I get asked quite frequently what I thought of the latest blockbuster sci-fi movie. “Do you have your ticket for Prometheus?” or “What did you think about the season finale of [fill in the blank with your favorite sci-fi show]?” This reached its peak after I posted the picture of the TARDIS that parks in our visitor parking area and the countless Doctor Who fans out there learned that I was a science fiction writer who had never seen a single episode of Doctor Who. “How can you be a science fiction writer and never have seen Doctor Who?” they asked. (Eventually, based on a straw poll, I did watch “Blink.” I liked it, too.)
Still, I get the question often enough to where it is worth having a post to which I can point the incredulous masses to explain why I’m not a fan of sci-fi movies and TV shows. There are several reasons:
- Written science fiction (which I loathe to call sci-fi) is a different art form than sci-fi on the screen. I grew up mostly with the former, not the latter. It was pure luck, I suppose, but those early influences stuck. Thus, given the choice between spending my time reading a science fiction story or novel and going to see a sci-fi movie, I’ll almost always choose the former.
- I don’t see much originality in sci-fi movies. It seems to me that the vast majority of sci-fi movies that are produced are based on works of written science fiction. Many of these works I have read and enjoyed and have images in my head that I don’t want altered by a director’s vision. Then, too, if I’ve read the book, why see the movie? It seems repetitive to me.
- My experience tells me that sci-fi movies based on the book generally suck. Obviously, this experience was gained through actually going to see sci-fi movies when I was younger. I had no reason not to go. Generally, however, I was disappointed. I can recall reading Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters in a single sitting, breathless by the end. When I lived in Los Angeles, I was invited to a focus group screening of the movie The Puppet Masters starring Dennis Southerland. It was horrible. That may very well have a been the turning point for me. When Starship Troopers was made into a movie, I never even bothered.
- I am a science fiction writer. I am not a director. I don’t have a director’s eye. I’m not sure why being a science fiction writer should mean one is also, ipso facto a fan of sci-fi movies.
- As a science fiction writer, I prefer spending my time writing. It is extremely rare when I have 2-3 free hours available period. When I do, I’d much rather spend those hours working on a new story than going to the latest sci-fi movie or watching a science fiction TV show.
- Economics. To go to a movie these days (assuming Kelly and I go together) costs about $20 for the movie. Throw in another $20 for popcorn, soda, a hot dog. Then there is another $30-45 for a babysitter. All told, that’s between $70-85 just to go a see a movie! It has to be something that really stirs my interest for me to spend that kind of money. (That’s between 7-8 Kindle books!)
The above items are generalities and there are exceptions to all of them, of course. Indeed, there have been sci-fi movies that I’ve really liked. Even a couple of TV shows. I’ll list some of the movies and shows that have made good impressions on me.
- Contact. I read Carl Sagan’s book when I discovered it would be made into a movie. I loved the book and was very excited to see the movie. I was not disappointed. While there were some significant changes (mostly to simplify things, I imagine), I thought the movie was great. It was well written, well acted, and not overloaded with explosions and special effects. Good score, too.
- Blade Runner. I recall seeing this a long time ago, before I’d ever heard of Philip K. Dick. I thought it was a great movie and I’m glad I saw it before I read the story upon which it was based.
- Back to the Future. Loved this movie and its sequels (although not quite as much as the original). This is an example of a sci-fi movie not based on previous material. I think those tend to be more successful with me, although as you can see, that is not always the case.
- “Inner Light,” an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is quite possibly the single greatest episode of science fiction television I have ever seen. I can watch it again and again and be constantly amazed by it.
- The Lord of the Rings movies. Not technically sci-fi, but I’ll bring fantasy into sci-fi movie’s embrace to simplify things here. Sure, there was stuff that changed from the books, but the movies were magnificent and I can watch them once a year with pleasure.
- Battlestar Galactica, the reboot. Very well done sci-fi series that I enjoyed with the exception of the completely lame “ancient astronaut” ending. A bitter disappointment to an otherwise outstanding series.
For those wondering why I don’t list anything recent, I haven’t seen anything recent. (See my list of reasons above.)
I’m sure there will be all kinds of objections to this. But the fact is that we all appreciate different art forms in different ways. I prefer the written word over motion pictures. Some people prefer graphic novels to the written word. It is a matter of taste, and while I may joke and tease my other science fiction friends (and even my non-SF friends) about the movies they rave about, in truth, I begrudge no one their tastes. I have no real objection to sci-fi movies for the masses. I imagine it even does some good, raising the awareness of science fiction outside our somewhat insular genre. But it’s just not for me, that’s all.
Having said that, there would be some movies that I’d probably be tempted to see if they ever see the light of day. Two that come right to mind are Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. I’d probably go see both, knowing that I would likely be disappointed. But those are stories that I know and love so well that it would be almost unthinkable not to see them, even if only to prove to myself how badly a story can be mangled.
Of course, I would love to be proven wrong in both cases.