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Jar Jar Binks Must Die... and other Observations about Science Fiction Movies Paperback – August 16, 2011
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Yowza! Preach it, Brother!
As Mr. Kimmel points out, this seemingly normal and obvious attitude is a rarity in discussion of SF films -- among reviewers, in the viewing public at large, and perhaps especially among people who create SF films. It's still a common practice for the producer, director, publicist, star, etc. of any half-way sophisticated and thoughtful SF film to proudly declare that their movie "isn't science fiction" because it's about people, or relationships, or social issues, or whatever. That is, if a movie is SF, then it's dumb entertainment, and if it isn't dumb entertainment then it ipso facto isn't SF.
So it's great to have a intelligent, knowledgeable voice like Kimmel's discussing SF films without being embarrassed to speak the phrase "science fiction." A man who knows movies and also knows SF, both on film and off.
Here are a few of the highlights in the book for me:
A fascinating discussion of how the various film versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers have reflected the profoundly different historical periods in which they were produced.
A compare-and-contrast of The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Thing from Another World (both 1951), showing how they reflected starkly different attitudes towards scientists and toward the unknown.
A look at the existential implications of The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), and the movie's ultimate turning away from despair and towards a book-of-Job brand of religious faith.
An interesting examination of the arguments for and against calling The Time Traveler's Wife (movie, 2009) science fiction (Kimmel ultimately decides "for").
And, of course, the indisputable opinion of the title; that execrable abomination of a character must indeed die.
As a pretty hard-core SF movie fan, there were only a few films mentioned in this book that I haven't seen, and most of them I've seen several times over. But that level of involvement with the subject matter is by no means necessary to enjoying the book. Indeed, the book might be even more fun for a reader who can use it for viewing recommendations.
I suppose some readers will disagree with Kimmel's opinions from time to time, but personally I found that his tastes coincided pretty closely with mine. To my joy, he lambasts This Island Earth (1955) as a silly and illogical clunker, unredeemed by its expensive special effects, and he likewise agrees with me in admitting that Creation of the Humanoids (1962) is a "guilty pleasure"; a fun movie that combines laughable flaws with some genuine earnestness and sophistication. And likewise again with his opinions of E.T. ("It was just Spielberg pushing our buttons"), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (shallow, despite its gee-whiz visuals) and of Spielberg in general ("a showman rather than an artist").
I recommend this book to anyone even slightly interested in SF films, and I wish I could force it onto those who are disdainful of the genre.
That's my blurb on the front of this book, and I stand by it 100%. Daniel M. Kimmel has written a book in which he defends the role of science fiction films in the culture, not that it should need defending. The essays in this book are a delight from start to finish as Kimmel, a well-known film critic and former president of the Boston Society of Film Critics, points out how science fiction is just as important a genre in film as romantic comedy, western, or drama. Furthermore, the book includes a few surprises, as Kimmel praises some films that one wouldn't expect and also critiques some that most consider classics in the field.
This very readable book will appeal to fans of science fiction and science fiction films, of course, but it's also an important book for anyone who wants to understand the role of film in our culture. It will entertain you as it delights you and makes you think. And it'll make you want to watch some of your favorite films over again.
Mr. Kimmel is engrossing, engaging, and entertaining as a writer, and his several essays undoubtedly make the reader think, as well as enjoy. Whether defending the right of science fiction film to be classified in the same breaths as romantic comedy or Western or noir--as it should be--or simply advocating for overlooked classics and semi-classics, Mr. Kimmel writes with a fluid, sincere style, by turns enthusiastic, indignant, and funny, as befits his role as an instructor of film at a respected Massachusetts university.
Perhaps one of the best compliments for a book is that it resonates with the reader; certainly several essays--particularly "SF, My Parents, and Me" and the titular essay--did so for me. But most importantly, Mr. Kimmel's collection resonates insofar as it offers encouragement to the reader to seek out movies that he or she perhaps had not considered; for me, "Gattaca" and "Happy Accidents" were the standouts.
If these are the goals of a book, Mr. Kimmel has both met and exceeded them.
And he does all this (and more) using a colloquial and easy-to-read style that belies his role as an academic of film studies. I'm sure that his students would be shocked to see him move beyond his typical lecturing bombast and write a book that even their parents could understand.
So, S/F true-believers and detractors all should buy and read this book. He might not change your opinion about science fiction films and their role in our society, but you will definitely enjoy the journey.
Note: For those of you who are concerned that this product might be unsafe, and therefore worthy of contacting U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), channel your irrational fears elsewhere.