Sci-Fi Saturday

SciFi SaturdayToday I’m starting a brand new ancient tradition: Sci-Fi Saturday! It won’t mean a science fiction post every Saturday, but when I do post SF topics, it’ll be on Saturday. This new protocol has many precedents. Last August I posted four articles for Star Trek Saturday. The August before that, I posted two key Star Trek articles (one of them my favorite diatribe about the holodeck).

Turns out it was a Saturday I posted those videos with Captain Kirk and Princess Leia giving each other crap about which was better, Star Trek or Star Wars (duh, it’s Doctor Who). And there are other science fiction posts that fell on Saturday (I was surprised at how many—it seems the new tradition is foreordained). Plus, Saturday is named after Saturn, which is an extremely science fiction-y planet!

So welcome to Sci-Fi Saturday!

Star Trek (TOS)

“To boldly go…”

I mentioned Star Wars, because I want to kick things off with a few thoughts for the record. I was a science fiction fan long before Star Wars came out in 1977. In fact, I was already a science fiction fan when Star Trek first came out in 1966!

I was sitting in a theater watching coming attractions when I saw a trailer for a science fiction movie unlike any other. And at the time, about the only movie you could compare it to was Kubrick‘s stately and beautiful 2001: A Space Odyssey.  This new film had gun battles and robots; it presented a future that looked used and dirty (Kubrick’s vision was antiseptic!). Even Star Trek had never looked like this!

2001 A Space Odyssey

You’re in real trouble now, Hal!

I was there that day in May when it opened. I drove my baby blue VW up to the theater and (wonder of wonders) found a parking spot directly across from the theater. (For those that know Los Angeles, this was in Westwood!) I took that as an omen to see the movie that night—I’d driven up there just to check things out.

It was amazing, a science fiction fan’s fantasy!  And what’s more, it completely changed the SF landscape.  It made “that sci-fi stuff” mainstream! It was the beginning of a new addition to our movie (and TV) diet.  It was the stuff of wonder!

The irony is that Star Wars really isn’t very science fiction-y!

When you come right down to it, Star Wars is a fairy tale. “Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away,” is a direct analog of, “Once upon a time.” The story revolves around a princess, a (lost!) prince and a dashing rogue. It features dark wizards of fearsome power and good wizards (who don’t seem as tough or powerful but always win because they’re Wise and Good).  Plus it has sword-fighting, pirates, monsters and windup toys (robots).

Star Wars

“Once upon a time…”

Totally a fairy tale. It even ends, “And they lived happily ever after!”

There are those that consider it their favorite movie. That’s fine—nothing wrong with that; it is a genuine classic. Just don’t consider it the pinnacle of science fiction. Sure, it has spaceships and robots, but that’s not what SF is really about (and they’re certainly not at all necessary for a good SF story).  After all, there are real robots and spaceships in the world. The ones in the movies are just a bit more developed.

As for that other trilogy going by the same name, it doesn’t exist in these parts. I can’t put it any better than comedian Brian Posehn did, “It’s like waking up to discover that your favorite uncle has snuck into your bedroom and put his penis on your face.”  That totally captures the horror, revulsion and sense of betrayal!

Sam Jackson

“Me so wooden.”

It’s strange how one set of three movies revolutionized SF movies, whereas the other set of three are, at best, meaningless fluff.  (I’ve never seen Sam Jackson do poorly, but in those he was awful. It was difficult and embarrassing to watch.)  The plot is wall-to-wall with bad writing (robots sleep??), the love story with Padmé was the most inexplicable love connection ever, and the ending is atrocious (a Jedi just walks away and leaves someone to die??).

The movies are shit on just about any level.

Gravity Wimp!

Gravity Wimp!

Not that most of the Star Trek movies are a whole lot better. There’s a little more depth and reality to the characters and situations. A general consensus among fans is that the odd-numbered ones are bad.  It’s certainly true that #5 (The Final Frontier) is considered the worst, but I think #6 (The Undiscovered Country) is a very close runner-up (apparently the fierce Klingon warriors are completely discommoded when their gravity fails, and shape-shifters are a really stupid science fiction device).  Most agree #2 (The Wrath of Khan) is the best, with many seeing #4 (The Voyage Home) as a close second (it’s the “fun one”).

I find most of the Star Trek movies with Picard and crew pretty watchable with #8 (First Contact) being my favorite (another fun one; the bit with drunk Troi is a hoot; and that Borg Queen, my, my!).  I like #9 (Insurrection) better than #10 (Nemesis). By the tenth time out, it was starting to feel like a dry well.

Not my Kirk; not my Spock!

Not my Kirk; not my Spock!

I haven’t made up my mind about the new incarnation.  I’m not a fan of J.J. Abrams.  I haven’t seen his second Star Trek movie, yet, but I didn’t find a lot to like in the first one.

But I digress. I was headed towards talking about main stream science fiction. We even have a cable channel dedicated to it (not thrilled with how they renamed it to the SyFy channel, but whatever). Ironically, despite being a life-long science fiction fan, I never watch the SyFy channel. Part of it is the commercials, but the main reason is that most of what they do is pop SF, mainstream SF, and it just doesn’t interest me.

I have friends—also life-long SF fans—whose criteria for liking a movie or TV show seems to be simply that it’s science fiction. Period.  Doesn’t have to be good, just has to be some sort of SF.  Whatever works for you, but I like a little more quality in my stories. I stopped liking something just because of the cool special effects a long time ago.

Final Fantasy

Not bad for 12 years ago!

Now that we’ve arrived at an era where computer-generated images make it possible to show anything you can think of, I find I’m even less interested in special effects. When it’s trivial to do anything, it’s no longer a big deal.  What I do regard is when I see something ground breaking that doesn’t imitate.

The end result is that science fiction is mainstream. Teenagers divide into Teams over heart-throb monsters, sexy vampires and werewolves. If you want to go back to a very original source and a truly sexy vampire, check out Chelsea Quinn Yarbro‘s Count Saint-Germain series (first book published in 1978)! I was never a big fan of Anne Rice’s work, but I liked these a lot.

I’ll end today by mentioning Game Of Thrones. Nope, don’t like it, don’t like it much at all. It doesn’t even seem like SF to me, but a medieval (in both senses of the word) story with a bunch of thoroughly unlikable characters running around stabbing each other in the back.  What fun.

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister

Worth the ticket!

I have HBO, so I watched the first two seasons on OnDemand.  I can’t seem to get excited about looking at season three. The only thing that’s kept me watching the series is Peter Dinklage‘s Tyrion.  The rest of them can go  hang (and some have!).

My sister loves the show, which says it all. My sister, bless her heart, is about as far away from being a science fiction fan as it is possible to get. You couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of mainstream SF!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

14 responses to “Sci-Fi Saturday

  • rarasaur

    My feelings of Game of Thrones are much the same… though I do like how much I dislike the young little blonde kid. But, I’d watch Peter Dinklage read from the dictionary, in a language I don’t understand because my love for him is eternal! 😉

    • Wyrd Smythe

      If that Spoiled Princess would have just pushed his ass off the edge early in the series, everyone involved would have had a better time! The Little Prick had just killed her dad; she knew she was in deep shit… do something useful for once in your life!

      The Young Princess has some grit and smarts; she’s alright. I like Tyrion because Dinklage is so good, but he’s also one of the few characters I can stand. Educated, cynical, capable, horny and he has a good sense of humor. My kind of guy!

  • Lady from Manila

    If you didn’t like the first of the Star Trek remakes by JJ Abrams, the more that you might not like the 2nd one – although the dominant presence of Khan had started to play up. Whenever I see short scenes with the young, impressive William Shatner as Kirk in the earlier series of Star Trek on TV, I reckon he’s another one I could have had a crush on. But I like the current actors Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine extremely well, too.

    As I’ve said before, I was old enough (around 10 years of age) to appreciate the very first Star Wars so it was able to impact my young consciousness then. Every time I watch it, even up to this day, I feel like I am being transported to another dimension far, far away :-).
    The sequels I wasn’t crazy about. The inclusion of African-American actors seemed mandatory, and the supposed love triangle between Luke, Leia, and Han got obviously steered by turning the two shorter (in height) actors as brother and sister in secret. I honestly couldn’t feel the chemistry between the Pilot and the Princess, i.e., Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I suspect I’ll have to do with them what I did with the Mission: Impossible movies. I loved that show, and the movies… well, they so aren’t that show. If I decouple the two into separate things, I can enjoy the M:I movies (which are pretty fun). I’ll just have to treat the new ST movies as separate SF movies with no connection to my old friends.

      I was in college when Star Wars came out, so it wasn’t as influential with me. The second and third ones (Episodes #5 and #6) weren’t as amazing as the first, because it had been done before. Sequels almost never are as good as the first, for that aspect alone. Returning to the well is never as much fun as discovering the well for the first time.

      Thing is, if they hadn’t included black actors, then they’d get labeled for being “too white” and Lucas would get a lot of flack for presenting a “white future.” Rightfully so, in my book. I was born in New York City and raised in Los Angeles, so a multi-cultural environment is the norm for me. I feel slightly weird in an all-white crowd. Gene Roddenberry had a Japanese pilot (Sulu), a Russian navigator (Chekov) and a black female communications officer (Uhura), because he wanted to present a multi-cultural future (bravo, Gene!).

      You raise a good point about Han Solo and Princess Leia. Not a lot of chemistry there, either!

  • reocochran

    Taking each remake as a separate entity in itself, then I just judge as “Is this entertaining? Does it stand by itself?” I cannot imagine remaking several movies. But sometimes it works out, cannot say never to anything. But, thought a lot about my Dad while reading this post, which I think he would agree with. He loved our getting popcorn, watching “Guns of Will Sonnett” and “Star Trek.” He liked the t.v. sequels, too. Take care and keep on smiling, enjoying your sweet freedom! Congratulations, you made it out of the rat race!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I generally believe that remakes and sequels never equal the originals, but there are some exceptions. In many regards, Star Trek: The Next Generation was much better than the original, although the original is such a classic.

      The thing about remakes is that you have to be aware of the source material, and comparisons are inevitable. For example, the Mission: Impossible movies are really nothing like the original TV show, and the first one contains an element that is actively offensive to anyone who loved the TV show. (Jim Phelps a traitor? No! Fucking! Way!) I can view them as just another silly modern action film, but I still resent the theft of the title and concept. If you’re not going to honor the source, make up your own damned story. Don’t trade on the success of someone else.

      So it’s kind of the offensiveness of remakes that gets to me. Remaking The Day The Earth Stood Still was a crime (and it turned out to be a rather lame movie with a few interesting bits).

      Oh, well. So it goes! 🙂

  • reocochran

    I agree with the idea that authors should try to stay closer to who the characters are and how they act, also not change the whole good guy into a bad guy or traitor, either! I like the Mission Impossible movies due to the action, again, the money was put into them to make them above average, in my opinion. But they could just come up with another name. I resent that the masks, disguises aren’t used very much. I think the original was way ahead of itself and not corny. The original Tarzans could be remade and I would prefer them. I have seen remakes of Annie Sullivan and think they were good as Helen Keller’s partner. I think that “Star Trek” was campy but interesting and still wish we had a way to move our body particles through air and go to Europe without the cost of an airplane ticket! The following series was much more modern and less campy. I can tell you my Dad liked the Next Generation, too.
    BTW, did you like Diana Rigg and the series, “The Avengers?” I liked that and felt it was well written, dry wit and not campy, at all.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yep, exactly. Character “revisionism” offends those who cared about those characters, and it’s a cheap shot designed to get an effect. Kind of like the old “cat jumping off the shelf” scary moment in so many horror flicks. And I agree completely about the disguises! In the first movie they had a little bit of a typical complex M:I caper, but it was a basic “action movie” from then on. Yeah, they’re pretty good action movies, but what they so totally ain’t is Mission: Impossible. (And Tom Cruise has managed to get himself filed in my “Nutty Actors” file.) That element of planning this elaborate ruse to trick some bad guy… that was the soul of M:I, and it’s (almost) completely missing from the movies.

      I’m not sure I’d call the original Star Trek campy—not Batman campy, anyway. It may have gotten that way unintentionally sometimes, but they weren’t shooting for camp (like they were on Batman). It’s definitely dated now and a bit cheesy, though (seemed much less so at the time). By the time TNG came along, almost 20 years later, SF was more mainstream and special effects were more advanced. Now days, that stuff is trivial!

      Loved The Avengers and had a major crush on Diana Rigg (Mrs. Peel, actually, although I’ve always liked Diana Rigg, too). I’ve got the DVDs! And, actually, for a British show, it was a little campy at times, but also so typically British that it somehow elevated it to a higher level. Wonderful show!! Beautiful, capable Mrs. Peel; dashing, capable John Steed; fascinating and weird plots with sometimes a dash of science fiction thrown in… Loved that show!

      • reocochran

        Maybe I should not ever include the word “campy” in the same sentence with Star Trek. My Dad would have been offended. I am sure it was really well done at the time but there were moments that I thought they went a little silly instead of scientific and serious! I did enjoy them and have watched them over and over again.
        I also forgot you loved Mrs. Peel, Diana Riggs! When I look back on the first times we were commenting and reading blogs, I have a vague memory we have already covered this subject. My Dad and Mom loved the Avengers, as long as they approved we could watch almost any show they loved. We had to do chores or take naps if the shows were later than our set bedtime, but they were pushovers for some of these shows. I am sure “campy” would apply to one we laughed and liked, “My Favorite Martian.” Also, “Mr. Ed.”
        Well, Wyrd S., I am being told by my youngest daughter to get off her laptop, alas did not want to land in the library this late…. take care and talk to you later!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        There’s all kinds of ways “campy” can apply! Batman was intentionally campy—that’s what they were going for. Star Trek didn’t seem to aim for campy, but some episodes really skirt the line between cheesy and campy, especially when you look at them now. And anyway, I’m not sure what the yardstick for campy even is… one person might see it differently than another. It’s not a real specific term! 🙂

      • reocochran

        Well, this is probably amusing to a reader who doesn’t know what we are trying to talk about! “Campy” is in the movie, “Ted” and sometimes the words that were streaking across the t.v. screen during “Batman” with Adam West made it campy. But Star Trek was a new idea and the actors were really trying most of the time to be serious and scientific. There were the little idiosyncracies to make it funny, like “Beam me up, Scottie!” and the doctor who was always so serious even when he could have been smiling. I do like the fact that there were a lot of unique and new ideas that we all believed would be happening, some are getting there. But, I retract “campy” with Star Trek, once and for all! Smiles and a big chuckle, from Ohio on this exchange of words!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        New readers will just have to read the back trail of comments! 🙂

        We’ll call the case of the campy captain Kirk completely closed!

        (And let’s never mention that teddy bear movie again! :lol:)

      • reocochran

        Over and out! Have a great weekend… take it easy, like you do every day, retired lucky man!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Thanks! (Lovin’ it!!) Have a great weekend!

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