Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Good, The Bad, and the Mediocre

Well, I keep running into sci-fi related films and series that I feel should be commented on, and yet I find I have nothing significant to say about them. It's not just a matter of being bad. Sometimes a really bad film is interesting to talk about simply because it is so bad. In fact, much of the material in the vintage sci-fi category is great because it is bad, or at least in spite of it. But I sometimes feel the need to explain why I'm not interested in some item that is obviously in the sci-fi category, and so I have decided to dedicate an entry to list all those topics I don't want to blog about with a short commentary on why. Then when someone does a blog search for it, they'll at least get an opinion, and then maybe they can comment and convince me to actually write about it. There is no way I will be able to cover the huge amount of sci-fi material that gets put out every year, but I'll try to revisit and expand this entry as time goes on.

Here's the list in alphabetical order:

Donnie Darko (2001) - I actually liked this odd but well directed little film. Some classify it as a creepy thriller, others as a time travel sci-fi piece, but I don't think it really fits in anywhere. More to the point, the only science-ish element is the attempt to explain time travel, but it's all just a bunch of silliness, intended to be taken more as fantasy than anything else.

Johnny Mnemonic (1995) - Set in a dystopian future where information is the most precious commodity and in order to keep it from being stolen, it is transported via couriers who have the data uploaded into their brains and downloaded upon arrival. Of course, that means the couriers are targets themselves. Keanu Reeves plays one of these couriers in a pre-Matrix lead role in a story that doesn't have much point to it. It has a cyber-punk feel and I guess it played for me like a juvenile comic book story - you know, filled with outrageous yet stupid ideas. Hey, some people love that stuff though.

Lost in Space (1965-1968) - This light comedy-adventure series was a bit of a phenomenon, like Leave It To Beaver meets Robinson Crusoe in space. They even owned a pet robot modeled after the one in Forbidden Planet. Anyway, the only memorable character besides the robot was the cowardly Dr. Smith. Otherwise, it was the usual tepid network material.

Mad Max Series (1979-1985) - Another adventure in a dystopian future. Before I get the flack for it, I'll give credit to the original film for introducing the concept of post-apocalyptic science fiction to a new generation of filmgoers. It tried to be epic, it tried to be touching, but just didn't have the quality to achieve either. Most of the characters are just cartoonish. The sequels were more of the same.

Red Planet (2000) - This film is just badly put together and I don't think I've ever been able to sit through it entirely. How can you start with a film about saving the dying Earth by colonizing Mars and then try to turn it into a horror in space film and go killing off all your characters, mainly as a result of their own stupidity? It makes the whole Earth space program look like a joke.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) - An astronaut on a two man mission to Mars gets stranded when their ship crash lands and he and his experimental monkey subject are the sole survivors. He makes due via a set of discoveries which become progressively far fetched, culminating in his stumbling upon an alien slave labor camp. It is slow and somewhat directionless.

Solaris (2002) - I really tried on this one. The film did not seem interesting enough for me to watch except to blog about it, so I did. I even researched the original 1961 book by Stanislaw Lem. It's definitely bona-fide science fiction, especially the book, and the topics have a certain intellectual interest, but I just can't get into it. I forced myself to write a whole blog entry and after 5 days with absolutely no hits decided to delete it. I'd rather write about things that I really love and not simply out of obligation.

Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) - When I saw the original Stargate film in 1994, I remember thinking it was quite interesting for the first half hour or so until the exploration team stepped onto the new planet, after which it became a really stupid Egyptian alien influence meets mediocre action film. I left thinking it was entertaining but forgettable. To this day my jaw still drops that it actually turned into a wildly popular TV series that lasted a whole 10 years! I've never watched much of the series so maybe someone will someday point me in the right direction. Maybe if I watch the film again I'll see something I missed. Who knows?

Sunshine (2007) - The concept on this film is quite original. Basically, at some time in the future, the Sun starts unexpectedly running down, threatening life on earth, and an expedition is sent out to deliver a nuclear payload to restart the fusion process, on a cool ship appropriately named the Icarus sporting a huge solar radiation shield. The first 45 minutes or so really engages you into what seems like a great space sci-fi film, but from there on to the very end, it just goes downhill with bad science, bad characters, and a really bad script. Danny Boyle was probably not the best choice of director here, but it could be a candidate for a future write-up.

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) - I don't know why this is such a classic of science fiction except that maybe it had a well written script. But the story was just another atomic angst film that used an alien to convey the message. My reaction to it has always been a big "Who the hell cares?". The same goes for the remake in 2008 with Keanu Reeves.

The Terminator Series (1984-2009) - I really enjoyed T2 when I first saw it, mainly for the great direction and never before seen stunts and special effects. What else might you expect from a James Cameron film? Arnold was also still pretty cool back then. But there's not much more to say about it. All the sci-fi related ideas are just re-hashed from other films. After watching the other installments, I still think T2 is the best one of the bunch.

Waterworld (1995) - I suppose this is a dystopian futuristic adventure as well. I had hope for this one because the concept was promising. What would life be like if the world was covered with water? But it doesn't really explore much of that and just spends time on unbelievable characters and situations. That makes it even harder to forgive the fact that if the polar ice caps did actually melt completely, the ocean would only rise about 200 feet, which would cover maybe 20% of the land mass.

X-Files (1993-2002) - Only a portion of this weirdly outrageous TV series was actually pure science fiction. Most of the time the writers dabbled in the supernatural and other things in a way that harkened back to an old show from my childhood called Kolchak: The Night Stalker. But I could never take it seriously as real science fiction.

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