Sci-fi films are good for:

20 Aug

Three things, and only three things.

1) Action packed adventure – Star Wars, Star Trek, Avatar, stuff like that. These films are not supposed to be scientifically accurate, which is why the science in these films is so often laughable. Sci-fi horror or monster movies, like Alien, fall into this category, since sci-fi heroes are often capable action heroes rather than helpless victims like in other horror movies.  Everyone must be beautiful. The acting can be bad, but if you can get Zach Quinto then do so. Good acting only helps.

2) Comedy – Futurama, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Red Dwarf, anything where sci-fi focuses on its use as a metaphor for social commentary, and they’re funny about it. Actual scientific information is often non-existent, or the technobabble is intentionally  transparently ridiculous to make fun of action sci-fi movies. People need not be beautiful, but it helps if they are, especially if you’re going to be making a lot of sex jokes, or if you’ll be putting Jane Fonda in outlandish sexy outfits. Good acting would go totally unnoticed in this type of film, so skip it.

3) Showing off acting – Gattaca, both Solaris films, yes George Clooney actually acted in Solaris and he didn’t suck. These films should have at least some passing nod to science. The science has to at least be non-goofy. Imagine if you were watching the one film in which George Clooney gets to show off his ability to make an audience feel something, but the premise isn’t the fundamental incomprehensibility of a truly alien intelligence. Instead the premise is that he has landed on an alien planet where all the inhabitants want to have sex with him, like actual sex, even though he’s only ever had telepathic sex in his whole life. That premise is so ridiculous that even if George Clooney gave that movie the best performance of his entire life, you wouldn’t notice.

Having established that, what the heck is the deal with the upcoming film, Never Let Me Go? OK, it’s based on a Kazuo Ishiguro novel, and he wrote The Remains of the Day. I haven’t read either of those novels, but The Remains of the Day is apparently a big deal. He can write a good novel.

But Never Let Me Go doesn’t fall into any of the above three categories. No matter how it was as a novel, it is guaranteed to suck as a film. The premise is laughable. It is in fact the exact same premise as the 2005 Michael Bay film, The Island. The difference is that The Island was an action film, so it could have bad science, and we would still get to enjoy watching Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson get chased around by the agents of evil Sean Bean. I would enjoy watching Scarlett Johansson do almost anything. Never Let Me Go is apparently not an action film, so we are supposed to care about the characters and feel for them, and appreciate the acting, and please not get distracted by the laughably bad science.

I don’t even know what Kazuo Ishiguro was thinking writing this book in 2005. In 2001 they already proved that it was possible to grow a single organ from a patient’s own DNA. That’s right. Once it’s perfected you will be able to go in for a new liver, and they will clone your liver, and put the new one in. They will not clone you and have another whole person running around escaping from Sean Bean. They will just clone the organ they need. The equivalent would be if in 1907, you wrote a sci-fi novel in which airplanes were impossible, 4 years after the Wright brothers flew the first airplane. And in your novel, the characters had to do something ridiculous, stupid and terribly wasteful, because they couldn’t use airplanes. That is how goofy the premise of this novel is.

He could have written a novel in which people were cloned because society, for some reason, needed entire human beings for something, soldiers, sex slaves, whatever. You know what, even have the characters genetically engineered to be more soldiery, or sexier, or whatever society needs them to be. Get a little like D. H. Lawrence on the topic. And if the characters are genetically engineered we can even work in a seething critique of the courts’ decision to allow the patenting of genetic sequences. The villain could be all like, “I own the proteins that make up this whore’s cells, therefore, I own her.” You know, how like Monsanto claims to own all these different proteins, all these different genetically engineered strains of plants. If you own that gene, tell it to stop replicating in other people’s fields. Monsanto may have discovered a certain gene or even put it together, but they own it about as much as they own the word corn, which is not at all.

That would have been a good book. I would have read that. That would have made a good movie. I would actually go see that.

There have been so few good movies lately. I really wish film makers would pay attention. If the film is going to have totally goofy science, at least put beautiful people surviving explosions in it. If you don’t have that, at least put jokes in it. Something. Stop making goofy movies, that we have to take seriously to enjoy.

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