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Friday, April 1, 2011

A SCIENCE FICTION REVIVAL IN FILM? PART I

It started with AVATAR, a true Hollywood blockbuster that boasted shiny new technological marvels and the writing /directing talents of a proven creative and commercial talent, James Cameron. It continued with INCEPTION, which offered more techno-wizardry and Leonardo diCaprio in the lead role. Both films garnered rare Academy Award nominations for Best Picture from an industry notoriously inhospitable to science fiction.

Last year saw Clint Eastwood directing Matt Damon in HEREAFTER, and now it seems we can’t get enough of SF at the multiplex. Currently in theaters in my little town: THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, I AM NUMBER FOUR, BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, LIMITLESS, SOURCE CODE, PAUL, MARS NEEDS MOMS. Coming soon to a multiplex near you: APOLLO 18, TRANSFORMERS (who knows which one this is, but it starts on the moon), SUPERMAN (again), THOR (does that count? But who cares, the guy is HOT!), and—I can’t wait for this one—COWBOYS AND ALIENS, starring Harrison Ford.

Science fiction has always held its own in theaters, whether Godzilla is destroying Tokyo in the early ‘60’s, HAL is taking over the ship in 1968, Captain Kirk and Han Solo are warping in and out of hyperspace (sorry, mixed metaphor, but you get what I mean) in the 70’s and 80’s, dark urban visions of the future are prevailing in the ‘90’s or the new millennium is arriving with 3D and a fresh take on the genre. Except for a few years in the late ‘50’s, Hollywood’s standard line is that there will always be a small, but dedicated fan base for SF. As long as you don’t spend too much making the movie, you’ll come out all right.

Films like ALIEN blew that theory out of the water long ago. It didn’t hurt that SF fans tend to watch films over and over. And buy the tape. And the DVD. And the Blu-Ray. And download the thing from NetFlix. We’re obsessive like that. Then AVATAR came along and HEREAFTER and somehow SF is now “legitimate”. I guess if Clint Eastwood says so, it is.

So we’re in the midst of an SF film revival right now the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of FORBIDDEN PLANET. Even the film critics are noticing the trend. Not sure, but that may mean it’s not long for this world.

Be that as it may, I’ve dutifully checked out the latest offerings so I can report to you, my faithful readers, and save you the $10 wherever possible. I’m happy to say most of what’s out there is not embarrassingly clich├ęd, although I wouldn’t go to the multiplex looking for fresh ideas. I haven’t yet had a chance to see SOURCE CODE, so I’ll withhold judgment; suffice it to say that this idea has been done before onscreen (twice recently that I can think of), so Jake Guyllenhal will have to go a ways to outdo Denzel Washington and Nicholas Cage.

The best of the bunch has to be THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. Not only does it star Matt Damon, but the premise is based on a short story by Phillip K. Dick. New Age SF writer Dick’s prolific output has been adapted many times for the screen (BLADE RUNNER, TOTAL RECALL, MINORITY REPORT). Though he produced the bulk of his work in the 1960’s, he seemed to have his finger on the pulse of our post-millennial paranoia, and this story is no exception. The hero gets a glimpse behind the curtain of the illusion that is his life. Motivated by love, he challenges “the way things must be”. And, in the end, he wins.

Dick was seldom so optimistic. His endings are ambiguous at best, and several reviewers have faulted this film for allowing the romance to take over the story. I say lighten up. Do the bad guys have to win for us to think the film has worth? The questions of fate and free will, love and sacrifice, self and the greater good are still just as valid and more important, really, than the rather contrived ending. Few films even address these issues (I mean, what was BLACK SWAN about, anyway?), so it’s a plus when you have the opportunity to think about them in the context of entertainment.

You might also be tempted to list BATTLE: LOS ANGELES in the category of pure mindless entertainment. The film is structured in classic war-movie style, introducing the warriors pre-battle, following them through the adventure and high drama of battle and death, creating a feeling of shared camaraderie with our “unit” as we go through the film. We laugh with them as they bond, are horrified with them as they see the alien enemy for the first time, cheer with them as they defeat the inhuman monsters that are invading our homeland. Oo-rah! Hey, wait a minute! Could this be . . . yeah, it is. Science fiction masquerading as propaganda. We’ve seen it before. Remember STARSHIP TROOPERS?

Now I come from a military family—father and two brothers in lifetime service to our country. Three men, three different decades, three wars. My grandson’s father is serving in Iraq right now. So believe me when I say I have nothing but respect for our men and women in uniform, and I do believe there may be a legitimate time and place for military action.

Certainly the set up for BATTLE: LOS ANGELES seems to be that time and place. The aliens give us Earthlings no warning and no other choice. It is fight or die. Okay, I get that. The scale of the film is down to what happens to this one squad of Marines. They don’t set policy. I get that, too. What bothers me is one little line in the middle of the film that seems to indicate where the filmmakers are coming from ideologically. Everyone is holed up in a shattered police station with several civilians, trying to find a way to get back to the main base. An injured man is talking about his eight-year-old son. “You know,” he says with a grim laugh, “when they first came, he thought we should talk to them. Funny, right?”

Just like that the whole idea of diplomacy is dismissed. Yeah, who cares what they want or where they come from. Just shoot the bastards. The problem is, we have way too many people who would like to conduct our foreign policy the same way. IMHO. Next week I’ll address what the revival in the theaters may mean for readers—and writers.



Donna’s Journal

Action!

Actions I've taken as a writer. Where am I? What am I doing?

I’ve been working on my entry for the Virginia Romance Writers Fool For Love contest all this week. The deadline is midnight tonight (for all you slackers out there—VRW is still looking for Paranormal entries!). The nice thing about the VRW-FFL is that you’re allowed 50 pages, which seems like a luxurious amount after the mere 5000 words (about 20 pages) of the Daphne du Maurier contest. The bad thing is that I had to do another bleeping synopsis (this one five pages long). At least I got to include the subplots!

I may be seeing how the other half lives soon, since I’ve volunteered to help judge the FFL this year. Not sure how much I’ll be able to say about that here, but the process should be interesting. I know I’ll have a lot more sympathy for those who are judging me after I share their pain!


Discoveries

New authors, cool web sites, great resources, great workshops, great online sites!

Certainly the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood website is not a new one to readers of this blog, but I had another reason to check the Sisters out this week. Suspecting that I might be moping around my house after last Friday, (gee, why would she think that?), my wonderful blog partner and friend Laurie let me know that the Sisterhood had a special event going on for those of us who had not finaled in the Golden Heart contest. Members of the Sisterhood shared their stories of the years they had not finaled, of ups and downs and ins and outs, both with the contest and with their careers. And they gave away chocolate!! And gift cards on Amazon.com, one of which I won (and used to purchase an e-copy of Marcella Burnard’s RITA-nominated Enemy Within).

Though the giveaways are done, I strongly recommend the post to everyone, contestants, aspirants, winners and all. It is wonderfully encouraging and supportive, with just the right touch of sardonic humor. Check it out at http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/.


Cheers, Donna

1 comment:

  1. Great and insightful article, Donna. I've been hoping all the recent SF(R) interest in film will start translating in to print. With news of recent sales, maybe that's started.

    On your journal, good luck on your FFL entry. I took a hard look at this contest, but the last week flew by like a DeLorean Time Machine and I just didn't get to it. *fingers crossed for you*

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