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When Did SF Movies Become So Bad?


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Showing 1-25 of 240 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 11, 2012 10:58:31 AM PST
I've been milling this thought around in my head for sometime, and I've come up with my opinion, but I was curious what other enthusiasts might think.

First off, I am well aware that fans of SF who got there from reading differ greatly from fans of SF who only know it from movies and television. They are completely different SF fans who want different things from the experience.

Being an avid reader of SF literature, it was pretty apparent that when it came to SF on the big screen Hollywood was always a bit behind the literature when it came to adaptations. Also when compared Europe, Hollywood SF leaned toward spectacle, while Europe took the genre more as a legitimate means to express ideas; i.e. Metropolis. It could be said that Hollywood has never really respected the genre of SF, but because they didn't take it seriously you always had a few gems, such as "Forbidden Planet", "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", or even "I Married A Monster From Outer Space" (actually a very good film). During the experimental 70's Hollywood looked like it might be finally growing up with Kubrick's 2001, and my personal favorite "Silent Running". It seemed that Hollywood was on the verge of changing it's mind about that "Buck Rogers" stuff and recognize it for the art form that it could be.

One of the reasons that George Lucas was able to get the tremendous deal he got with Star Wars was because SF movies were considered B films that didn't make a lot of money. SW; however came at just the right time. Right out of Watergate and the war, after a whole avalanche of depressing, pessimistic cinema, SW caught the public imagination and caught everyone by surprise. Hollywood had never seen anything like it.

Of course they started to think "There's something to this Sci Fi stuff." So they set about trying to duplicate SW's success. To no avail. Television fared far better in that respect, but Hollywood couldn't figure out the real reason SW was so popular, they were only looking at the surface. The robots, the spaceships etc. It was because of this flux of trying to figure it out that a film like "BladeRunner ", 1982 was able to slip through. Hollywood would probably have consider SW a fluke if not for one other movie that would give them the piece of the puzzle that they were missing.
That would be Cameron's "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" in 1991. With the success of this film Hollywood got the idea that a SF film was actual a sub-genre of the Action film and Hollywood certainly knew how to make action films.

After T2. It was virtually impossible to get a "serious" SF film greenlit in Hollywood, and we got lots of explosions, chases, more intergalactic battles, and a lot less science and speculation. The stories got a lot less about human dealing with technology, or even what the future might have in store, and more about . . . nothing. SF movie budgets started to skyrocket, and the higher the budget the less risk your willing to take. As a result SF movies today almost have to be as generally mundane as possible, and a lot of potentially great movies have been ruined by this mentality.

Now because we have directors who have become so huge, that they can do what they want, we have movies like "Inception", "Hugo", or "District 9", if you keep the budgets minimum you can get a gem like "Moon". And what does Hollywood do? It treats these films like they are anomalies, and continue to promote stuff like "Cowboys and Aliens" and "Super 8", and of course the SW prequels in glorious 3D!

So while I don't blame either Lucas, or Cameron, (it wasn't their fault afterall) the legacy of bad SF films that followed their movies is pretty substantial. What do you think?

Posted on Feb 11, 2012 12:36:12 PM PST
Hit movies must strike a chord with moviegoers and induce word of mouth advertising or repeat viewings in order to generate hundred's of millions of revenue.

The culture of the 50's, 60's and 70's was very involved with learning to adapt to new technologies and using technologies for scientific exploration. Now, technology is taken for granted and exciting exploratory technology like the space shuttle is obsolete.

The last "sci-fi" blockbuster was "Avatar". Its not about technology, really, its about environmentalism and is almost anti-technology. This reflects our current culture.

Hollywood makes movies in order to make money. Until our "culture" is ready once more for speculative, hard science SciFi movies, I doubt we will see very few mainstream Hollywood movies in that vein. For now, we'll see explosions and zombies.

(Good discussion topic, btw).

Posted on Feb 11, 2012 5:50:04 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 11, 2012 8:06:17 PM PST
Captain says:
It's simple. CGI. That's all that sci-fi movies are now. Very little effort put into anything else.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 11, 2012 9:07:17 PM PST
absolutely right captain! -people want more,more,more and bigger special effects-cgi/3d/real 3d/blah blah blah blah blah-give me forbidden planet/war of the worlds/jason and the argonauts/the thing/them/2001/first men in the moon over just about anything coming out of hollywood now!

Posted on Feb 11, 2012 10:47:04 PM PST
Lucas is a definite fan of the CGI craze, which is sad, because at one time he really cared about good movies. It's not just CGI though, it's as if screenwriters have completely forgotten how to pace a story anymore. I remember thinking while watching the new Star Trek reboot that the pacing is atrocious. It was just action scene after action scene, to the point that you were just worn out by the end of it, but it didn't really make you feel anything after. When I watched the extras on the DVD the writers kept saying how they looked at Star Wars to see how to make Star Trek cool. I'm wondering what Star Wars they were looking at because Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back are very well paced films.

Posted on Feb 11, 2012 11:49:18 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 2, 2012 5:34:51 PM PST
I do blame Lucas, for the terrible prequels anyway. The original three were conceptually close to done at the same time roughly. From there on his need for control and total disregard for actors: all can be fixed in post. Natalie Portman. He had Natalie Portman, a true actress with some chops and that was all he used from her. "Okay run that way with your fake looking blaster. Cut, print. But George I wasn't looking at the camera. That's fine I'll fix it post." He really got quite lazy in his little kingdom. I think he dislikes actors.

Scifi was a little campy from the start due to budgets for the first several years. CGI is all about biggest bang for the biggest buck for the least effort unless a director or producer fights for it-the bad ones for sure. And most movies are not too good. Hover right below the average line. Corporate ethos-the most for the least effort and risk. Heck with good.

Ridley Scott is returning to Alien! There is one good one coming this year! Prometheus!

Posted on Feb 12, 2012 1:05:07 AM PST
JessaSlade says:
Do you think it's just science fiction that gets the Hollywood treatment, where spectacle is valued over story? I think the percentage of good to bad movies feels pretty similar across genres. I always complain about romantic comedies; they should be mostly good because the storytelling is relatively straightforward, where the obvious focus should be on the satisfying, romantic relationship as developed (mostly) through fun dialogue. That should be just a matter of good script writing, and yet... Add the complexity of worldbuilding in science fiction and I guess I'm more surprised we get anything that makes sense in 120 minutes.

I have high hopes for John Carter (despite the somewhat woozy trailers) since Burroughs told a good, fun, clear story that should translate to the screen. Fingers crossed.

Posted on Feb 12, 2012 6:19:11 AM PST
i miss the old movies where we would go out there in space and suddenly find ourselves at a disadvantage and to have to adapt and overcome. i think we are so high an mighty with our new technologies that we think it'll be like avatar where we are the ones putting the aliens at a disadvantage when we still do not have hydrogen fusion, hand held lasers or force fields. we need to get a sense of perspective. do we really honestly believe that we'll go to space and meet docile little green men? and if we do what about the kzinti lesson in Niven's Known Space series. bring back the old giant monsters of "The Angry Red Planet, and the creature from the black lagoon and aliens that have us outmatched and no sneeky overcoming them by creating computer viruses...they'd already have thought of that!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 12, 2012 6:39:26 AM PST
I'm not so sure about John Carter. I've read all of Burrough's books, and for my money, he is one of the most visual writers ever. It was like he was writing with film in mind. Yet Hollywood has yet to get Tarzan right. I can understand why it took so long for Carter to be made, because the sfx would have been difficult 30+ years ago, but now the writing is so bad, and we have become such a p.c. society, a lot of John Carter is going to get lost in translation.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 12, 2012 7:49:53 AM PST
K. Rowley says:
"After T2. It was virtually impossible to get a "serious" SF film greenlit in Hollywood, and we got lots of explosions, chases, more intergalactic battles, and a lot less science and speculation."

Science fiction is now mainstream fare.. So they (the makers) feel that they have to pander to the lowest-common-denominator.. and pleases everybody.. Blockbuster movies cost a lot of money to make - the people in charge of that money want a film that `everybody' will go and see, not just the few people who have read the book/comic that it's loosely based on.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 12, 2012 8:15:17 AM PST
True, I still think it is because Hollywood doesn't respect the Sf genre that we get a lot of the stuff we get, but now Hollywood doesn't even respect the classics. Look at the latest Three Musketeers film which was the worst offender so far, since Disney decided to screw with the original book. Of course we know that novels and films are completely different media that doesn't translation completely when you adapt, but it seems that Hollywood is more willing to screw around with a Sf novel than it is with a "mainstream" bestseller like say, "The Help".

Sometimes this is simply because the novel is not filmable as written, and the results can be fantastic, if the screenwriter can understand the essence of what the book is about. Think Blade Runner as the classic example of a film that bares hardly any resemblance to the novel on which it's based, yet is an excellent film is all respects, then look at "Total Recall" which while kinda' fun really doesn't have anything to do with the novelette on which it's based. The novelette is really quite a cool little story and would have made a great twilight zone type short.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 12, 2012 8:32:35 AM PST
K. Rowley says:
"I still think it is because Hollywood doesn't respect the Sf genre that we get a lot of the stuff we get, but now Hollywood doesn't even respect the classics."

Hollywood is a business.. period - the only thing It is going to respect is a return on It's investment and as big return as they can get..

Posted on Feb 13, 2012 8:04:19 AM PST
William L.K. says:
This thread is so sad but so true!
The days of great sci-fi movies with absorbing stories may be at an end. :(

Posted on Feb 13, 2012 8:58:37 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 13, 2012 8:59:57 AM PST
The core of the problem is that certain subgenres of sci-fi have come to displace sci-fi in general... the most common, I think, are space opera and various -punk renditions. True science fiction has to bend the mind and twist the gut, not just be set in space or a post-apocalyptic society.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 13, 2012 2:14:04 PM PST
Well said.

I heard it once said that the original "Battlestar Galactica" was "Wagon Train" in space.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 13, 2012 2:19:55 PM PST
K. Rowley says:
"I heard it once said that the original "Battlestar Galactica" was "Wagon Train" in space."

And Star Trek was Horatio Hornblower in space...

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 13, 2012 2:25:29 PM PST
lol, so true. At least none of HH's sailing ships would go dead in the water when hit by a single cannonball, unlike the delicate NCC-1701 which was always breaking down over one thing or another. It must have been constructed by Jaguar.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 13, 2012 4:11:34 PM PST
The Enterprise had a Lucas electrical system.

Posted on Feb 13, 2012 6:06:00 PM PST
On the topic of political correctness...

(spoilers)

Yes, the movie "I, Robot" had almost nothing to do with the original book (by contract, "Bicentennial Man" was pretty close.) But think about the "Liar!" portion of I, Robot: Susan Calvin is ugly. As far as we know, she never has sex in her entire life. This among other things makes her misanthropic and she prefers the company of robots to human beings. In "Liar!" she hasn't completely given up on the idea of having a relationship with a human male, and a mind-reading robot tells her that a male co-worker likes her, to make her happy. When she finds out this is a lie, she gets royally miffed, slaps the robot, and the robot, realizing he's caused her harm, freezes up in positronic mind-lock.

Now, try getting that story filmed today.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 13, 2012 6:14:08 PM PST
I agree with this; it's across all genres.

I saw that "Percy Jackson, Lightning Thief" and it was a fun popcorn movie with a few clever ideas, but the dialogue was just...nothing. Flat. Can't think of a single memorable line.

By contrast, whatever else you may say about the Star Wars movies-

Leia: I love you.
Han: I know.

is just perfect. (and yeah, Harrison Ford ad-libbed that.)

Posted on Feb 13, 2012 6:23:30 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 13, 2012 6:26:38 PM PST
Regarding science in science fiction movies and TV: I don't expect there to be any actual science. When I walk into the theater, I shut off my brain. However, serious howlers can hamper my enjoyment even in brain-shut-off mode. For instance, even though I liked the most recent Star Trek movie, two howlers crossed the suspension-of-disbelief barrier:

1) Spock is on some nameless ice planet and he can see Vulcan expolde. The only way this could even be remotely possible is if the nameless ice planet was a moon of Vulcan, unless this is not supposed to be taken literally and Spock was just "feeling" Vulcan die like Obi Wan and Alderan.

2) A supernova explodes and blows up Romulus. The only way this could make any sense is if the supernova was Romulus's own sun.

There are many more science errors in the film, but these are the two that hit me while I was watching the movie.

On the other hand, the science in the original series wasn't all that great either, so this is not just a recent problem.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 13, 2012 7:05:40 PM PST
Considering the problems the Enterprise's crew had with their communicators, I think Gene Roddenberry predicted Sprint.

Posted on Feb 13, 2012 7:23:32 PM PST
Say what you want about current hollywood sc fi movies but District 9 is an instant classic.

Posted on Feb 13, 2012 7:45:49 PM PST
I thought "Super 8" wasn't too bad. I went into that film thinking it would be much worse than it actually was. However, I do think there are few good sci-fi films and tv shows being made today and the replay value of those isn't too good. I still prefer watching the classics. There's more story depth there. Give me Kubrick's 2001 and Tom Baker's era of "Doctor Who" any day! CGI and mindless action. That is all most sci-fi films and tv shows are today. Sorry, but my thirsty brain needs more than that.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 13, 2012 8:11:45 PM PST
You're absolutely right. A lot of people assume that the new technology makes for better films, but they only make for better special effects. SFX only will not get me to rewatch a film over and over. A good story will. I can watch a film like Tremors countless times with it low budget effects with much more pleasure than I could get out of any of the Star Wars prequels. I can still enjoy the original Terminator equally along side T2, but I think I've only watch the last two Terminator movies once, and once only, and have no desire to watch them again. The original Planet of the Apes with Heston has more rewatchability than the remake. Don't even mention remakes like "The Day the Earth Stood Still".
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Discussion in:  Science Fiction forum
Participants:  75
Total posts:  240
Initial post:  Feb 11, 2012
Latest post:  May 13, 2012

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