Category Archives: Movies
C3P0 is the poster child for a minor science fiction trope that doesn’t pop up super-often, but never fails to make me cringe and grind my teeth simultaneously whenever it does: intelligence and/or education (an encyclopedic robot brain is an acceptable stand-in for either) represented by the character knowing the exact odds of the possible outcomes of whatever is going on in the story.
I hate it so much.
One, it’s an anti-intellecual sop. The wimpy brainiac worries about failure and would never try but OH WAIT HERE IS THE SAVIOR HE WILL SAVE US WITH HIS AWESOME TACTIC OF NOT BEING SMART BECAUSE SMART SUCKS.
I really, really hate that message. I have hated it since I was a small child in elementary school being teased by my classmates for my habit of reading constantly, with “hey Einstein” and “hey professor,” which were meant as insults. Because what could be more awful than being a genius or an educator, am I right?
Two, it makes no damn sense. Reliable odds are for things that are predictable and fairly simple, like a lottery. If there are a million scratch-off tickets in circulation and one of them is a $100,000 prize winner, you can definitely say the chances of winning $100,000 by buying one is one in a million.
But look, C3P0. You can’t deliver precise odds of navigating an asteroid field. Too many variables. Like, how do you know the density of asteroids in this particular field? Or in this spot in this field? Or, you know, all their orbits? Or whether Han will sneeze and miss seeing a threat? Or whether his rickety-ass spaceship will have an engine hiccup at the wrong moment?
C3P0 is guessing. Anyone can guess, just ask a bookie. And maybe that’s the joke, that C3P0 is just guessing and only thinks he’s smart because he’s educated. And now we’re back to anti-intellectualism and anti-education and anti-expertise. And you’ve seen what those have done for us lately.
Why SciFi Movies Disappoint SciFi Readers Who Read The Book
(Same Goes For Fantasy And Comic Books)
Same goes for pretty much any movie that was a book first, really. Ask a Stephen King fan. But this phenomenon of disappointment is so much more pronounced for fans of SciFi and Fantasy and Comic Books. Why?
Partly because of the nature of movies bundled with the nature of the average moviegoer. In the dawn of the moving picture era, the movie itself was a novelty and a spectacle, just by being itself. A few elementary stunts, a visual gag here and there, and a good story were all a director needed to sell a movie.
But the novelty has long since worn out; movies are now a venerable art form. Seen at the theater, they’re still a spectacle and an experience in and of themselves – but that’s less about the movie and more about going out to the theater.
Today, nobody wants to pay to see a book translated directly into film. Film was never suited to that, because an hour and a half, or even three hours, just isn’t enough room to tell a story it takes 100,000 words to tell. Or even 50,000. If you made a movie going point by point through a story as written, you’d be lucky to relate 10,000 words in a standard 90 minute film.
And a lot of that film would annoy the crap out of the audience. Internal dialog doesn’t play very well in a movie. At least, not at any length. Nor do narrator commentary or flashbacks and flashforwards and radical scene shifts, or background and world building.
SciFi and Fantasy and Comics are REALLY BIG on all of those things. Because to one degree or another they hinge on things that don’t exist in real life and have to be explained or at least established as to how they fit into the world and how people deal with it. Often, that’s the whole point.
(Graphic novels, by the way, are the bisexuals of the movie-literature divide, usually able to work just fine on either side of the divide – they translate well into film because they’re already organized around a visual presentation, and novels are not.)
The whole point of a movie, though, especially recently and especially in SciFi and Fantasy and Comics, is WOW.
WOW is the visual pop that people want out of movies in general and want ten times more out of genre movies. What sells those tickets is what I think of as “special effects pornography.”
Just enough story and character development to string the special effects spectacles together. Like a porn is just enough to string the sex scenes together. Explosions and falling buildings and super cool aliens and robots are the money shots the average moviegoer wants in exchange for the ticket price.
As much as fans of the books and comics want the background and the worldbuilding and the multiple plot threads to be faithfully represented, they simply aren’t numerous enough to drive the market. Without the SFX porn the movie doesn’t make a profit and the DVD doesn’t sell and the action figures and Halloween costumes and t-shirts don’t move off the shelf.
So the producers and the studios and the writers follow the money. That’s what they’re there for. Oh, they love pleasing fans and making people happy – or at least, the best ones do. But the bottom line is the bottom line: folding green. If it doesn’t make money, in the end its dead to the theater.
But it’s also possible to go too far chasing the money, too deep into the SFX pornography scene. Look at the DC films lately. A Batman who is also a rifleman. A Superman who casually snaps necks and doesn’t give a shit about knocking down the heart of a city. The lovers of spectacle may love it, but the fans of those character in comic books are the ones who are most likely to buy the DVD and the Blu-ray and the Special Director’s Cut too.
Even casual fans of the characters, even the people who read the comics as kids and put them away when they ‘grew up,’ know that Batman isn’t a gun kinda guy and that not killing people or wrecking cities is Superman’s thing.
It may be all about creating the spectacle and setting up the special effects, but if you rip the cores out of familiar characters in the process, what you end up with is empty schlock. And while really awesome schlock may draw a crowd of one-time ticket buyers, it won’t inspire fans to love the franchise, buy the merch, see it multiple times or buy the DVD.
Even the unperceptive can feel when something is empty, even if all they really know is that it was “cool, but I’m not looking for the next one.”
As for the book-readers, they generally loathe the empty schlock movie versions. But even the really well done ones, once stripped down to fit them into a movie format and bent around the cool special effects scenes, are missing the cores that novels spend tens of thousands of words building.
No matter how great the movie version, a movie will never be a book. And that leaves the book fans unfulfilled – unless they go in eyes open, expecting what they see to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of a completely different medium.
I don’t pass along videos often, especially not hour-long satirical jabs at our most unfortunate current Presidential candidate, the USA’s answer to the UK’s nativist/racist UKIP party, Donald Trump.
But I do have a bit of political conscience, I genuinely believe that Trump presents a danger to the future of the US above and far beyond what any of the other candidates may pose, and I also believe that satire, like all storytelling, has a great potential to lift up the positive and dispel the negative.
And so in the spirit of dispelling a grave negative, I invite you to sit down and spend a little time watching Trump being lampooned in the spirit of The Great Dictator (although it cannot match the eloquence of that classic).
“Younglings” as a crappy word choice comes to you from the Star Wars prequels, specifically when everyone is horrified that Anakin killed “younglings.”
But, you say, look at that Star Wars Wikia pic you just posted. It’s meant to be used to refer to juveniles in a species-neutral way. It’s a piece of worldbuilding!
Maybe so. But, for one, you don’t need a different term for that. “Child” will work fine for the juveniles of sentients in general. Establish it by having characters refer to nonhuman children as children. Nobody will misunderstand.
Second, “he killed the younglings” sucks the emotional juice out of the scene, which is much more important than a small bit of superfluous linguistic worldbuilding. It comes across as a euphemism. Euphemisms exist to soften harsher words. And so “younglings” softens the impact of the idea that Anakin just slaughtered a classroom full of kids and reduces it to the impact of a nasty bit of vandalism. Oh, damn, we’ll have to repaint the whole nursery. What a shame.
And that IS a shame. If any scene should have high impact, it’s the scene that establishes that Anakin has gone full-on evil bastard. But letting a worldbuilding detail take precedence over the emotional impact of the story took the wind out of its sails.
Writers need to look to the integrity and purpose of their scenes and stories first. And that means killing children, not euphemistic “younglings.” When picking words, make the right choices. Your stories and your readers (watchers, for screenplays and their dialogue) will thank you.
Edit: I’m told this isn’t actually a remake, but is a continuation. Well, damn. Shows you how smart *I* am. In my defense, it looked and sounded remake-y to me.
The prospect of yet another Hollywood remake rarely does more than make me roll my eyes. However, this one seems to have promise. The original is a nice, solid post-apocalyptic romp with crazy visuals and a simple storyline with some basic emotional appeal, and from the look of the teaser the remake is cast in the same mold.
I had a lot of fun watching the original, more than once, and I’m looking forward to seeing this one.
You all will, of course, post a ton of spoilers here and on Twitter and Reddit and all that good stuff, before I see it. Because being cash-strapped, I don’t see a lot of movies and the ones I do, I see at the second-run cheapo theater-cafe down the street.
Which suggests a second thing to talk about in this post: spoilers.
I’m one of those relatively rare people that really pisses you off when it comes to spoilers. I just don’t care about them. I don’t care one little bit. I can read a book or watch a movie after others tell me all about what happens and still enjoy it just as much as if I hadn’t been spoilered.
I don’t know why I’m this way. Maybe you think it’s a deep dark evil stained into my soul, especially after I deliver a spoiler to YOU because, for a moment, I forgot that the rest of you are not warped like I am.
Anyhow. I’m looking forward to enjoying this Mad Max remake, no matter how many spoilers I encounter before I get the chance to see it. I really hope they don’t screw this up — but if they do, I just won’t go see it. Because you all will have told me that it sucked, and I’ll thank you for being kind enough to suffer so that I don’t have to.
I’m Having a Hard Time Getting Excited About [Insert Name of Upcoming Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie Here]…
…because Hollywood is all about the special-effects-porno when it comes to science fiction and fantasy right now. Seriously, it’s all about the cool effects, the explosions, the slow-mo pan, the lens flare (I’m looking at you, Abrams), the really detailed thing moving super fast to confuse the eye and create an impression of WOW WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT I CAN’T WAIT TO BUY THE DVD SO I CAN PAUSE IT AND GAZE AT ALL THAT DETAIL WITH MY EYE THREE INCHES FROM THE SCREEN.
It’s about “creating excitement,” the first and only commandment in the marketing Bible. Dazzle ’em and make them talk about how blown their minds were today, because, let’s face it, ticket sales happen in the short term, and a butt not in the seat is less likely to buy merch and DVDs later.
Well, it’s hard to blame someone for trying to make some money. But we just don’t get the Logan’s Runs and Soylent Greens anymore. It’s too unpredictable to try to make a hit with…. you know, story.
The smart bet is to reach right through the visual cortex, grab it, and shake until money and screams of delight fall out.
And so I’m having a hard time getting excited about science fiction and fantasy films lately. Because I’m a story guy, and the special effects porn might make a lot of other people come to the theater, but it just doesn’t do it for me.