I was reading last week's Entertainment Weekly and I came to the last page with an edition of The Final Cut entitled "Is Sci-Fi Out of Ideas" written by a man named Mark Harris. While the piece is interesting it made me realize something: there is a huge generation gap where the people on either side have completely different views of sci-fi.
In the column Harris makes a good point that pretty much all of the science fiction films coming out are recycled ideas and remakes of other movies. The problem comes with his somewhat arrogant question about why people aren't coming up with new ideas in sci-fi while he credits 2001: A Space Odyssey as the last truly original sci-fi film that changed it's landscape. The reason I call the question arrogant is because he acts as though the world hasn't changed since 1968. There was a time when the focus of sci-fi was on the fiction. People were not as aware of emerging technologies and they just liked stories of escapism with flying cars and lots of flashing colored lights.
I was a child when computers started showing up most middle class homes and I was still young when the internet became a staple. I remember the days where your only choices were AOL and Prodigy and busy phone lines because dial up was your only method to surf the web. In the matter of only a few years it was multiple household computers and high speed internet. What it comes down to is the fact that I have grown up in a technology boom and I can understand why it's growing harder and harder to find new quality ideas for sci-fi. The youth of today want to know that the science in their sci-fi is logical and reasonable otherwise it should just be a story of fantasy.
Most old sci-fi movies don't hold up to today's standards. It's hard no to laugh at the old cinematic versions of future computers and other so called advanced technologies. By remaking an old sci-fi flick people are able to make updates that make technological sense, not to mention the fact that people know the stories so they don't question the parts that are such strong examples of fantasy.
To add a flying car to a sci-fi flick nowadays you have to explain how the car flies, what kind of power is used and how it's harnessed, how do they avoid accidents without roads or are the cars more simply hover crafts (yeah that's right there is a big difference between a flying car and a hover craft). It's the same with all technology shown in movies today. We are skeptics but we are well informed skeptics. Unlike prior generations we don't believe whatever we're shown and told and we require ideas based in fact.
The movie Demolition Man (it may not be great but I love it) is a good example of a more recent sci-fi movie that had original ideas and stuck to scientific realities extended to fit a future context. Even the cars they used were prototypes future models supplied by General Motors. Cryogenics is a process that is still being worked on. It's all about the science.
One of the great things about The X Files was their basis in fact. Scully would lay out the science while Mulder focused on fiction and myth. It is what we have come to expect in this day and age.
By not even acknowledging The Matrix in his article Harris shows that he certainly is not from my generation (Mr. Harris, your age is showing). You neglect a movie that sparked a revolution of sorts and spawned 2 sequels. Are you trying to say that this is somehow not a sci-fi film? Do you have some convoluted idea that it is recycled in some way? The sequels may not hold up to the 1999 original but that doesn't take away to how great The Matrix is. Maybe you are just too old to understand why this is based in scientific reality. Did you type your column on your Apple IIe?
And what about Harris's theory that Westerns have been rebooted so why can't they do the same for sci-fi? Well for one thing the Western is based in the past not the future which means certain facts are already laid out. They can't give a cowboy an AK 47 and expect people to accept that. They can't have people driving around in cars. The simple fact is that the base of a western is already laid all one has to do is come up with the fictional story to overlay on the backdrop.
Harris may be right when he says that for many the reboots feel like been there done that but there are generations of younger movie goers that haven't seen the originals (and would probably laugh at their absurdity if they did). While I find it sad that many times kids don't realize something is a remake I can understand why they would be reticent to watch the original. Sci-fi doesn't hold up through time the way other genres do. Science changes, it becomes outdated and illogical and technology flashes forward at light speed so to speak.
In the end I have to say I feel bad for Mark Harris. This must have been his geeky realization that he was getting older and I guess he didn't like it. Some day I will be older and they will be remaking The Matrix and other movies I hold dear but when that happens I hope I'm mature enough to admit that the science and graphics of the original are outdated and a reboot is not entirely unwarranted. Besides, doesn't it make way more sense to reboot or remake sci-fi movies and TV shows than the idiotic ideas they have had recently of bringing absurd versions of things like Josie and the Pussycats, Starsky and Hutch, the Mod Squad, etc... to the big screen?
Our entertainment industry is historically derivative. New ideas are few and far between but keep in mind the industry is run by large corporations that have discovered that remakes make money. New ideas (especially progressive ideas that are often expressed in quality science fiction) often find it hard to find funding. Fantasy is far easier to be creative with than sci-fi (in fact if you look at a lot of old "sci-fi" as the years pass they become little more than fantasy anyway, science just surpasses the antiquated ideas of what could be).
Take a moment to think about it. And think about just how much fiction you'll accept in your sci-fi.