Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cranky at the Movies

Last night I saw the latest summer SF cinematic offering, MOON. I think I'm going to stop going to SF movies.

They lost me before the action even started, with the prologue in the form of an advertisement for a company that has discovered and now solely controls a form of cheap energy involving cold fusion. But the only thing you can use for this fusion is 'He3," a molecule found only on -- get this -- the dark side of the moon. Because of course the sub-lunar composition is different on the farside than the Earth side. Then, the evil corporation (of course) that controls this resource sets us a harvesting operation for He3, manned by ONLY one person. That person, it turns out, is actually a series of clones, with a new one thawed out to replace ones who wear out (which they do every three years or so). To make this work, the corporation (1)plants huge jammers on the moon so the clones can't find out through live feeds from Earth what they are or what the situation is, (2) a helpful robot who tells them what they are, despite having been programmed by the corporation, (3) "uploaded memories" in each new clone about his wife and baby on Earth, (4) periodic "messages" from the wife, (4) an "escape pod" to Earth, even though the corporation does not want the clone to escape, (5) a "secret room" full of unthawed clones that each clone does not know about, (6) a rationale that all this is "cheaper" than just hiring a team of employees with high enough hazard pay to do the job, (7)...No, I can't go on, it's just too stupid.

And scientifically offensive, as well. The movie ends with Earth getting ready to "hunt the rogue clone" who has escaped. As if a clone were anything more -- or less -- than an example of twinning that happens to occur decades later instead of hours after the first twin is born. Not a monster, not an inhuman thing, not a telepath... a delayed twin.

I AM going to stop seeing SF movies. It's too disheartening.


Ann said...

Oh, so that's what it's about. I saw the preview and thought it looked intriguing but clones? Lame. Altered time/space was my original thought.

And corporations are evil, aren't they? Tried and true but tired. Perhaps if it weren't so often true in reality we could break from that in story-telling but would people be able to suspend disbelief on that point?

TheOFloinn said...

Why is it that the greedy corporations in these movies, whose only motive is profit, always do inefficient and unprofitable things? Have no Hollywood scriptwriters ever worked in the real world? Or do they think all corporations are like Hollywood studios?

Phy said...

I wasn't cranky until I started reading the post and plowed halfway into the MOVIE-DESTROYING SPOILERS.

A spoiler warning is the common courtesy employed by those who have seen a film before others who haven't. It demonstrates where the common ground is and where one shouldn't go until they have seen it.

That's not to say that these things don't have a rough expiration date. John Scalzi noted that while there is a reasonable statute of limitations for spoiler warnings (as Penny Arcade so brilliantly demonstrated with regard to King Kong), there remains an appropriate window of outrage for not giving at least a token degree of spoiler hints for a current entertainment.

Scalzi suggested one week for episodic TV, one year for films, and five years for books. Within that timeframe, the courtesy of a spoiler warning where appropriate does wonders for those who haven't yet experienced the story.

cd said...

The question this raises for me is always: how do we get into the long tail? How do we find a way to produce and distribute and promote films with a small audience?

Given that a work like Transformers II is a money machine (I've not seen the film but believe that it is an a priori fact that it is unmitigated garbage), Hollywood producers will continue to pursue the production of more such crap. There is no evidence that there is a big pay-off in any realistic and good SF, and there is a lot of money in unrealistic and bad SF. (The same is true, of course, of TV.)

So, we need real SF films to be made on small budgets and distributed to the thin but, one hopes, devoted audience. So, how does that get done? Will the web finally make it possible?

I'd note that the pros and fans don't help much here. You don't see at conventions attempts to promote good films. (Just as I don't see them promoting the mags, or good small presses, or other essential elements of the sf ecosystem.) In other arts, such as theatre or ballet or "classical" music, everyone understands that art takes a community support effort; in SF this is not yet true.

And it must come from groups like SFWA and the conventions: we can't depend on the corporate interests for this -- remember SciFi channel cancelling their online magazine, which must have cost them each year about as much as they spend on coffee in a month. They couldn't be bothered to feed the productive soil of SF. There was no this-quarter money in it.


Nancy Kress said...

Sorry, Phy -- I should have had a spoiler warning in my post. However, let me add that the movie is already spoiled, like rotten fish.

Mark said...

Nancy: Thanks for saving me the $50 (or whatever the current full charge is :-D). The promos were vague enough that "Moon" looked interesting, but now that I know it's just another example of pandering, my time & $ is saved. The last SF type film I saw in a theater was "Watchmen", BTW, which I think is pretty good. But the stinkers really, really reek!

Idea to throw into the mix: A few years ago a friend of mine showed me a video production of "Star Trek: Arena" made by local trekkies. It was great! The costumes were straight from local Halloween stores, the Enterprise's bridge was basically painted cardboard boxes a la the Batman tv series (LOL!), and it was a blast seeing the final fight sequence as shot on South Mountain (in Phoenix).

Despite the low $ production values it was more entertaining than "Independence Day" or any number of other Hollyweird schlockfests.

So: How many fans out there would have interest in putting some sweat into such a hobby? Imagine an amateur video production of Beggars in Spain with Nancy as Leisha herself :-)

bluesman miike Lindner said...

I think a MOON and ENEMY MINE double-feature could be a fun date.

I'll buy the popcorn!

Phy said...

Mark, part of the problem with spoilers is that they take one person's opinion and elevates them to a kind of de-facto canon, coloring the opinion of everyone who hasn't seen the film yet. I've heard that Sam Rockwell turns in a powerful performance here. I've watched many stinky films for the otherwise powerful individual performances of the actors themselves.

btw, if you're paying $50 every time you go to the cinema, you're paying too much. I pay six bucks for a noon Saturday matinee, get great seats, no teeny-boppers there just to text their friends, and when the film is over, I'm ready to go mow the lawn or something and think about what I've just seen. It's a great way to recharge one's creative batteries.

Finally, as circumstance would have it, there's a news item today about a crew of volunteer fans who are going to remake Star Wars in just the fashion you suggest. Looks intriguing. It's called Star Wars Uncut.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

W-w-w-h-h-a-a-t? No sf gal wants to come with me on that fun date? (sob)

I'll buy =double= popcorn!

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Nancy, I just saw Joe Haldeman's review on his lively TANGLED WEBSITE.

He kinda liked it.

James A. Ritchie said...

I tend to greatly prefer Hollywood "schlock" over most of what passes for oh so serious SF. The story is usually much better and considerably more entertaining. I even prefer the characters, and I get both story and character without having some silly ass, prerequsite "message" attached.

So I LOVED Enemy Mine, but Moon was too much, even for me. These wasn't even the pretense of science or, worse, common sense.

This was the worst movie I've seen in years.

Mark said...

Phy: While it is always good to observe, digest and form one's own opinions on all manner of things, to do so requires that I firse $pend to observe and take the time to do so. Once, after spending about $1.50 each at the base theater, after watching 3 crap films in a 2 week period, I couldn't bear to sit in any theater for a few months.

Among my friends is an intelligent, open minded woman who sometimes told me about a movie she liked. As much as I like her in other ways, I avoided these because our tastes are so different on the topic of film entertainment. That still makes her a reliable critic as long as I keep that in mind. It sounds like Nancy is annoyed by the same film flaws as I am, so maybe she's a good critic/screener of films for me in that way.

BTW if you film any story with puppets it's much funnier ("Team America")!

Dale said...

Might contain spoilers* for movie "Moon"

I watched the movie and liked it, though slightly bothered by some small plot and engineering anomalies, all undetected by our critic, who appears to have been distracted or half asleep.

Her stated grievances are mostly grounded in fundamental misunderstanding of details:

1.The Lunar company isn't the discoverer of he3 on the Moon.
(The existence of he3 there has already been established for years. It's a fact, folks.)
2.The Moon isn't the only source of he3, but a rich source if substantial quantities are needed.
3.The movie doesn't assert lunar composition is different on the dark side. The dark side is more likely to be mined for political and aesthetic reasons, though.
4.The movie makes no reference to cold fusion.
*5.Gerty's (the computer) behavior is plausible because the unanticipated rescue of Sam1 revealed evidence of impending harm to humans.
The evil Lunar corporation has programmed Gerty to protect its investment (clones.)
*6.The return vehicle was not supplied to the base as an escape pod, but as an he3 ferry.
*7.The movie does not "end with earth getting ready to hunt the rogue clone" (Sam 2.)
Rather, it ends with him giving testimony that does grave damage to the fortunes of the Lunar Corp.
(Fictionalized Limbaugh jock wants him locked up, though.)

So, if we dismiss the critic's misunderstanding of these details, were left with a few other complaints, which I won't address in detail.

However, if you watch the movie, I hope you can see how I could conclude that they might arise from a static view of science, politics and culture, a view that is neither well supported by history nor conducive to the appreciation of science fiction.

No one in science and engineering seriously anticipates the possibility of the basic scenario (commercial development of fusion power reactors as the major source of earth's energy) sooner than 100 years.
So, we can expect some scientific, cultural, and political developments by that time, I think.

Our "evil corporations" are continuously doing worse than the fictional Lunar Corporation, and on an industrial scale.

This could partially account for the enduring appeal of this motif in good movies like Moon (made for less than $5 million)and bad ones.
Dale Myers