Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Renaissance in Science Fiction Cinema & Television

Where's this Golden Age of Science Fiction cinema we keep hearing about?  Oh, certainly most of the ingredients are here!  Never before have so many studios, cable channels, download services and amateurs been creating so much content, and SF is almost as pervasive as cop dramas.

Effects keep getting better, along with production values. It's now possible to storyboard a project -- from beginning to end -- with such detail -- that the storyboard itself ought to be a high art form, with millions of followers.  Indeed, the animated storyboard, complete with audible dialogue and music, would be a spectacular way to generate writer-centered and story-centered content, requiring only a small team of half a dozen to create a full, 90 minute dramatic experience every bit as compelling as a full-featured film... but that's a topic for another day.

Elsewhere I have spoken of the Hollywood Idiot Plot, in which cinema has been lobotomized -- channeled into endless remakes and red-dos and sequels... but also into relentlessly repeating the same dullard plot cliches of "chosen ones" and utter hopelessness of there ever being anything like "civilization." Sure, you have to keep a couple of heroes in pulse pounding jeopardy for 90 minutes!  That's a given. What is not necessary is to poison all our confidence by creating that jeopardy in the laziest way possible.  See the article, if you haven't already.  It will open your eyes.

(Oh, how I wish James Cameron would. He came SO close to achieving what he wanted to achieve, with Avatar... only to create a gorgeous mythology that poisons the very heart of our confidence that we can become better people.  So sad.)

Still, there are glimmers of light.  I have written elsewhere that I much admire Interstellar, by Christopher Nolan. (Though I'd deeply love to insert three sentences, near the end, that would have fixed an ambiguously unsatisfying ending.)  Cuaron's GRAVITY was artful and enthralling.  

Charlie Brooker's British television anthology BLACK MIRROR is bold and imaginative and provocative... a modern update on the Twilight Zone, each episode a rather dark reflection on the future of technology and society, often with disturbing twists...though most stories would do fine in forty minutes, not sixty.

We enjoyed the Halle Berry TV series Extant, far more than we expected to. There's some mystical chosen-one mumbo.  But for the most part it is real science fiction with some class. It was unafraid to break cliches and show an actual human institution being heroic and helpful and just -- a refeshing change from the modern-hackneyed reflex.  And the notion of making AI by raising it as a human child is Something I've written about many times, especially in Existence.  It's the only method that has ever worked, in the past.  Here, it was even rather moving.

Elsewhere, I described my mixed (largely positive) feelings about a TV project I helped to advise... SyFy's "Ascension." While the sex stuff got a bit tedious, there were no betrayals of the root scifi concept, which - if nothing else - was damned original! Perhaps the focus will be better, if it's renewed... and if they heed good advice.  Certainly have a look!

Aw heck... I'll go ahead and append, below, more about "Ascension" and "Interstellar"!

But first, let's finish the good news roundup. For example, see this cool preview to SyFy's new series THE EXPANSE,  based on the "James Corey" series of rollicking space operas - starting with Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War.

Why don't I mention Predestination, the movie based on Robert Heinlein's utter-classic short story "All You Zombies"? My hopes are high! Looking forward to seeing it.

Just released: A pilot based upon Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle"?  Coming: (wow) a dramatized series based on Asimov's Foundation universe? (Do it!  All the way to my own culminating novel!) Plus a miniseries of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End?

Oh, let it be so.  Ending what has mostly been a wasteland of sheap fantasies, cheaper teen-sploitation dystopias and remakes and tedious sequels.

 Let it finally be so.

== Sci Fi and Film ==

Take a look at The Derelict: A 12 minute indie sci fi item on YouTube, with quite worthy effects.

Plug” is  a pretty good recent bit of indie sci fi… post apocalyptic and clearly meant to be the first part of a series.  We may be in for a new era of creativity.

Children of the Machine is an upcoming web series led by Igby Goes Down producer Marco Weber that is set in a near-future dystopia where androids have taken over. Scheduled for a Fall 2015 release, the show will be BitTorrent‘s first-ever original series

Interesting and moving - this is a tour-review of Star Trek's philosophy of humanism. There are those among us who will find these messages objectionable, and that's sad. The core notion of Trek is that we can become better than we are - and that ambition has always been within us. (It's even deeply rooted in scripture.) All we need is the confident ambition to make it so.

Why James Cameron's Aliens is the best movie about technology: An interesting ode to a very good film.  Too bad Cameron's excellent "Aliens" was followed by the stunningly wretched betrayal Aliens III -- probably the very worst betrayal-of-faith with the audience in the history of cinema. But that was an era, lasting 25+ years, when every sci fi franchise followed the same pattern.  

Movie number two in any series was spectacularly good... followed by a third work that reversed every moral point,  stabbing the viewer with a spew of illogic and noxious messages and reversals of every single moral point. It happened in Star Trek and Star Wars and Terminator and so on... but the betrayal in the Aliens series was the most deliberately dreadful, ever.  So much so that I am convinced the whole thing is what Ripley dreamt! While asleep on her way home to live a long and happy life. With Newt.

 == Storytelling in Hollywood ==

Okay, let me come back and offer those quibbles on Christoper Nolan's film, INTERSTELLAR!

 Alas, it seems that today’s generation cannot even grasp the notion of working together toward an optimistic ambition.  Only Star Trek (pre-J.J. Abrams) and Spiderman ever show average citizens being sensible. So viewers always identify with the small group that defies the mob. In this case, the mob is willing to roll over and die, while a small group wants to strive ahead. I critique this tendency in modern storytelling in my article: Our Favorite Cliche: A World Filled with Idiots.

Though pause... Nolan in this case wants us all to join the camp of the strivers and the dreamers.  So the "typical cliche" in this case has its heart in the right place.

Some of you sneered at the “love in 5 dimensions" theme in INTERSTELLAR.  Come on guys, will you please learn to chill out enough to enjoy a great flick!  Ponder that “love in 5 dimensions" is NOT a physical causative in this film! If you thought that, you weren’t paying attention, guys.  The “love” thing is self-motivating for the characters. They use it as a focus-incantation and it wholly fits, at that level. It keeps the astronaut going.

 But the “reach” magical intervention is not  “love in 5 dimensions."  It is reverse causation by future beings and the sci-blather in the flick was solid enough for this physicist to just shrug and grin and keep enjoying the show.

Far worse, none of you pointed out that the planet that is NEAR the black hole has years-to-hours time dilation, yet he plunges into the Black Hole later, and experiences almost none.  Also… WTF is this solar system?  The planets orbit a star and a black hole?  Aw heck.  I set all that aside and didn't let it bug me.  (Learn to do that!)

Anyway, my friend, the epic and epochal physicist Kip Thorne, wrote The Science of Interstellar.  I look forward to reading it, when I come up for air!

My biggest -- in fact only real complaint -- comes in the morally ambiguous situation at the very end. Did Murph's breakthrough save most of humanity? I also wanted to hear that the evacuation would (they think) give Earth herself a chance to (with tender care) recover.  How to telegraph that, with just maybe four sentences of dialogue and a couple of panoramas?

How about glimpsing thousands of those cylinder colonies! While being told some volunteers would stay to take care of and heal the Earth. They were successfully saving Earth’s population ... but no one yet had the guts yet to go through the wormhole.

"Guts," says our hero. "I may be obsolete... but guts I got."

And he goes. 

== Reprise on… ASCENSION! ==

After serving as a science consultant during some planning phases, I came away from watching the three-night miniseries ASCENSION mostly impressed. We had a viewing party here at our place with Sheldon Brown and Richard Dreyfuss and his wife Svetlana.

Everyone saw the main plot twist coming. But the two extra-twists at the end were real surprises and tasty.

Sure, one can see why the “stewardess” thing got inflated in order to have a sexy ambiance to attract audience numbers for renewal.  Must have helped sell it to executives as “Mad Men in Space.”  Another sore point? It did disappoint me how much the people aboard seemed more like ocean liner passengers than crew. (I recommended the “upper-lower-decks” problem be more nuanced; maybe they can do that in the second season.)

In the final crisis scene, a well-drilled crew should have all rushed to emergency stations. The fact that they weren't well-drilled suggests this Captain may not be right for the job, after all.

But the overall look and feel were terrific and the notion of science fiction in the background was tempting.  One can easily imagine such things getting greater emphasis, as a real series develops.  I hope that if the show is renewed,, some of its potential for real sci fi can be developed. A little more EUREKA and a bit less MAD MEN or FIRESTARTER... though those aspects were fun! 

In this clip, I talk about the series... Author David Brin Explains The Real Science Behind the new show Ascension.

Now... anyone care to develop that animated storyboard thing?  Oh the stories we could tell!


Alex Tolley said...

SyFy's "Ascension." While the sex stuff got a bit tedious, there were no betrayals of the root scifi concept, which - if nothing else - was damned original!

I thought is was a revamped version of J G Ballard's "Thirteen to Centaurus"
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0279463/ with the evolved daughter as the unexpected outcome of the "experiment".

The pilot of "The Man in the High Castle" was excellent. I thought it was a very good depiction of the world Dick created. Scott's use of newsreel rather than a book (The Grasshopper Lies Heavy) was a brilliant adaptation to the visual medium. I look forward to the rest of the episodes. (Don't you dare tease us, Mr. Bezos).

There has been some other good SciFi movies lately. "The Machine" and "Automata". Both are about AI and robots. I liked The Machine better, but tastes vary.

Also let me say that "Predestination", based very closely on Heinlein's "All You Zombies" was very good. Very watchable and worth watching twice.

When will someone film "The Stars My Destination"? That story would make a very good movie, IMO.

NoOne said...

Before you quibble about plot points in "Interstellar", read "The Science of Interstellar" by Kip Thorne. Goes into exquisite detail regarding Mann's planet (the one orbiting Gargantua) and the parameters (orbit etc.) needed for it to exist (including an explanation of the tidal waves). Also, the book does explain that (i) the upfalling singularity in the black hole follows unknown quantum gravity laws (the Professor's equation) and that (ii) about 50 years elapse on Earth while Cooper is in the tesseract. Everything that happens in the tessearct is explained by gravitational influences alone. The obvious deus ex machina (which people can be pissed off about) is the way future humans move the tesseract to dock beside Murphy's bedroom.

Get the book. It's really really worth it.

sociotard said...

Get those millionaires back in first class! They're trying to turn economy in to "Cattle Class".


If they showed those seats in a dystopian future movie, I'd have said they were being silly.

Tony Fisk said...

I'm sure David is aware of the 'Physics of Interstellar', and may have a few comments of his own at some point (*that* will be fun)

There are a number of things about Interstellar which irritate. I'm not sure whether it's more or less irritating to be able to scratch the itch and find resolutions.

itch: Earth's ecosystems are in free-fall, and we intend to solve this by sending a couple of people into space to colonise...??? Oh, PUH-LEEZ!!! (scratch: primary mission was to obtain raw data about black holes and wormholes, allowing refinements to physics models necessary to master gravity and allow humanity to take to space *en masse*. The Plan B seed banks were *very* desparate, but Plan A was just desparate.)

itch: couldn't these pan-dimensional super beings not just come out and *tell* humanity a few things? (scratch: Ah! But being future humans, how would they then have come by the raw observations that allowed them to have the advanced understanding of gravitics in the first place? So, apart from a few nudges to get our attention, it's 'Be a good lot of ancestors and work it out, for all our sakes.')

An exercise in learning to think in a cold, cold Universe.

Betrayals aside, I found Alien 3 had a number of interesting points as a stand-alone (I would have liked to have seen a spin-off where a salvage operation revives the remains of Bishop, and his coming to terms with his own (implanted) actions: a cybernetic version of the chest burster, perhaps?. It is probably better to view the series as being motivated by Lovecraftian horror rather than SF. In that sense, it is perhaps 'Aliens' that rebels against the aim of the franchise. To which I say 'Viva la Revolution!'

As for Avatar: yes, I think Cameron did overdo the 'Humanity is evil' pitch. He may manage to redeem this with the upcoming films (I can think of ways), but we'll just have to wait and see.

Dramatisations of Foundation and Childhood's End... Ringworld was being mentioned as well a while back. That seems to have been quietly shelved, alas. However, Joe Straczynski is the writer for Robinson's Mars trilogy, and Scalzi seems to have both Redshirts and Old Man's War on the go.

All of this sounds good stuff, although there is some online trepidation that, with Scyfy involved, Uplift would come out as a sort of 'Dolphinado'.

The prospect of storyboarding as an art-form in itself (aka 'comics') is appealing (I have a nice idea for the opening of 'Sundiver'). The irony is that this technique is intended to 'rough out' scenes and identify problems as quickly and cheaply as possible (these days referred to as 'failing fast'). So spending the time to refine them seems to missing the point (unless you take the view that, at some point, the movie goes one way and the comic another)

Chris Heinz said...

I watched "Predestination" last week. Possibly the nastiest most involuted time travel tale ever. Highly recommended.

David Brin said...

Some one wrote in, surprised that I haven't written about Guardian's of the Galaxy. Sure, a way-fun film! But also one in which CIVILIZATION is not presented as hopeless.

"The Nova Core seems to be not-evil and at least semi-competent. True, it's the heroes who 'save' the day, but they wouldn't have managed it without a decent civilization's help."

Good point! Let's hope it's part of a trend.

vastman said...

A wonderful blog entry with lots of grist for the mill. Great follow-up comments. As to Avatar, I truly feel it's the best creation in my 64 years consuming "what ifs".

As my hopeful spirit reflects the trek meme, James absolutely nailed the fundamental issues facing our species in these perilous times. I was flabbergasted every time I saw it [at least a dozen times] and the way I see it, Avatar was designed to speak to the earth spirit within us. As this point we ARE facing extinction from an almost inhuman corporate monster manipulating humans [almost like an alien invader] which will destroy all we need but are losing connection with.

Was it over the top? Well, I couldn't let my young daughter see it as the rockets destroying the tree and scenes of rainforest construction...would have given her loving spirit nightmare. Funny thing is that she knew she wasn't ready...and I have to think this film spoke truth to many who have talked about it and will be called on to end this madness we're engaging in.

I crycrycontrollably every time I see Avatar. We have an amazing theatre... The Grand renaissance..in Oakland Ca in which the owner continues to bring it back periodically, in between blockbusters... And people come...because Avatar speaks to our heart about where we are and the choices we are facing

Tim H. said...

One of the more annoying things about "Avatar" was the spectacle of a society capable of interstellar exploration not using the technology to improve the quality of life on Earth. I suppose Cameron was in H. G. Wells mode...

Paul451 said...

"Before you quibble about plot points in "Interstellar", read "The Science of Interstellar" by Kip Thorne."

Does the book explain why NASA built their conference room in the [expletive deleted] flame trench? (How hard would it have been to have the meeting (ie, the info dump) held in the back of a military vehicle heading through epic-but-barren desert scenery after the Hero gets caught sneaking around the outer perimeter fence. Finally the Hero sees something on the horizon, his shock-reaction, connecting what he sees with what was being "hypothetically" discussed, says "Ma god, y'daid it, y'ashly bi't it", as he stands in the open-top. External camera, tracking the vehicle from the side, slowly sweeps the POV around to behind the vehicle (pulling back and rising up at the same time, to a "one-point" perspective shot behind the vehicle), revealing that they are heading for a facility dominating by a giant SatV-or-SLS-type vehicle. ...But no, hey, conference room, that's a choice too.)

And does it explain how the Ranger and Lander shuttles were not only large SSTOs, could not only land and take off from planets with higher surface gravities than Earth, were not only also capable of flying around the black-hole planetary system without refuelling, but were capable of flying to a planet so deep inside a black-hole's gravity well that they experienced significant time-dilation while on the surface...

... but, NASA needed the pseudo-SatV/SLS to launch the heroes from Earth. If Ranger and Lander were just regular SSTOs, they could have used them to launch from Earth, no giant SatV/SLS-type multistage chemical rocket required.

But it's worse, they didn't need Endurance and cryonic hibernation and years of travel at all? If Ranger was capable of flying so deep into the gravity well of a black hole that the crew experiences the equivalent time dilation of 99+% of the speed of light, they could have flown directly to Saturn in about four hours at two g. Flown through the wormhole, dropped a few probes, collected the data, flown back through the wormhole and back to Earth, landed on Earth. All in the same ship, two day mission tops. Hell, Ranger's propulsion system would have allowed Endurance to fly "interstellar" in seven years without the damn wormhole.

I mean, I get "the rule of plot", but god I hate lazy writing. I can accept magic technology, but at least have the pride of workmanship to be internally consistent. And don't puff up how realistic the science is going to be, then handwave lazy writing as "hey, it's just a movie".

Paul451 said...

Weirdly, around the same time as Interstellar was in the theatres, there was another SF flick on local TV, Pandorum. I thought it was a blast. Zombies in space. W00t. Thing is, while it was easy to switch my brain off, there was only one moment that jumped out as not at least internally consistent (if you've seen it, ship's rotational gravity versus the revelation that they were already on the planet). There were other elements that failed to hold up in the cold light of day (one particularly that would have been easily solved, since it was almost implied in the film), but nothing that actually ruined the movie while watching it... unlike Interstellar, unlike Avatar, unlike Independence Day.

[Interestingly, many elements in common with Interstellar. Loss of Earth/you're-our-only-hope, good old space-madness, and the aliens turn out to be humans from the future.]


"But it's worse, they didn't need Endurance and cryonic hibernation and years of travel at all?"

Speaking of lazy writing, or editing, ignore that question-mark.

[Turing: edugeen ftandeth - Or, "We really need more sets of type".]

Alex Tolley said...

Avatar = "Dances with Wolves" + "The Emerald Forest"/"Ferngully".

It was a beautifully visualized movie (shades of "The Abyss") but terribly stereotypical in content.

I would have thought that the message of rapacious humanity vs rebels protecting the Naavi was exactly the lazy civilization=stupid vs "powerful individuals" lazy plot that David hates. This doesn't seem "SO close" to me.

ElitistB said...

I will say that I hated the "love in 5 dimensions comment". I felt the movie redeemed itself a bit when it showed Hathaway's character to be quite wrong at the end, however.

atomsmith said...

I interpreted Hathaway's rant about love as as desperate move on her part to convince the others. She had nothing solid to offer them as evidence, so she tried, rather clumsily, to pull at their heartstrings.


Awesome Sci-Fi indie pilot that didn't get picked up: Teather.

It starts out as your typical post-plague-apocalyptic action drama, then halfway through, takes a decidedly Science Fiction twist!

David Brin said...

I don't mind a flick about evil oppressor white -techie guys whose greed is stopped by virtuous rebels.

What I mind is (1) the assumption that's the ONLY mode of white-techie guys and the only possible way we'll be, in 200 more years.

(2) that the only way native peoples could react is black and white, utter rejection of all curiosity or compromise.

It would have taken so little...

Laurent Weppe said...

@Alex Tolley:

Three words: Dances with Smurfs.


"Some one wrote in, surprised that I haven't written about Guardian's of the Galaxy. Sure, a way-fun film! But also one in which CIVILIZATION is not presented as hopeless."

It's not simply that Nova Core is shown to be a decently competent civilization:
In too many sci-fi fantasy tales, the Roguish protagonists graduate from rebels to uncontested leaders in a very short time: such stories are thus less tales of rebellions and more fascistic wet-dreams of successful coups. In Guardian of the Galaxy the roguish protagonists receive amnesty at the end, but they're not suddenly made generals of Nova Core's armies: they may as their tales progress become some sort of elite quasi-black-op vanguard like in some of their comic books incarnations, but so far, the script writers have been smart enough to make such an evolution a distant possible slow evolution of the characters.


Anyway: what's the hatred of trilogies' third episodes? Sure, Return of the Jedi wasn't as good as Empire Strikes back, but it's still a damn good movie, and the final duel between Vader and Luke remains one of the best part of the saga. As for Alien 3, well, I've yet to see an argument against it that doesn't boil down to "The Bastards Killed Newt!"

Jonathan S. said...

Nova CORPS. The Nova Corps were (sort of) a Marvel take on the Green Lantern Corps, only with a more believable mandate (2600 Lanterns to secure the entire freaking UNIVERSE???).

Haven't seen a lot of movies lately (although now I *have* to track down Predestination), so that's the closest to a cogent comment I can come up with for now.

matthew said...

On a slightly different note, I recommend Disney's "Big Hero 6" as an interesting addition to the "robot-centric" cannon. The inflatable health robot has some cool programming going on. Check it out with a minimum of suspension of disbelief. Plus, heroes solving problems with science. I went in with zero expectations and left impressed by the movie.

occam's comic said...

My Idea for Avatar 2

This movie takes place back on Earth. The corporation that is responsible for the interstellar missions is trying to optimize the profit potential from the missions. The latest idea came from the entertainment division. The tech boys have developed a way for a person to “ride along” while Jake controls his avatar. The voyeurs back on Earth get to see, hear, and feel what Jake does while he is controlling his avatar.

“Jake and The Na’vi” become a sensation back on Earth. Billions of people ride along with Jake and get to explore a new world and fall in love with it and her people. The eathlings begin to see the living world in a different way. Many start to take small steps in their lives start to see and act as if the living world is a loving partner not a resource to be exploited.

When Jake is accepted into the Na’vi tribe, the voyeurs back on earth are ecstatic. Many feel this is a redemption not just for Jake but for themselves and mankind as a whole.

But shortly after that “Jake and the Na’vi” stops.
What happened?
Why aren’t they showing us what is happening with Jake?
What are they hiding?
Did they do something to the Na’vi?

Anonymous said...

Test Test

locumranch said...

I haven't seen 'Ascension' yet, but the plot synopsis sounds awfully similar to a short story from the late 60's or early 70's about a mission to the stars whose purpose is isolation, giving the crew 'time to think', perform statistical experiments and have weird sex while cutting off toes, until they become superhuman and return to earth in their cruel 'silver ships to purify the earth'. Anyone remember the name or author? I think it was either Sturgeon or a contemporary.

Next, I'd like to address the ongoing misrepresentation of two beliefs just re-expressed by our host, the first regarding what he terms the 'Idiot Plot' and second regarding his misuse of the term 'humanism':

By dismissing what he terms the 'Idiot Plot' (the first case), our host exhibits all of the hallmarks of the 'Illusory Superiority' delusion (Dunning-Kruger effect) in which the optimistically & statistically ignorant routinely over-estimate human intelligence, including their own place on the Bell Curve, as betrayed by the belief that MOST individual humans are (or, have the capability of becoming) 'above average' .

In the second case, our host misuses the term 'humanism' (defined as "the denial of any power or moral value superior to that of humanity; the rejection of religion in favour of a belief in the advancement of humanity by its own efforts; a cultural and intellectual movement of the Renaissance that emphasized the human potential to achieve excellence; (and) an interest in the material welfare of people") and redefines it in the terms of becoming "better (as in 'different') than we are" (aka 'transhumanism') which represents a de facto 'Rejection of Humanism' and the reassertion of the previously dominant religious, spiritual and moral (humans as fallen) motif.

Both of these misrepresentations seem fairly innocuous when taken separately but (when taken in combination) transform the ideas behind these two terms into Orwellian Newspeak, altering the first idea (this illusion of intellectual superiority) into the misanthropic rejection of actual human intelligence and the second (Star Trek 'TWODA' humanism) into the moral rejection of all things human, bringing us back to two other misrepresentations whose real definitions are listed below:

(1) Empiricism, defined as "the view that experience, especially of the senses, is the only source of knowledge"; and

(2) Science, defined as "the systematic study of the nature and behaviour of the material and physical universe, based on EMPIRIC observation, experiment, and measurement".


Alfred Differ said...


Kibitz about the definition of 'humanism' all you want, but David is close enough to match the general use of the term which I'll admit is fuzzy enough to include much of transhumanism.

Calling on the Dunning-Kruger effect for David is a stretch, though. He IS an author with some experience doing and teaching what he does. Back your claim with evidence or it strikes me as more likely that the one that is guilty of this particular error is you. 8)

Tony Fisk said...

The required transport specs for Interstellar were the least of my enjoyment issues (but they're pretty fundamental physical ones).

Best put-down of Avatar I saw was to summarise the plot for Pocahontas, with a few nouns altered.

*My* take on Avatar sequels involves tackling a few 'mysteries' (aka plot holes) like why the Na'vi have four limbs, not six? Why *do* they seem so like an idyllic tribe of Indians? How can Jake & co. aid the Na'vi when the Corporation returns for round 2 (the latter should involve showing that some of us back on Earth do care, very much). How do the writers achieve this without adding too many more 'mysteries' to the Pandora's box? (I figure there's time to do all this with 3 sequels, no?)

Anonymous said...

James Cameron's "Avatar" is clearly a rip-off of Kevin Costner's "Dances with Wolves".

John_D (KC) = Jake_S (SW) = any veteran with PTSD;
Union Army = RDA = the destructively male qualities of industrialization;
Stands with Fist = Neytiri = the redeeming nature of the feminine;
the Union attempts to kill John_D = RDA's attempt to kill Jake_S;
Lakota rescue of John_D = Na'vi rescue of Jake_S;
Lakota = Na'vi = nature worshippers;
Great Spirit = Eywa;
and Academy Awards for KC = Academy Awards for JC.

Jumper said...

I'm with Paul451. There are only so many mental gymnastics I can do to hold on to a disintegrating plot. I'd sooner watch a different sort of movie entirely, and read my SF, if the idiot movie makers are intent on retaining mindless error. I mean Gravity? Really? Would you watch a non-SF drama that had all the following: a three hour motorboat trip from Seattle to New York, a small revolver that fires 35 shots, a bank vault whose door can be consumed by fire and turned to ashes in 30 seconds by 5 gallons of gasoline, a 12 foot snake that can digest a full grown lion in one hour? Some of these crappy SF movies remind me of all that.

DP said...

Now if only someone could make a decent mini series of "Dune" - give it the full "Game of Thrones" treatment. A dozen episodes each for Dune, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.

P.S. Peter Dinklage could play Bijaz.

Orval said...

Whatcha got against Alien III? I actually love that movie. The heroes are a bunch of rejects, "despised & rejected of men," with no real tech, brilliance, or ubermensch characteristics (except maybe Ripley), who nevertheless develop the character and courage to team up, stand up, and fight back in what looks like a hopeless cause. And Ripley's self sacrifice at the end, practically christ-like. Love that film.

Laurent Weppe said...

"why the Na'vi have four limbs, not six? Why *do* they seem so like an idyllic tribe of Indians?"

My personal take is that the Na'Vi (hey! Listen!) are basically Eloi: their ancestors terraformed Pandora, built a giant biological computer which acts as its biosphere caretaker, and their artificial Eden was so successful that they pretty much reverted back to hunter gatherers.

vastman said...

Laurent... are you for real?
FYI, James has spent a lot of time with rainforest tribal peoples, being exploited and watching their "earth" being destroyed by fossil fuels/dams/development... Avatar is his attempt to get us to connect with the living planet and to see what "other" are doing to her.

He did this in a way different manner than Brin did in Existance and Earth (both of which I absolutely love and have listened to several times.

Cameron extrapolated a contrast...He eloquently extrapolated how the mycelium webs of life in the rainforest translocate nutrients from one region to another... and brought it to life, hoping to touch our spirit.

He also addressed the connection with all living things...The navi's ability to speak with and connect with other creatures... I hope we can evolve to this level. The more we learn about the animal/insect/living system, the more we are realizing there is communication way beyond the communication between redneck humans. James was extrapolating this connection and I think he did this beautifully.

The lesson, if I may be so bold... is that if we "knew" what we were doing, we wouldn't do it...

Obviously, he didn't succeed in communicating with you!

David Brin said...

I'm gonna be quasi out of the loop for about a week.

But nice to see our strawman artist is keeping up his craft. Even tho I am waaaaaaaaaay over here. ;-)

Tony Fisk said...

Vastman, I heard an account (apparently from Cameron himself) where he showed Avatar to a community of Amazonians and asked for feedback. One of the elder women told him there was too much fighting. 'In real life', she said, 'we use law!'.

He did seem to take it on board, so we'll see,

Midboss57 said...

I don't really think of Avatar as just a "Dance with smurphy cats" movie.
If we sum up the movie as so:
-Species A comes to species B's world to extract resources it somehow can't get anywhere else.
-Species A is space faring and therefore higher tech than B.
-In order to minimize resistance from the natives, they send infiltrators looking like the locals to study them and perhaps make agreements with the leadership.
-The infiltrator forgets about their duties and goes native. Often, romance with one of the natives happens.
-Reality comes back to bite the infiltrator when the fleet comes in and begins all out attack.
-Explosions ensue.
-Eventually, the lower tech natives defeat the invaders through ingenious tactics and with the help of the defecting infiltrator.

That's basically the plot to half the alien invasion movies that have been released. The only difference is the roles of humans and aliens have been reversed. Looking at it this way, it's a rather interesting reinterpretation of an old classic plot. Think of it like that and the movie watches quite differently.

fuzzyillogic said...

The part about Ascension that breaks my immersion is the gravity stuff: a crew composed of engineers and physics good enough to invent a lot of new technologies should be able to notice that they're all standing in an exactly 1 G field instead of relying on rotational pseudo gravity.
And if they said that the 1 G field came from continuous acceleration, if my relativistic calculations are right, after subjective 50 years 1 G acceleration they should have travelled over LY.
They could at least have patched this with some throwaway comment about a supposed "gravity generator" (that would have been fictional even inside the narrative) or something.

Anonymous said...

I kind of thought that most gripes people had about "Interstellar" is like having someone complaining you only gave them a $1,000 of Silver instead of a $1,000 of Gold.

It is my suspicion that Gravity must be in the same boat.

I agree that people should have a thicker skin when it comes to minor imperfections in what is mostly the thing we want. More numerous and positive science fiction.

sociotard said...

I liked Big Hero 6, but I kind of laughed at Baymax's faulty medical ethics programming. Sure, Tadochi remembered to program in the whole "do no harm" line, but neglected all the elements of privacy. No consent given and he performs diagnostics on the villain, and then gives the information to someone without a medical need to know.

Forgivable, I suppose, for a robot still in beta testing.

Alfred Differ said...

The thing that bugged me about Gravity was the orbit inclinations were wrong. Once I was forced to suspend my skepticism over that, the rest of the story went smooth enough.

Try bailing out from the ISS orbit and there is a decent chance you get dumped in some really, really cold water. I only managed to half suspend my analytical side and half expected Bullock's character to pop the hatch and the end... and die of hypothermia real quick. 8)

Tony Fisk said...

Well, Bullock's character did nearly die of water, cold or otherwise.

My niggle was the spectacle of *all* humanity's space hardware getting destroyed or de-orbited.
(Scratch that dream, humanity)

Unknown said...

If you're willing to suspend disbelief for the initial concept, then check out the low budget movie Coherence. It's high-concept along the lines of Primer.

Tony Fisk said...

This is SF we're talking about here. When we grumble about suspending belief on something, it's not that we can't do it so much as we can't see why we *have* do it.

I can't comment on Coherence, but the Long Earth series are based on a ridiculous fancy: cheap and easy inter-dimensional travel via potato. However, once Pratchett and Baxter persuade you to swallow that loopy proposition, they are quite meticulous about describing the possible consequences.

Alex Tolley said...

BBC piece on the event Dr. Brin spoke at in San Jose.


Given Seth Shostak's viewpoint, I wonder if he is seeing the writing on the wall for passive SETI and is looking for a new project in active SETI to sustain funding and interest.

If there are alien civs out there that are apparently silent perhaps because they have some better way to communicate, the obvious solution is to park a probe in solar systems to detect technological civs and then report back, even communicate with those emerging civs. (Yes, this is a version of the 2001 monolith idea).

Sending signals out into space is almost futile given the likely distance to the nearest civs as there is almost no chance that we would get a reply even within a human lifetime. It would be a long term project, and would likely end up being almost religious in nature.

Paul451 said...

"I kind of thought that most gripes people had about "Interstellar" is like having someone complaining you only gave them a $1,000 of Silver instead of a $1,000 of Gold."

No, it's having paid for gold coins and being handed chocolate in gold-coloured foil. (And, often, even that "chocolate" is just "chocolate-flavoured".)

Gravity wasn't as bad as Interstellar, but the WTF moments are still just laziness (or director's ego), such as using the Shuttle and the impossible Hubble/ISS orbital mechanics. The director wanted Hubble and a Shuttle orbiter and ISS, so screw reality. But it wasn't actually necessary to the story. Why not have a fictional satellite and a post-Shuttle mission similar to the Intelsat VI rescue? For example, an expensive Earth-science satellite meant for GSO ends up stuck in LEO due to damage to upper-stage from debris... ooo, foreshadowing. It's near enough to ISS a few months later to risk an improvised mission using a Soyuz capsule to ferry across 3 ISS astronauts (2 US and 1 Russian, plot-justified as guy with most EVA time (Clooney), EVA-newb but best systems-engineer (Bullock), Soyuz pilot with EVA experience (Basher Savage?)) to attach a new just-launched kick-stage...

But no... It had to be Hubble, it had to be a Shuttle orbiter, it had to be ISS. Director's Ego.

The problem is that once the director puffs up how "realistic" the film is going to be and then right at the start throws that kind of lazy-nonsense at me, he breaks my suspension of disbelief, making me more likely to pick up every other mistake. And for nothing. Completely avoidable.

But Interstellar was vastly worse, because it kept pushing lazy-stupid things. Every time I could say, "Okay Paul just watch the film", bam! Another one. Bad dialogue, dumb characters, idiotic scenes, cliches upon cliches... Ditto Avatar. It never stopped being stupid for long enough for me to fall back into a "watcher's trance".

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 Sometimes ignorance is bliss. My historian wife can rarely watch historical dramas as she sees so much that is wrong. She is having trouble with the BBC's "Wolf Hall" partly because of Damian Lewis' interpretation of Harry 8.

I've no doubt that most westerns are inaccurate for similar reasons, apart from shooting more than 6 bullets from a 6 chambered revolver!

The more knowledge you have, the more constrained a movie needs to be to stay within those bounds. That will inevitably lead to plot and script issues conflicting with reality.

BTW, I like your alternative scenario to set up the movie. So in this case, I can see that dropping real hardware for fictional would satisfy some people, at the cost of others who might prefer the references to that hardware.

locumranch said...

Excellent article on the recent SETI conference mentioned by Alex (above), especially the conference's scientific consensus that "it is time to try actively to contact intelligent life on other worlds", the main contrarian being our skeptical Dr. Brin who describes this overwhelming consensus as poorly conceived (anti-scientific) "arrogance" and an (elitist; anti-democratic) "railroading of the public", a position that only serves to highlight that our glorious leader lacks the internal consistency to reject other more progressively grandiose consensuses on principle.

Even Alfred would agree that such an untenable position (this rejection of an overwhelming scientific consensus ) only confirms our host exhibits all of the delusional hallmarks of the illusory superiority, Dunning-Kruger and optimism bias previously mentioned, the only other unthinkable option being that there exists a conceptual difference between what passes for 'scientific fact' and what passes for 'scientific opinion', especially when such an non-consensual distinction is simply inconceivable !!


Alex Tolley said...

@locum - it is hard to describe either side as having a "scientific" opinion on the matter. I see DB's position as being precautionary. At this point, I do not see how or what reverses this stance, other than the vague 1000(?) years of observations to make a better determination.

Within 10-20 years we should know whether life is common in the galaxy, and maybe if other civilization exist within a 100.

If there are no other current civs, then active SETI is futile (as is much SETI looking for signals). If they are there and predatory, as David worries, I just do not see them waiting for signals before hurrying over. More likely they have probes in our own system monitoring us. If they have FTL travel, then where are they, if not, they may be on their way.

David calls active SETI shouting "yoo hoo" into the dark. If there are predators out there, it is more likely they are close by, in a hide, and watching us with the equivalent of night vision glasses. Whether we signal or not seems rather beside the point to me, even though I understand his position.

Paul451 said...

Speaking of stupid ego-driven decisions...

"It would be a long term project, and would likely end up being almost religious in nature."

Not religious, IMO, just childish. Scratching your name onto the Pyramids. Bringing a laser-pointer to a theatre. A poor impulse-control demand for attention. And it's not about getting a reply. Active SETI advocates are never serious about long term project to watch the systems they are transmitting to. The shouting "look at me" is the point.

" 'Vunce zey go up, who cares vere zey come down,
zat's not my department,' said Werner Von Braun."

IMO, even Shostak is only an advocate because he's frustrated with not getting a signal. When they offered him the job, they promised him aliens. There aren't any damn aliens so far, so he's gonna do sommit 'bout it!

[Shostak repeats the "We've been broadcasting for 70 years, they can already hear us" line... So the point of Active SETI is? The only reason to shout is if you think they can't hear us talking.]

"Sending signals out into space is almost futile given the likely distance to the nearest civs as there is almost no chance that we would get a reply even within a human lifetime. "

Indeed. If ET civilisations are by chance so close as to make transmission worthwhile, there must be millions of such civilisations in our galaxy. If so, even if interstellar travel is too hard/impossible, the galaxy would be flooded with chatter and we'd be bathed in "Hey! Yo, new guys! Talk to us!" signals. (The reasoning is that even if the majority of ET civilisations are culturally shy/quiet/fearful, with millions of civilisations, there'd be enough at the very very chatty end of the bell-curve for that to dominate communication. By definition, the talkers create the culture of communication.)

Since it's quiet, there's two possibilities: Life/intelligence/civilisation is rare enough to be functionally equivalent to non-existent, making Active SETI just stupid but harmless.

Or ETIs are common... but are keeping quiet. In which case, we should perhaps take their advice until we know a lot more.

And as you note, we don't have to wait forever, just a few centuries, a millennia at most, perhaps until we've detected nearby civilisations by other, passive, observations; then we can have the discussion again about contacting those civilisations directly. Is it so vital that it must be in our lifetimes? Are we so important?

Paul451 said...

"especially the conference's scientific consensus that "it is time to try actively to contact intelligent life on other worlds" "

What scientific consensus? That's just a strawman you created to justify the rest of your argument. It's one guy from a privately-funded organisation.

Why is David's position internally consistent? Simple: If you, like Shostak, believe that They are out there, all around us, alien civilisations older and wiser than us, and totally not hostile to us, then perhaps you should listen to their Galactic consensus, listen to the message they have been shouting at us over and over for at least 70 years...


Paul451 said...

And back to teh filums,


Re: Gravity
"I can see that dropping real hardware for fictional would satisfy some people"

But that's the thing, what they did was fictional, unreal, impossible, anyway. A Shuttle that never existed in a program that was already ended when the film was made. Hubble, ISS and a Chinese station all within a couple of miles of each other. Totally fake.

Whereas "rescue missions" are real (Intelsat VI) and upper-stage failures are real (Intelsat VI and the recent Phobos Grunt failure). It only takes a moment to create a scenario that meets the film's goals without it being stupid for the very people the movie was being most strongly marketed to.

"My historian wife can rarely watch historical dramas as she sees so much that is wrong."

While I get your point, the specific thing with Interstellar and Avatar (and to a lesser degree Gravity), is that the director made a big fuss about how hard their SF was. It is like a historical drama being specifically marketed to history-buffs, with the director puffing up how many historians were involved, and how proud he is of the historical realism. And then he sticks steam engines in medieval England and when people complain, waves it away with "it's just a film".

There was no plot reason for Interstellar to have such leaden dialogue, self-contradicting technology, idiot mistakes... There was no reason for Avatar to have so many stupid cliches and dumb scenes. It's just lazy writing.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. My historian wife can rarely watch historical dramas as she sees so much that is wrong. She is having trouble with the BBC's "Wolf Hall" partly because of Damian Lewis' interpretation of Harry 8.


The more knowledge you have, the more constrained a movie needs to be to stay within those bounds. That will inevitably lead to plot and script issues conflicting with reality.

The movie has to make you want to play along...to go with willing suspension of disbelief rather than scientific critic. I'm not sure of exactly what movies have to do to win one over to that position, but clearly "not taking me for a complete idiot" is one component.

I was such a geek-fan of the original "Star Wars" back in my teenage years that I had no problem with the fact that gravity and sound would never work the way they did in the movie. Whereas I would not have accepted the same lapses from "2001: A Space Odyssey".

A lot of movies are filmed in my hometown, Chicago, and they usually get the local geography wrong. When Chicago is just a generic background, such as when it is really Gotham City in the Batman films, then I don't care. But when Harry and Sally drive north up Lake Shore Drive on the way to New York (a path that would require them to circumnavigate four of the Great Lakes) it takes me out of the film.

raito said...

Renaissance? I'm skeptical.

'Round Christmas time, my wife and I went to see a movie, and uncommon occurrence these days. Of the 9 trailers shown, 5 were for presumably sci-fi movies. All used the same format for the trailers, and 3 of them ended with essentially the same conceit, and definitely the same percussive cadence.

If there's something new coming, it's not going to be on the big screen.