Category Archives: movies

A long time ago, in a courtroom far far away…..

Well, it’s done. The sci-fi legend of our generation is now complete. Our parents had Dr. Strangeglove and 1984. Their parents were transfixed by H. G. Wells. The generation before that had Jules Verne. And we got Star Wars….

Title: Star Wars on Trial: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Debate the Most Popular Science Fiction Films of All Time
Editors: David Brin, Matthew Woodring Stover
Year: 2006
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Love it or hate it, most people would have to agree that the Star Wars saga is undoubtedly one of the greatest phenomena of modern pop culture. Of course, with popularity comes criticism, and Star Wars is no exception. Is it mythically rooted drama with something to say, or merely brainless eye candy? Is it science fiction or fantasy? Are the spinoff novels a good thing or an abomination? What about the politics, philosophy, and ethics of that galaxy far far away? These and many other questions have been discussed by fans and critics for years, and are discussed yet again in the present volume. Part of the Smart Pop book series from BenBella Books, Star Wars on Trial looks at this cinematic juggernaut from every possible angle (including a few unexpected ones). The book is laid out as a courtroom drama, with David Brin as the prosecutor, Matthew Woodring Stover as the defense, and a droid judge to maintain order. There are also essays or “briefs” submitted by many other SF/F authors on both sides of the debate (see the tags for a full list). This courtroom format comes across as silly sometimes (all right, most of the time), but the book does a good job of bringing a wide variety of opinions to bear on the subject.

The main topics for debate are presented as a series of charges, with each charge then being addressed by both prosecution and defense. The charges are as follows:

1. The politics of Star Wars are anti-democratic and elitist.
2. While claiming mythic significance, Star Wars portrays no admirable religious or ethical belies.
3. Star Wars novels are poor substitutes for real science fiction and are driving real sf off the shelves.
4. Science fiction filmmaking has been reduced by Star Wars to poorly written special effects exravaganzas.
5. Star Wars has dumbed down the perception of science fiction in the popular imagination.
6. Star Wars pretends to be science fiction, but is really fantasy.
7. Women in Star Wars are portrayed as fundamentally weak.
8. The plot holes and logical gaps in Star Wars make it ill-suited for an intelligent viewer.

If those accusations sound overly negative, let me put your mind at ease by saying this book is not merely an exercise in Star Wars bashing. Brin and his supporters do come on strong and put the screws to George Lucas and his creation (and rightly so, I think). But on the other hand, Stover and his defense team manage to hold their ground quite admirably. In fact, I would venture to say that most readers who begin reading this book with a preconceived bias, either for or against these movies, will likely come away with the feeling that things aren’t quite as simple or clear-cut as they thought. Many good points are made on both sides of the debate, some that I had never considered before. I, for one, now have a better view of both the flaws and the strengths of this film series (I think there are many of both), and for that reason it was well worth reading.

Star Trek’s computers sadly silent at the loss of their voice, Majel Barrett

Majel Barrett, that familiar voice of the computer in all the Star Trek series and most of the movies, passed away yesterday at the age of 78, surviving husband Gene Roddenberry by 17 years. This is sad news indeed; I’ve been hearing that voice in the various series for nearly my entire life. Not to mention seeing her in her various acting roles — the original Number One, Nurse Chapel, and my favorite, the fun and flamboyant Lwaxana Troi. A true loss for Star Trek fans everywhere. Says Leonard Nimoy:

“She was a valiant lady. She worked hard, she was straightforward, she was dedicated to ‘Star Trek’ and Gene, and a lot of people thought very highly of her.”

Which is pretty much what I’ve always heard and seems to be the general consensus. She was a devoted part of one of science fiction’s most historic and widespread successes, and she said in 1998, “It’s been a hell of a ride.” It sounds as if she had a happy and fulfilling life, and I’m sure she’ll be missed by many.

I found a couple of videos for you (courtesy of YouTube) as my small way of paying tribute to Star Trek’s First Lady. This one (posted by SuperTrekNerd) is an homage to Barrett’s computer voice on all the various Trek shows:

This one (posted by SciFiDude42) is a short segment from Entertainment Tonight with Barrett as a special guest discussing the changing role of women in Star Trek:

Science fiction movies: worse than other genres?

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.