Tag Archives: movies

Harry Potter, Cars 2, and going to the movies

I don’t get to the movies often these days. In the two years since the Little Man was born, I think I’ve been a grand total of three times, two of which have been in the ten months or so. I could say it’s because it is difficult to get away, but that’s not really true. We can get a babysitter when we need one. The truth is that I haven’t been particularly interested in what appears in theaters–and for those movies I am interested in, I have no problem waiting a few months to see the movie on BluRay. The entire glamour of “going to the movies” has evaporated for me.

Yesterday, Kelly and I managed to see the final Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. The last movie I saw in the theater was Deathly Hallows, Part 1 way back in November. The movie was entertaining enough, and the fact that the theater was a virtual ice box was a blessing in the heat we’ve been having. But the hoops you have to jump through just to see the movie were ridiculous. We arrived fifteen minutes before the scheduled start, took our seats and proceded to watch fifteen minutes of advertising disguised as a “pre-show.” I was interested in none of it. This pre-show advertising itself contained “commercials within the commercial” giving it a very recursive feel. Regal Cinema must be concerned people are going to forget where they are because they must have mentioned Regal in an ad every fifteen seconds.

Continue reading Harry Potter, Cars 2, and going to the movies

I, Robot; I, Robot; I, Robot; and I, Robot

i robot cover.jpeg

As I was writing my lastest Wayward Time Traveler piece for SF Signal, I couldn’t help but recall something that happened just before I went to Los Angeles last week. I was packing and went into the TV room to ask Kelly about something or other–and found her watching I, Robot on FX. This movie is the 2004 movie starring Will Smith and involving, as the title indicates, robots. I saw it a year or two after it came out, mostly out of curiosity, and have regretted it ever since. Not just because it was a terrible movie, you understand, but also because there was a masterful screenplay written for I, Robot by Harlan Ellison and–

I can see I’m getting ahead of myself here so let me back up and explain for those people who may not be as close to science fiction as I am.

Continue reading I, Robot; I, Robot; I, Robot; and I, Robot

L. A. Story

la story.jpeg

On Sunday night, I watched L. A. Story for the first time in many, many years. I’d just returned from L.A. and I suppose I was in a nostalgic L.A. state of mind. The movie used to be one of my favorites and having watched it again, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it stands up to previous viewings. It is still one of my favorite movies.

Continue reading L. A. Story

Oscar night

When I lived in L.A., it was fun to watch the Oscars. It was a Thing That People Did. There was a party atmosphere, like Superbowl Sunday. When I moved back east, that feeling started to fade. And over the years, as more and more movies that I felt deserved to win, didn’t, it became a bitter disappointment–like watching your home team make it to the series only to lose in 4 straight games.

These days, I don’t watch the Oscars and I don’t particularly care who wins or loses. I haven’t seen a single movie up for best picture and the only nominated film I have seen is the most recent Harry Potter. Maybe this is just a result of getting older. Maybe it is a result of having kids. I don’t know but movies today just don’t have the appeal they did a decade ago. I much prefer to watch movies on TCM, and even that I haven’t had time for.

Also, it seems to me that the Oscars are taking place earlier and earlier each year. It seems to me that when Silence of the Lambs won the Oscar, it took place right around my birthday, toward the end of March.

Ah well, if you are watching the Oscars tonight, enjoy them. I hope your movie wins.

For lack of creativity

Hot off my rant on movie reboots (just a voice in the wilderness, I suppose), I learned yesterday (from a Jason Alexander tweet) that the 1966 movie, Fantastic Voyage is going to be remade, and James Cameron is involved. Is this not a perfect example of what I was talking about? Here is yet another third generation remake. In this case, a script was produced, for which Isaac Asimov was asked to do a novelization. He did so and worked so quickly that his book came out six months before the movie (creating the impression that the movie was based on the book). And now, 45 years later, Cameron wants to remake it.

Once again this is going to be all about demonstrating special effects, whatever creativity is involved in the picture will be in the technical aspects. I really can’t understand why screenwriters and directors can’t come up with original stuff, why they have to remake remakes. If it was a timeless classic it’s a little more understandable, but Fantastic Voyage? The book wasn’t Asimov’s best, but it wasn’t so bad. The best thing about the movie was Raquel Welch.

Maybe I’m not looking at this the right way, but I find this lack of creativity enormously depressing. It’s why I generally stick with written science fiction, which is among the most creative literatures extant, and run away from sci-fi flicks, which are, with rare exceptions, as about original as a paperclip in a paperclip factory.

Asimov’s Foundation and Movie Reboots

foundation.jpeg

There is a passage in Isaac Asimov’s original “Foundation”* story that comes to mind when I think about the state of movies today. Salvor Hardin, the mayor of Terminus City responds to a colleague who calls the people of Terminus scientists:

Are you, though? That’s a nice hallucination, isn’t it? Your bunch here is a perfect example of what’s been wrong with the entire galaxy for thousands of years. What kind of science is it to be stuck out here for centuries classifying the work of scientists of the last millennium? Have you ever thought of working onward, extending their knowledge and improving upon it? No! You’re quite happy to stagnate. The whole galaxy is, and has been for space knows how long.

With just a few subtle changes, this same argument describes the state of originality and creativity in movies today:

Are we (original), though? That’s a nice hallucination, isn’t it? Reboots are a perfect example of what’s been wrong with the motion picture industry for a few decades now. What kind of art is it to be left remaking the movies of the past century? Have we every thought of working onward, extending the range of film, producing something original? No! We are quite happy to stagnate. Audiences have been willing to accept it for too long now.

I despise the term “reboot” as much as I despise the term “reality TV” because it’s meta. The term itself is a reboot of “remake”, just like “reality TV” is a different way of saying “game show”. But this is the next step in the evolution of movies, apparently. At first when Hollywood was desperate for a blockbuster, they shunned original writing and went to literature and broadway. Then, when those weren’t enough, they started to “remake” old movies (The Karate Kid, for instance). Now, it seems, originality is at an all time low. We are moving into what I would call forth-generation reboots. Take Superman for example. It started out as a comic. If we skip over the many TV series and focus on movies, we move into the second generation which is the Superman franchise starring Christopher Reeve. Next was the third generation, another reboot of Superman, Superman Returns in 2006. And word now of yet another reboot of Superman, a fourth generation being produced. The same has happened with Batman, and will likely happen with Spiderman. And it’s not limited to superhero movies.

The recent Lord of the Rings trilogy can be considered a third generation “reboot”. The Transformer movies are reboots. There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. It is no surprise that I don’t go to the movies much any more. The level of originality and creativity is at an all-time low. You can bet that at some point in the next generation, there will be a Harry Potter reboot.

Asimov’s caution was regarding scientific knowledge but it applies equally well to the creative arts. We are in a cycle of unoriginality. We make great strides in special effects. Just about any movie these days is not only HD, but 3-D. But the special effects only mask the lack of original content. No work is safe from remake after remake, and in the meantime, as Salvor Hardin said, we are quite happy to stagnate.


* Originally published in 1942 in Astounding and appeared as Part II, The Encyclopedists, in Foundation (1951)

Oscar nominations for 2011

The Oscar nominations for 2011 were announced this morning. Here are the nominations for Best Motion Picture:

  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter’s Bone

Such is my state of affairs and my growing indifference to visual media, that I have seen exactly none of the movies on the list. I think this is the first time in my life that I haven’t seen at least one of the films up for nomination.

I decided to scan through the rest of the list, consulting every title that appeared and as it turns out, the only movie I’ve seen on the list is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 which appears to have received two nominations (for Art Direction and Visual Effects). And the only reason I saw that movie is because Kelly and I happened to find ourselves with a few hours of time, unencumbered by the Little Man.

Considering all of this careful, I find that I am completely unmoved by the fact that I haven’t seen these films, and the thought of going to a movie is no longer very appealing. At home my DVR is clogged with episodes of TV shows that I haven’t watched, and about which I am rather dubious if I will ever get back to. There is some good TV writing and acting going on out there, but as a whole, movies and television appear to be going in a direction that I just don’t care for.

(I will admit, however, that I find myself scanning TCM more and more and recording things from 50, 60, 70 years ago. Those movies I don’t mind watching at all.)

I’d feel rather alarmed about this if I thought I was missing something, but something tells me that the movies being made today generally aren’t worth my time. I’d rather write, read my Astounding’s or hand out with the family.

White Christmas

Last night, we watched White Christmas for the second time in a week. White Christmas is one of my favorite movies and it is my favorite holiday movie. The difference last night was that we watched it with Rosemary Clooney’s commentary, which was great. One feature of the commentary that I hadn’t seen before was that it automatically added subtitles to the movie so that you could still catch the dialog even with Clooney talking about the movie.

I enjoy watching movies with commentary. If it is well done, you can learn a lot about the making of the film, the actors, the crew. (I learned what “woodshedding” was last night, for instance.) Rosemary Clooney did a good job on the commentary and the movie was just a fun to watch with her commentary, especially what she had to say about Bing Crosby (my favorite all-time entertainer.)

I have no desire to see Tron Legacy (and other sci-fi films)

Because many of my friends and coworkers know me to be a science fiction writer, I am often asked if I have seen the latest sci-fi blockbuster and what did I think of it. The truth, I’m afraid, tends to disappoint them.

I generally hate sci-fi movies.

There are some exceptions–very rare ones–but the truth of the matter is that I get bored almost instantly and if I stick it out too long, I can find myself growing angry over things in the film that probably mean little to anyone else.

But as a science fiction writer, how can I hate science fiction films?

I think there are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. Science fiction films are often based on source material originally found in science fiction literature, and in these cases, they are almost always far worse than the books. In fact, I can think of only one science fiction film that measured up to the book upon which it was based, and that is Carl Sagan’s Contact. Most people I know who like sci-fi movies, hated Contact. Go figure.
  2. The sole purpose of many science fiction films is to demonstrate how far we’ve come in terms of special effects. But when I read a book like Foundation or Rendezvous with Rama, I get all of the special effects I need by combining the words on the page with my imagination. So far, Hollywood as not been able to outdo my imagination when it comes to special effects.
  3. Science fiction films tend lean much more toward fiction and much less toward science. They tend to be fantasies more than anything else (take the entire Star Wars saga as an example).
  4. Science fiction films have taken audiences away from written science fiction. People are generally lazy. When Star Wars came out with its dazzling special effects, anyone who wanted to see spaceships battling it out among the stars could drop by their local movie house–which was much easier to do than to pick up a book like The Forever War and actually sit an read. Reading requires active participation. Watching a film is almost entirely passive.

This is nothing new for me; I’ve always been this way, and I admit, I am somewhat of an anomaly, I think, even among science fiction writers. I can’t recall ever seeing the original Tron, and I have no desire whatsoever to see the sequel.

A month or two ago, I finally got around to seeing Avatar because it showed up on HBO. I hated it. Absolutely despised it. The special effects were stunning, but the story was terrible, the characters were cardboard cutouts and the plot was recycled from a dozen or more science fiction classics. Even the dialog was terrible and made what I considered to be amateur mistakes in speaking to the audience as opposed to the characters in the story.  One example: the bad-guy colonel says, at one point, that if your not careful, “They’d suck your eyes out like Jujubes.” This is a story that is supposed to take place at least several hundred years in the future. I doubt that anyone in that time would know what the hell the Colonel was referring to, even if he himself knew it was a type of jelly candy.

I did like the movie based on Carl Sagan’s novel Contact. It was simplified a bit, and there were some things left out of it, but the thrust of the novel came across clearly and it was a well-done, well-acted film. Most people I know didn’t like it.  The same is true for the The Bicentennial Man, which was based on Robert Silverberg’s expansion of Isaac Asimov’s Hugo and Nebula-award-winning story of the same name. The film starred Robin Williams and even Williams later made fun of it in one of his standup routines. But I think the film captured the essence of the original story, which happens to be one of my favorite all-time pieces of short science fiction.

It is ironic that bad science fiction films are gold at the box office, while outstanding science fiction novels rarely made the bestseller lists, and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that this played into my frustration with science fiction films. But the fact it that I love the literature of science fiction so much that I have no need for a visual medium in which to imagine my favorite stories. What goes on inside my head is good enough, and seeing it on the big screen might ruin for me an otherwise cherished image.

There will be some movies that I would go see out of sheer curiosity. If they end up making a movie for The Forever War, I’ll check it out. Ditto for Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels. But I have no high hopes for them. Perhaps they will surprise me, but I doubt it. (The truth it, I’ll be surprised if they get made at all.)

Many years ago, when I lived in L.A., I attended a private screening of The Puppet Masters starring Donald Sutherland. We had to rate the film afterward and discuss it with a panel of people who were getting our opinions before release. I think I was the only one there who’d read (and enjoyed) the Heinlein novel upon which it was based. The movie was so terrible that I absolutely refused to see Starship Troopers when it was released. To this day, I haven’t seen that film.

I liked 2001: A Space Odyssey, but generally liked the first half better than the second half. I didn’t like the sequel, 2010 at all.

This is why I have no desire to see Tron: Legacy. Special effects don’t impress me. 3D doesn’t impress me. What impresses me most is a compelling story that fits neatly together with rich characters that come to life and for whom I want to love or hate. That’s pretty rare in science fiction in general, but it’s almost a recipe for disaster for a science fiction film.

The Quiet Man

Occasionally, I’ll browse the movies playing on Turner Classic Movies and record some of them. Last night, Kelly and I watched The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. The truth is, I tend to like these older movies more and more compared to what we have today. I think we both thought it was a “cute” movie. What was most amusing about it was what you could learn about the era in which it was made (1952-ish). Many of the backgrounds seemed artificial and it made me wonder if it seemed so because we are so used to CGI and on-location films today–or if the backgrounds seemed equally artificial to audiences of 1952, but I don’t think this is a question that can be answered. Even people who saw the movie in the theaters in 1952 would be hard-pressed to recall if the scenery felt authentic or not.

John Wayne (I haven’t seen many of his films) came across as a little too Joe Western, which might have been okay had the film actually been a Western as opposed to a romantic comedy that takes place in Ireland.  Maureen O’Hara was pretty good, I thought. We both laughed at how “un-PC” the movie was.

I like watching these movies, and I’m serious when I say that I tend to enjoy them more than the stuff that comes out in theaters today. That is not a hard rule, but there have been few movies that I have seen in the last few years that I really come away from saying, wow, that was great. It’s nice to know there is an entire virtually undiscovered universe of film out there to take advantage of. And it reminds me that I need to scroll through what’s playing this week on TCM and see if there’s anything that looks interesting.

Harry Potter and the Unoriginal Previews

Kelly and I had a chance to see the latest Harry Potter installment recently. It is the first time I’d been to the movies in many months. I enjoyed the movie despite its cliffhanger ending and having to wait a while to find out what happens. (I only read the first book and I’ve managed to avoid most spoilers somehow.) It was nice getting out to the movies, just the two of us, and I think we both enjoyed the film.

But something disturbed me before the movie even started: the previews.

I can’t remember how many previews we saw, but as for the ones I do remember: Green Hornet, Green Lantern, Yogi Bear, Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Little Red Ridinghood. I’m fairly certain there was one other and it had the same thing in common as the first five previews.  Have you figured out what it is yet?

They were all previews for movies that are based on something originally in print form: comic books, novels, stories.  It made me wonder: is there any original storytelling ability left in Hollywood? Or are they now completely and utterly dependent on us writers for material? I suppose as a writer one might see that as a good thing, but I the movies made from previous material are rarely as good as the original material and just about everyone knows it. But I imagine that they are generally cheaper than coming up with an original idea, and cost-effective since there is already an audience base for the original work.

Seems pretty lazy to me, and I’m not sure what disappoints me more: the sheer laziness of Hollywood, or the sheer laziness of audiences who would rather see the original twisted out of form on the big screen than read it in its original from the library.  (I count myself in the latter group; as I said at the outset, I only read the first Harry Potter book, but I’ve seen all of the movies.)

Emotionally investing in other worlds

Regarding his new film, Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio was quoted by the London Daily Star as saying:

This is my first science fiction film.  I have a hard time with science fiction.  I have a little aversion to it, because it’s hard to emotionally invest in worlds that are too detached from what we know.

I can only assume that DiCaprio was referring to science fiction films, and not written science fiction.  I, too, find difficulty emotionally investing in much of the science fiction films that are out there, but I simply can’t see how this is possible for written science fiction.  It begs the question:  what, if any, science fiction has DiCaprio read that he has found it difficult to invest in?

Well-written science fiction is all about getting the reading to emotionally invest in what is happening in the story; suspension of disbelief requires this.  This can be a difficult challenge for writers (and why so many writers say that the most difficult kind of writing they do is science fiction).  The fact that they can do it successfully again and again is a testament to the skills of the writer.  It doesn’t matter that the worlds we sometimes visit are detached from what we know–we still fall in love with those world, come to feel a familiar bond with them (think Dune or Foundation, for instance).  And yet the implication that all science fiction is about worlds too detached from what we know belies an ignorance of the genre.

Think of Robert Silverberg’s brilliant novel Dying Inside, which takes place in New York City in the 1970s.   Think of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, the setting of which might be unfamiliar, but the theme of which–the purpose of war–is something that touches us every day.  Ray Bradbury writes stories about familiar and unfamiliar worlds, but in each of them we recognize ourselves, our gifts and our follies carried with us.  These stories shine a different kind of light on the human condition, allow us to examine ourselves in ways hidden from a classical narrative.  Every world we visit in science fiction, not matter how unfamiliar, is a world we know.

Sometimes, clarity gets lost in the storytelling.  In the same interview, DiCaprio says of the script:

It’s a very well-written, comprehensive script.  It’s completely original.  But you really had to have [directory] Chris [Nolan] in person to articulate some of the things swirling around in his head.

If the director of the film had to explain the concepts that underlie the story to its lead actor, what does that say for the rest of us?  Sometimes, lack of clarity in writing can make it difficult to emotionally attach to something, be it familiar or unknown.