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What Drives Me Insane About Certain Science Fiction Movies!


Good Morning My Confidants!

 

This started off as a review for the movie The Creator, which we saw the other night. I loved it so much that I wanted to talk about it. My initial thought, only moments in the film, was, “WOW!”


And now I find myself using the words, “A true tour de force!” to describe it! I'm not sure if I have actually used those words before, and if I have, it was a rare occurrence.


What The Creator was to me was pure science fiction at its best, where the people who made it understood how important the word “science” is in “science fiction,” without forgetting to make it a heck of a character-driven story as well. Believable, well-written, well-acted, gorgeously filmed, and brilliantly directed! All that that and more. This will be one of those movies I watch when I want to be immersed in something totally real, something totally believable.

 

But, in trying to write a good review, what would have been my first for this blog, what happened instead was that I quickly got caught up in was that final line.  “This will be one of those movies I watch when I want to be immersed in something totally real, something totally believable.”

 

You see, I was on the edge of my seat for two reasons....

 


1) It was so exciting! I was so invested in the action and the characters and the story.


...and...

 

2) I was terrified that they would f*ck it up!

 

What do I mean by that?

 

Well, it was thinking about that fear that got me to writing something entirely different than a review.

 

First of all, I have been hungering for a good science fiction movie. I don’t believe I’ve seen one I would particularly praise since Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. See, I love science fiction, and long, long, long ago I realized (in my first ten to fifteen years of life!) that there is a big difference between Lost in Space and Star Trek.

 

They both have their place, but “Lost in Space” is barely able to call itself science fiction.

 

A lot of people don’t see the difference at all. They look at me confused when I try to explain it to them. And conversely, as a science fiction fan who’s first conventions were science fiction conventions as far back as 1975, there are also a lot of people know exactly what I’m saying.

 

The first group don’t care one tiny bit if something that is happening in a story or novel or movie could actually happen or not. They are simply in it for the escapism. If something totally impossible or implausible happens, they don't get hung up on it. Their thoughts are, “It’s science fiction, anything can happen.”

 

They second group of people, “true” science fiction fans, can’t deal with scientific impossibilities, and often don’t even finish watching that movie, let alone finish reading it. When we see a scientifically grounded movie, we get very excited and we think to ourselves, Wow! This could be real!

 

Science fiction stories, while they need to be about character, and allow us to us to care about the characters—whether they be, human, alien, robot, whatever—need to be grounded in actual science.

 


That is how the whole science fiction field began, with novels like Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) by Mary Shelley, or, Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas (1870) by Jules Verne, or, The Time Machine (1895) and War of the Worlds (1898) by H.G. Wells.

 

What these books all had in common is that the authors were working with the top scientific knowledge they had available to work with at the time to make sure what they were writing about stood up to scientific scrutiny, while at the same time being about people that a reader cared about and whose lives they could get invested.

 

Brian Aldiss (English writer and anthology editor, best known for science fiction novels and short stories) has “argued for regarding Frankenstein as the first true science-fiction story. In contrast to previous stories with fantastical elements resembling those of later science fiction, Aldiss states, the central character 'makes a deliberate decision' and 'turns to modern experiments in the laboratory' to achieve fantastic results.” *

 

These are all classic stories where the science still stands up well with what was known at the time the books were written.

 

And that carries us to science fiction today—specifically movies—and what can be considered science fiction.

 

Worldbuilding is a serious thing for writers. It takes a lot of time and energy. But worldbuilding is central and all important to a science fiction story.


However, what I have consistently observed is that a lot of writers just make up a lot of sh*t, and think to themselves that “It’s science fiction, anything can happen.”

 

Let me assure you that the truly great science fiction authors of our time do not agree.

 

Beautiful, wonderful, character-driven stories can be written where the “science” is very important to “science fiction” tales.  

 

Now, I want to assure you that I am not telling you what to like, and what not to like. I am simply saying that there are movies out there pretending to be science fiction that aren’t really science fiction. At best these films can be called science fantasy, which is a whole different kettle of fish.

 


For instance, one of my favorite movies of all time is the original movie Star Wars, AKA A New Hope. A lot of what we see in that movie doesn’t stand up to any kind of science scrutiny. But it isn’t trying to. They very smartly don’t try to explain anything that is happening, and even the most diehard SF fans enjoy lasers, blasters, aliens, and some kind of faster-then-light travel, so even we don't care. George Lucas was so smart doing it that way. I mean, in what Western does our hero stop to explain how his six-shooter works? As long as it isn’t doing something that guns clearly can’t do, then no one cares.

 

Am I making it clear what the difference is?

 

In worldbuilding for science fiction stories, don’t tell us something that clearly isn’t possible. And you know, usually, it doesn’t take that much research to figure out how to make happen what you want to happen. That, or a writer can simply bounce their story off a friend who is a SF nut (like me! LOL!)

 

Let me use the example of a movie that I haven’t found a single person liked, so hopefully this one is safe, and I won’t hurt anyone’s feelings—and again, I am not telling anyone what they should like and what they shouldn’t like! I am only saying that stupid stuff in a story pisses me off!

 

I have talked to tons of people who just don’t care that the whole plot of a movie is utterly ridiculous, and when the scientifically IMPOSSIBLE things does happen, they don’t mind at all.


I don’t understand.

 


But in the movie Moonfall—for instance—when I see things like the heroes using the space shuttle Endeavour (which was as retired in 2011) to fly to the moon, all I can think is That is impossible! The space shuttle Endeavor would not be able to fly. No way. Period. How difficult would it have been to come up with another way to get the heroes to the moon so they could save the day? Hey, they could have had access to the knowledge that there was actually one more completed shuttle that NASA never told us about? That there was a mothballed shuttle that had the public had never been aware of! I could have suspended my disbelief long enough for our heroes could save the day.

 

But I also know that if “the moon had impacted the Earth” that “planet itself would stay intact.”  The Moon wouldn’t “collide head-on into the Earth if it fell out of orbit...it would succumb to gravitational force and shatter... Debris from this breakage would fall toward Earth”   “More impossible... [is the] white dwarf star is inside the Moon, its energy being harvested to power the orbiting structure...the problem lies with white dwarfs...suns have deadly power; a certain distance is required for life to exist in proximity to a star due to the heat they give off. A planet can be about 500,000 miles away from a white dwarf and be survivable; the Moon is less than half that distance from the Earth.” ***

 

And all this barely scratches the surface of what is possible or even improbable in this movie. So, it doesn’t matter how I feel about the characters (I didn’t like them at all by the way, and wasn’t invested in them), when I am seeing impossible things happen, I simply can’t willing suspend my disbelief to be able to enjoy it.

 

People tell me to, “just go with it.”


And that really, really bothers me.

 

Why?

 

Well, I ask people those people the following....

 


Why do historical enthusiasts hate movies where those filmmakers get everything, or even a few important things, wrong? Why can’t they “just go with it”? Afterall, It’s “just” a movie.

 

If the facts are all wrong in a medical show, why can’t they just sit back and enjoy the drama?

 

If real law is just thrown out the window in a crime or court drama, why can’t they tell themselves it’s “just a movie”?

 

What is the difference?

 

Because here is the thing. There is not a difference.

 

All of this is why I can barely sit through such movies like Jupiter Ascending or Event Horizon, The Black Hole, Battlefield Earth, After Earth, Armageddon, 2012, Total Recall (the first one), or The Core.  Some of them I didn’t even make it through to the ending. I just gave up.

 

And yes, I can hear a bunch of you, even as I type this, scream, “Ben! How can you not like fill-in-the-blank? I love that movie!”


Just remember, I am not telling you what to like. We all like different movies. Different books. Different everything! And that is awesome!

 

I’m just telling you that I personally cannot deal with a science fiction movie that is chock-full of impossibilities.


I say if you are writing a screenplay for a science fiction movie (or writing a science fiction book), either ask a high school student who is majoring in science if there is some trick that can be used to make the script work (or book)—or at least fix it enough to not offend those who know science. OR, actually take a step or two back, and don’t try to explain it at all. Like with that six-shooter. OR, a combination of both.


I would have tried to believe that the moon is actually a space arc from another planet, but the white dwarf sun in its center is stupid. Simply don’t explain its power source, or have a character say something as simple as, “But that’s impossible! What kind of technology must they be using to make something like that work?” and then never explain it! LOL!


But also understand that I know that “Some artistic license is always necessary because strict scientific rigor and peer-reviewed research would undoubtedly make for a very boring movie...” *****


And now, finally, what are some science fiction movies that I do like (since the real reason behind this blog is to look for the good in things! LOL!)?

 

Note! Some of these have taken artistic license over scientific rigor, but at least they didn’t have Arnold Schwarzenegger walking around on the moon just like on Earth in Total Recall.

 


These movies I most love include:   12 Monkeys, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Quite Place, The Abyss, Alien, Aliens, Altered States, The Andromeda Strain, Arrival, Avatar, Blade Runner, Children of Men, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact, The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise version), Deep Impact, District Nine, Dune (the Denis Villeneuve version!), Enemy Mine, Ex Machina, Gattaca, Gravity, Inception, The Martian, Minority Report, Predator, Silent Running, War of the Worlds (George Pal version), and War of the Worlds (Stephen Spielberg version).

 

And now The Creator!

 

These are all movies where I not only became invested in the characters and stories, but was totally immersed in the worlds where the characters lived. I could feel myself living amongst them.

 

And there you go, that was today’s rambling. I hope I didn’t bore you. I hope I didn’t offend anyone. I’m not telling you what to like or what not to like. Only how I feel about one of my tip-top favorite tropes, science fiction, and what makes it science fiction, rather than science fantasy.


I would love to hear your thoughts. Just keep in mind that I’m not going to change my mind here. I’ve been a science fiction fan for forty-five years, and probably more accurately fifty-three, when I fell in love with the original series The Outer Limits. I've sat in the presence of science fiction genius-writers like Larry Niven, Connie Willis, Iassac Asimov, Robert Silverberg, Anne McCaffrey, Frank Herbert, Ben Bova, Gardner Dozois, and many others and listened to them speak.

 

They set me for life.

 

And all in all, I like my life.


So that’s pretty good!

 

Just remember, you never know what I will write about next! 


It will probably be less opinionated! LOL!

 

Hugs and kisses,

Namasté,

BG “Gentle Ben” Thomas

Jan 11, 2024, Entry #11

 

 

* Frankenstein: Frankenstein - Wikipedia

*** & **** Could Moonfall Actually Happen?: https://screenrant.com/could-moonfall-actually-happen-science-real/

***** The 12 Best Sci-Fi Movies Based on Actual Science, Ranked by Accuracy: https://collider.com/10-sci-fi-films-based-on-actual-science/#39-interstellar-39-2014 description




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Really thoughtful essay, Ben. And I agree with your way of thinking. If something is specifically explained to me, I need to be able to believe it.


In my own writing, I've got 'tikkerbots', which are clockwork devices that look like people, and can do rudimentary jobs. They can only do the one job they are programmed for. Humans can interact with them on a very basic level, by inserting punch-calling cards in arm slots, or placing an object on a metal plate for the tikkerbot to pick up. I don't try to explain their inner workings, as honestly, I don't know what they are. I explain what I feel confident having readers know about them. And they seem to…

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I love this so much. I really need to read your book!

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As a science need. I need science in my science fiction.

As an aside, Star Wars ( the original 3) are mythology not science based. Watch the you tube interview with George Lukas and Joseph Cambell to see what I mean. (I studied comparative religion as an undergrad. The interview is old, but should still be available)

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Joseph Cambell was a HUGE influence on "Star Wars" for George Lucas. Especially the epic tales of heroes. How brilliant was it for him to put that tale in a space setting? The hero/fam boy, the wizard/wise old man, the princess that needs rescuing, and so much more. I was glad that he kept the "science" as something more fantasy instead of hitting us over the head with anything that is impossible. Well, except for the whole Kessel Run thing of course. LOL! But I can stick my fingers in my ears and move past that!

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I agree with your premise. The most important part of creating the movie or novel or play is to allow the audience to believe in the work, to suspend their disbelief. If that fails, the whole thing fails.

A few years ago there was a streaming "Texas History" documentary that was so wrong in so many ways that is was being fact-checked in real time on then-Twitter. They even got the date of the Battle of the Alamo wrong. It was laughable and sad at the same time.

So yes, everyone can indulge in the types of entertainment that suits them but there is no reason to support anything that insults your intelligence.

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Thank you!!


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While I do usually enjoy "hard" science fiction, sometimes I do enjoy just turning my brain off and munching some popcorn. LOL. But you and I have discussed that before.


I have yet to understand people's fascination with Children of Men. *grin* But watch what you like.

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Really? I don't remember us talking about Children of Men, but yes, it blew me out of my tree. I couldn't stop thinking about it and all that it represented for days. I can certainly enjoy movies where I turn off my brain, but outside of outrageous satire/comedies, there is only so far I can turn the brain off. However, you know I respect you and your opinions.


Newt: "Mostly." LOL! 😉

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Okay, fact here. I grew up watching those old scifi shows in reruns. My grandfather loved them, even Lost in Space. No, that one isn't good science fiction at all, and neither was the reboot which turned a lot of people into unlikeable idiots. I agree with you on your list of movies with a few exceptions. I cannot watch 2001 A Space Odyssey but I dislike both Kubrick and Clarke's work in general. Other than that, most of the movies you mention are in my collection of DVDs.


I truly enjoyed The Creator. One of the best Scifi movies in a very long time.


The list of bad movies--IMO--is huge. Some so bad that I cannot even remember the…


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Interesting. I personally think that 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the very best, if not THE best science fiction movies of all time. I really can't think of anything close except for maybe Contact. I think it is also one of the best movies ever made. And Clark? I got to induct him into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. Sadly, at that time in his life, he no longer left Sri Lanka. I have never read anything by him that I didn't think was amazing. 2010: Odyssey Two is certainly on my list of best science fiction novels ever. Right along with this Rendezvous with Rama. OMG! (I am thrilled beyond all measure that when…


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