Why SF movies make me insane

My latest Locus column is "Why Science Fiction Movies Drive Me Nuts," in which I propose that the reason the science in sf movies is so awful is that they're essentially operas about technology.

The reason that SF movies command such a titanic amount of attention and money from audiences is because they are brilliantly wrought spectacles. What they lack in depth and introspection, they make up for in polish and craftsmanship. Every costume is perfect. Not one polygon is out of place. An army of musicians, the greatest in the land, have picked up horns and stringed instruments by the orchestra-load and played precisely the right music to set the blood singing, written by genius composers and edited into the soundtrack by golden-eared engineers from the top of their trade. The product is perfectly turned out, and this perfection attracts the eye and captures the mind.

But although these spectacles look like movies, what they really are is opera – stylized, larger-than-life, highly symbolic work that is not meant to be understood literally. And it makes me nuts.

How else to explain the glaring inconsistencies that sit in the center of these movies, like turds floating in the precise center of a crystal punchbowl carved out of the largest, most perfect diamond in the whole world? I mean, look at Spider-Man again, and think for a moment about the absurdity of its set-pieces.

Cory Doctorow: Why Science Fiction Movies Drive Me Nuts


  1. Clearly you’re watching the wrong SciFi movies.  You wouldn’t say that about Blade Runner, would you?  How about  Time After Time?   You should know better than to hit up sequels, with the exception of Aliens and ST2-Wrath of Khan,  anything based on a comic book or a toy, anything by Michael Bay, etc.    I just DARE you to say anything bad about Buckaroo Banzai!

    1. GGood advice.

      And while I feel that Blade Rnner is a masterpiece of cinema, I personally can’t call it science fiction. It’s speculative fiction in my book.

      It’s not concerned with the scientific and technological aspects of the future to any great deal. I see it as more of a philosophical thought experiment that uses a futuristic setting and technological method as the mechanism to set the stage.

      The whole point of Blade Runner in my interpretation is to examine the nature of solipsism, and whether it can possibly be corrected with the real world, or if that reconciliation is worth the effort to determine and instantiate.

      False memories are a disturbing idea. And if you have false memories of your formative experiences, are you really as mature as you think you are? How can you be who you think you are, if you never experienced your formative memories in real life?

      It also doubles back to whether you can trust anything you sense. Because what happens at this moment only exists for an instant, and after that only can exist as a fallible, distorted, or even fabricated idea in your own mind.

      1. I would respectfully disagree with you, Idobe. I would call Blade runner science fiction because the philosophical issues you mention stem from the technology of replicants. In the future when we do have the technology to make artificial people, issues of person-hood, identity and the ethics of programming them are going to be things that we as a society are going to have to deal with. 

        I would say Blade runner is excellent sci-fi because it uses technology to raise great philosophical issues and gets people thinking.

        1. You know, I basically was just trolling.  Your cogent, respectful, and well articulated response has knocked me out of my regular “be devil’s advocate to see who bites” pattern of commenting.  I also know that I’m probably just a troll.  But let me say that artificial persons have existed in a non sci-fi context for a very long time.  For instance, the jewish “Golem” an unstoppable creature controlled by man, usually to do violent acts to an enemy, who couldn’t resist the commands of its masters

          1. Just chiming in here to note that I’ve heard several people, who’s opinions I respect, say that “Golem” is clearly science-fiction for its day;  the only practical differences between it and Shelley’s Frankenstein being what “modern technology” looks like.  I don’t know that I fully agree, but the magic used to animate the golem probably IS the equivalent of the “electricity” (great misunderstood science in that time) used to animate Frankenstein’s monster.

            -abs guesses that “magic” and “lightning” are, for their time, pretty equivalent to the tech-babble Blade Runner uses to explain replicants

            (cool stuffs)

          2.  (This is actually a reply to absimiliard below — for some reason the reply link isn’t available there)

            Minor quibble, but in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there really is virtually no mention of electricity for the purpose of stimulating a physical creature (she refers a bit to galvinism in the preface/prologue), and no mention of lightning for this purpose whatsoever. Those perceptions are largely the result of “enhancements” to the story of Frankenstein over time, especially the 1931 movie with Boris Karloff.

          3. Replying to absimiliard:The “electricity” you speak of was an invention of James Whale, NOT Mary Shelly. She spoke of, briefly, the occult as that which animated the monster. [oops. didn’t see the later post…Oh well….]

          4. Replying to those replying to me.  (we love Disqus, right????)

            Wow, my bad, so sorry.

            I have read the book, but it’s been well over 20 years, so it was like high-school-ish.  (umm, or maybe it’s more like 30 years now, ouch, getting older blows)  So I fear the movie is more current in my mind, thus the mistake.

            Thanks Neal & B. E., I don’t like being wrong much but I like not knowing I’m wrong even less.

            -abs would like to apologize for bad facts, but he’s still pretty sure that both stories (and Blade Runner) qualify under the “sci-fi but not about FX” category

        2. In the future when we do have the technology to make artificial people, issues of person-hood, identity and the ethics of programming them are going to be things that we as a society are going to have to deal with.

          Is there any reason to be certain that we will have such technology? (Hint: answer may be “no.”)

      2. Speculative Fiction….
        This is why I prefer the term ‘S/F’.  It generically encompasses everything :)
        And apropos of absolutely nothing, the title Blade Runner came from William S. Burroughs. It’s shit like that that makes me stay and watch ALL the credits :) [Dick was notoriously bad at naming his genius stuff]

  2. My first thought is that you’re watching the wrong SF movies.  Have you seen “Moon” for example? 

    1. List of SF movies that don’t suck:
      1. Blade Runner
      2. Moon

      … umm, I’m sure I can think of a third.  Give me time. 

      edit: 2001: A Space Odyssey. There!

      1. Also, Solaris (The 1972 Tarkovsky version, not the recent Hollywood remake).

        Regardless, the list remains short.

      2. Off the top of my head, Solaris, Stalker, Alien, Forbidden Planet, Metropolis, Alphaville, Close Encounters of the Third Kind…

        I’d put Moon in the list of sci-fi movies that suck (to a certain degree.)  It was just an overstretched Twilight Zone premise, not very interesting at all.

      3.  I quit Moon when the word “satellite” was misspelled on his transmission monitor, the character moved in slow motion when he was out of his transport vehicle but gravity was normal when he was inside it, and when it became obvious what the ending was not 15 minutes into the film.

          1.  Oh, sorry. I meant to say, “Fortunately I keep the bar as low as Ladyfingers does, so I enjoyed every moment of it.”

        1. Oh man, you should have stayed until the end. The part where he dispatches the giant cyborg dragon with his dark-matter powered “moon ray” was worth the price of admission alone.

        2. The ending of Hamlet was obvious too, but I stuck it out. I’m not saying you should have liked Moon, just that knowing the ending doesn’t ruin good drama.

      4. Primer. Most SF movies are big budget, special effect driven and therefore have to be aimed at the lowest common denominator. Primer is the exact opposite.

        At the same time I like lots of low brow sci fi so what do I know:
        Predator, Terminator, Robocop, Total Recall, Pitch Black – all good.

        1. Oh, those are all good too — as blow ’em up entertainment.  I demand more from science fiction. 

          1. You could just as easily say that Blade Runner was merely good art direction plus Rutger Hauer. Its no more intellectually stimulating than Terminator. They are both great sci fi though.

            EDIT: I do see the point you are making at the same time. Thats why I gave Primer as an example.

      5. Hows about Gattica? Oh wait! This is notoriously hard to classify [which is why I like the generic S/F term], but how about that utterly awesome BBC production of Gormenghast? I think Christopher Lee actually achieved true immortality with his performance as Flay. Even Steven Fry is totally redeemed by this :)

  3. The movie going public decided years ago that actual science fiction movies were boring. People sitting around talking about abstruse ideas just doesn’t get buts into seats like spaceships blowing up. And the movie industry, who wants to make money, not art, is happy to oblige the audience with as many explosive spaceships as they can dream up.

    Example: this weekend I picked up Star Trek 6 (a movie that’s now old enough to drink!) on blu-ray. It’s a great sociopolitical SF thriller, but by today’s standards, it’s an introspective art house film, akin to Moon or Source Code. Unlike the most Recent Star Trek film, which rebooted the franchise, gutting the SF in favor of operatic explosions and a nonsensical plot.

    1.  Here’s what we really need while waiting for Neuromancer….. the Dr Adder movie. Dr Adder was THE first cyberpunk novel. It was just so damn far ahead of its time that it took 12 years (and PK Dick hisownself) to get published. It is still ahead of its time. Check out the opening ‘chicken ranch’ pun.

  4. “highly symbolic work that is not meant to be understood literally”

    The thing is, I agree with Cory here. However – and it’s a big however – this little quote I pulled out of the article indicates to me, that Cory knows how to enjoy a sci-fi movie and has simply decided to wear the wrong glasses on when he goes to see Spiderman. Take off your logic glasses and put on your Space-Opera glasses (the ones with the nose and eyebrows should work fine) and you’ll have a great time in the crappiest of movies. KnowwhatImean?

    Also, keep up the high standards. Some day I’ll be watching a movie version of Cory Doctorow story and I shall have to decide what glasses to wear.

      1. Only acceptable if you’re arriving in a ballon as cosplay Cory. 

        There is an xkcd reference for that, which I don’t have to hand. I imagine it will be posted within seconds of this comment.

  5. Can’t help feeling like this is a bit like someone standing up in the middle of a performance of the Winter’s Tale and walking out because Bohemia doesn’t really have shores. It borders on mimetic fallacy. (I have a similar pet peeve about people who complain about “bad” ballistics or Foley sounds for gunfire in films, without considering how terrible — even unconvincing — such plodding realism would actually look and sound on-screen.)

    EDIT: Looks like someone made my point a lot better than I could: http://nuctutor.blogspot.com/2012/07/mimetic-fallacy-why-it-is-easy-to.html

  6. Prometheus. There, I’ve said it. Prometheus, Prometheus, Prometheus!

    Coincidentally I was having an argument with a friend who said the fairy tale Rapunzel drove her crazy because the plot made no logical sense. I replied that it didn’t need to pass thtough the hoops required of realistic literature because fairy tales ran on a different set of internal rules and weren’t required to make sense in this fashion.

    Later on I realised to my horror that Ridley Scott might use similar arguments to defend the unspeakable idiocies of Prometheus.

    1. I used to utterly despise Prometheus because of the stupidity of its characters who were supposed to be scientists, but then I heard the theory that the reason why they were so stupid is that Weyland was purposely picking bottom of the barrel candidates because he didn’t want any of them to question the purpose of the mission. Not sure if that was Scott’s intent, but it makes more sense that way.

      1. One thing that got me was the inconsistency of the stupid characters’ personality traits. Like the biologist who wants to run away and whimper in a corner when he’s informed that sensors have picked up movement, but then actually comes face to face with an angrily hissing snake monster and immediately responds with “awww, I’m gonna pet him!”

        It’s fine to have a sniveling cowardly character and it’s fine to have a brazen foolhardy character but for crying out loud just don’t make them the same guy.

        1. Exactly! They can talk rubbish about warp drives and time travel and I’m fine with it for the length of the movie, but when they’re wrong about basic facets of human nature…

      2. And the empire only hired the worst for stormtroopers, afraid they might actually hit something.

        Of course you could translate that to just about ANY action movie where they have hired profressional trained killers, that can’t seem to hit the good guy no matter how hard they try. Rambo, Die Hard, Leathal Weapon, at nausum…

    2. Whoa, DUDE!

      Hasn’t anyone told you not to say that name three times while looking in a mirror yet?

      -abs isn’t certain exactly what you’ll summon, but he’s pretty damn sure you won’t like it

  7. Spider Man is SciFi? I guess I just always thought of it as action/superhero. Not that it really matters. I guess there’s a lot of overlap anyway.

    Full Disclosure: I never went to see any Spider Man movie/s.

    1. Yeah, there’s that, too. The Marvel Universe is and always has been a clear example of science-fantasy. “A wizard did it” is… actually a pretty consistently reasonable explanation on Earth- 616. :) Superhero universes have always been driven by symbolism and dream logic far more than by anything like RL physics, and I really don’t Marvel or DC have ever made claims to the contrary?

      I really do not see the problem unless the plot resembles human experience *so* clumsily it doesn’t even work as drama. And things like clumsy plots or bad dialogue fail for plenty of thematic and symbolic reasons much deeper than mere mimesis. I really feel like all this nitpicking comes more out of a geeky urge for rectitude and order (which I do understand, it’s rampant in my best friends!) than any objective literary or aesthetic need.

    2. I’ve only see the first Spiderman movie  but I am certain it’s not SF. The comic books were not SF either. Sure, there was a radio-active spider but that’s it. Not SF. Super Hero Fantasy is what it is. 

    3.  Totally agree.  I never would have considered Marvel comics worlds as “Sci-Fi”.  They’re comic book worlds.

    4. Yeah, I was going to post the same question. This is the first time I’ve seen anybody claim that Spider Man is SciFi. Sure… Spider Man could be written as SciFi, but it basically is just a modern version of fairy tales, it’s not supposed to be taken as serious science. The “science” is just mumbo jumbo to explain the “how did that happen???”, or like Rezeya said above, “A wizard did it”.

      If anybody goes to a superhero movie expecting exact science they are totally wasting their money. And honestly… I’m not going to a movie theater to watch movies with correct science, and if I sit there looking at every science error then it probably just means that the movie was boring and pushed me out of suspension of disbelief. I loooove science documentaries, always have since I was a small kid, but I’m not expecting that from movies.

  8. Spider-Man isn’t science fiction, it’s superhero melodrama. It’s science isn’t supposed to make sense, it’s supposed to move the plot. 

  9. I must respectfully disagree. Obviously I’m biased (as the person who came up
    with the fictitious Decay Rate Algorithm) , but I do know that in the case of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (I though you were referring to the 2002 Sam Raimi version at first), the film makers did try to get some things right.  The trick is have things be just fantastic enough to be enjoyable as escapist fare, but not so much that they take the audience out of the story.  Clearly, for you, the Oscorp Welcome loop was a bridge too far.For myself, I don’t go to a film with a pad of paper and calculator, saying. “Oh, my physics sense is tingling!”  Rather, I grant a suspension of disbelief, and hope to be entertained.By the way – big fan of the site and your writing.Cheers,Your Friendly Neighborhood Physics Professor,Jim Kakalios

    1. “the Oscorp Welcome loop was a bridge too far.”

      I think Cory’s just never seen a normal boring science or engineering company.  His mental image seems more in line with small, nimble, prankstery startups or university research teams.  Our lobby has a looping video that is much, much worse than the Oscorp one described, but nobody messes with it even though we’re a massive firm full of engineers and programmers.  A friend reports his aerospace company has multiple lobbies with multiple terrible looping videos, which have never been touched.

  10. I don’t have an issue with the flash and glamour prevalent in modern Sci-Fi.  What I do have issue with is the blatant disregard for the laws of physics!  If the character performs superhuman stunts, then the character better have a superhuman excuse.  There has to be some sort of reason why the character isn’t splattered into a million little globules of red stuff when they get thrown through a concrete wall.

    So if there’s magic or technology so advanced, it’s..well…like magic, then fine.  What I don’t like is stuff like Iron Man, who wouldn’t be alive to spout his sarcastic humor no matter how cool his suit is.  I mean, there’s just no way his body could take the G forces (unless he had some sort of gravity compensation gear built in)  The human body is pretty fragile, ask anyone who’s put a fist through a plate glass window.

    It’s my pet peeve…

    1. I don’t have an issue with the flash and glamour prevalent in modern Sci-Fi. What I do have issue with is the blatant disregard for the laws of physics!

      Honestly, I’d settle for them hiring actors instead of models, but that’s not just a problem in Sci-Fi.

  11. Spider-Man…if anyone is referencing Sam Raimi’s Spider Man I don’t get the argument.  No seriously.  It’s like saying Transformers was a great movie…it was fine at best, but really Mr. Bay didn’t do it justice.  I mean, Sam Raimi brought you the likes of Hercules, Xeni, and Cleopatra 2525.  In that context Spider Man was a pretty good Sam Raimi film.

    I like the occasional good thought provoking sci-fi movie, but a lot of times I like the action hybrid sci-fi stuff.  Aliens for example, or Starship Troopers.  Things I can zone out to a little and watch stuff getting killed and blown up.  But even then I get irritated when the director/producer ignores certain real world things that would/should happen.  (Obvious issues like never running out of bullets rarely bugs me, it’s more little things that just grate on me sometimes.)

  12. Science is almost never the real driving force behind sci-fi plots. More often it’s just a way to make some kind of commentary about contemporary society in an exotic new setting. The original “Star Trek” wasn’t really about the issues facing humanity in the 23rd Century, it was about issues facing humanity in the 1960s.

    1. In literature, there’s a new genre called “LabLit” which is realistic fiction about scientists and their work — there’s long been a tradition of such fiction about English professors (think “Wonder Boys” book and movie). Not sure if anyone’s really made a “LabLit” movie yet, though.

        1. Well, it certainly is more realistic than most SF (but still not much more realistic than what’s shown in crime dramas like CSI), but LabLit (for example Allegra Goodman’s “Intuition”) deals more with the day-to-day issues of science — do you publish a new finding right away and avoid being scooped, or do you wait until you have a solid case and avoid being made the latest scapegoat for bad science if the finding turns out to be an artifact? Do you confront a colleague who may be manipulating data (destroying your relationship whether it’s true or not), or do you leave that to the authorities? Things like that. There’s interesting drama in that, at least as much as the typical university novel about a frustrated novelist/professor.

          1. Argh, don’t make me think about it. Any writer who churns out a novel about a frustrated writer/academic rebooting his salad days through some ill-advised liaison wants taking out the back and beating to death with a rusty Underwood.  It’s the literary equivalent of that band who used to be awesome getting haircuts & suits and releasing an album that takes three years to make, has a string section, and makes you die inside when you hear it (i.e. ‘Doing an Eric’: viz. ’80s Clapton).

        2. The movie version wasn’t bad, but they couldn’t resist blockbustering it. 

          In the movie, the bomb is switched off with something like 8 seconds left.  In the book, the hero wakes up in a hospital, sees his colleague who tells him something like: “There was a minute and a half left.  It wasn’t even a cliff-hanger.”

  13. Most of it sucks, but I have a different opinion about the reasons. I think they’re mostly fantasy wish-fulfillment with pseudoscience as misdirection to make things plausible. SF has so many conventions (pun intended) that people forget how many of them are conjecture erected on a foundation of quicksand. FTL travel and communication being the biggies.

    I doubt a dozen “real” SF movies exist. Offhand I’d go for Bladerunner, District 9, 2001 (with some latitude on the final sequences) — and then I have to start thinking about it.

    1. I, like many others here, love Blade Runner but it still falls on its face pretty damn quick when you start to apply “plausibility” to it. The entire premise of the film is ridiculous:

      1. In the not-too-distant future there exists a class of androids so lifelike that it takes a trained professional and advanced equipment to distinguish them from human beings. Because apparently manufacturers can’t make them any less lifelike or add a genetic marker that would show up on a blood test or implant them with tracking chips or mark them with bar codes or even just tattoo the word “REPLICANT” across their foreheads.

      2. These androids have been banned from Earth and are used exclusively for work on off-world colonies. However, enough of them keep finding their way here that an entire division of the LAPD is tasked with tracking them down and terminating them.

      It must be said that I’m more than happy enough to let those little plotholes go for the sake of a good film, but totally well thought-out it’s not.

        1. Same with most of the issues Cory was talking about. There’s no technical reason that you couldn’t have a giant annoying video projection of a Billionaire Scientist on a 15-second loop in the lobby of your unnecessarily flashy science building.

      1.  So a big powerful manufacturer is creating goods with an avoidable flaw? And you’ve never heard of this kind of thing happening in the real world?

        Society responds by treating the symptom rather than going to the root cause?

        I would agree it’s stupid. But there’s nothing in that I find hard to believe.

        1. I find it hard to believe because they established in the same movie that artificial snakes have a microscopic serial number stamped on every scale, yet nobody demands similar measures to keep track of potentially homicidal androids.

          Again: willing to let it go for the sake of a good film, but totally inconsistent.

  14. The “Man from Earth” is a excellent movie. No special effects, shot in basically one set and just outstanding. It was a follow up to the Bixby TOS Trek story “Requiem for Methuselah”

  15. “How is it possible that the thousands of people who pass through this lobby every day have tolerated this repeating billboard? This is a building full of scientists and engineers – why have none of them found a creative way to silence the endless boss-loop that has all the rewatchability of an airline safety video? How is it that the people working at the reception desk have not turned into righteous, vengeful mobs, and set upon the facilities people who allow this torture to continue?”

    you’ve never worked a corporate job have you

    1. Exactly. While there are plenty of things to complain about in that movie, the idea that somebody would risk their job to publicly humiliate their CEO just because they found a video to be annoying is pretty absurd.

  16. Spiderman is SF nowadays? Jeez, I really am out of touch. Thankfully.

    On a serious note: it was always that way. The “golden age” (any one you care to pick) was always rife with operatic fantasies thinly veiled in veneer of current speculative science. Yawn. And it doesn’t make ’em any less valuable or endearing. Just don’t expect hard science from a space opera mate and you’ll do fine. (No, tie fighters DO NOT make sinister sounds when they fly by a camera in vacuum in “real life”)

  17. SF – stories can be fiction about science, or stories about fictional science… or just a setting for a story that really has nothing to do with science at all. Getting the categories confused is generally what causes the problem.

  18. …and have the knowing billionaire smirk as the result is rendered instantaneously on the console, and say something smug about the sheer number of nanoflops on tap at Science Billionaire Co’s private server farm. The young scientist stares agape…

    I should think the young scientist would stare agape at a computer whose processing power was measured in nanoflops, since a nanoflop (billionth of a floating-point operation per second) would mean (for example) incrementing one counter every thirty-three years.

    I wanted to enjoy this article–all my friends liked it, and told me just to loosen up–but I just can’t ignore these glaring inconsistencies that float like turds in a punchbowl…


  19. “Of all the fakey, uninspired visual tropes that plague science fiction and action movies, the top of the chart is computer user-interfaces. Anything vaguely visually interesting but not really the sort of thing anyone would ever use (Tom Cruise’s multiscreen touch interface from Minority Report) becomes de rigeur for future films, each one of which elaborates on the details of its workings until every contradiction, logical flaw and impracticality is made obvious”.

    Man, that’s something that drives me nuts.  Every single sci-fi/action movie since Minority Report has those damn transparent touch sensitive computer interfaces.  EVERY one.  They even had to give them to Bond.

    Bond: Have you got the schematics for Le Cercle Rouge’s Bulgaria hide-out?
    Geeky Minion: Yes, it’s…here on this transparent slab of touch-sensitive, data-rich glass somewhere…damn those are my emails…
    Bond: It that it there?
    Geek: No, that’s a wasp I killed earlier…..oh, I’ll just go and fetch it out of the bloody filing cabinet, will I?

    Major recent offender: The Avengers.

  20. I think it’s pretty obvious that some types of stories are better suited to certain mediums than other, or at least a bit easier to convincingly tell in certain mediums. Sci-fi is obviously best-suited to be told in the form of novels, and hard minimal Swedish techno music. I do challenge folks who think that the “hard sci-fi” of hard sci-fi novels is really that much more “realistic” than the hokey sci-fi of movies, though. All science fiction contains leaps, and all science fiction is very much telling stories about today through the form of an extrapolative future. There’s just something about reading these things, written by a good author, that makes them more compelling. Most “good” hard sci-fi novels are pretty slow. I like them, but they’re definitely not for all “fans of cinema.” I would argue that animated feature-length science fiction is worth exploring and giving some credit to. Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and many others are, I think, good, hard sci-fi. But again — maybe those stories are easier to tell through animation.

    1.  Absolutely. I have long maintained that SF, and Hard SF especially, doesn’t tend to work well as a visual medium (honourable exceptions for animation & graphic novels). Partly due to very real economic considerations (there simply aren’t enough of us who care for them to make it, or they most likely would; the dearth of ideas in Hollywood notwithstanding) and partly due to the constraints of the medium itself. Film lends itself to certain kinds of exposition far more readily than others, and I really don’t think SF is one of them most of the time. Despite having a house the walls of which are lined in books, 80% of which are SF, almost all SF films/TV shows leave me cold. Never liked Star Trek, couldn’t be arsed with Firefly, or its frumpy sister Farscape, and I can’t think of many SF films I’ve been impressed by in decades. Certainly not from any English-speaking nation.

  21. I get where Cory’s coming from, and to me it doesn’t matter whether Amazing Spider-Man is a superhero fantasy or science fiction; when it stops making sense, I’m irritated.  I confess that the Billionaire’s Greeting Loop didn’t bug me so much in the theater, but mostly because I’ve gotten so used to mindless tropes like that.  I did, however, find a couple of other things grating (and Spoilers of Plot Stupidity follow, if those can be considered actual spoilers): first the fact that high-schooler Gwen Stacy, no matter how brilliant and talented, is entrusted with such high-level access to the inner workings of the lab that she can get into any area of Oscorp she wants.  She’s an intern, for Chrissakes, and a high-school-age one at that.  I won’t even go into the tired old wheeze about the cloud machine and the antivenin, which must have been lifted from a George Reeves Superman episode, but I’m surprised Cory didn’t go off at length about Those Goddamned Cranes.  All those cranes, conveniently lined up and evenly spaced along the very boulevard Spidey needs to swing in order to save the day.  And all organized (during a mass evacuation!) by a crane operator whose son was conveniently saved by Spidey on the bridge.  If ever there was a Theatrical Set Piece that was shoehorned into a plot because some bankrupt imagination dressed in a Creative Executive suit thought it would look cool, that would be it.

    As Cory’s column implies, these problems are all at the script level.  The actors, for the most part, do fine, and the technicians and artists and designers involved in even the crappiest big-budget movies aren’t to blame; their work is just peachy.  But there’s no saving a bad script in post production.

    1.  I just saw AMAZING SPIDER-MAN at the discount theater tonight, and I was struck by that crane scene too —- more so the extraordinary way the crane operator sees Spider-Man crawling up the side of a building, deduces he’s injured, but not so injured that he can’t still swing from the cranes, and realizes that he needs to get all his buddies to swing their cranes into the street to make a flight path for him.   Even if you accept all that, it’s an extraordinary leap of deduction for the crane operator —   I’m not quite sure how he knew that Spider-Man was trying to get to the Oscorp building.  

  22. While much of the article makes sense to me, a quick poll of my friends who work for science or engineering companies find that a large number of them have looping videos in the lobby and that nobody has ever messed with them in all the years they’ve been running.  My own company has one that loops through about a minute of founder/company history to a terrible mid-90s techno-cheese soundtrack, and has terrible production values and may have been filmed by a VHS camcorder.  It is played back at the wrong aspect ratio on a plasma TV so burned-in by the video that much of it is a hodgepodge of greenish text.

    Why, in a giant electronics company crammed full of engineers and programmers does this go unmolested?

    Because it’s in the *lobby*.  We don’t work in the lobby, so nobody cares. The receptionist is essentially paid to tolerate it, but even if she did hate it, she’s *not* one of the engineery sort who might be tempted to tinker with it, and I suspect the phone headset she wears while continuously answering phone calls keeps her from hearing it anyway.

    Having not seen the film, I can’t be sure– but this actually sounds like an accurate engineering-firm lobby depiction. 

    1.  I’d be quite happy with a corporate video that looks & sounds like Stakker’s ‘Humanoid’. Better than some of the dross I’ve seen (mind you, I’d be even happier with legislation that meant middle-management types with an affinity for powerpoint presentations, and meetings where they address the assembled droids with a page of tedious notes, could ACTUALLY. FUCKING. READ, but whatever)

  23. SciFi movies piss me off when they try to unnecessarily explain shit just to make the producers / screenwriters sound smart. (Think: “The Core”, for example… or “The Happening”, or Heroes seasons 2-4). 

    FFS people, just let some things be a mystery — explore the world and its impacts, but don’t try to explain the (likely complex) science because (a) you’ll probably fuck it up by oversimplifying and (b) it really doesn’t make the movie a better experience over all.

    Star Trek explained things simply — they had Heisenberg Compensators; no need to explain how they work, they just solve the problem so that its’ acknowledged, dealt with, and we can get back to the story. Alien just brought in all their technology a priori — the terrible “Prometheus” film, recently, tried getting all explainy with their science, and that ruined it; it just sucks the mystery and wonder right out of it. Let your sci-fi wear some lingerie — sci-fi doesn’t need to be a bare-all bukkake of science.

  24. There are too many things to be distracted by in movies if you are hyperaware, like guns, planes and cars making the wrong sounds (tyres screeching on gravel? Stuka sirens in every plane dive?) and foley clichés/in-jokes like the Wilhelm and Howie screams.

    I can usually switch it off, but I won’t pretend it’s not the same as looking at, for instance, Albrecht Dürer’s Rhinoceros as a zoologist instead of an art appreciator.

  25.  I think you could say the same about CE-III in terms of it being an overstretched Twilight Zone premise. But I enjoyed both. Moon in particular to me is very much a meditation on being alone…that moment out in the rover, when he discovers the reality of everything, is about the loneliest a human could ever feel, geographically and emotionally. And reminded me of Michael Collins talking about orbiting the Moon on his own, and how it felt to be on the far side all alone, the furthest earthlying from Earth.

  26. My thesis on SF movies is this: SF (in any medium) isn’t a genre at all, it’s a genre modifier.   These include Sf mystery, SF historical, SF romance, SF bromance, SF thriller, SF horror, & SF adventure.  But Hollywood ignores all but the last 2. And then it ignores all the best literature even in it’s chosen genres, or destroys them in production (Starship Troopers).  Where are films of Neuromancer, Snowcrash or A fire Upon The Deep? 

    SF movie are often best when based on a short story, or similarly simple treatment. But if you drag it out to full length the results vary. I liked Moon, but hated Children of Men.  The latter just became a pointless chase, the SF as irrelevant as the McGuffin in a Hitchcock. Though I would have preferred a more nihilistic ending to Moon.

    1.  If any fucker in Hollywood even tries to piss about with the aforementioned novels, I am takin’ a suitcase nuke to the San Andreas fault, ‘cos it’s Surgical Procedure time for Tinseltown…

          1. 12,000 AD: The Day After Foundation Day, in which Will Smith fights giant radioactive robots in the name of psychohistory.

          2. IMO, there are even worse items on that list.  Such as Ender’s Game, Dune, Altered Carbon, Flash Gordon, Cat’s Cradle and Snow Crash.  But you know which one’s going to suck the most?  Neuromancer with Liam fucking Neeson and Marky Mark. 

  27. You say that these movies are ‘operas about technology’ as if that’s a bad thing.

    I watch few superhero movies (haven’t seen a Spiderman flick since the first Raimi), and I mostly agree with your sentiment, but your specific complaints don’t seem particularly damning.

  28. What the hell, Cory? Science fiction movies are about “what if?” questions, not an attempt to understand where science and technology will *actually* be in the future. Pointing out the science holes in SF plots is missing the point entirely.

  29. Take care, young ladies, and value your wine.
    Be watchful of young men in their velvet prime.
    Deeply they’ll swallow from your finest kegs,
    Then swiftly be gone, leaving bitter dregs.
    Ahh-ah-ah-ah, bitter dregs.

  30. My favourite example of this sort of thing is in Jurassic Park where faced with a computer they have to log into, the kid says “It’s a UNIX system! I know this!” and then has to land a plane in some sort of flight simulator in order to log in. Mental.

  31. Most “science-fiction” movies are really science fantasy; fantasy stories that replace magic swords and dragons with… um… magic swords and dragons.

  32. Spiderman isn’t science fiction.

    The only “sciency” thing about it is the fact that he got his superpowers from a radioactive spider, which in itself is highly dubious. (GASP SPOILER!)

    You might as well be pointing out all the mistakes they make in CSI and NCIS in scince as part of science fiction. Usually in a LOT of movies or TV shows (not just Science Fiction) scince is changed for purposes of the movie, not a lack of understanding of science. They don’t even care what the actual science is, they want something that works for the film.

    Science Fiction on the other had will take it one step further, and will not only pervert science, but will simply make things up and call it some future science thingy. Usually to fit a plot, a hole, or simply for convience.

    Where do you think the “Transporter” in Star Trek came from. It had nothing to do with science. It had to do with the fact they wanted adventures on planets, but didn’t have the money for shuttle sets and sceens….

  33. Lumping Spiderman into the genre of Science Fiction is something I would only expect from the likes of NetFlix, and would indeed lead to much disappointment.  Your local library might place it into the Juvenile Fiction section, where it properly belongs.

Comments are closed.