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Sci-Fi From Page to Screen

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
Interesting article over at MSN Movies concerning the making of sci-fi movies based on book sources. The basic premise of the article is that it has become increasingly difficult to make more intellectual sci-fi films due to the overwhelming success of less intellectually inclined space operas like Star Wars.

http://movies.msn.com/movies/sci-fi

The article makes an intesting point of how some of the creative talents behind what are ostensibly sci-fi works (like Children of Men) are now almost desperate to avoid sci-fi classification.

Quote:


When director Alfonso Cuarón was promoting his stunning, apocalyptic "Children of Men" late last year, he said in at least one interview that the movie was not science fiction, but a chase thriller with sociological overtones. Cuarón's position was similar to that of P.D. James, author of the novel on which the film was based. James, an esteemed mystery writer who made her first foray into writing about the future with her novel "The Children of Men," ruffled the feathers of other science-fiction writers by distancing herself from them. "P.D. James won few friends in the [sci-fi] community by whining about how her serious book wasn't science fiction, all the while rewriting an old Brian Aldiss novel, "Greybeard," says British author and film critic Kim Newman.

Why would both James, already a proven writer in another genre, and Cuarón, who previously dabbled in fantasy with "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," be so determined to separate their work from a field whose practitioners include literary luminaries such as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick, along with filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg? The answer seems to lie with the long, torturous road that science fiction has taken from the page to the screen, as well as the reputation that's been attached to the field since its earliest days.

What I also find interesting is the two-level stratification of sci-fi movies that has evolved over the years: You have big-budget space operas like Star Wars and you have small-budget (i.e. niche) cerebral movies like Blade Runner. The article is a good opinion piece on how this stratification evolved and, not surprisingly, he lays the blame squarely on George Lucas:

Quote:


Who's to blame for all this? We'll point the finger at that famous punching bag of fan boys everywhere: George Lucas. When Lucas made "Star Wars" in 1977, he was paying tribute to a subgenre of science fiction that he loved dearly as a boy: the space opera. But although the breathless serial adventures of Flash Gordon and his ilk had their pleasures, they were often treated with tolerance, at best, by more serious science-fiction writers and readers. Nevertheless, the success of "Star Wars" changed the movie industry's perception of science fiction forever. As much as we love "Star Wars" for what it is, it nearly killed Hollywood's willingness to fund science-fiction movies that actually said something about the human condition.
post #2 of 18
"it nearly killed Hollywood's willingness to fund sci-fi movies"

********E!
There is more sci-fi since A New Hope than ever before.
Sci-fi was nearly dead in Hollywood before SW; SW and Spielberg revitalized the industry.

Just another whiney, jealousy/envy trip on Lucas and SS.
Whimps that don't have the where-with-all to make a movie, but have the estrogen to snivel about those that do.
post #3 of 18
Sheesh. Don't they know Forbidden Planet proved you can have both in the same movie??

Also, it's interesting Lucas gets the blame for popularizing the "low brow" space opera because THX-1138 is actually a great example of a low budget artsy-fartsy sci-fi film. Even though it has a chase scene at the end. BTW, I think THX is a great movie. Not 2001 great, but damn good, especially in its Director's Cut version.
post #4 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by FredProgGH View Post

BTW, I think THX is a great movie. Not 2001 great, but damn good, especially in its Director's Cut version.

I need to pull that DVD out and finally watch it.
post #5 of 18
big-budget space operas like Star Wars and you have small-budget (i.e. niche) cerebral movies like Blade Runner

Isn't that backwards? As I remember, Blade Runner in its day was one of the most expensive movies ever made, while the first Star Wars was done on the cheap.
post #6 of 18
Funny they should mention good sci-fi, because I just started watching The Outer Limits 1995 DVD Set box set I picked up at Amazon for $15 a while back.

Good stuff.
post #7 of 18
When it comes to good SF stories from print to screen, you can't talk about original screenplays like Star Wars, Alien, or The Terminator. Respect the topic of the thread!

Having said that, my votes for "most authentic" print-to-screen translations may surprise some of you:

1) The Thing (1982) - An extremely good adaptation of the classic John W. Campbell tale Who Goes There? about a shapeshifting alien menacing the inhabitants of an Arctic station. Character names, personality quirks, dialog, and entire scenes are lifted from the short novella. The earlier camp favorite The Thing From Another World has it's charm, but it's just not in the same league as the John Carpenter version.

2) The Puppet Masters (1994) - A surprisingly faithfull adaptation of the classic Robert Heinlein novel of the same name. Characters, plotline, and even dialogue is straight from the book. As with many literary works of the same period, the novel is shot through with "Cold War" paranoia (not quite the correct term, the story was published during the Korean War and pre-dates the Cold War). The paronoia is quite appropriate for your basic invasion from outer space even when filmed 43 years after the story was written.

3) Blade Runner (1982) - Is a fairly loose adaptation of Phillip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? , but is a much admired film by many including me. More accurate screen translations of PKD's works were Paycheck (2003) and Total Recall (1990).

4) The all-time record for an exact page-to-screen translation can be found on the DVD for the 2002 film Imposter. Not the 95-minute movie itself, rather the tight little 40-minute featurette that was originally filmed as one third of a trilogy of tales of alien contact. This featurette is a word-for-word and scene-for-scene exact translation of the original PKD short story, as if the filmmakers had decided to save time by skipping entirely the script writing. Then unfortunately they padded the core story with an extra 55 minutes of filler material for the theatrical film version.

Note that many writers who got their start in SF and actually prefer that genre to all others, are now writing for the mainstream. Read the Wiki article on SF author Dean R. Koontz to understand why. There is an effect called negative crossover that impacts authors who write in more than one genre under their real names - they alienate their fans in one genre when they publish in a different one under the same name. Koontz wrote a dozen well-received and popular SF novels, but only once he began writing mainsteam did he acheive Best Seller status (and he has now had 14 Best Sellers). This is why many popular authors use pen names when they cross genres.

Gary
post #8 of 18
I hate to say this, but Star Wars was 30 years ago! Using it as an example to explain current Hollywood is a bit of a stretch. In terms of big-budget successful space opera, you have Star Wars and then you have, uh, a bunch of more Star Wars movies, and uh, what exactly? Other than Star Wars, what was the last successful big budget space opera movie?
post #9 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by NewNameGuy View Post

what was the last successful big budget space opera movie?

Successful in what way?
post #10 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by NewNameGuy View Post

-snip-
Other than Star Wars, what was the last successful big budget space opera movie?

The Fifth Element (1997)

....however I take your point - even that film will be a decade old in two months.

Gary
post #11 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by NewNameGuy View Post

... Other than Star Wars, what was the last successful big budget space opera movie?

I'll echo oink's question, "Successful in what way?"

Do you consider Independence Day and Men in Black (1 and 2), to all be unsuccessful since they obviously weren't low budget?

And on the "cerebral" side there's Minority Report, I Robot, Gattica and Dark City.
post #12 of 18
Successfull they might be, but he asked specificly about Space Operas and you mentioned SF films. There are not a lot of those anymore. One that comes to mind is The Chronicles of Riddick. Two older ones would be the original Stargate film and The Last Starfighter.

Curiously enough, Space Opera may be the most popular SF form on television. There are the various Star Trek series, Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, Babylon 5, Farscape, Firefly, Andromeda, and the fabulously popular Battlestar Galactica.

The moral ambiguity that one finds in the film The Chronicles of Riddick and in the new TV series Battlestar Galactica mark these works as a sub-genre some call Space Opera Noir. (The original Battlestar Galactica had clearly identifiable villians and heroes and would be considered the pure form Space Opera.)

Gary
post #13 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary McCoy View Post

Successfull they might be, but he asked specificly about Space Operas and you mentioned SF films. There are not a lot of those anymore. One that comes to mind is The Chronicles of Riddick. ...

Gary

In that case, I call your Riddick and raise you a Serenity.

Frankly, I think trying to blame any real and/or imagined waning of the space opera genre on Lucas to be silly. All kinds of genres wax and wane for no other reason than the fans are burned out and are looking for something different. Heck, the space opera genre is thriving compared to westerns.
post #14 of 18
^Agreed.
And, as you pointed out, the Box Office clearly belongs to Sci-fi/Fantasy/Space Opera.
It ain't even close.
post #15 of 18
Somewhere or another, we have to throw Star Trek in there somewhere. Or is Trek pretty much considered it's own entity?
post #16 of 18
To back up, the original article claimed that Star Wars has caused Hollywood to focus on non-cerebral science fiction over those movies that "actually said something about the human condition" (as a side note, I think Star Wars said more about the human condition than just about any other SF movie, but I'll stuff the fanboyness for a minute and grudgingly accept the premise).

I thought it silly to be blaming Star Wars for anything that happens in current Hollywood, as Star Wars is 30-years old. And we really haven't had a string of space-opera movies to follow - mostly we've had a bunch of Star Wars sequels.

So I threw the question out there - what successful space operas have we had. And tying this back to the original article, "successful" is box officen $$$ (what Hollywodds cares about) and space opera is "SF-light".

I don't know if Fifth Element counts as successful - the box office was decent, but far from a big success. Independence Day and Men in Black are clearly successful - I didn't think of them when coming up with Space Opera, but I guess they qualify (though would MiB be better put in the comic book category??)

Minority Report, I Robot, Gattica and Dark City all pretty clearly fall outside of space opera and into "serious" SF - the kind of movie the original article claims doesn't get made. (BTW - if anyone hasn't seen Dark City, check it out! Great movie that far too many people have never seen.)

Still, no matter how you add it up, the original point is silly. There is no glut of space opra crowing out more serious SF.
post #17 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by NewNameGuy View Post

Still, no matter how you add it up, the original point is silly. There is no glut of space opera crowing out more serious SF.

....except in the weekly prime time TV series in the list I mentioned above. In fact you might even conclude that to succeed in TV (i.e. more than one season) you have to have a starship or some equivalent like a stargate. Otherwise the promising series Invasion, Surface, and Threshold would have made it last year.

Besides, if you don't have a space opera on TV, what else has succeeded? The list is real short and would have to include The X-Files, Dark Angel, Futurama, and Doctor Who - if you consider any of those "serious SF".

I suppose Independance Day qualifies as Space Opera, however I have always thought that if you had to pick a genre for that film, then "Invasion by BEMs from outer space" is the one that fits best. The Thing and Imposter belong there as well. (For those of who who don't remember The Golden Age of SF, BEMs are "Bug-Eyed Monsters".)


Gary
post #18 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaded Dogfood View Post

Isn't that backwards? As I remember, Blade Runner in its day was one of the most expensive movies ever made, while the first Star Wars was done on the cheap.

Relatively true but it wasn't one of the highest.

SW=$11 million (1976) , BR = $28 million (1982). Blade Runner was by no means "small budget" in its time. They had that whole outdoor studio of like three blocks detailed to an absurd level for months of shooting, plus the hotel (where Sebastian lived). Crazy stuff.

Still, there had been movies like Star Trek and Superman which were both over $50 million. Heaven's Gate too, maybe a few others? Inflation adjusted, I'm sure it was nothing compared to earlier big productions like Ben Hur, Cleopatra, etc.
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