Somewhere along the way I’ve become a sci-fi hipster. It’s not that I don’t enjoy new sci-fi movies, it’s just that they were better before. These days all the sci-fi that comes out seems to be popcorn films. They’re designed around giant action scenes with pretty people delivering smart assed dialogue. As I said before, I enjoy that for the most part, but I miss there being more to science fiction.
When I was young and someone mentioned science fiction to me, I thought of Dune, Blade Runner, and Brazil. All of them were visually striking, deep, mind bending, and failures at the box office. It wasn’t really because they were bad films (except for Dune), but they took risks. The stories were not easy to follow. Hell, the films in general weren’t easy to follow, but at least it was something unique and different. You can STILL get lost in those movies if you don’t watch yourself. They effected people. They confused people. You were thinking about what you saw a week later and still weren’t sure you understood.
And sci-fi used to make you feel something. Star Wars resonated with people, not because of the ships and the effects. It was a story that struck down into the core of everyone. The hardships of the heros were relatable and there fore we cared. The characters were human. We felt their struggles. We went through it with them.
Star Trek 2 isn’t the best Star Trek movie because it’s an even number. It isn’t because it’s got nail biting tension in the space battles. It’s because a character people loved sacrificed himself and we saw the agony that it caused. It also helps that William Shatner delivered what may be the greatest emotional performance of his career. Even though Spock came back in the next movie, we didn’t know it at the time. The new Star Trek Into Darkness? Not so much. We knew Kirk wasn’t gonna die. You just don’t do that these days.
Then there’s the innovations we don’t get any more.
See all that? Stuff that someone saw in Star Trek and thought “HEY! We need that!” You don’t get that much any more. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve run out of ideas for neat stuff or it’s because we’re moving so fast as a species we just don’t know what’s coming next. Maybe we’re scared to make those predictions now. Have we lost that inner creative spark that let us see the future?
Lastly, there’s a certain level of earnest campiness that’s gone out of the genre. In the old days someone would have a crazy idea for a sci-fi movie or television series and nothing would stop them from getting made. Not a lack of money, talent, or materials. Yeah they were cheap and terrible, but you could tell that someone really wanted to show you what was in their minds. Now, if it’s cheap like the SyFy Originals there are too many winks and nudges reminding you that they knew they were making crap. Sometimes you’ll dig up a gem that is sort of enjoyable and takes itself seriously. Usually not. Usually everyone involved in the film knew it was just a smirk to the audience and a cash grab for the home video/basic cable market.
In the end, I guess what I’m saying is we need the visionaries and the risk takers to come forward. We need someone that’s more than willing to put out something that’s going to be weird and possibly crap and do it anyway. Sometimes, we need the inventiveness of a low budget and a hapless audience.
I would like to thank Barry Jackson and Mike Rutherford for the long talks about this very subject and their opinions have more than shaped this.