Turning inner space into outer space

May 26, 2013

The post-apocolyptic state of science fiction

Somewhere between 1968 and 2013, something went terribly wrong with science fiction movies. I realized this after watching the original Planet of the Apes for the umpteenth time — just a week after seeing Star Trek Into Darkness.

For some reason I never tire of Planet of the Apes. Such unforgettable lines: “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!’, ‘You know the saying, ‘Human see, human do’ ‘, ‘It’s a mad house! A mad house!’. Such unforgettable scenes: the hear-no-evil-see-no-evil-speak-no-evil tribunal, the interspecies kiss, the half-buried Statue of Liberty. An engaging plot with a timeless message and a twist at the end.

I could go on and on.

Meanwhile, Star Trek Into Darkness could be summed up as a series of explosions with bits of dialogue in between. The few memorable scenes are scenes I would just as soon forget: Spock pre-echoing Kirk’s cry of “Kha- a-a-a-a-an!”, young Spock getting useless advice from future old Spock, Carol Marcus showing off her undies. And what is the darkness referred to in the title? Darned if I know.

What happened to science fiction in general is what happened to Planet of the Apes. Sequel followed sequel, each worse than the one that preceded it until the movie-going public couldn’t stomach it any more and refused to pay good money for the garbage being pumped out by Hollywood producers devoid of imagination.

The difference these days is that we get so-called reboots. The original Star Trek movies got boring as hell, so they were rebooted with Star Trek The Next Generation. And when those staggered into deserved oblivion, JJ Abrams came along with the latest series. Hollywood is likely hoping the same thing will happen with a reboot of Planet of the Apes. Their policy, it seems, is that there is a fresh crop of suckers born every generation.

But it’s not just terminal sequelization that is the problem. It’s also the over-reliance on special effects. The original Planet of the Apes would never have made it out the door because there is way too much plot, way too much character building. Star Trek is a gold mine for directors taking advantage of short attention spans — the main characters have built-in stereotypes with little need to evolve except in the most superficial way. That leaves lots more time for things that go boom.

With all the science fiction movies coming out these days, you’d think a buff like me would at long last be happy with the selection at the theatres. Alas, good science fiction is as rare as it ever was.