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Sci-Fi 1977: Did Star Wars derail serious sci fi?

Discussion in 'Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy Talk' started by Cam Winstanley, Dec 8, 2011.

  1. Cam Winstanley

    Cam Winstanley Scout

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    Dec 8, 2011
    First thing - I love the original Star Wars films.
    But I rewatched Soylent Green at weekend and it set me thinking. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, while I was waiting for the next snippet of Star Wars information to come out (no internet of course), the films on TV that sent me dizzy with ideas were the sci fi greats of previous years. They were all different but what unified them was they all had a point:

    The Day The Earth Stood Still – Mankind should stand together
    Planet of the Apes – What is the true nature of humanity?
    Soylent Green – Where will consumption take us?
    Silent Running – Is the last tree worth the lives of a few people?
    Rollerball – The power of individuality

    Now again, I'm not out to diss Star Wars but it is, at its core, a tale of castles and wizards transplanted into a galaxy far, far away. It's even based on a Japanese movie set in medieval times. And who can doubt the overwhelming appeal of such simple, exciting space opera?
    But here's my question. Did sci fi movies with a message suffer due to the success of Star Wars? Did we all give into spectacle rather than a message? I've been wracking my brains and while I can think of dozens of loud-but-dumb Transformers and GI Joe event movies, the recent thoughtful films I can count on my fingers. Inception, Sunshine, Limitless... erm...
     
  2. actionavenue

    actionavenue Artist, Cartoonist and Dude

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    Well, you make a lot of interesting points. First, I would like to say that we can't blame Star Wars for the rash of dumb movies like Transformers and GI Joe. I would place the blame on the shoulders of Hollywood. The executives and producers seldom want to take a risk on original movie concepts and they like to make movies that have an endless potential product tie ins, like toys (and yes, I know the Star Wars franchise fostered it's share of toys and other products). I think Star Wars does have a point: good vs. evil in it's simpliest form. I suppose one could expound on that idea by saying oppressive governmental tyranny in the lives of citizens and the ability and willingness of that members of that society to fight back. No, I am not advocating over throwing our government, other than voting out the government officials who have outstayed their welcome, but the action and story of the oppressed good guys, such as Luke Skywalker, fighting back against Darth Vader's evil empire, is very inspriring none the less. I think some of the big budget sci fi movies of today lack a certain amount of heart.
     
  3. Tim

    Tim Creative Writer

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    There are two angles to look at this. The first is the Russian storytelling theorist who pointed out there are only x number of characters and x number of themes that are at the core of story telling, so no wonder things go down to base elements. The second is a foreword in the copy of a book I read a while ago, I forget exactly which one, but was two guys in the industry narrowing down storyline and characters to the base elements needed for a story and likewise coming up with the same conclusion about Star Wars. It has everything needed to appeal to a mass audience.
     
  4. Cam Winstanley

    Cam Winstanley Scout

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    I don't think anyone needs to be "blamed" here as a successful anything always spawns endless lesser copycats. Look no further than CSI being responsible for NCIS, Bones, The Mentalist as well as its own official franchises. Or the glut of vampire shows and films, or how million-selling videogame Modern Warfare has throttled innovation in the first person shooter genre. And if we're talking inferior copies, dare I mention The Phantom Menace?

    No, I think the point I was trying to make was that prior to Star Wars, the default Hollywood position was that sci fi movies were used by filmmakers as a test bed for interesting ideas. Going back further, the same was true of the original Twilight Zone, which used sci fi to trick people into watching stories about racism or the arms race or McCarthyism when these would have been switch-off topics if treated in a straight format. I mean, trying to convince people to save the forests back in the 70s when everyone was still driving gas-guzzlers must have been a hard sell. But put Bruce Dern and some cute gardening robots in a spaceship, add a few Joan Boez tracks onto the soundtrack and voila... Silent Running.

    Star Wars was groundbreaking in that it broke the mould of the time by reinventing the 30s weekly serials such as King of the Rocket Men and Flash Gordon. And if Star Wars hadn't done it, some other film would have. I guess I'm just being nostalgic for the mould that was broken. I really love that stuff still and it thrills my soul to watch, then rewatch, a film as clever as Inception.

    And who's to say that filmmakers can't have their cake and eat it? The first Matrix film managed to combine meditations about the nature of reality and being with kick-ass kung fu. Who'd have thunk that was possible?
     
  5. actionavenue

    actionavenue Artist, Cartoonist and Dude

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    Cam and Tim, you both make very good points. My wife, Anna, has a talent for writing. She has a goal to write a novel one day. One of the things Anna struggles with is that she thinks that whatever plot she could dream up would be too derivative of works composed by other authors. I suppose that can be a hard thing to overcome for some people. I do my best to encourage her to write anyway, no matter what the outcome. The phrase "there's nothing new under the sun" comes to mind. I write a blog (freakindeadjed.blogspot.com) from the perspective of a cartoon zombie character that I created (my cartoon artwork for this zombie appears on zazzle.com). My point is that I work really, really hard to keep my material fresh, funny and original, however, I can see where it could be a challenge for some creative people to keep from "borrowing" material from other film makers, writers, artists, etc. Anyway, my hat is off to you both, and it my pleasure to make the acquaintance of two like minded individuals from the great nation of England!
     
  6. astonwest

    astonwest Writing Fool Writer

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    Personally, I think Star Wars launched off on marketing and derivative sales (video games, etc.) as one of the main purposes of any movie...but did it derail "serious" sci-fi? I don't think so. There have been plenty of sci-fi titles out there since which dived into issues facing humanity...

    The list would be too numerous to go into, but one recent film that came to memory was the Bruce Willis flick Surrogates. Like the move or hate it, it still was a sci-fi film which presented a world where everyone was dependent on a life solely online, and the troubles that could come from such. If that's not a message, well...
     
  7. actionavenue

    actionavenue Artist, Cartoonist and Dude

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    There is no doubt that George Lucas and the studios who distributed the Star Wars franchise, benefited from it's huge marketing potential. I remember when Jaws came out in the 70s and it was credited for being the movie that originated the summer blockbuster trend, but virtually no toys and other tie in products seem to come from the movie. That all seem to change with Star Wars, because we got action figures, games, more books, etc. It seems that the bigger mass appeal and marketing potential of a movie that is released, the less important of a message or moral to be gleened from that movie's story.
     
  8. wise467

    wise467 Cadet

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    Dec 14, 2011
    I'm a fan of good sci-fi movies, but I can take or leave Star Wars.
     
  9. Pragmatist

    Pragmatist Ensign

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    When it comes to sci-fi movies who want's serious?

    People want action, good guys against bad guys, lots of noisy impressive machines and explosions. Lots of great effects, interesting planets, curious creatures and a great soundtrack.

    Analysis or deep meaningful messages about aliens or the future of mankind are not really of any interest, well not to me anyway. I sit there with my popcorn and want to be entertained, I have no interest in what messages there may or may not be in a sci-fi movie, I go to see them to unwind, not get a headache analysing the writers deep meaningful philosophical messages.

    I went to see Star Wars when it first came out in 1977, this was sci-fi that blew me away. It was like nothing I had ever seen. I didn't analyse the plot at all. If I had I would have thought Vader and Co = Nazis, the final attack on the `Death Star' was a direct rip off of the old war film 633 Squadron, where a squadron of Mosquito bombers have to fly up a narrow fjord with guns blazing at them all the way along it and bomb a small overhang at the end, it's exactly the same. Jedi Knights and a Princess in distress = something straight out of any number of 'fairy stories'. A Death Star engineered so that it could be destroyed by one well placed missile, it would never happen.

    Yet with no analysis, just sitting back with my popcorn it worked, I loved it.

    I didn't think the same was true for District 9. Apparently this had a message that was something to do with aparhied (apologies for the spelling if it's wrong). I sat there with my popcorn, applied no analysis whatsoever and still thought it was rubbish. Apparently it got some good reviews, maybe it's my judgement that's dodgy.
     
  10. Martian

    Martian Rocket Ranger

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    What would you say about "The War Of The Worlds" (1953)?
     
  11. James Coote

    James Coote Scout

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    I wasn't around at the time, but maybe by then the excitement of the first moon landings and the space race had worn off. People no longer wanted realism in their sci-fi
     
  12. Mauricem

    Mauricem Ensign

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    You make great points. I love Star Wars too, but Inception is the closest to smart science fiction we've had in a while. Maybe that's why the remakes to those films failed. They focussed on the special effects and skipped the message behind the films.
     
  13. Pragmatist

    Pragmatist Ensign

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    It's an interesting question:

    Do people want cerebral Sci-fi?

    I went to see 'Inception' and couldn't wait for it to end, it's the first film I've seen in the last ten years where people in the audience were asking each other what it was supposed to be about. Two women sitting in front of me got up and left half way through. I nearly did the same.

    The last film I thought was as bad as that was 'Existenze' or something like that, absolutely dreadful.
     
  14. actionavenue

    actionavenue Artist, Cartoonist and Dude

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    Some Scifi movies are intended to be dramatic and a serious commentary on certain things wrong with our world, or certain things that are powerful in our world (Planet of the Apes). Other Scifi movies are intended to be entertainment and pure escapism (Superman). Then the last category are tongue-n-cheek Scifi movies, that really don't take anything seriously (Ghostbusters). I think we have room for every category.
     
  15. sorbit

    sorbit Scout

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    Serious sci-fi was a fad, I think it was already on the wane before SW.
     

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