Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


She Blinded Me ... with SCIENCE!
August 12, 2013 3:33 PM   Subscribe

Our Science Fiction Movies Hate Science Fiction. An intelligent discourse from The Awl about the state of modern science fiction movies.

Written about this weekend's opening of Elysium, the article goes into detail about how most modern SF movies essentially boil down to the same core themes:

1. Science is Bad.
2. Robots are Eeeeevil.
3. Dystopia is Our Future.

If you read nothing else, read the ending paragraph: For all the great special effects and enormous, booming noises our films are bringing us now, the majority of science fiction films have forgotten the one thing science fiction is supposed to do: make us think about the future. Thinking, we have forgotten, is not the same as worrying.
posted by zooropa (172 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
Perhaps the movies are not saying science is "evil" so much as reflecting the unease we experience living in a world that is changing with exponential quickness. We're less than a generation away from augmented humans, and we're already there if you include (affluent) humans hardwired with implanted medical devices.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:39 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


This whole "having a future" thing seems like something out of science fiction.
posted by asperity at 3:41 PM on August 12, 2013 [19 favorites]


We have a lot more information now than we did one or two generations ago when "aspirational" and forward-looking sci-fi movies were being made. And we live in a pretty futuristic age with all of the videophones and wall-mounted monitors and other kitsch people could only dream about. An iPhone is basically a Star Trek communicator (you can communicate with an orbiting space station, if you like), so what's the point of talking about an even brighter future?
posted by KokuRyu at 3:44 PM on August 12, 2013


so what's the point of talking about an even brighter future?

I think the author's point is that science fiction films used to answer this question.
posted by cribcage at 3:49 PM on August 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


I appreciate the sentiment, but, like others have said, when the future is now, maybe science fiction should make us question where that now is going to end for us. And good science fiction has always done that. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. I loved Big Brother.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:49 PM on August 12, 2013


I know this is going to turn into a moan session about overblown sci-fi blockbusters, so before that happens I'd like to say that yesterday I watched Sound of My Voice (it's on HBO GO, if that's something you have) and just loved it; it's a science fiction film without a single effects shot and it probably cost a few thousand dollars to make (though it doesn't have a cheap look) and it's about people and ideas and it's really great. It reminds me more than anything of the kind of novel PKD was writing in the 1970s.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:50 PM on August 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


Dystopia is just a lot easier as a setting - there's a reason that 50% of YA books lately are all in a dystopian setting. The conflict is simple and often existential. I think it's just easy rather than having any deeper meaning.
posted by GuyZero at 3:50 PM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


I agree with this SO HARD. It was really tough for me in the 80s and 90s, having read tons of SF and considering myself a fan and then having people who only knew it from the movies and it's just so...bland and predictably Frankensteinian.
posted by DU at 3:50 PM on August 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I know I'm splitting hairs, but I don't think of most blow-em-up movies as science fiction. For example, Star Wars isn't science fiction; it's just set in space. Science Fiction has to be about an idea, not just a plot and a futuristic or technological setting.
posted by Ickster at 3:52 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's a completely indefensible definition of science fiction. But don't worry, virtually all of them are.
posted by Justinian at 3:54 PM on August 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'd say it's reaching towards the core of what we think of as SF, call it Hard SF or whatever, without being all encompassing of all the things SF can be.

That core SF is decidedly underserved by movies right now.
posted by Artw at 3:57 PM on August 12, 2013


Of course back in the 70s when movies weren't automatically dumb the themes of...

1. Science is Bad.
2. Robots are Eeeeevil.
3. Dystopia is Our Future.

...were pretty popular too.
posted by Artw at 3:59 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I mean, Dystopias have been pretty popular for years now, to various degrees of Dystoping.,

I like that it singled out Pacific Rim, for mention, yes they live in a quasi-dystopian, monster-filled future but the attitudes toward technology are more subtle than a big goofy B-movie needs to be.

I think it helps that PR picks up where most Huge Monster Movies stop, and there is way way more clever worldbuilding then a Huge Monster Movie should have. (Slums! In the bones of fallen monsters! Oh so the right kind of comic book)
posted by The Whelk at 3:59 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


But Hard SF is an almost overtly political label! It doesn't mean anything! (muzzles self so as to avoid ranting about the "icky girls" factor in what gets labelled as Hard SF).
posted by Justinian at 4:00 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I read a good amount of SF and there's a lot I enjoy. I have yet to see a movie that works as SF. Most are really horror movies or just weird.

kittens for breakfast, I'll give your Sound of My Voice a shot. Here's hoping.
posted by cccorlew at 4:00 PM on August 12, 2013


(Or, more bluntly, in PR, science isn't eeeeevil, it's just another tool cause we're under attack by INTERDIEMSNIONAL MONSTERS so lets go do the huge robot mind meld.)
posted by The Whelk at 4:01 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dystopia is just a lot easier as a setting - there's a reason that 50% of YA books lately are all in a dystopian setting. The conflict is simple and often existential. I think it's just easy rather than having any deeper meaning.

I read a review of "The Road Warrior" once that described it as a Western with the lone hero, the fearful townspeople and the marauding Indians. There's a stark simplicity to the formulae that appeals to people.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 4:01 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


so what's the point of talking about an even brighter future?

The only difference between a fictional apocalypse and an actual apocalypse is the number of people resigned to its inevitability.

But dystopias are cheap - there's no end to the rusty industrial sites and bleak urban skylines available for staging your story of woe. And I can buy a compound bow off the shelf, no need to design and manufacture a ray gun.

It's a cheap retreat into simplistic cynicism masked as social commentary. It's an unwillingness or inability to do the hard and heavy lifting that the best speculative fiction engages in.

Fuck dystopias.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:02 PM on August 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


I read a good amount of SF and there's a lot I enjoy. I have yet to see a movie that works as SF. Most are really horror movies or just weird.

Blade Runner (the director's cut)? 2001? Solaris? The original Terminator for shooty action? CE3K? Alien? Aliens? Clockwork Orange? The Thing? Brazil? Empire Strikes Back?
posted by Justinian at 4:03 PM on August 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


I remember years ago reading that written SF was predominately pro science while film SF was the exact opposite. Godzilla for example was a product of science. In films, science is the villain not the hero. Especially after Hiroshima.
posted by njohnson23 at 4:03 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The article's just fine as a critique, but its (mostly implicit) historical argument is total bullshit. Non-"serious" science fiction has always been a major proportion of the genre, in film and in print. Or does Britt think the Flash Gordon serials were actually deep meditations on sociology? Things are just the same as they always were; for Hollywood SF is about set design and costumes, not premises and extrapolations.

That's a completely indefensible definition of science fiction.

Assuming you're talking about the author's and not his dad's definition, it seems like a pretty close paraphrase of Darko Suvin's idea of the "novum," albeit minus the technical terminology — i.e. the single best-accepted definition by genre scholars. What's wrong with it?
posted by RogerB at 4:04 PM on August 12, 2013


I read a good amount of SF and there's a lot I enjoy. I have yet to see a movie that works as SF.

Forbidden Planet?

Monsters, John. Monsters from the Id!
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:05 PM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


RogerB: I was talking about Ickster's definition which excluded things like Star Wars.
posted by Justinian at 4:06 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, io9 about Science Fiction's split from "Competence Porn". Scientists are never the heroes anymore (except Tony Stark, and he's an ass), it's all about the adventures of "people out of their depth", which the media-makers see as 'relatable'.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:06 PM on August 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


I love dystopian, post-apocalyptic stuff, but I don't consider it "science fiction", because it's not about science (which, I guess, isn't technically what a lot of science fiction is really about any more, either) - I consider it "nature fiction". Earth Abides and Triffids, to pick two of my favourites, might technically have a scientific mishap as their genesis, but really they're about nature reclaiming her place in the world. Something like Conrad Williams' One, another favourite, is purely horror, and just happens to be post-apocalyptic.

I haven't seen Elysium but the premise sounds pretty solid. The 1%-ers have their utopian space station, and the rest of us have the slave in the muck and the rust to make their gadgets for them. Gadgets which only the rich benefit from, except for this one guy, he gets a gadget himself and does something "useful" with it. It's all just a big Foxconn/Wikileaks metaphor maybe.

Really, it sounds like the movie does show the bright future that science affords us...but only if we can afford it.

Anyway, Elysium is a BR-RIP download at best. Gravity is some IMAX and popcorn shit right there.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:17 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


cccorlew said: Most are really horror movies or just weird.

Ugh, Sunshine. Forever hate.
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:24 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I disagree with the premise that science fiction is supposed to be about the future. Plenty of science fiction is actually about the present. Elysium sounds like it's, in part, about contemporary social stratification especially as it surrounds access to technology.

I could be wrong though; I haven't seen the movie.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:28 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The first 2/3 of Sunshine were excellent. But, yeah, that last third...
posted by Justinian at 4:28 PM on August 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


Our Science Fiction Movies hate Science Fiction, huh? Well, that's kind of mind blowing: until now, I've never been able to relate to sci-fi movies at all. But it turns out we have something in common.
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:29 PM on August 12, 2013


Europa Report was pretty good.

Sometimes I dream about a big-budget something (movie, TV series, whatever) set two or three generations in the future and with a hard-ish SF bent, about the human enterprise in space. Set it on the moon or Mars or Titan or wherever, honest, just have it be about life there.

I don't think you would have to necessarily adapt Robinson's Mars books straight-up to make a really interesting story about society and governance and revolution (say), but something along those lines would, damn. It would be great.

I do agree with the thesis that an awful lot of theatrical science fiction these days seems to take a very cynical position by default. I think there's a lot to be said for skepticism toward the idea of a science-powered utopia. But these days it seems like that's been extended to include blanket dismissal of the idea that things can get better at all.

And I am not down with that.
posted by Sokka shot first at 4:30 PM on August 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Gravity is some IMAX and popcorn shit right there.

Oh god I'm having vertigo flashbacks of just watching the trailer. So horrifying.
posted by GuyZero at 4:36 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Set it on the moon or Mars or Titan or wherever, honest, just have it be about life there

Perhaps in a nightclub?
posted by thelonius at 4:39 PM on August 12, 2013


My wife's greatest fear - one that she really doesn't have to worry about, mercifully - is of dying in space and floating through the infinite void, forever. She didn't realize she had this fear until we went to see Sunshine. So she won't be joining me for Gravity. The only way it could appeal to her less is if Bullock or Clooney were to find a big spider in their spacesuit.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:41 PM on August 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Apollo 18.

Though, it has to be said, Apollo 18 is a shitty movie.
posted by Artw at 4:43 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Like that giant AI upside-down pyramid wouldn't know to mark its clones more specifically than donor DNA.
posted by planetesimal at 4:50 PM on August 12, 2013


My wife's greatest fear - one that she really doesn't have to worry about, mercifully - is of dying in space and floating through the infinite void, forever.

If it makes your wife feel any better, her corpse wouldn't drift in the void indefinitely. After a couple billion years, tops, she would be pulled in by the gravity of a passing star, wherein her body would inevitably receive its proper disposal by fire.
posted by Atom Eyes at 4:50 PM on August 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


Gattaca felt like actual SF to me, whether or not you believe the S is for Science or Speculative.

Good SF (for my own definitions of both 'good' and 'SF') leaves me with something to ponder, something which we may eventually be forced to consider in the real world. While rather dystopic, Gattaca did indeed make me explore the what ifs of genetic selection for our actual society.

So, while most of Hollywood really just resets haunted houses or Wagon Train into space, that doesn't mean that there is no SF nor no good SF ever to come out of there.
posted by drfu at 4:51 PM on August 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


> If it makes your wife feel any better, her corpse wouldn't drift in the void indefinitely. After a couple billion years, tops, she would be pulled in by the gravity of a passing star, wherein her body would inevitably receive its proper disposal by fire.

I'm tempted to forward your comment along to her, but she hates Metafilter enough as it is.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:57 PM on August 12, 2013 [18 favorites]


When was movie-SF ever dominated by optimistic visions of high-tech futuristic utopias? Metropolis (1927)?; Things to Come (1936)?; Planet of the Apes (1968)?; Soylent Green (1973)? Most Sci-Fi films aren't all that interested in "the future" in any case (it's usually just a convenient allegorical setting for the concerns of the present), but when they do try to imagine it they've usually been pretty downbeat throughout the history of the genre.
posted by yoink at 5:02 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


...the majority of science fiction films have forgotten the one thing science fiction is supposed to do: make us think about the future.

The problem isn't that movies are anti-science, it's that they're anti-thinking. The big box office numbers come from genres with emotional appeal: action/excitement, romance/drama/heartbreak, horror/fear/suspense, comedies. Studios don't want to make a thinking movie, instead they make space branded movies that are really emotional action/drama/horror movies in disguise, because they sell more tickets that way. Most audiences are seeking emotionally based entertainment, not thought provoking lectures, and so that's what the studios make.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:09 PM on August 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


I think the Counterculture movement and and the Vietnam War and Watergate fundamentally changed the optimism American society had following WWII.

The original Alien and Outland movies were dystopic, not to mention Blade Runner.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:12 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is this the thread where I complain that Elysium was dumb and kind of irritating? I'm going to do that no matter what so it might as well be here.

It was dumb and irritating and I hated that little kid.
posted by elizardbits at 5:17 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


What ceribus peribus said. But having said that, the original Andromeda Strain worked pretty well as a science fiction movie. It's definitely scary, but it is also about how science is really done. Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff had the vibe of good science fiction in some ways.

I am also a huge fan of Forbidden Planet.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 5:20 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]



It was dumb and irritating and I hated that little kid.


For all its faults, Elysium was still the best movie I've seen this summer (says a lot about the available films, I suppose). I honestly thought that they'd digitally altered the little kid's (Maxwell Perry Cotton's) face since his resemblance to adult Matt Damon is uncanny.
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:24 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dystopia and apocalypse creates obvious underdogs and villains with obvious conflicts in which the underdog can conspicuously win. It's like they were built for a screenwriting class.
posted by MattD at 5:25 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


After I saw Pacific Rim it wasn't in the least difficult to understand why I liked it even though, judged strictly as an SF film, it's every bit as sucky and bad as any of these.

It's because it's not SF in any important sense. It's a fable, and what makes it good (beyond being a really superior effects spectacular, of course. And Idris Elba, obviously), is that it's about something completely different from what it appears to be about. It's about the connections between people and how we need them to survive and for survival to have meaning. It's both metaphorical and literal in its treatment of this.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:28 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Great article, but why tart it up with the distracting animations?
posted by Rash at 5:40 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


So the bulk of science fiction films are either cynical or goofily silly, but this has always been so. The pace at which decent, sort of serious SF movies have been released has been getting faster, not slower, and (as I've mentioned before) what we have now is not a desert of decent, serious SF but rather a golden age, or at least the best it's ever been.

Here's a list of SF movies from before 1970 that were either from major studios or, AFAICT, were widely released in the US (so Tarkovsky's movies don't count), and had some sort of core SF concept that wasn't insultingly stupid. That is, even if they were overall kind of stupid movies, they had at least one SF concept or trope that was treated seriously enough not to cause actual SF fans to roll their eyes audibly. Difficulty: I must have seen them or otherwise have some reasonable knowledge of their contents.

Destination Moon, maybe
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Alphaville, maybe, if it received wide release
Fahrenheit 451 (not really but traditionally dystopias count as SF, so why not)
2001
Marooned

And that's pretty much it. Starting in the 70s, things really took off, but let's look at the not quite 20 years since 1995, when the pace really quickened:

Ghost in the Shell
Outbreak
Screamers
Strange Days
12 Monkeys
Virtuosity
Contact
Dark City
Soldier
The Matrix, almost, and if the sequels never existed
The Thirteenth Floor
The Cell
AI, I'll grudgingly admit, even though it's a terrible movie
Vanilla Sky / Abre Los Ojos
28 Days Later
Impostor
Minority Report, maybe
Solaris
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Primer
A Scanner Darkly
Children of Men
Eagle Eye, if you were drunk
District 9
Moon
Monsters
Another Earth
Never Let Me Go
Contagion
Limitless
Source Code
Cloud Atlas
Looper
Europa Report

I mean, things can always get better, and maybe in some future year the sort of decent SF won't be drowned in a sea of Michael Bay or worse. But, folks, this is as good as it's ever been. Drink it up, because who knows when the next drought is gonna hit?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:44 PM on August 12, 2013 [23 favorites]


Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff had the vibe of good science fiction in some ways.

I believe those two would classify as science-non-fiction.

Which gets us to something I said about JG Ballard a while back ...

JG Ballard said it [...] You can't be true to the world anymore and write reality-based fiction, because for a writer to do so means he's claiming he's got a grasp on what's actually going on, and one of the conditions of post-split-atom humanity (everything since 1945) is that nobody has a grasp on what's actually going on -- we're all just surfing the chaos inherent in massive and sudden and fundamental CHANGE, making of it what we can ... hence sci-fi/fantasy etc becomes our most valid fiction.

Which kind of turns the premise of the original article here on its head (if not inside out).
posted by philip-random at 5:46 PM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Imaginary futures are always, regardless of what the authors might think, about the day in which they're written." -- William Gibson
posted by weston at 5:47 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


In contrast, science fiction TV is often at least somewhat positive about technology and the future. To start with the patently obvious, SyFy's Eureka and Warehouse 13 are both science-fiction (W13 being leavened with some fantasy as well) and both pretty positive about the future and technology - it'll be more dangerous at times, but it'll also be really cool. Fox also has a great history with science fiction - Firefly was pretty positive about the technology of the future, Fringe had as a core theme that science is a double-edged sword that, if used right, can mostly cut towards the public good, and the upcoming Almost Human seems pretty positive about the future, what with an android as one of the main heroes. Even Person of Interest seems to think that the problem isn't with technology - the Machine seems to be benign at worst and actively interested in being benevolent and the public good at best - but with what we do with it.
posted by Punkey at 6:05 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Have you read Cyteen? No? Then you have no idea how awful a 100% pure science fiction movie would be. Blade Runner isn't about science, it's about what it means to be human. Alien is about science, it's a body horror slasher flick.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:12 PM on August 12, 2013


Let's keep it real, 99% of science fiction books are bunk also. Just because they make 10x more science fiction movies means we see more bad ones. And because they used to make so few we liked a lot of stinkers just cuz they were, like, in space and stuff.

The future ain't what it used to be.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:18 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem isnt that we need movies ABOUT "science". The problem is that we need more movies that are NOT "really stupid". Star Trek was never even a little bit scientifically accurate, but it was about ethics and philosophy and just had 2/3 of a brain. Now it's just BOOM BOOM WORMHOLE.

All film students should be forced by law to attempt make 1 film at least as clever as Primer before being allowed to do anything else in the industry, imo.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:22 PM on August 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


Safety Not Guaranteed. Very nifty little movie! Character-driven sf with one nice effect shot, right at the end.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:24 PM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's surprisingly hard to think of sci-fi films that aren't about the horrible problems that new technologies will create. The most obvious one that comes to mind is Real Steel, which is all about robots are awesome and the near future is full of awesome robots. I liked that movie, and I want more movies that appeal to my innate optimism about the future.
posted by dgaicun at 6:27 PM on August 12, 2013


"Imaginary futures are always, regardless of what the authors might think, about the day in which they're written." -- William Gibson

Which is exactly why the opening line to Neuromancer is the sentence which most perfectly encapsulates, for better and for worse, all of science fiction.

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."
posted by Justinian at 6:30 PM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Battlestar Galactica might be the platonic ideal of the sort of filmed entertainment this article is trying to talk about, especially with the dancing robot finale.

That being said I think commenter riotnrrd has a good refutation that takes some of the air out of the space-sails of this argument.
posted by mountmccabe at 6:30 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read a good amount of SF and there's a lot I enjoy. I have yet to see a movie that works as SF.

Moon. Monsters.

The problem isn't that movies are anti-science, it's that they're anti-thinking.

This is the problem with a great deal of our films these days, regardless of genre - the studios have decided that big explosions, implausible action scenes, and tons of CGI are better than story, character, and plot.

The predominance of dystopian story lines is also not surprising to me, given that (a) dystopian settings naturally create conflicts for the characters - against each other, and their environment; (b) the general tenor of the period we are living in; we aren't exactly feeling hopeful and upbeat; (c) "utopian" stories generally end with the characters revealing that they are truly living in a dystopia, so why not just cut to the chase?

That being said, I do think we are almost at the end of a pendulum swing here, and that we will see a return to some more thoughtful, uplifting movies soon - this article points out that the box office this year has been different than expected, with many films not doing well, and it makes me wonder (hope?) if we aren't seeing the audience starting to tune out the large budget, special effects laden crap.

Probably not.
posted by nubs at 6:34 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also I am not sure what people are talking about with regards to there being no future. iPhones and commercial spaceflights and Skype are not endpoints.

I can't connect to the net directly therefore this is not the future. My body parts are just bone and fleshy stuff, this is not the future. We cannot communicate with any other species as equals, this is not the future. There are no off-world colonies to visit; this is not the future.
posted by mountmccabe at 6:39 PM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


The whole dystopia/utopia thing makes me wonder. I think partly it's because we can see a dystopia arising just by projecting current trends -- the rich get richer, everyone's rights get tromped on, the economy and standards of living go poof, and all we have to do to ensure it is nothing but keeping on without change or effort. Utopia, on the other hand, requires change, and a hell of a lot of effort not just on my part, but on the part of everyone else, even those of wealth and privilege. And that's hard to see coming about.
posted by Blackanvil at 6:41 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a great article. I predict we're going to see a boom in utopian science fiction over the next few years as the generation X content producer wah wah wah attitude becomes passe. I can't wait for it.
posted by dobie at 6:41 PM on August 12, 2013


My own pet peeve is not whether it's optimistic about science or the future or whether any of the characters are actual scientists. It's the opening scroll, and what it represents.

Lots of mid-range science fiction movies open with the wall of text or a voice-over telling you about the setting, I guess under the theory that audiences don't want to see this information gradually revealed over the course of the story.

This shows an attitude that learning about the setting of the story is something you have to get out of the way before the fun can start, while I think science fiction (as far as anyone can pin down) has to acknowledge that learning is part of the fun. Imagine a mystery movie that opened with text that said, "The butler did it."
posted by RobotHero at 6:47 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have such dystopia fatigue from the combination of "science" fiction's descent into self-hating, panic-bomb bullshit and the fact that the Facebook feed of anyone with presumably progressive friends is now ninety percent "aaaaugh Monsanto! aaaaugh honeybeepocalypse! aaaaugh GMO! aaaaugh corporatocracy!" that I'm putting notes together and sketching out plot in the service of maybe writing my own damn science fiction book in which the world is amazing and awe-inspiring and a place where we're not such a fucking depressing species of autoflagellants.

Imagine a whole glum planet of Marvin and here we are.
posted by sonascope at 6:49 PM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


In my experience the criteria people use to delineate what's fantasy and what's science fiction are arbitrary and often idiosyncratic to them. My own personal definition was generally less about whether the work was scientifically plausible (for the most part I don't know enough about science to accurately judge for myself), and it is more about whether or not the universe that the story takes place in has a logical structure to it. So even though a lot of what happens in Star Trek doesn't strike me as particularly plausible - especially when you're looking at a character like Q, who basically has magic powers - it struck me as being more science fiction-y than (say) Star Wars, because for Kirk to become captain of a ship he had to apply to an academy, take tests, train, and rise through the ranks by earning promotions, which is in contrast to Luke, who just woke up one day to discover that he had a previously unknown cache of wonderful powers at his disposal.

In other words, my own personal idea of what is science fiction and what is fantasy is about what this author calls "seriousness". Stories like Star Wars promise wish fulfillment, while stories like Star Trek do something slightly more serious, because yes, they do show you a world with crazy action set pieces and amazing sights that you'd love to live in, but they also stipulate that the world is still ruled by a bureaucracy and you're still going to have a boss to answer to, and that's a slightly more serious thing. And also infinitely more plausible. There are a lot more people who worked their way up to Admiral after proving themselves time after time in service of their employer than there are people who just woke up one day with "the force" at their disposal, which enabled them to become the most helpful member of the military after an afternoon of training.

So I definitely know what this article is talking about when it talks about a growing lack of seriousness in modern blockbusters. Let's leave aside the fact that in the most recent movie Kirk "fixes" an engine that's capable of going 9x the speed of light by kicking it, even though that wouldn't even fix a car's combustion engine which is certainly much simpler. To me the much deeper problem is that the Kirk in JJ Abrams' Star Trek is basically a fuck-up hand picked by someone who knew his dad to enter Star Fleet and then he's just given command of the star ship because he happened to be standing on the bridge when the acting captain died, because I guess Star Fleet didn't have any other captains on any other ships that could have transferred in? He might as well have woken up one day to find out that he has the Force and is thus entitled to run the Enterprise.

Now that's obviously nitpicking about one specific movie in one specific franchise, but it does strike me as symbolically important that the most widely embraced science fiction universe of the last 100 years has now become less serious and rigid about it's rules than Harry Potter, which is explicitly about magic and also has a kid who magically wakes up to find out that he has a true destiny, but at least he has to go to school, train, slowly improve and then earn his standing. When our science fiction is less coherent about obeying it's own rules than our fantasy, we're doing our science fiction wrong.
posted by Kiablokirk at 6:53 PM on August 12, 2013 [21 favorites]


I predict we're going to see a boom in utopian science fiction over the next few years

I certainly think we're going to see more optimistic science fiction. I guess I just have the same sense of utopia that Octavia Butler did - my utopia is likely someone else's idea of hell.
posted by nubs at 6:56 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think "fiction" is actually a subcategory of "science fiction" - one that is constrained by the universe as it is and has been.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:18 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess I just have the same sense of utopia that Octavia Butler did - my utopia is likely someone else's idea of hell.

I tend to think of a future where librarians are cultural heroes, everyone has a bicycle, efficiency has replaced consumption, people follow the space program with awe and delight, meditation is a common virtue, we finally have a grasp on appropriate technology vs. gimcrack gadget freakery, and curling has achieved the popularity it deserves, among other things, so I suspect my heaven would be hell to a lot of present-day people.

Plus, there will be a lot of velour in my future.

With smart piping accents in complementary colors, naturally.
posted by sonascope at 7:20 PM on August 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


I read a good amount of SF and there's a lot I enjoy. I have yet to see a movie that works as SF. Most are really horror movies or just weird.

IMO, there are good movies from the last 10 years or so that effectively use a science fiction setting (either future or technology-based) to tell stories in a way that the speculative element is central to the story.

For example; Strange Days. Donnie Darko. 28 Days Later. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Gattaca. Primer.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:24 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I could live in your utopia, sonascope, but only with the addition of hockey alongside curling.

The velour would be an irritant, but I am willing to make compromises.
posted by nubs at 7:25 PM on August 12, 2013


I am preparing popcorn, waiting for Stross or Scalzi to show up.
posted by Ber at 7:31 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why does 28 Days Later seem to be on everyone's list? It's a zombie movie. It's pitched at the mainstream is and is a bit less campy about saying "there are zombies because science" than most, but still, if you let it in it will bring a lot of company with it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:34 PM on August 12, 2013


the general tenor of the period we are living in; we aren't exactly feeling hopeful and upbeat;

The Cold War is over and we're not all going to suddenly die tomorrow anymore. Why shouldn't we feel hopeful and upbeat? I do.
posted by yeolcoatl at 7:38 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why does 28 Days Later seem to be on everyone's list? It's a zombie movie.

So? How does that stop it from being science-fiction? The 'zombies' are people driven mad by a virus, they aren't superhumanly strong, they starve to death because they run around flailing and don't eat or rest. They are reasonably plausible, and they follow obvious, rational rules.

In most zombie media, the zombies might as well be magical - they're driven by uncertain energy sources, they are crazy strong, they don't seem to rot...etc. That seems more fantasy than anything else, to me.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:45 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gattaca felt like actual SF to me, whether or not you believe the S is for Science or Speculative.

But it's still used by people as a strawman argument against genetic engineering. Like how The 6th Day and Paycheck portrayed science as actively evil. It's so much caveman science fiction and its created a world that hates and fears new technology.

We need more movies where the scientists are the heroes. Where post-humanism and transhumanism are rewarded, not denigrated like in Wall-E. Where we do get uplifted or uplift ourselves beyond our limits.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:47 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Upstream Color was fantastic Sci-Fi. I haven't seen Elysium yet but I liked Vern's take on it.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:51 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love that the complaints are What Do You Mean This Movie Is About Some Fucking Peasant and How Dare You Doubt the System That Gave Us Thalidomide, Electroshock Weapons and Mutually Assured Destruction, You Fucking Peasant.
posted by mobunited at 7:56 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh, but, George Spiggott, Pacific Rim is also completely about the magic of cinema from Melies to King Kong 1933 through Flash Gordon with Buster Crabb and Frankenstein with Karloff and Lanchester and any number of films I haven't seen plus at least The Abyss and all sorts of stuff and a complete tribute to Harryhausen.....

Absolute magic and innocence and wonder.

Did I ever mention I've seen Harryhausen giving a talk and absolutely everyone media in Bristol was there transfixed including that nutter Chris Cunningham? (/digression)

Film is not literature. The history of film means something different from the history of literature. Sci-fi is well served by TV, which has enough time to develop thoughtfulness. But film, especially in disregarded genres (one of the Predators, can't remember which, neither 1 nor 2), has managed to sneak thoughtfulness and reflection through to an audience occasionally. I dunno, I tend to love what are called 'cult films', films which have gained a following after failing in the popular stakes. I tend to feel if what they had to say was so good, people wouldn't have got it first time around. I'm sure there's a fault in this way of thinking.
posted by glasseyes at 7:58 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


IMO, there are good movies from the last 10 years

For example; Strange Days. Donnie Darko. 28 Days Later. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Gattaca. Primer.

Only two of those are from the last 10 years. Two of them are almost 20 years. Yeah we old.
posted by Justinian at 8:00 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Probably no genre is as liable to fall into a "No True Scotsman" trap as Sci-Fi. Basically, it is whatever the arbiters of geekdom allow into the definition for whatever reason. Fantasy, Action, Comedy, Western, Noir, Drama, genres big and small, can all be determined by the commonly-understood tropes with no objection, but Sci-Fi must be jealously defended and carefully curated. Oh yes!

(It just makes me laugh, for some reason. Like, if Vonnegut isn't rolling in his grave at least his eyes are. But I'm about to spend a lot of time on the issue, so I'm as guilty as anyone.)

Anyway, in general, for conflict purposes, most Science Fiction (using the very broad definition, like what your aunt or preacher would mean when they say it) is going to have to put science versus humanity in some way, or else what's the point, really? Nine times out of ten, if it's not that conflict at its most basic, then you're probably just using the generic-sci-fi setting as a backdrop for a story that could go anywhere.

And if that's the distinction people want to make between Sci-Fi and Fantasy, I guess I'm fine with that. At least it's one with meaning. Fantasy is not, as a rule, necessarily about the conceits within it, at a thematic level. I mean, it can be - A Song of Ice and Fire is certainly all about the dark implications of fantasy tropes which are normally romanticized, but that's textbook deconstruction. Harry Potter, on the other hand, is about the kid growing up, learning about the sins of his forebears, learning that he has to make an ultimate sacrifice in order for his friends and loved ones to go on as they once did, and finding a way to have agency in that decision instead of resignation. That could be a story set in any war, past present or future, magical or starkly realistic. And nobody doubts that it is fantasy.

So yeah. Something like Star Wars could be transported beat-for-beat into a different setting and the story would not be particularly affected. The religious magic involved is far more thematically relevant than any technology. And if we just decide that's Fantasy, then fine. People will always call it Sci-Fi and we'll always look like pedantic pricks looking for an opening to make our little argument, but whatever.

So if we accept that Sci-Fi (in some ways I prefer the term Speculative Fiction, which is a little unwieldy but what Neil Stephenson uses) relies on its conceits (meaning here "understood breaks from reality") in order to explore its themes, then we can get to a question that I consider more interesting by a mile than "hard SF - vs - soft SF." And that question is, in the battle between science and humanity, which one is the protagonist? In most Sci-Fi the answer will be pretty obvious, and usually it will be humanity. Take the great Will Smith vehicle Wild Wild West, for instance, in which Smith and Kline play frontier lawmen who know the lay of the land against a steampunk inventor who represents technology settling the land. Because it was a Summer blockbuster it was allowed to be as stupid as it wanted to be, and we were allowed to root for the romantic old way instead of the stuff that made us all comfortable watching it in the theatre, because it was just for fun and whatever.

(For an interesting blockbuster that arguably goes to other way, however, look to Men in Black. Here the motif is that of a world where extraterrestrial existence, and all of the science that comes with it, are guarded by an unaccountable elite who protect the masses from knowing about it for their own good. Humanity can't know what's up, because if they did, they would be as much of a problem as the alien monsters are, so we'll just trust in the science and show humanity the flashy-forget-me-now.)

But all the best, most memorable stuff, makes it more complicated than that. Because most if not all sci-fi will tend to play on one simple idea (though hopefully with others along for the ride as well): Has our capability exceeded our potential for responsibility?

It's been the central theme of the genre since Frankenstein at the latest. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is about a scientist devising a new elixer that allows him abdication of responsibility. The Invisible Man charts the dehumanization of a scientist stripped of his bounds to responsibility, The Island of Dr. Moreaushow science outside of where society would have accepted it, The Time Machine depicts the evolution of a society unable to maintain harmony in the face of progress, etc. (Yes I know most of that was Wells.)

So not only has that central theme, which I guess could be described very, very bluntly and inaccurately as "science is evil" been around from the beginning of the genre, but it's kind of hard to imagine the genre without it. And in reality, when done properly, it's not "science is evil" so much as "with great power comes great responsibility." (It's not a coincidence that the best Spiderman villains are well-intentioned inventors whose creations overtake them. Peter Parker is himself a scientist in a constant struggle to make sure that his own developments and powers remain beneficial to society, given how easily it could go the other way. For that matter, if The Avengers meets this philosphical debate at all, it's with The Hulk who by definition has to be able to control his own scientifically-induced powers or else cause more harm than good, and for whom that is, you know, not a simple task nor a clear-cut one.)

But this can be easily understood in sci-fi big and small today. As much as everyone hated Matrix: Revolutions the ending was at least honest - we caused this mess, we depend on the infrastructure involved, there can be no annihilation, only peace. Gattaca has someone in love with the promise of the future, but constricted by it, breaking through the prejudices that the future has made simple and easy to enforce in order to enjoy the exploration that it has made possible.

And then, of course, there is BSG, which when it wasn't going off the rails from time-to-time explored this theme inside and out. It basically opens with Adama asking humanity to defend why it's worth a damn and just rolls on from there. And while I could go into that for another couple thousand words, I won't, but I will say that it reminds me of my second major thematic tenet of sci-fi, or at least sci-fi that sticks with me personally.

We basically understand the science involved; as either a literal or emotional truth, we comprehend it. What we do not understand is ourselves, and that is what the story is for.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:01 PM on August 12, 2013 [19 favorites]


I predict we're going to see a boom in utopian science fiction over the next few years as the generation X content producer wah wah wah attitude becomes passe.

Out of curiosity, what on earth does this mean?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:02 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The future ain't what it used to be.

A very, very nice formulation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, Potomac Avenue.
posted by jamjam at 8:05 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


And in reality, when done properly, it's not "science is evil" so much as "with great power comes great responsibility.

This. It's not about the technology being evil or bad per se, it's about the people who use it.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:07 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am preparing popcorn, waiting for Stross or Scalzi to show up.

Scalzi: Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?

Crowd: Scal-zi, Scal-zi, Scal-zi.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:36 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I haven't seen Elysium but the premise sounds pretty solid. The 1%-ers have their utopian space station, and the rest of us have the slave in the muck and the rust to make their gadgets for them. Gadgets which only the rich benefit from, except for this one guy, he gets a gadget himself and does something "useful" with it. It's all just a big Foxconn/Wikileaks metaphor maybe.

Science Fiction Tricked Hollywood Into Making the Year's Most Radical Film
posted by homunculus at 10:17 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


28 Days Later is actually a thin update of Day of the Triffids
posted by asfuller at 10:19 PM on August 12, 2013


28 Days Later is actually a thin update of Day of the Triffids

Only the first act. Anyway, the whole 'I was in a coma and missed the apocalypse' is a pretty common trope these days.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:43 PM on August 12, 2013


Moon.
posted by ooga_booga at 10:52 PM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


We have a lot more information now than we did one or two generations ago when "aspirational" and forward-looking sci-fi movies were being made.

Uhhh, when? Science fiction in the movies has always been dystopian, mindless entertainment, or both. It's been anti science since the very first Frankenstein movies.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:58 PM on August 12, 2013


Uhhh, compare Johnny Quest with Venture Bros.?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:11 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


the original Andromeda Strain worked pretty well as a science fiction movie. It's definitely scary, but it is also about how science is really done.

What? Really? No.

That was just another "science will dooooom us all because of reasons" Crichton special.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:16 PM on August 12, 2013


What's fun about a movie like Alien is seeing Ash get a transmission from "The Company". You can let your imagination go wild about the story behind "The Company"; a helluva lot more than you could about a so-called company constrained by other genres. The same goes for the Space Jockey, and the alien itself, for that matter. With Bladerunner, it's imagining the skin jobs out in space in hostile environments. What attack ships? What's their story? But then you have a great movie like Total Recall, which leaves very little to the imagination. I forget what my point was.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:50 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The article seems to be complaining about blockbusters in general rather than sci fi really. I mean, this has been a problem since the slight abberation of the 70s. The films which get money thrown at them are often moronic and very emotionally simple. This happens to effect those films with a science fictional edge. However, as pointed out int his thread, theres still lots of smart science fiction out there.

I mean, if we're limiting ourselves to smart science fiction where science isn't the enemy... well thats a bit harder (although, weird example putting Looper in that list, I don't think time travel is particularly the enemy there....), but thats sort of inevitable. If we're thinking hard about the ramifications of a particular technology we're probably going to cover the downsides of that technology after all.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:10 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


It would be cool to see a science fiction movie come out.
posted by telstar at 1:39 AM on August 13, 2013


Whoa, Elysium is just a David Cross bit turned into a movie; I had no idea what the movie was about beyond "LOLspace-station" but heard a David Cross bit on the radio today and can't find exactly what he said at the moment, but basically it was to the effect of "we have enough problems here as it is to resolve, but we're going to build a space station, fuck the planet to shit, and then the wealthiest will board the station, and when we ask to get on next they'll pull up the ladders, and ask "you didn't think you were getting on this did you? Jesus said the meek shall inherit the Earth..."
posted by lordaych at 1:45 AM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


The bit I'm referring to is track 10 from It's Not Funny [amazon]. Playable via Myspace at the moment.
posted by lordaych at 1:53 AM on August 13, 2013


What Navelgazer said, underlined. The key rebuttal points have been made -- that dystopian sf is not a particularly new thing (and isn't even necessarily anti-science), and that dramatic narrative requires conflict, and that is often simplified -- or oversimplified -- into a kind of humanity vs. science/technology and the elites who control it, which is to be pretty blunt, historically accurate.

There isn't much utopian sf because mostly, it's boring -- the conflicts have all been resolved, have they not? (Niven, for example, explored this as an endpoint to his Known Space humans descended from Teela Brown, a future humanity bred, through the birth lottery, for "luck". There's not a lot you can write about.)

And as mobunited points out, any brief promise of science in the 20th century was sort of wiped out immediately by the double-edged sword of the most awesome science of all, nuclear power. Clean, cheap energy for everyone, forever! sounds neat until you contemplate Radioactivity! and the H-Bomb! I think we got over this idealized view of science pretty damn quick.

Still, there is a particular strain of industrialized, urban dystopia spawned, naturally, by Blade Runner, that just won't die. I think we all know the outline of that city so well by now -- spread across dozens of movies -- that we could find our way home in the dark (unless we get our head chopped off by a hovercar or our feet ground off by a sanitation robot). It's getting to be worn pretty thin by this point. I like to see something new, so give me that, and not something Ridley Scott and crew thought up three decades ago already.

I will also insert a parenthetical here on genre and subgenre. I personally am pretty heterogenous here and, you know, fantasy and SF and horror are the three legs of the stool as defined by someone in the fifties and that still pretty much works. Horror is a really popular genre right now and both fits and doesn't fit hte mold of "Sci Fi" (a term I am at peace with, when it is used very loosely). The whole zombie genre fits almost entirely within horror, but it is neat when you introduce hard SF elements as with 28 Days Later. That sort of twist is what I really want to see more of, not so much more and better explodin' shit. I really liked the way Safety Not Guaranteed grafted a potential SF story directly onto a solid indie romantic comedy trunk.

And yes, I like my SF political, which means I am often disappointed. I harbor some hopes for Elysium yet, although Jacobin has panned it from that standpoint. There was a lot of good political undercurrent in older SF films and much of that's been lost in favor of either bigger, badder spectacle, or retreat into simpler human stories such as Moon. I'd love to see an inversion/deconstruction of the fantasy genre (e.g. as GoT allegedly does to a point, but I haven't been able to watch it), breaking down the whole monarchist/fate/destiny angle. I'd like to see SF at least depicting positive, or at least neutral, technological advances while making more clear that many times such advances give us a Hobson's choice of betes noire -- say, GMO corn -- and how we must always be careful not to let the latest advance be use for further concentration of wealth or power. But then, I'd love to see idealists portrayed as ordinary people, something else Hollywood doesn't do well anymore -- look at some older classics and you often have someone spout of something out the blue that's a distillation of the American ideal, say about tolerance, and they aren't portrayed as some wild-eyed activist but just another everyman.

So Elysium -- just for an at-hand example -- might explore not just this endpoint conflict distilled down to Matt Damon vs. Jodie Foster (with Sharlto Copley a proxy), but the series of cultural choices that were made that brought us this world in the first place. Sort of a Martin Niemoller recital: First they came for my job, then they came for my clean air ....

Because I think that sort of thing is more relevant than yet another parable with good guys and bad guys.
posted by dhartung at 3:29 AM on August 13, 2013


This isn’t to say half-naked people can’t be present in a serious science fiction movie, it’s just that their presence alone doesn’t make it so. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

Wait, which does he mean:
- A subset of serious science-fiction movies is all movies with half-naked people, or
- A subset of all movies with half-naked people is movies that are serious science fiction?
posted by JHarris at 3:35 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really liked Elysium. Much like District 9, the "allegory" wasn't really allegory so much as beating you about the head, which was fine with me. The issues addressed in Elysium are immediately applicable to US society and many others throughout the world: "Who is a citizen?" and "Who gets healthcare?"

The point of the movie is not "Science is bad!", it's "Access to technology is limited to the privileged while the poor continue to get the worst of pretty much everything." The goal of the characters in the movie is not "Destroy evil technology!", it's "Access to technology should be democratically distributed to those who need it." Yes, the actual movie doesn't fit nearly as neatly into bullet points as the article in the post would lead you to believe.

To me, this is clearly a pro-technology movie, even an optimistic movie--nobody in the movie is opposed to the machines that cure everything that's wrong with you or even opposed to robots in and of themselves--although the 'police' who beat up poor people are robots, the 'doctors' whose help they need are robots, too. It is also a social justice movie that recognizes that right now we very nearly have those machines that cure everything that's wrong with you, but only the very wealthy of the world have access to them, and that is wrong.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:20 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


the original Andromeda Strain worked pretty well as a science fiction movie. It's definitely scary, but it is also about how science is really done.

What? Really? No.

That was just another "science will dooooom us all because of reasons" Crichton special.


I presume that it will be remade anyday with a plucky US marine saving the day instead of science nerds.

/Fails to check IMDB to see if this has already happened, gives no shits.
posted by Artw at 4:55 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is why Ursula Le Guin novels don't become movies.

Which is a terrible shame.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:37 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


IIRC she's got a coupe of TV movies, various mini-series and a pretty unfaithful Japanese cartoon, so some goes of it have been made, just not with particular artistic or commercial success. I'd love to see a decent screen tale on Left Hand of Darkness or The Dispossed, but they probably fall into every quadrant of potential failure ever, being not super-actiony, not even that drama or dialogue driven, but still requiring an effects budget.
posted by Artw at 5:48 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


You are aware that Soylent Green is... um... a mythological advancement inspired by fear of technology. So I'm pretty sure this is not a new idea in the least.
posted by Blue_Villain at 6:19 AM on August 13, 2013


Soylent White is made of people! They didn't change the recipe like they said they were going to!
posted by Brocktoon at 6:32 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's made with LOVE.

I'm not 100% sure that themes of ecological collapse and overpopulation == anti-science, either, those both being things science has taken a reasonable interest in.
posted by Artw at 6:44 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


So does this make FOX news the longest running broadcast of a dystopian present/future?
posted by juiceCake at 6:57 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I tend to think of a future where librarians are cultural heroes, everyone has a bicycle, efficiency has replaced consumption, people follow the space program with awe and delight, meditation is a common virtue, we finally have a grasp on appropriate technology vs. gimcrack gadget freakery, and curling has achieved the popularity it deserves

The Greatwinter Trilogy has a bunch of those. Except meditation is a rare and special skill.

Also curling is unknown, which I take to mean it has achieved the popularity it deserves.
posted by squinty at 7:17 AM on August 13, 2013


I forgot to mention in my novel of a comment above that I was talking purely about Western Sci-Fi. I know very little about Eastern Sci-Fi and what themes it tends to center upon, but given Western Sci-Fi's bent towards a sort of Tree of Knowledge narrative I wouldn't be surprised is the East has long been coming up with something very different.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:19 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The issues addressed in Elysium are immediately applicable to US society and many others throughout the world: "Who is a citizen?" and "Who gets healthcare?"

Yeah, but the dialogue was painfully clumsy, the characters somehow less than even one-dimensional, and the supposed heart-string-tuggy shit was just embarrassing. Shut up about your hippo, kid.

SPOILER THOUGH:

The best part was when the refugee ship crashed and all the white people got scared and ran away.
posted by elizardbits at 7:31 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


? But then you have a great movie like Total Recall, which leaves very little to the imagination. I forget what my point was.

that Total Recall is not a great movie and doesn't deserve to be in the same paragraph as those other examples? Interesting premise, bloated to the point of obscene presentation (also, Ahhnuld can't act and thus has only ever been effective whilst playing a cyborg ... with an Austrian accent).
posted by philip-random at 8:36 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I ended up looking up the 2008 remake of Andromeda Strain. It's a TV miniseries, so it's still allowed to be about scientists, however SPOILERS they actually caused the plague with a wormhole to the future or some fucking shit I give up.
posted by Artw at 8:36 AM on August 13, 2013


Total Recall is not a great movie... It is a GREATEST movie.
posted by Artw at 8:37 AM on August 13, 2013


I will bow to claims of Total Recall GREATEST status if the person making the claim was under the age of eighteen when they first saw it. Because it fails utterly as functional, mature drama, and was doomed before a single scene had been shot by the casting of Ahhnuld as the lead.
posted by philip-random at 8:42 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The rule of Arnold movies is nobody notices he is a giant Austrian or remarks upon it.
posted by Artw at 8:53 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


(if I ever had the honor of writing for him you bet I would put in as many references to apple pie and baseball and other America crap as possible.)
posted by Artw at 8:54 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remembering thinking there was a moment in T2 where they missed a chance for a big laugh. It comes when the kid's quizzing the Terminator about various details of his design, asking various obvious questions. The missing punchline:

KID: Why do you speak with a German accent?
TERMINATOR: It's Austrian.
posted by philip-random at 9:11 AM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I guess one thing we should be glad for is that along with clever thoughtful ideas laden SF the libertarian screeds about how libertarianism solves everything...in space! don't often hit screens either.

/just hit a string of those on an SF podcast.
posted by Artw at 9:15 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The dirty secret of SF is that it's social-science fiction, isn't it? It's not about [invention], but about how [invention] affects society or the everyman representing it.

And spaceships.
posted by ersatz at 9:32 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


A lot if the time it's just juggling SF tropes until they make something vaguely Save-the-Cat like.
posted by Artw at 9:37 AM on August 13, 2013


Total Recall ... was doomed before a single scene had been shot by the casting of Ahhnuld as the lead.

I am pretty darn certain that Eccentrica Gallumbits was the lead in that film.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:51 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


KID: Why do you speak with a German accent?
TERMINATOR: It's Austrian.


This is actually a deleted scene in T3. A general is watching a promotional video about the new project and how the units will be based on Sergeant Whoever, who speaks in a thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick southern drawl. Or perhaps even draaaaaawal. Anyhow, the general says "Great, but that accent..." and then a weasely tech guy says in Ahnult's voice: "Ve can fix dat."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:56 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really liked Elysium. Much like District 9, the "allegory" wasn't really allegory so much as beating you about the head, which was fine with me.

Saw Elysium last night and said afterwards, "not so much allegory as beating you about the head while screaming 'ALLEGORY!'" I also liked it very much, with two main (non-spoilery, but why are you in this thread?) complaints:

1) Yet another blond, blue-eyed yankee messiah, but I don't think this movie gets made in Hollywood without Matt Damon (who did an admirable job) or equivalent.

2) Jamie Foster's accent.

I have a few spoilery nitpicks too, but I'll save those.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:00 AM on August 13, 2013


The rule of Arnold movies is nobody notices he is a giant Austrian or remarks upon it.

Unless the movie is Echo Park, the best Schwarzenegger movie he doesn't actually appear in.
posted by Rash at 10:06 AM on August 13, 2013


The best sci-fi is about ideas, but it has to get the characters and the plot right too. I preferred Alien to Prometheus because I was far more invested in its' space truckers, talking over each other and bitching about pay, than in the scientists making grand pronouncements about the meaning of it all in the latter.

Elysium had a good idea and was quite enjoyable, but the characters were a bit off. I cared about Max but Kruger was cartoonishly over the top and Frey and the daughter seemed like afterthoughts. There was also a pretty major WTF moment after the story had wrapped up, just before the credits that left me leaving the movie with a more negative feeling than I otherwise would have. I mean !!!!! POTENTIAL SPOILER !!!!! ...if those ships exist why not focus all your efforts at jacking one of them instead of doing the whole flying and smashing and scanning thing?
posted by IanMorr at 10:23 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not about [invention], but about how [invention] affects society or the everyman representing it.

I think that's a huge part of good SF - taking the implications of a new technology(ies) and showing them. The impacts are personal, interpersonal, societal, environmental, etc. Because we like narrative, we tend to focus on a few characters and work from there.

Really good SF shows you both edges of the advance - the positives and the negatives; because technology advances are not usually universally good or bad, but both. It gives us new tools that we use to help and to harm. I'm always drawn back to the internet as an example, which is probably the biggest technological change/innovation I will see in my lifetime - it allows us spaces like this, where people who in all likelihood would not have been able to connect 25 years ago are discussing interesting topics and exchanging ideas, has allowed me to stay in almost real time contact with family and friends regardless of where they are; and yet it has also allowed for a resurgence of child exploitation and porn, the spread of malicious code, enabled fraud, etc. But it has so profoundly changed my life that when I asked a group of friends I knew in high school recently to recall what we did before the internet (it really became a "thing" when we were in university), no one really had a good answer. We have a hard time remembering life before it, which is fascinating to me.

Most SF movies (and a lot of TV) won't do this - they focus on the scientific advancement as either a universal good or a universal bad (and perhaps too often on the bad right now). In Star Trek, it's primarily a universal good - to the point that I now watch any Trek with a skeptical eye, wondering why the Federation hasn't done more to address issues around things like the emergence of Artificial Intelligence and the risks/rewards associated with it; why genetic engineering has just been completed banned, etc. There is no nuance there. Battlestar Galactica had a slightly more subtle approach, but advanced technology was avoided - I think it would have been amazing to have them arrive at current day Earth and explore the cultural clash of a society that avoids networked computers with one that is now intent on networking them to greater and greater degrees.

But nuance is not something we seem to want right now in our major forms of entertainment. Articles like this (which has its own FPP) has me wondering if we aren't about to see a change, given that the big names in blockbusters now seem to be questioning the trends. Perhaps a move back to quieter stories, where the stakes are more personal and not about saving the world, but perhaps about a character saving another, or even just themselves. And it should go without saying - characters have to be well developed too, not just the plot/idea/conceit.


and off to my scratch pad to start noodling around story ideas
posted by nubs at 10:30 AM on August 13, 2013


This is actually a deleted scene in T3. A general is watching a promotional video about the new project and how the units will be based on Sergeant Whoever, who speaks in a thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick southern drawl. Or perhaps even draaaaaawal. Anyhow, the general says "Great, but that accent..." and then a weasely tech guy says in Ahnult's voice: "Ve can fix dat."

Terminator 3 Sergent Candy Scene
posted by homunculus at 10:32 AM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Kickstarting a movie about the moments before the singularity
posted by homunculus at 10:42 AM on August 13, 2013


Brockton: Soylent White is made of people! They didn't change the recipe like they said they were going to!

Did you ever get to try any of that New Soylent or Soylent II? I thought Soylent II was da bomb, but they pulled it and gave us Soylent White that's different but not different. However, if you go down to Mexico, you can get the original Soylent Green in glass bottles (no longer returnable). Sometimes, if you are in the right part of the country during certain religious festivals, you can get the original Soylent Green - same package as Soylent White, but with a yellow bottle cap. I generally stock up because they never put it on discount and it sells out quick.

Actually, I should back up and correct just a bit - you can get Soylent Green hecho en Mexico in small bottles at specialty stores, but you'll pay about twice per ounce for a smaller serving. US serving sizes are way too big anyway.
posted by tilde at 12:55 PM on August 13, 2013


That was just another "science will dooooom us all because of reasons" Crichton special.

In broad strokes, maybe -- but the entire section where the epileptic woman is going through her samples one by one... in what other film do you see someone actually doing science as opposed to using it (or misusing it, more likely - because There Are Some Things Man Was Not Meant To Know)? That's how a lot of science is done... checking dull pieces of data over and over. The cleverness of that scene was that that very process is what undid her -- which was not discovered until later.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:13 PM on August 13, 2013


KokuRyu: Perhaps the movies are not saying science is "evil" so much as reflecting the unease we experience living in a world that is changing with exponential quickness. We're less than a generation away from augmented humans, and we're already there if you include (affluent) humans hardwired with implanted medical devices.
Yes, it's true: we're less than a generation away from humans who won't need colostomy bags, wheelchairs, seeing-eye dogs and canes, and maddeningly hypersensitive external hearing aids. Are we ready for all of that?

But the author is right, and certainly so in the particular movies he accuses: they cast science in the villain's role. Period. Only by "subverting" sciencey things into having emotions (a la the reprogrammed Terminator in T-II) can science achieve real good.

Now, a science fiction movie that didn't say "Science bad; feelings goooood!"? 2001: A Space OdysseyIf it had ended with Dave escaping HAL, it would have fed the trope. But then there's the hour-long-ish bit where Dave encounters the unthinkably-advanced technology left behind by... someone, that offers him an odd, possibly idyllic, possibly incredibly lonely life in ... some sort of room, and ultimately appears to cause his evolution forward into... something else.

Now that movie left people wondering about science! Especially after the book came out to explain it. ;)
posted by IAmBroom at 1:28 PM on August 13, 2013


Terminator 3 Sergent Candy Scene

Huh. He sounds a lot like Vampahr "SUGAHHH!" Beeyul.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:32 PM on August 13, 2013


MartinWisse: the original Andromeda Strain worked pretty well as a science fiction movie. It's definitely scary, but it is also about how science is really done.

What? Really? No.

That was just another "science will dooooom us all because of reasons" Crichton special.
The doom in Andromeda Strain was a disease brought here on an asteroid, and every scientist in the film was racing to save humanity from it.

It was the exact opposite of your description.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:46 PM on August 13, 2013


Ctrl+F "Inception"

0 of 0

Huh.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 1:58 PM on August 13, 2013


The doom in Andromeda Strain was a disease brought here on an asteroid, and every scientist in the film was racing to save humanity from it.

No, the doom in Andromeda Strain was a disease brought here on a satellite, put into orbit by scientists who dared to tamper in God's domain and who were specifically trying to find spaceborne microorganisms.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:52 PM on August 13, 2013


Soylent Cow Pies are made from people!
posted by Brocktoon at 4:04 PM on August 13, 2013


forget Soylent. It's Red Bull we should be worried about.
posted by philip-random at 5:14 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


To those who have mentioned the absence of Ursula Le Guin in film I present to you her imdb profile. Lathe of Heaven has been adapted twice.
posted by whorl at 5:20 PM on August 13, 2013


Also, Upstream Color (spoilers) looked incredibly great up until it diverted into fantasy/metaphysical territory. The man with his animals compounded with what seemed like a flash forward to the "main character" who is now at a point in her life where the viewer doesn't give a fuck resulted in me hitting stop. Now, I may have cut off too early, but I got what was going on with those animals. Am I missing something or was it just fail in regards to science fiction? As a film, just wasn't my cup of tea after the "main character" completed her very short downward spiral. Some really well done scenes though.
posted by whorl at 5:35 PM on August 13, 2013


Ok so I like this thread too much. I take umbrage with those who say Star Wars is not science fiction or at the very best "light soft science fiction". Soft sci fi is a genre, Wikipedia says so.

Inception? Yes, given. Paprika, which came out four years before, also experimented with dream tech with slightly less crime, more focus on multiple characters, and a last act that really plays with dreams in a way Inception decided to not touch with a twenty foot pole. But because it is anime it doesn't get much attention in these conversations.
posted by whorl at 5:52 PM on August 13, 2013


I would really love to see a sci-fi movie that is set up like Ghost in the Shell with the plot dealing with something identical or similar to the Laughing Man incident. Amongst the political issues involved in Stand Alone Complex are philosophical issues and issues regarding memetics and information evolution.

The canonical Metal Gear storyline is also really great for sci-fi, and I feel like people don't mention that too often. Metal Gear Solid had so much story wrapped up in genetics and nuclear arms proliferation. Metal Gear Solid 2, the one everybody hated, dealt with similar themes that GITS dealt with: memes and the proliferation of information. I have only played through Snake Eater a few times so I can't comment too much on the main themes, especially since a lot of it came off as a parody of spy novels and movies, and was a prequel to events that led up to Metal Gear (the original) and therefore MGS 1 and 2.

If anyone is interested in reading about Metal Gear Solid 2 and Ghost in the Shell and the similarities of themes that they share then this link is great. Warning: spoilers for both.

A lot of great sci-fi isn't dystopian, but it's not very well-known or isn't thought about. I doubt Hollywood anytime soon will create a movie that has a storyline like GITS: SAC but hopefully with this sudden influx of sci-fi movies like Oblivion and Elysium we'll start seeing some more radical stuff happening.
posted by gucci mane at 10:12 PM on August 13, 2013


ROU_Xenophobe: The doom in Andromeda Strain was a disease brought here on an asteroid, and every scientist in the film was racing to save humanity from it.

No, the doom in Andromeda Strain was a disease brought here on a satellite, put into orbit by scientists who dared to tamper in God's domain and who were specifically trying to find spaceborne microorganisms.
I stand corrected about how the organism got here, but the entire plot of the movie revolves around humans using science to correct the problem - not bemoaning that we "dared to tamper in God's domain". That's utter rubbish. There's not one "just feel the Force!"/"learn to love!"/"laughter is what makes us human!" bit in the whole damned movie; problems were solved with pH tests, electron microscopes, and containment protocols.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:20 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


... and (as I recall, I saw the movie a long, long time ago) the almost fatal flaw was a scientist who didn't let on to the others that she suffered from epilepsy.
posted by philip-random at 10:35 AM on August 14, 2013


The same goes for the Space Jockey, and the alien itself, for that matter.

No, dude, there's no questions about that, because you see the Space Jockeys are actually an alien species who visited Earth (?) billions of years ago and they actually put life in there by one of them drinking a potion and then falling apart into a waterfall, and that's what put life on Earth (?), all that waterfall ash, full of orgones and flavinoids. And uhh. Oh yeah the potion stuff is actually like a sentient soup itself, it creates life just about anywhere, whatever it touches, but it's weird because it only works in water I think unless you get some in your bloodstream because then it...then I think it turns into like a creature inside your belly? Was that it? No, wait, it turns you into a zomblie, but if you impregnate a chick while you've got some goo in your bloodstream just before you turn into a zomblie then she (the woman you impregnate) gets a creature inside her belly (even though she's infertile...I know, totally weird, right?), and then...then she cuts it out using a special medical machine which is only for men unless you pick a different option and then it's just as easily for women. And it takes the creature out of your belly and just holds onto it for ages, and the creature absorbs negative energy from the atmosphere around it, and it gets fuckin' huge man, like really big, this big squid-spider monster thing, and then one of the Space Jockeys who control their horseshoe ships with flutes, the Space Jockey dude gets into a fight with it (the squid) and he gets impregnated (and killed), and then the proto-alien bursts out of his belly, and that's where the alien came from. No mystery at all.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:30 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the brief was "So you enjoyed the Alien movies huh? Ha ha ha fuck you."
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:32 PM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Got around to seeing Elysium. Felt like it was a somewhat superficial pastiche of various novels/authors I've enjoyed, the characters were paper-thin, and it clubs one over the head with its message even more bluntly than an Oliver Stone film, if that's possible; but I still got a kick out of it visually and enjoyed some of the references, winks, and other conceits along the way.

Nice to finally get a full blown immersive sense of what it would look like to be on an Orbital (or maybe rather approaching one, given the scale would flatten the inverse perspective on the inner surface).
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:13 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Got around to seeing Elysium. Felt like it was a somewhat superficial pastiche of various novels/authors I've enjoyed, the characters were paper-thin, and it clubs one over the head with its message even more bluntly than an Oliver Stone film, if that's possible; but I still got a kick out of it visually and enjoyed some of the references, winks, and other conceits along the way.

Visually beautiful, but underwritten. How did the world get so intensely fucked up? What are world governments doing? How can Elysium shutdown airtraffic over LA? Are they the world government? If they're so worried about illegal immigration, why is their security (physical and systems) so awful? They could have missile batteries on the station itself, or automated patrol ships. Why aren't they encrypting their braindata?

Or, given that the medical technology is so seemingly ubiquitous that there is a medbed in every home in Elysium, why not just give the medical technology to the surface dwellers so that they stay put? Some back of the envelope calculations:

As of 2009, there were around a million beds in about 5000 hospitals in the US. So, your average hospital has around 200 beds, but let's go with an large hospital with 500.

It takes about 30 seconds to cure a kid with late-stage leukemia. Let's add in some time to get people in and out of the beds, and time to do some admin. Assume 5 minutes per patient.

You could cure every patient in a large hospital in a week, working 8 hours a day, with 1 medbed. ((500x5)/60 = 41.67).

Just put one factory to mass producing medbeds, and you could probably cure everyone in a year, thus eliminating the primary reason for the illegal immigration. Hell, the medbeds are probably manufactured on Earth anyway, like the droids.

It seems to me that only explanation is really that the citizens of Elysium are both stupid and evil.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:53 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Stupid space jerks. The DNA encoding doesn't actually do anything except keep non-Space Jerks from using it either. I'm not sure it even works on a metaphorical level, or if you can even have a metaphorical level in a movie where everyone is shouting the alleged subtext all the time.

I really want to like this movie, but sheesh.

(They should have printed OBAMACARE on the side of the shuttles)
posted by Artw at 7:13 PM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that only explanation is really that the citizens of Elysium are both stupid and evil

You're looking for an explanation where none may exist. This "Elysium" film sounds to me like the latest example of illogical but good-looking Hollywood SF. A couple other examples might be "The Road" and "The Truman Show" where the whole story's built on a premise that's incredibly flawed, but no matter, a compelling movie can be based upon it and that's what the studio wants to do, make a movie people will want to see. All these plot questions smart viewers have (Hitchcock's refrigerator logic) aren't important, to the producers -- their goal is selling tickets and DVDs to the rabble, not making quality science fiction.
posted by Rash at 9:29 AM on August 19, 2013


SPOILERS (-ish, probably well spoiled by infomercials and prior comments):

The medbays be fridge logic if it had stayed a macguffin, but making it the major thematic endpoint of the film stretches things beyond bearing. The last scene produced a very realtime WTF from me.
posted by Artw at 9:37 AM on August 19, 2013


Rash, completely agree regarding Elysium and Truman Show (don't get me started) but I'd be curious to hear why you see The Road as attaining those dubious handwavey heights.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:29 PM on August 19, 2013


About that ‘Elysium’ ending…
posted by Artw at 8:42 PM on August 19, 2013


Just put one factory to mass producing medbeds, and you could probably cure everyone in a year, thus eliminating the primary reason for the illegal immigration.

One of Blomkamp's pet themes is malthusianism. The movie kind of cops-out by making Jodie Foster into a cartoon villain, instead of exploring why Elysium is so rich and the earth is so poor. An obvious explanation is overpopulation (which is mentioned as a problem in the beginning of the movie). The medbeds appear to be some sort of immortality device, so essentially the Earth and Elysium are both threatened with a population trap, where people can reproduce but not (easily) die. And the space station must be particularly vulnerable to this threat because of its small relative carrying capacity. Presumably Elysium has a sustainable population plan that might include strict and mandatory birth limits. So the supposedly uplifting ending to the movie is really the first chapter in the end of Elysium as a space station and the Earth as we know it. Elysium's population will balloon until the space station faces the same exact problems as Earth. In not too much time, immigration will stop and emigration back to Earth will become the increasingly desirable option until there is no reason for this now junky and hazardous space environment to even exist. It will be abandoned. The resources to maintain the station won't even exist, since the overpopulating Earth is now speeding into crisis mode because of universal access to the immortality machines. 40 billion people? 50 billion? Soon enough the overexpanded human species cannibalizes all of Earth's remaining resources, until medbeds can't even be produced or maintained anymore. Mass human and animal extinctions occur, and the scattered pockets of remaining people revert to a hard scrabble and precarious hunter-gatherer existence on an arid desert Earth.

Not too different then than the similar (also implied and unexplored) ending to District 9 where it's suggested the giant insect alien population will exceed a billion given only a few more generations.
posted by dgaicun at 1:32 AM on August 20, 2013


Because, snuffleupagus, no explanation of the event which wiped out all (except, conveniently, human) life was given. It's not important to the story-tellers -- the 'why' isn't relevant to what they want to do, so they don't even bother to address that detail. But without it, you've only got some hand-wavey allegorical fantasy, NOT science fiction.
posted by Rash at 7:36 AM on August 20, 2013


Eh. It doesn't seem super relevant, there's plenty to choose from.
posted by Artw at 9:03 AM on August 20, 2013


Hmm. Well, that's certainly true. I'm not sure why it never bothered me. Maybe because the plot doesn't even try to engage it. I hadn't considered whether or not that disqualifies it as sci-fi.

Although while we're on the topic, I don't understand why the original Mad Max escapes this criticism. It's apocalypse always seemed very handwavey and inconsistent.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:43 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, maybe I'm just getting a bit older, but 'Fridge Logic' has become Bathtub-Coke-Second-Act-Pee-Break logic for me.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:47 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although while we're on the topic, I don't understand why the original Mad Max escapes this criticism.

Cool leather jackets.
posted by ersatz at 3:25 PM on August 20, 2013


Australia is just like that.
posted by Artw at 3:30 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although while we're on the topic, I don't understand why the original Mad Max escapes this criticism. It's apocalypse always seemed very handwavey and inconsistent.

If you look at Mad Max on its own, it's not clear that there's been any apocalypse at all. It's just a kinda poor area, down to borderline third world levels, with a lot of unpleasant bikers. There are functional towns with functional if limited government services, the electricity is still on, people have jobs, people take vacations and buy ice creams at the beach.

It's not until Mad Max 2 / The Road Warrior that they retconned an apocalypse into it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:43 PM on August 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Huh. I guess that's so. I originally watched the trilogy in a film class, and didn't stop to consider that. Although I thought there was at least an energy crisis implied, which made the functioning power grid seem incongruous.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:03 PM on August 20, 2013


Australia is just like that.

It's true.

My leather jacket is awesome.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:23 PM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you look at Mad Max on its own, it's not clear that there's been any apocalypse at all. It's just a kinda poor area, down to borderline third world levels, with a lot of unpleasant bikers.

He's not even that mad. Seriously. He's just kind of annoyed. Even when he's on his massive revenge kick, which only happens late in the third act, he's just...Peeved Max.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:25 PM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


The other fun thing about Mad Max is that his wife is never killed. The ER docs (they have those too) are quite specific that they got her vitals back and that she's expected to live.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:35 PM on August 20, 2013


To be fair, the feral bikers do actually kill his kid.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:39 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]



If you look at Mad Max on its own, it's not clear that there's been any apocalypse at all. It's just a kinda poor area, down to borderline third world levels, with a lot of unpleasant bikers.


I'd heard it explained that American viewers assumed it was an apcalypse rather than a sparsely populated Australian town with a bikie problem.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:05 PM on August 20, 2013


To be fair, the feral bikers do actually kill his kid.

Yup. And his response is to abandon his wife to the pain of her injuries and the agony of losing her child, and compound that with the loss of her husband. Not Mr. Rockatansky's "Husband of the Year" moment.

Still, it doesn't make the movie less compelling, it just makes Max the kind of guy who breaks under pressure. I'm curious to see Tom Hardy's take on Max.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:49 PM on August 20, 2013


Huh. Bronson is often compared to Chopper, and now Tom Hardy is playing Mad Max. Once again, a Brit is stealing Australian icons.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:59 PM on August 20, 2013


ROU_Xenophobe: Yup. And his response is to abandon his wife to the pain of her injuries and the agony of losing her child, and compound that with the loss of her husband. Not Mr. Rockatansky's "Husband of the Year" moment.
Well, if you keep in mind that it's Mel Gibson, that is better behavior than I'd expect from him. /snark
posted by IAmBroom at 2:23 PM on August 21, 2013


Its even weirder in Lethal Weapon 2, when he fights racists. And mocks them for being racist.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:36 PM on August 21, 2013


Guys, he's not Mild Max.
posted by Artw at 7:42 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was just thinking about movies made in the boundry zone of magical realism and soft(social) Sci-fi. Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World gives us one question "You and everyone else has a week left to live." and goes from being a doofy comedy (drug orgies at Applebee's!) to being a really sweet little character study about loneliness and Rom Com conventions (the only situation in which people would act like Rom-Com characters is if the world was literally about to end).

And seconding that Safety Not Guaranteed is a fun little edge case, weather or not time travel is really real is secondary to people talking about what they would do if it WAS real and tying it into the themes of loss, regret, memory. A much more sedate and low budget ....Spotless Mind, which would be the lock for "Best Sci-Fi film of the last decade and change" but I just finally saw Pontypool, which skirts the sci-fi/horror contamination zone by asking the question "What if linguists wrote horror fiction?"
posted by The Whelk at 2:00 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Legendary Cinematographer John Seale Discusses The Shooting Of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
posted by Artw at 9:15 PM on August 22, 2013


« Older From Texas Monthly, a brief oral history from Aust...  |  A beautiful animated music vid... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments