What is Wrong With Hollywood and How Science is Depicted?
For my fourth blog, I’ll be starting my criticism on the Hollywood approach to science fiction. In particular, how they under-utilize, or so horribly mangle, good science fiction material. The lack of originality has left us with an ocean of sequels and cross overs, culminating with such absurd concoctions as Alien vs Predator.
The reality is that the only motivation stimulating the majority of movies made today by major studios is a financial one. Movies have to be palatable, and understandable to a five-year-old. They also need to be secure, in that they are taking the audience somewhere they’ve already been and enjoyed, as to secure their earning potential during their short cinematic run. Considering this, maybe I shouldn’t be so upset at what the industry calls fine science fiction cinema.
A few decades ago, it was a valid argument to suggest that some great science fiction stories would have been too difficult to translate onto the screen. This was more of a limitation of technology than anything else. Today, the world’s we can create on screen are so ridiculously authentic, that they can ever start to creep us out as a result. Back in the 1950’s a plastic rocket on a string was the height of our special effects. Today we can do incredible things through CGI in our movies. So there are hardly any technology-based excuses left not to adapt the huge wealth of wonderful, innovative, compassionate, heart-warming, mind bending, and soul searching science fiction stories out there.
Although, that being said, Hollywood has destroyed some of those stories through forcing ham-fisted adaptations on an unsuspecting audience:
This is one of my favorite fighting based science fiction novels out there. The movie is a piece of crap. It’s been dumbed down, taking out all the complexities that make the book so great, to streamline it for a cinematic audience. The best part of the book was the complexity of the battles the cadets fight, and the strategies Ender uses to master them. None of that came through in the movie. Predictably, the movie flopped, with nothing of substance to keep audiences engaged. The biggest crime here, is that there are two follow up novels that would have made great sequels.
Take one of the best science fiction novels of all time: Dune. Then take the totally wrong person to direct the movie adaptation: David Lynch. Then cry when you see what Hollywood wanted to call a great use of science fiction. The book is so ripe for an outstanding movie, but they mangled it horribly, and didn’t even try to get the worms right. It did have some interesting visuals though.
The Science Fiction Channel, actually turned Dune (and the two sequels) into quite a good series. Despite the smaller television budget, it was a much more faithful rendition of the stories. It still isn’t enough to excuse Hollywood for not showing me what it feels like to have Arrakis barreling in on my position, or to really feel what it would be like to ride one of the worms!
To not be totally negative, there are more and more instances of Hollywood actually doing a good job with a science fiction story and making an excellent movie. Top on that list is the translation of the excellent science fiction story “The Martian” to the screen. It was such a joy to watch the best and smartest of the most diverse group of people to once again save Matt Damon. In today’s world where the trend seems to be people proudly shouting out their stupidity through wrong and outdated views at a presidential level, and on the streets, it was a nice change to see a movie where smart and compassionate people come together to achieve greatness.
In recent times, Christopher Nolan has also shown that you can have commercially successful movies without having to completely dumb down the plot. His two movies, Inception and Interstellar where both very successful at the box office, and great examples of intricate story telling that doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence.
So what else is grinding my gears? The lack of originality in today’s movies. Once something is a success, the most important thing to do is milk that cash cow for all it’s worth.
I loved Highlander (admittedly, you could argue it’s good old fashioned fantasy rather than science fiction), but every sequel just made me angrier and angrier. They were so bad they almost ruined the first movie for me. I don’t think any franchise has been flogged to death so comprehensively as Alien. Alien, and its sequel, Aliens, are both great movies. Both great movies, with interesting takes on the concept of being chased. Alien played on the fear of the unknown, while Aliens teased you with the fear of knowing what was out there and not being able to stop it. Then the follow-ups came. How many directors? How many different looks at the same badass creature? Then, of course, some bright spark had the great idea to cross over with the Predator movies. The less said about that, the better.
As if the constant serializing wasn’t bad enough, a lot of great (and not so great) stories keep getting remade. Spider-man is my favorite superhero. Did I need to see three different people play Spider-man in a 15 year period, as they raise and re-raise the franchise? I sure didn’t need to see Aunt May turned into a hot Marisa Tomei! With so much great source material out there, why isn’t it being explored to make great movies?
I am not completely discouraged however, because even within this corporate environment that dictates how movies are made, there continue to be many science fiction movies that are made and some of the best of these are simply a joy to watch. We do owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to 2001: A Space Odyssey which helped to recreate science fiction as bigger than life and ready for the big screen. So to end on a positive note, I do want to remind the readers that there are a couple of potentially good science fiction movies that will be coming out in the next few weeks and months. Top of my list is October 6, 2017 when Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford star in Blade Runner 2049 (Check out FLG Magazine for our full review on this one!). Then my Christmas present, Star Wars the Last Jedi on December 15, 2017. Let’s hope this movie is better (and considerably more original) than its immediate predecessor. Don’t know why I’m celebrating this last one, but I am. It’s ridiculous that it’s so far into the future, December 18, 2020, but considering that Avatar 1 was made in 2009, that is when Avatar 2 is coming out!
I think that it is continuously important that science and scientists are viewed positively and that is completely tied to how science is portrayed in the movies. We need to see more stories where scientists working together are the heroes. We also need less bad press where science and scientists are portrayed poorly or heaven forbid are the bad guys! Too often scientific endeavor is portrayed as mankind reaching too far into the realm of God and then being rightfully slapped down. One way to accomplish this is to reach into the vault of fabulous ideas and science fiction stories and create visual experiences of wonder but also tied to science as a positive force for society.
I have not gotten all of my complainings out of my system, although with this blog I’m now finished with the general question of “what is wrong with Hollywood?” In my next blog, I’ll talk about all my criticisms of the science fiction published as literature. Much of the complaints are quite similar, because here too you have an industry that runs completely on a for-profit motive with little care for either the genre or the fate of the many ghostwriters that they employ. However, right after that blog I promise to lighten up and start talking about some of the science fiction writers that have written some of my favorite stories and how much joy that has given me. This will include Orson Scott Card (again a huge Ender fan!), Nancy Kress, Joan Vinge, and just for shits and giggles Wesley Chu.