Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is Modern Science Fiction Cinema Maturity Challenged?




For those of you who have been away from the geek-o-sphere on the Internets lately, there's been a bit of a-twittering about comments that were recently made by Simon Pegg in an interview with Radio Times magazine about the next Star Trek movie and the current state of science fiction films in general. For the sake of brevity, here's an assembled version of the Pegg quotes that caused the most offense:
"Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and The French Connection ... gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed ... I don’t know if that is a good thing. Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science fiction and genre cinema but part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously. It is a kind of dumbing down, in a way, because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about ... whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot. ... Sometimes (I) feel like I miss grown-up things and I honestly thought the other day that I’m gonna retire from geekdom. I’ve become the poster child for that generation, and it’s not necessarily something I particularly want to be.”
Naturally, some fans were taken aback by long-time geek Pegg's association of science fiction and the term "infantilised". As someone who majored in the field of communications in college, I believe that Pegg has it all wrong, too--the deregulation of media ownership through the Telecommunications Act of 1996 did much, much more to dumb down the media landscape than anything Star Wars or superhero movies ever did. Blame the bombastic blockbuster movies all you want for ruining science fiction, but that kind of entertainment is the sort of thing that fills the tanker-sized coffers of mega-conglomerates like Disney and Time Warner.

Yet when I think about recent science fiction movies, I do think that they are falling behind in terms of staying relevant with modern issues. For example, Christopher Nolan's 2014 film Interstellar spun a familiar tale about how the human race will save itself by leaving Earth and finding another planet to inhabit. Even though this kind of sci-fi story has been around for decades, current environmental problems strongly indicate that leaving the planet is not an option for humanity if it is going to survive; thus, when are we going to be seeing ambitious science fiction films about how humanity can save itself by not treating its home world like an infinite landfill? There was also Children of Men (2006), an apocalyptic story about infertility. Yet with our current global population at around 7 billion and growing, why haven't we seen a thought-provoking sci-fi film about overpopulation and ways to solve this problem?




Also, don't forget that this summer's slate of movies includes both Terminator: Genisys, the fifth entry in a sci-fi franchise about fictional war technology running amok, and Good Kill, a drama centered around actual war technology running amok.

A long time ago, I read an article about how noted sci-fi author Ray Bradbury was greatly dissasified by the proliferation of computer technology and the rise of the Internet. The article's author postulated that this attitude stemmed from Bradbury seeing a future he didn't envision. Based on his literary work, Bradbury was hoping to see a future based in outer space, not cyberspace; as such, his fiction about the future never fit how the future was actually developing. Bradbury was entitled to his views, but it raises an interesting point: Will science fiction cinema keep depicting futures that are more grounded in the wishful thinking of mainstream audiences, or can it still intelligently handle scientific issues that make people uncomfortable? Furthermore, is the latter even an option in our modern media landscape that's dominated by gargantuan conglomerates?

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