Thursday, August 30, 2007

Is Sci-Fi Dead?

I certainly hope not, but Sir Ridley Scott seems to think so. On the occaision of teh 25th Anniversary release of Scott's classic Blade Runner, he opined:
At the Venice Film Festival for a special screening of his seminal noir thriller Blade Runner, Sir Ridley said that science fiction films were going the way the Western once had. “There’s nothing original. We’ve seen it all before. Been there. Done it,” he said. Asked to pick out examples, he said: “All of them. Yes, all of them.”

The flashy effects of recent block-busters, such as The Matrix, Independence Day and The War of the Worlds, may sell tickets, but Sir Ridley believes that none can beat Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Made at the height of the “space race” between the United States and the USSR, 2001 predicted a world of malevolent computers, routine space travel and extraterrestrial life. Kubrick had such a fastidious eye for detail, he employed Nasa experts in designing the spacecraft.

Sir Ridley said that 2001 was “the best of the best”, in use of lighting, special effects and atmosphere, adding that every sci-fi film since had imitated or referred to it. “There is an overreliance on special effects as well as weak storylines,” he said of modern sci-fi films.
I will certainly agree with Scott on the latter comment, there is too much effects and not much story in a lot of "sci-fi" films. The thing that is interesting is that there is a lot of really good sci-fi in the written format and on TV--see for example Battlestar Galactica on Sci-Fi channel or the first and most recent seasons Lost or Heroes.

But sci-fi television has to manage matters related to budget specifically and the limitations of the television format. As for books, there are no real limits, other than some sort of reasonable page limit--a 2000 page book is hard to read. But many of the great sci-fi books would be hard to translate to the screen since the involve complex plot lines, long lists of characters, etc. These traits simply don't make it to the screen. For example, although Dune was made into a movie and a Sci-Fi Channel mini-series, neither was particularly great because of short-cuts that need to be made in making a movie.

One of the cornerstones of sci-fi has been characters and their development. Sci-fi allowed us to examine the human condition in ways that would be almost dull were it not for the setting or in ways that stretch our imagination--think of Ellie (Jodie Foster) meeting an alien in the guise of her father in Contact--the opportunity for emotion and wonder are fantastic. But the problem is that when people think of sci-fi, they think space opera, like Star Wars and not so much about Blade Runner or 2001.

Hat Tip: Betsy's Page

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