Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The state of SF in film

So finally, an article on the lack of imagination in sci-fi films hits the news. Yet it’s not really news. Science fiction in cinema has lacked originality for a long time. There have been so many un-necessary remakes (Robocop, Total Recall, etc), prequels and sequels that we don’t need (Star Wars, Planet of the Apes), reboots (Star Trek) and original films that clearly have big budgets with crap stories and diabolical results (such as After Earth). 

We do get good films with great potential, which look absolutely stunning and are still incredibly enjoyable - but the plot or screenplay still let it down in the end. By and large films like Prometheus, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Oblivion and Gravity have, over the last year or two, upped the game in cinema sci-fi, and it is encouraging to see more filmmakers embracing the genre on the whole.

Yet there are so many, utterly brilliant SF books out there, just screaming out to be seen as well as heard. You can also argue that adapting novels is just another example of the lack of creativity in the industry. But many great films are adaptations, and I think there is a healthier relationship between books and film, than say video games or comics. Quite simply, when you see the time, effort and money poured into "original" sci-fi films with disappointing results, you just wished they'd adapted a book instead or done something more worthwhile with the money!

Then there's the matter of CGI. Arthur C. Clarke once said  his 1972 classic Rendezvous with Rama could never be realised as a film because of the limitations of technology. But we have it now, and we’ve even seen something of the like in Elysium (with Syd Mead’s torus designs actually dating back to a similar time to when Clarke penned Rama). In fact so many of Clarke’s books could now become stunning films, thanks to the technology available. 

There's too much CGI in films. It's becoming a dependency. Action, adventure, fantasy or SF, Hollywood films are now simply trying to be nothing more than a 3D feast for the eyes, with the importance of plotlines and performances coming secondary at best. Yet for all your breathtaking CGI work, a good model sequence is still somehow more convincing to the eye (just look at Moon, which was fantastic!). 

Granted, you can use CGI to create other worlds and places, and it does have its place. You can create drama otherwise unachievable. But at the same time it’s becoming predictable and above all it’s making filmmakers lazy.

But as far as science fiction goes, I accept CGI as a necessary medium (even if it all does tend to look the same). If only we had the writing to go with it. And it must be such a miserable experience for the actors, who instead of filming on location or with real sets and props, spend their days hanging around in front of green screen and things that aren’t there.

Perhaps the thing that annoys me the most, is the constant need to remake classic films. This is because sci-fi in cinema has lost its originality and Hollywood will always play things safe. The technology is clearly better, yet the re-writes are invariably inferior to the original. I can’t remember ever watching a remake and thinking that it was indeed a better film than the original beyond aesthetics – there’s always something to ruin it. I dread the moment when any of my favourite SF films – Westworld, 1984  and Logan’s Run – get the dumbed-down and sanitised remake treatment! Probably starring Tom Cruise or Will Smith.


  1. Fuuny you should write this today because on Radio 4's The today Programme, they were talking about this very thing -

  2. I saw that - I've actually linked to it in the first sentence (though it's not that obvious.... click the word "news"). That triggered this post, although I had been mentally writing it for the last week!

  3. What's also spooky is that I've was writing (it's up now) a blog about how there is a few SF films coming out this year that do look quite interesting and good. Then I saw that. Spooky!

  4. Well you know, great minds and all that :)

    Christopher Nolan's upcoming INTERSTELLAR is certainly one that's on my radar at the moment...