SF author John Scalzi recently wrote an article titled With Sci-Fi Movies, Classic Does Not Equal Good at his Sci-Fi Scanner blog on the AMC website. (I learned of it via crotchetyoldfan, who gives his own take on the matter here.
Scalzi’s basic argument is this:
But what makes science fiction different than every other genre of film — what makes it unique, for better or worse — is that a strangely high percentage of the classics of the genre are not good films; some are structurally flawed in major ways, while others are just plain awful.
Now of course this is all subjective in the extreme. There’s no way for everyone to agree on what is “good” or “bad” or “awful,” and there isn’t even a definition of “classic” that everyone shares. Still, while Scalzi is of course free to offer his opinions and like or dislike whatever suits him, I think his argument is weak and unconvincing. He gives three or four examples of movies many consider classics, and gives his reasons for believing those movies are bad. Well that’s fine, as far as it goes, but it’s a far cry from making his case. To do that, he would have to do the following:
1. Settle on a concrete and usable definition of “classic”
2. Go through the classic films of every genre and sort them all into “good” or “bad” categories
3. Figure the percentage of bad classics for each genre
4. Show that Sci-fi has a higher percentage of bad classics
I know that’s a huge project and not something that could be presented in a single blog post, but without that kind of thorough review and statistical analysis, all Scalzi has to present is his own vague and unsupported opinion. And it’s fine for him to have his own opinion, just like it’s fine for me to have mine.
Honestly, if he did go through that whole process of deep analysis, it’s hard to say what he’d find, but I doubt there would be any major differences between genres. If there’s one thing I can say about movies, or literature, or music, or any type of art, it’s that Sturgeon’s Law most definitely applies to all of it: 90% of everything is crap. Like most of you, I’m sure, I’ve seen plenty of bad sci-fi movies. But I’ve also seen plenty of bad comedies, thrillers, dramas, horror flicks, action movies, and any other genre you can think of.
And just for the record, here are a bunch of SF movies I consider to be “good” at the very least (whether “classic” or not, I don’t really care): 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Abyss, Alien, Aliens, The Bicentennial Man, Blade Runner, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Code 46, Contact, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Empire Strikes Back, Enemy Mine, Forbidden Planet, Gattaca, Imposter, Logan’s Run (no matter what Scalzi says), The Matrix, Millennium, Minority Report, Paycheck, Pitch Black, Planet of the Apes, Silent Running, Soylent Green, Stargate, Star Trek: the Motion Picture, Star Trek 2: the Wrath of Kahn, Star Wars, Terminator, Terminator 2, Total Recall…. and if I really shook my brain I could probably get some more to fall out. No single other person is going to agree with me on all of those, but my point is that I would be hard-pressed to put together a list of good movies from any other genre that would be substantially larger than that.