugging me for some time. It seems like every year, a bunch of good-looking science fiction movies come out. Every year, I wait for them to hit the theaters, and every year, most of them stink.
    Does anybody have any insight into this annoying question?"
    I think science fiction in the movies is used as an excuse to create really fancy special effects - if it's sci-fi, you're not expecting character development or any of that boring stuff. Starship Troopers is an excellent example.

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    Arrrggggg. I spit on that foul unholy corruption of Heinlein's work. We hates it forever.

  5. #5
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    On 2001-11-08 02:31, Simon wrote:
    This was posted on another board I visit, and thought it would be a good question to ask here as well.
    "This is a question that has been bugging me for some time. It seems like every year, a bunch of good-looking science fiction movies come out. Every year, I wait for them to hit the theaters, and every year, most of them stink.
    Does anybody have any insight into this annoying question?"
    (warning) POP PSHYCHOLOGY FOLLOWING (/warning)

    I started reading Astounding Science Fiction pre-WW II and was brought up reading material that had been passed by editors such as John W. Campbell.

    It seems to me that published SF and fantasy was written for a rather small audience of the technically/scientifically inclined.

    That audience isn't big enough to support the production costs of movies and most of the SF movies I have seen were just rocket powered cowboy stories.

    That's why I now ignore them.

    <font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: David Simmons on 2001-11-08 11:13 ]</font>

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    On 2001-11-08 10:13, Matherly wrote:
    Arrrggggg. I spit on that foul unholy corruption of Heinlein's work. We hates it forever.
    I'll help. Landing craft indeed. Hrumph!

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    On 2001-11-08 12:21, Valiant Dancer wrote:
    On 2001-11-08 10:13, Matherly wrote:
    Arrrggggg. I spit on that foul unholy corruption of Heinlein's work. We hates it forever.
    I'll help. Landing craft indeed. Hrumph!
    I always thought that Aliens was a better adaptation of Heinlein's Starship Troopers than the eponymous movie.

    But that's just me.

  8. #8
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    On 2001-11-08 10:13, Matherly wrote:
    Arrrggggg. I spit on that foul unholy corruption of Heinlein's work. We hates it forever.
    Don't hold back, Matherly. Tell us what you really think. [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_wink.gif[/img]

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    It seems to me that published SF and fantasy was written for a rather small audience of the technically/scientifically inclined.
    That audience isn't big enough to support the production costs of movies and most of the SF movies I have seen were just rocket powered cowboy stories.
    Actually, except for 2001, it hasn't really been tried. It is just assumed by Hollywood that "hard science fiction" with real science and actual plots won't fly. "The Puppet Masters" followed the book fairly closely and seems to have done fairly well although most people and critics, not being aware of the origin of the story, think that a movie based on a 1950 book is a rip-off of a 1954 movie (sheesh).
    Gene Roddenberry fought the "its science fiction" attitude of directors throughout the original Star Trek series.

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    IMHO....

    In any given genre (not just S/F), quality of films and TV material follows a broad bell curve. Some of it is terrible. A few gems are outstanding. The vast majority is somewhere in the middle.

    Now, that said, some might argue that what I term "so-so" S/F is pretty bad, contains a lot of Bad Astronomy and Bad Physics, is poorly written, and so on. My response to that is, look at other genres with the same critical eye, and you see the same thing.

    Or, in other words, so much S/F seems crappy to us because our standards are so much higher than those of the great unwashed masses that buy all the movie tickets.

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    ..."The Puppet Masters" followed the book fairly closely and seems to have done fairly well although most people and critics, not being aware of the origin of the story, think that a movie based on a 1950 book is a rip-off of a 1954 movie (sheesh).
    Well, it would have been a lot better film if the country had gone to total-nudity to prove who was and wasn't wearing a Master, as in the book. [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif[/img]

    Actually, my take is that bad sci-fi movies are not a recent phenomenon; I'm still waiting on a really creditable job on Campbell's Who Goes There?, aka The Thing in numerous more-or-less crappy film versions. I swear, I've gotten to the point of actually liking James Arness as The Carrot From Outer Space, just because that version is so campy it's funny.

    I can enjoy Space Opera (SW and its ilk) movies better than "real" sci-fi, and I think Hollywood does a much better job of those. Now, if they'd only try doing some of The King of Space Opera, Edmund Hamilton's stories! [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif[/img] Or Skylark of Space.

    The (is there a Doc Smith in the house?) Curtmudgeon

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    On 2001-11-08 14:45, Donnie B. wrote:
    ...Now, that said, some might argue that what I term "so-so" S/F is pretty bad, contains a lot of Bad Astronomy and Bad Physics, is poorly written, and so on. My response to that is, look at other genres with the same critical eye, and you see the same thing.
    Like all those Western B-movies where the angle of the sun changes three different times during the shoot-out on Main Street! [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif[/img]

    The (you got me, Marshall! no, wait, I'm over here) Curtmudgeon

  13. #13
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    Hollywood does not see Science Fiction as a genre but a location. Just about any sci-fi ..oh...er... Science Fiction! (sorry Mr. Ellison) film that has come out in the last twenty years could be rewritten to take place anywhere on earth with little or no plot changes whatsoever. "Star Wars" is an obvious choice and of course "Red Planet" or "Mission to Mars" could be "Antartica: The movie"

    SF in literature is about ideas and SF in movies and TV is about imagery - the viceral. The publishing industry is "execution" oriented and Hollywood is "concept" oriented. And of course with so much at stake in Hollywood these days, it's the opening weekends that make or break a film. Basically they're making good excuses for a marketing campaign.

    Sometimes a smart producer gets ahold of a smart script and won't dumn a movie down or cow toe to the 14-18 year old market and produce a GATTACA or soemthing.

  14. #14
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    Or Skylark of Space.
    Hollywood tried "The Lensman" series. Bungled the first one so bad, they never got to do a sequel. [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_cry.gif[/img]

  15. #15
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    On 2001-11-08 14:45, Donnie B. wrote:
    IMHO....

    In any given genre (not just S/F), quality of films and TV material follows a broad bell curve. Some of it is terrible. A few gems are outstanding. The vast majority is somewhere in the middle.
    I suspect this is true of any art. Probably, since the invention of printing from moveable type, most everything that is written is junk. But time has a filtering effect and the junk gradually disappears from the output of the past and only the good is left.

    This gives us a distorted image of how bad things are now as compared to how wonderful they were in "the good old days."

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    "Event Horizen" was a movie I think that could only be set in space. But it was so dang weird and creepy I couldn't tell good astronomy from bad. One has to remove one's hands from one's eyes to properly view any movie.
    Lisa

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    On 2001-11-08 17:05, Geoff394 wrote:
    Hollywood does not see Science Fiction as a genre but a location. Just about any sci-fi ..oh...er... Science Fiction! (sorry Mr. Ellison) film that has come out in the last twenty years could be rewritten to take place anywhere on earth with little or no plot changes whatsoever. "Star Wars" is an obvious choice and of course "Red Planet" or "Mission to Mars" could be "Antartica: The movie"
    Speaking as a "writer" and somewhat inclined to defend my craft, changing the setting of the story and not changing the plot still changes the story. For example, "The Lion King" is simply a rewrite of "Hamlet" The primary change was the setting. "O' Brother were art thou" was a re-work of "The Odyssy"

    When I write a story that takes place in space, it is not because I want it to be dubbed Science Fiction, but more to that fact that is where they occur. Bad Astronomy creeps in because I get in a flow and to research my words would break the flow. Later re-writes could fix some of the problems, but by that time, some of it is so embedded into the story line, that it cannot be surgecally removed without killing the story.
    I'm sure this is a different experience for the big time script-writers in Hollywood than a wanabee in colledge, but the reasons for BA are probably simular.

    And so what if you placed "Mission to Mars" in Antartica, don't you think it would just get torn down by people who are really into artic exploration. It would still be considered Science Fiction.




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    Ducost, I don't think the complaints are about poetic license or a little cheat with a plot device. Too often it seems big bucks are spent for major stars, lotsa $$ spent to get the book/video game concept, and $12.95 for the script. Anything that was correct down to the smallest technical detail would be called a "documentary". I'm not that picky. I'll settle for "coherent".
    Lisa

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    On 2001-11-09 03:33, Lisa wrote:
    Ducost, I don't think the complaints are about poetic license or a little cheat with a plot device. Too often it seems big bucks are spent for major stars, lotsa $$ spent to get the book/video game concept, and $12.95 for the script.
    You forgot to mention special effects.

    That is true for some movies where there is already existing fan base ("Tomb Raider") where the script seems to be the last priority. These movies seem to take a lot longer to get made, however, because they are looking for a "good" script.


    Anything that was correct down to the smallest technical detail would be called a "documentary". I'm not that picky. I'll settle for "coherent".
    Lisa
    Most sci-fi movies are coherent, if you can stomach to watch them. I was trying to address how a change in setting (Mars to Earth) would change the story. Somewhere in the middle of that, I went on a rant about my personel origins of BA.


    Start new rant
    Since what makes a good movie is decieded by the audience that watches it, and every audience likes things different. Then no movie can be made to suit every audience. Since no movie was made with any specific person in mind (other than the people invovled in the project) then it is quite possible for many movies to fall short of peoples expectations. Therefor, if you find a lot of science fiction films not to your pleasure, then accept the fact that many films aren't made for you and move on. If you find no science fiction films are enjoyable, then maybe you should just catch a good drama.



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    Yeah, how could I forget the special effects? Holy cow! That's what makes sci-fi, right? And it also cost big bucks.
    And you're right about "Tomb Raider". They could have called it "Laura Croft Sits and Reads the Telephone Book", and the built in fan-base would still go.
    I'd like to see some truly thought provoking, "what if" type movies in regard to the sci-fi genre.
    Lisa

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    Donnie's Theory:

    Truly innovative and thought-provoking ideas are risky. A lot of people don't like to have their assumptions challenged.

    Hollywood studios don't like to undertake risky projects. They figure their pinheaded audiences will stay away in droves, so they'll lose money and cost executives their jobs.

    While some genres can be made by independent producers on a shoestring, that's more difficult with S/F, which often requires expensive sets, costumes, and special effects. Whole new worlds may need to be created, or scenes in space. So, S/F tends to be produced only by big studios.

    Therefore: challenging, thought-provoking films are rarely attempted in the S/F genre.

    Two counterexamples: "2001" (made primarily on Kubrick's reputation) and "The Lathe of Heaven" (produced on a shoestring for public television). The latter is an example of how truly outstanding S/F can be made on a budget. But it didn't make money (not in a big way), so it's not really a valid example to use in a pitch meeting at Warner Brothers.


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    For those interested I just started a thread dedicated to Heinlein. Matherly, why don't you come on over and vent all your vitriol at Verhoeven there? [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif[/img] [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif[/img] [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif[/img]

  23. #23
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    On 2001-11-09 08:02, David Hall wrote:
    For those interested I just started a thread dedicated to Heinlein. Matherly, why don't you come on over and vent all your vitriol at Verhoeven there? [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif[/img] [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif[/img] [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif[/img]
    Already been done [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_cool.gif[/img]

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    How can y'all sit here and complaint about the lack of good sci-fi fliks??? Haven't any of you ever seen the ultra-classic, super space opera/thriller "Space Trucker"???

    I mean common! Dennis Hopper and a good lookin' gal wearing nothin' but underwear throughout most of the film. What more can you ask for???

    (tried to find a smiley face for sarcasm. . . couln't find one!) [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif[/img]

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    On 2001-11-09 01:30, Lisa wrote:
    "Event Horizen" was a movie I think that could only be set in space. But it was so dang weird and creepy I couldn't tell good astronomy from bad. One has to remove one's hands from one's eyes to properly view any movie.
    Lisa
    <insert creepy voice> "Where we're going, you won't need eyes!"

    C'mon, folks, that's almost a frequently quoted line. They even did followup commercials with Sam Neill and I think Sprint or Qwest or one of those telecom companies using the eyeball theme (he looked into something weird).

    But the problem we suffer with sci-fi today is the lack of realism. Though we can easily be transported (pun intended) in our hearts to that special space-time location of our crew, often the way problems are handled become a matter of filming convenience as opposed to something our brains logically latch on to. All too often, the Universal Translator is on the fritz, the Transporter has gravimetric interference, and the Computer is fighting Nimda so can't respond right now.

    When these scientific non-sequitors occur, our brains shut down, and our hearts are no longer into it. (There wasn't enough character development anyway -- these are scientists, so we usually suspect they have rather... shall we say bland existences except for the science they study.) So if the people aren't why we're watching, it's about the technology. And quite honestly, whether real or not, that technology fails us all too frequently.

    DJ

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    On 2001-11-09 11:23, DJ wrote:
    So if the people aren't why we're watching, it's about the technology.
    And that is at the crux of the problem.

    Why is a scientist an uninterestng character? I mean, in real life there are plenty of intresting scientists (example: Raise your hand if you think Phil is interesting {Carl watches as a sea of raised hands springs up around him}). So why can't a scientist be an intresting character? Because of setrotypes. Because the factors that make the scientist "unique" (and I use the term losely) is almost always the same thing... excellent book learning, but an inability to relate to people. And thus the "scientist" character is forever stuck as the dues ex machina plot device.

    Now, some have done the 'scientist' character well. Though it is certainly not Hard Sci-Fi, Babylon 5's Dr. Stephan Franklin character was well developed and well recieved. That is because even though the character was full emersed in science (and was considered a bit of a geek by the other characters "Everything with him is either Biology or Mathamatics" (from memory- please don't flame)), the character also had "normal" strengths and flaws (like his substance abuse problem). In other words, the character felt like he could have been a real person.

    Science Fiction has to be about the characters as much as the science. If its nothing but the science, then its documentary. The characters (and how the characters deal with the myrad of diffrences between their situation and ours) has to be the focus, or it just doesn't work.


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    And so what if you placed "Mission to Mars" in Antartica, don't you think it would just get torn down by people who are really into artic exploration. It would still be considered Science Fiction.
    If you placed "Mission to Mars" in Antartica it would 99 times out of 100 get changed to Outer Space because some Hollywood Production exective or agent is wondering how they're going to get a star to work in cold conditions.

    Poetic License has nothing to do with Hollywood. And nobody cares about writers in Hollywood anyway.

    Geoff
    (also a "writer")

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    On 2001-11-09 11:55, Matherly wrote:

    Science Fiction has to be about the characters as much as the science. If its nothing but the science, then its documentary. The characters (and how the characters deal with the myrad of diffrences between their situation and ours) has to be the focus, or it just doesn't work.
    Much as I enjoy science fiction simply for the "sense of wonder," I think the key to successful science fiction is that it allows writers to put people into situations that no other form of literature would allow and see how they react. Nothing else has that scope, though it's taken advantage of too rarely.

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    On 2001-11-09 12:16, Geoff394 wrote:

    If you placed "Mission to Mars" in Antartica it would 99 times out of 100 get changed to Outer Space because some Hollywood Production exective or agent is wondering how they're going to get a star to work in cold conditions.

    Poetic License has nothing to do with Hollywood. And nobody cares about writers in Hollywood anyway.

    Geoff
    (also a "writer")
    It seems to me that someone wanted to express an idea that we might be descendents from Mars and that Mars was once a habitible planet. That couldn't be done in Antartica. Yes, it was probably the major focus of the writers to place the film on Mars, and the plot line was second. They didn't place it on Mars because they wanted it to be science fiction, but simply because thats where they wanted it to take place. (In all honesty, I do not know why I am defending this film)

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    I think there was at least a little astronomy in Event Horizon, and I'm ready to make a small leap of faith for the fact you don't really need eyes in <font size=3 color=red>HELL</font>.

    The story was seriously twisted, and I liked that a lot, I find it adds to alot to a movie when it plays like a nightmare. I mean <font size=3 color=red>HELL</font>! Who had guessed it?

    They got me staying until the end in the theater, at least, even if a lot of the people looked really depressed and translucid by the end. [img]/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif[/img]

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