Nothing Is Over Until You Say It’s Over!!!

6 comments May 1st, 2005at 06:03pm Posted by Eli

Or until the last sequel is over.

NYT Week In Review has an article about how Star Wars is “so over,” and about how it’s not really science fiction anyway. It’s not as good as driftglass’s explanation of why Star Trek isn’t really science fiction, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve. (By an odd coincidence, the NYT article featured numerous quotes from none other than Richard K. Morgan, the author of Altered Carbon, which I am nearing the end of and enjoying very much.)

Like science itself, science fiction has evolved since the days of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Since the end of World War II, the genre has shifted its focus from space and time travel to more complex speculations on how the future, whatever its shape, will affect the individual.

That shift has only accelerated in recent years, as biotech and genetic engineering have moved to center stage in science and captured writers’ imaginations, and as the lines between science fiction and other genres begin to blur. “We’re starting to look inward, rather than outward,” Mr. Morgan said. “There are exciting and scary things going to be happening in our bodies.”

One problem with “Star Wars,” science fiction writers say, is that it is not, ultimately, concerned with science, but rather with a timeless vision of good and evil. Mr. Lucas has said that his story, especially the journeys of his central characters from innocence through trials by fire to wisdom and acceptance, were rooted in Joseph Campbell’s comparative studies of world mythologies, and especially in his popular book, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.”

On the other hand, the first trilogy still works quite well as a sweeping epic – good action, good effects, good story arc, even though Return Of The Jedi would have been a lot better without the Ewoks. (Best quote from the NYT article: “I fell asleep during the third one, when they brought out the Care Bears.”)

Mysteriously (or politely?) unmentioned in the article is the fact that the second trilogy is a complete disaster, and it has nothing to do with its sci-fi street cred. I have no idea what there was about the first trilogy or subsequent research that led Lucas to the conclusion that Star Wars audiences were hungry for more merchant guild intrigue, parliamentary procedure, wooden acting, and painful dialogue (or is it wooden dialogue and painful acting?), but he certainly has embraced that approach with self-immolating gusto. Perhaps a little more Hero’s Journey would have helped, but the second trilogy is essentially The Villain’s Journey, which could potentially be far more interesting if it weren’t, y’know, virtually nonexistent through the first two movies…

Here’s what I don’t get, though:

Science fiction writers, however, are awaiting the release for a different reason. To them, “Star Wars” is nothing more than a space opera, and if the big guy in the black cloak is finally singing, that means the show is over. The saga continues no longer.

“That’s the past of science fiction you’re talking about,” said Richard K. Morgan, the British cyberpunk-noir writer whose most recent novel is “Market Forces.”

No-one seriously thinks that the end of Star Wars is going to usher in a new era of science fiction fims, do they? Effects-heavy blockbusters will continue to be box office gold, while challenging, thought-provoking science fiction films will continue to be alienating and off-putting box-office poison, and/or unsuccessfully marketed as something they’re not (i.e., Solaris). Speaking as someone who reads a lot of science fiction books and watches a lot of science fiction films, I can attest that they are two completely different animals, and will probably remain that way. A large part of this is that the best science fiction books are all but unfilmable, except maybe as animation. Stephen Donaldson’s Gap Series? David Brin’s Kiln People or Uplift Trilogies? Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy? William Gibson’s Neuromancer? Any of Iain Banks’ Culture novels? Anything by A.A. Attanasio or Greg Bear (okay, maybe not the Darwin’s Radio books)? All great stuff, but I just can’t see any of it translating to the big screen.

In the end, I suppose the question is, Is this such a bad thing? By their very nature, movies are visual and surface-oriented, and thus not the best instrument for probing depths and subtleties. It can be done to a certain extent, but anything that requires significant narrative explanation or exposition of inner thoughts is going to be tricky and not entirely successful (see: Dune). This is not unique to science fiction, either. Books and movies are just two completely different experiences, to be enjoyed on their own merits. And that’s without even getting into the superior portability of books, or how easy they are to “pause” or “rewind,” or how you can understand every word you’re meant to understand, or how it doesn’t matter how big or HD your screen is. And without getting into the shared social experience of watching a movie with other people, complete with pop and popcorn, maybe in the comfort of your own living room, maybe in a darkened room full of strangers and THX surround sound; or the poetry of great actors, directors, or cinematographers in action. Plus I would much rather watch kung-fu than read about it…

Entry Filed under: Books,Favorites,Movies

6 Comments

  • 1. V  |  May 1st, 2005 at 8:25 pm

    A huge, huge problem with the new trilogy, IMO: cgi Yoda. It just ain’t right.

    Also: baby Anakin was annoying as hell. You’re almost rooting for him to go over to the dark side.

    Eps 1 and 2 were absolute shit, but in the interest of fairness, the trailers for the new one make it look pretty badass. Then again, maybe it’s just a great trailer.

  • 2. Eli  |  May 1st, 2005 at 8:46 pm

    That’s kind of a general problem with modern movies – CGI laziness. Instead of making the effort to create something tangible that’s well-crafted enough to look realistic, filmmakers just go straight to the CGI.

    I don’t know if it’s because they think puppets and animatronics don’t look realistic (often a valid point), or if CGI is just easier (much, much more likely, IMO), but CGI is still a long ways away from looking as real as a good puppet or animatronic model.

    And what is *up* with using CGI to replace animals? Like the wolves in The Day After Tomorrow and the deer in The Ring Two? It’s like CGI for the sake of CGI, and it looks like crap.

  • 3. V  |  May 1st, 2005 at 8:48 pm

    Nothing at all objectionable about the work of Henson’s creature shop, mate. Good puppets or animatronics are better than CGI any day, because of the tangibility factor.

    Most CGI doesn’t look at all real, IMO.

    Bring back matte photography, I say…

  • 4. Eli  |  May 1st, 2005 at 8:57 pm

    No argument here, although I suspect there *is* a school of thought that puppets look old-fashioned and cheesy. But even bad puppets still look *there*.

  • 5. thealogie  |  May 3rd, 2005 at 10:40 am

    Meh.

    What you need to start watching is “Doctor Who”. Harlan Ellison considered it better pop-SF than either SW or ST.

  • 6. Eli  |  May 3rd, 2005 at 5:46 pm

    Oh, I’ve watched plenty of Dr. Who – mostly Pertwee & the two Bakers, but I’ve seen every doctor up to McGann at least once or twice. And some Blake’s 7 here & there as well. And pretty much all of the first 6-7 seasons of Red Dwarf. And the original Hitchhiker’s (radio & telly).

    I’m well aware that sfx are not the be-all and end-all of sci-fi enjoyment, at least when the British are involved (although the original Outer Limits was also a damn good show with crap effects).


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