When Science Fiction Goes Bad

The Arts

Hollywood SF movies divide into two camps; the crowd-pleasingly awful and the nice tries. ‘Battle:Los Angeles’ is probably the worst of the bunch lately, but ‘Skyline’ is a close second, with its astonishingly unpleasant cast of selfish, dim, spiteful, whining, homophobic Los Angelenos, poor production design, derivative set pieces and embarrassing plot holes.

The paranoid subtext of such films doesn’t help, either. The US is under attack from sinister foreigners who must be killed – but if the aliens are intent on destroying America why on earth do they attack LA? Do they know something we don’t? The rest of the world is usually represented in a montage that consists of the Eiffel Tower, the London Eye and the Taj Mahal.

But hey, it’s just a movie, right? Except that SF can be so much more, as ‘Brazil’ and ‘Gattacca’ showed. The UK has lately developed a pleasing taste for SF with ‘Moon’ and ‘Monsters’, but both directors have now gone to Hollywood.

The obvious question is why no-one films the most lauded novels of the fantastic. Where is Ray Bradbury’s work on film? Why isn’t someone filming the wonderful Harlan Ellison’s work more? Why not Michael Moorcock, Iain Banks, JG Ballard, Brian Aldiss? Why is Philip K Dick the only SF writer Hollywood seems to have heard of?

It seems Hollywood wants a finite moral universe in simple black and white absolutes, but a more prosaic answer would be that a big-budget SF film needs family-friendly certification. Which should make Bradbury an ideal choice. Don’t hold your breath.

10 comments on “When Science Fiction Goes Bad”

  1. Jon says:

    “Where is Ray Bradbury’s work on film? ”

    Sometimes there’s a hole so vast you don’t see it until someone points it out. Fahrenheit 451 excepted (and as he never tires of referencing, the screenplay of Moby Dick) …

    … has there never even been a Twilight-zone style TV series?

  2. Alan Morgan says:

    They filmed ‘The Final Programme’ from Moorcock. I’ve always rather liked it (the ending notwithstanding). Mike hates it, though gives credit that the actors did a good job against bad odds. We were none of us at the BFI last year at all surprised when after the showing there he went to the front to tell us what a pile of crap it was. More on tack, indeed and absolutely. I’m just saddened by the big bang effects, the nasty little messages and frankly most of the time the aliens losing*. Really it’s not even the same genre now is it? Can’t we all nag someone like Dave Langford to make an announcement that genre fiction is declaring independence from Hollywood film?

    *Remember, they were very sharp pieces of fruit sir.

  3. J. Folgard says:

    Many of the authors you cited would be quite difficult (and interesting) to interpret visually for the designers, and it seems producers want their specs to come with pretty, striking pictures before putting money on the table. Also, in what we’re so fond of calling a “trans-media” world, audiences and studios often veer towards already known properties -novels previously adapted on screen, video games, comics or old tv shows they can rehash -I mean, “re-imagine”.
    Even without talking about “difficult” works like Moorcock’s ‘Mother London’, I’d love a big-screen Elric or Hawkmoon! We’d get spectacle, but then there would be too much “decadence” & “subversion” for a good -faithful- movie, I guess.

  4. Gordon Riots says:

    Without wishing to be picky, surely the subtext of Battle: LA (alien invasion) is rather similar to that of Monsters (aliens drifting up from Central America causing havoc and destruction)?

  5. admin says:

    Weirdly, I was just reading about the Gordon Riots when your comment arrived. The Monsters background is very different in that their emotional detachment is akin to that of wild animals – I thought Monsters provided something we genuinely haven’t seen before.

  6. J F Norris says:

    Hollywood also raided Asimov’s work and ruined most of what they filmed. I just finished reading The Naked Sun for the first time. With the addition of computers (which of course are absent in the book having been written in 1953) the book would make an excellent and timely film. It’s astonishing how prescient Asimov was even if he didn’t foresee the electronic revolution exactly how it turned out. The computer/personal electronic device mania we live with now is very analogous to what he is saying about robots in his work.

  7. Matthew Davis says:

    But there was a Twilight Zone – style series based on Ray bardbury stories. “Ray Bardbury theater” ran on various cable channels in the US in the late 80s and 90s. The man himself even did the Rod Serling – style host duties.

    Why do the aliens always attack LA? Why are English aliens always found in gravel pits? As the very good documentary “Los Anheles Plays Itself” makes wonderfully clear, it’s because it’s just down the road.

    Curiously, I’ve been doing research into Robert Sheckley, and something like 7 or 8 films have been based on different books of his. Which is a good total for any author. Pity none of them are really even half-way decent films.

    And a penny for anyone who can guess how Sheckley is indirectly responsible for Doctor Who.

    – Matthew Davis

  8. Steve says:

    The frightening thing about “Skyline” is that the ending was a set-up for a sequel – a sequel? As if someone would make a sequel to a movie only three people have seen (counting my wife and myself – we rented the DVD)?

    My wife’s comment was “I didn’t think anyone could be worse than John Carpenter. I admit it – I was wrong”.

  9. stephen groves says:

    Hi Chris,
    Sorry to say most of the blockbuster S.F. films seems to have been made for the X Factor audience.Most of these actors in the films look freash out of one of those boy bands.I want to know what ever happened to ugly teenagers in films?or are they destined to be the ones that always got eaten by the aliens,just like the two normal looking crew memebers standing at the back in the landing party’s in the old Star Trek series.

  10. Gordon Riots says:

    It is true, I get around (mind you, what can you say about a riot that is trying to force the status quo?).

    I see what you mean about the aliens of monsters (more forces of nature – but not Gaia – than premeditating creatures) however, I would contend that both films deal with extra-state based entities moving into the borders and causing destruction.

    However, the overall tone of Monsters is more benevolent – the creatures are not overtly moving in, and one might argue that they are just “doing their thing” rather than out to plunder the territory. Even so, I would contend that both films can be interpreted as relating to immigration – it’s just that one is more paranoid than the other.

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