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The State of Space Sci-Fi - Samulis - 07-24-2017

Is it just me or is there a bizarre lack of realistic space-based sci-fi set in the next 100 years sans aliens/supernatural crud/horror twists? I loved Babylon 5, enjoyed the 90's Star Treks, and admired Firefly, but every sci-fi thing I start either turns into a thriller, mutants/aliens/radiation creatures/whatevers attack, and so on. I got into a new and highly promising one called 'The Expanse', which totally blew my standards for realistic portrayal of human space travel (the stuff dealing with intertia and changing vectors in space is excellently done) until (SPOILER) a bunch of supernatural unrealistic stuff puts all the human, diplomatic, and economic issues that were being explored so beautifully on the backburner for the sake of scaring watchers and nothing else. I thought it was going to be Babylon 5 sans aliens, a fantastic exploration of how diplomacy, warfare, and economics might play out in the future, but it turned into another bland scary space thing- as if space itself were not scary enough!

I just want to see a show about a simple merchant crew or something travelling around space 50-100 years from now with attention to scientific facts. I don't want freakin' action-adventure stuff with heroic captains and seemingly endlessly evil enemies (*cough* *cough* new Star Trek films *cough* *cough*), nor do I want to see future horror stuff with grotesque creatures and diseases (there's enough horror in the present day, thank you). I also have had enough of aliens- it's all been done ad nauseam to the point where aliens landing on earth would seem a bland point on the news if it were to happen. I just want to see how we might live in the early settlement of the next frontier, not special heroes, or great leaders, or divine intervention of some supernatural sense. Just simple, hard-willed people doing their jobs in a dangerous and uncharted new frontier.

Maybe it's already out there and I haven't found it yet, I don't know... any thoughts?


RE: The State of Space Sci-Fi - Mattias Westlund - 07-24-2017

Well, I love The Expanse. Best sci-fi show I've seen in years; production values are really high, as you say it's highly realistic, and on top of that it proved to me that Thomas Jane is actually quite a good actor, and not just a B-movie tough guy. He really shines as Miller and it's kind of sad that he hasn't gotten more nuanced roles over the years. As for the alien element, I don't mind it. It adds a sense of mystery to the plot and for the most part it feels done "right". The Protomolecule is something slightly different from the typical alien invsasion fare, and so far I think it's cool. I have peeked at the storyline of the books though and it seems like things take a turn for the... weird later on. So we'll see.

Also, you didn't mention Battlestar Galactica. If you haven't seen it you really should. It has no aliens (the main antagonists, the Cylons, are synthetic man-made beings who rebelled against their creators) and deals more with humans in space than anything else. As for whether it's realistic... uuuuh, no, not really. The science behind FTL travel and other tech things isn't really explained at all, the plot has some metaphysical aspects that are outright silly, and sadly the ending is very unsatisfying. But up until late in the last season it's a very good show with great characters and a lot of interesting twists and turns. Come to think of it, it's more like a WWII submarine movie set in space; gritty, claustrophobic, lots of tension between crew members, and of course the ever present danger of being obliterated by a much more powerful enemy.

Overall I agree with you though. Alien invasion movies are a dime a dozen and they're all pretty much the same. Not even when someone attempts to do something different and more realistic does it get any better, then we get dull, artsy-fartsy movies like Interstellar or Arrival instead.

Edit: the Cylons are the ANtagonists. Brain fart. Then again, as the show progresses, things get more complicated so I guess I wasn't too far off the mark Wink


RE: The State of Space Sci-Fi - Samulis - 07-24-2017

I agree, The Expanse is easily the best produced sci-fi I have seen... possibly ever. Very slick and very deep feeling- as if I could hop aboard a transport and go off to live a new story. I enjoy the protomolecule twist to a degree, but there are still a lot of what I call "unnecessarily macabre" elements- for example when the weapon cuts a whole straight through the Martian ship and blows the guy's head off. Like... ok, you need to kill the guy for plot purposes, but there are so many less disgusting ways to do it. Historically most people in warfare die from disease, famine, accidents, or prior injuries compared to combat and, in particular, the more gory elements of combat (a large number died or were disabled from the shock of explosions or injuries suffered in shelling or bombing). Heck, an utterly enormous number died from complications or mistreatment in POW camps, having been taken prisoner.

I consider Band of Brothers and The Pacific (both excellent HBO productions, but no, sadly no sci-fi elements) to be as gory as a movie *needs* to be- anything more is just excess violence with no real purpose than to startle or upset the viewer- and they are both series about some of the bloodiest battles of WW II. For example, I've never been interested in horror movies. If I wanted to be scared by disgusting stuff and violence, I would go and be a paramedic or enlist in the military, or take a walk through one of our many fine crime-ridden cities- heck, the former can earn me money and the latter won't cost me anything except possibly my life and transit costs! Big Grin

I've noticed a trend, watching lots of old movies lately, that Hollywood has gotten extremely dark lately compared to the 90's... the 80's... the 70's... the 60's... heck, I think it's the darkest and grittiest it's ever been at this time. Like, even old film noir seems detached and relatively mild compared to the sort of stuff that goes in films and TV shows nowadays, and frankly, I think a lot of it is not necessary. I loved things like MacGyver, The A Team, heck even recent stuff like Eureka, for the way they carefully danced around blood and guts while still managing to make just as enjoyable and engaging of a viewing experience (and sometimes even more enjoyable as a result). Stuff that used to pass for "light-hearted" is now "cheesy" by comparison, which is kind of sad to me.

I get it, this is the 21st century, we don't have to shield our poor eyes from the horror of death or resort to ketchup bottles, the covering of faces with blankets, and death monologues to show who got shot, but I just don't get why everything and their mother needs to horrify the audience. Maybe it's just that our CGI and effects are so good that what used to look kind of corny (e.g. the people stuck in floors and walls in an old episode of ST:TNG) now looks reasonably realistic. I don't exactly consider myself conservative or weak stomached, but it's not like people getting sliced in half or whatever is reeeaaally necessary to get a story across. Heck, the protomolecule could have been like the omega particle from ST:VOY, an extremely dangerous explosive particle that was assumed to have been responsible for the big bang. Now that's both cool and just as terrifying without having to suck people into it and turn them into deformed power-eating zombie things spawned from The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. It's like to me - exciting and reasonably realistic danger that one could reasonably encounter in space vs... bored writers coming up with the grossest thing they could think of in an unreasonable amount of time. I think it would be much more enjoyable to watch The Expanse if it were instead exploring how earth and mars attempt to rebuild diplomatic relations, how the ring manages to find a role in the tenuous balance of power, and how the characters live their 'normal' lives in the future instead of covert evil big business crap getting in the way of the entire existing plot. It's almost like I want to see a 'role-playing' TV show of the future rather than a 'point-and-click' horror adventure.

I've seen the original Battlestar Galactica. I liked it reasonably enough until they started killing off lead characters. I get it, in real life people die, but I've just never enjoyed TV shows or movies where you never know who's going to get it next but you can sure as hell be sure everyone's going to get it eventually (e.g. 24). Life is stressful enough, I don't need to be stressed out by the very things that are supposed to relax me! :S

Maybe I'm just too light-hearted for current fare, I don't know! It definitely seems to be getting harder to find things that are light-hearted but not comedies (and in particular... things that are funny but not over-the-top comical, e.g. the careful line of humor and seriousness in Eureka or Warehouse 13, both of which I enjoyed immensely despite lots of suspension of disbelief being required).


RE: The State of Space Sci-Fi - Mattias Westlund - 07-24-2017

You definitely have a point. Films and TV shows are showing more and more gratuitous violence. Even the Marvel adaptions, which have been reasonably family friendly for the most part, are getting more dark and nasty. I finished the 2nd season of Daredevil just yesterday and I was surprised how much gore was in it. I don't remember there being that much in season one (only thing that stands out in my mind is when Wilson Fisk smashes a guy's head to a pulp with a car door, but that scene actually serves a purpose: it reveals Fisk's true sociopathic nature to the viewer for the first time). In season 2 there's heads being blown/chopped off left and right, throats being slit, people getting stabbed in the eyeballs and generally blood all over the place. Now don't get me wrong, Frank Miller's Daredevil -- on which I believe the show is largely based -- was NOT a cute little superhereo comic. It was dark, it was definitely violent, and it had a realistic, gritty edge to it that other Marvel stuff lacked at the time. Which is probably what made it so popular. But the violence was still... tasteful if you know what I mean. I'm not squeamish at all but excessive gore just feels out of place in a show like Daredevil.

I think the explanation for this trend can largely be summed up in three words: Game of Thrones.

Now I love GoT, but not because of the gore and excessive violence. Yes, in a way it makes sense. It's a violent, primitive world and medieval combat wasn't pretty. But at the same time... it goes too far, just for the sake of shocking the viewer. That's IMO a cheap trick that a show like GoT shouldn't actually need to stoop to in order attract viewers. I mean everything else is really, really good. It's almost as if the showrunners initially were afraid everyone would hate the show so they threw in a lot of violence and boobs to get better ratings. And as it seemed to work, they kept doing it. GoT became a success, so everyone starts doing it. And before long the gore gets normalized.

I dunno. Like I said I'm not squeamish and I'm not a moral panicky old lady either. But the tastelessness of it all bothers me. Gore has always been a trope of slasher/splatter movies, and when it starts creeping into more serious stuff it cheapens the experience IMO.


RE: The State of Space Sci-Fi - bigcat1969 - 07-24-2017

I'm just agreeing with your well stated thoughts. The movies don't all have to be a splatter-fest. I thought LOTR was fairly good in this regard. Plenty of epic fantasy violence, but not so much gore.
I'm waiting for someone to do an all female gore version of Casablanca. That will be the ultimate politically correct yet gross version of modern Hollywood sensibilities.
Also Eureka was a lot of fun. Always meant to watch Warehouse 13, but now it doesn't seem to stream from anyone.


RE: The State of Space Sci-Fi - Mattias Westlund - 07-24-2017

(07-24-2017, 08:41 PM)bigcat1969 Wrote: I thought LOTR was fairly good in this regard. Plenty of epic fantasy violence, but not so much gore.

I thought Fellowship had the violence level just right, the following two movies were maybe a little too family oriented. I mean they're magnificent movies all of them but the first one actually made you feel that combat was a life and death situation (e.g. Moria, and Aragorn's showdown with the boss Uruk Hai towards the end). I never really felt that with the other two.

(07-24-2017, 08:41 PM)bigcat1969 Wrote: I'm waiting for someone to do an all female gore version of Casablanca. That will be the ultimate politically correct yet gross version of modern Hollywood sensibilities.

Haha! The mind boggles! Big Grin


RE: The State of Space Sci-Fi - bigcat1969 - 07-25-2017

It has been some time since I watched LOTR. I really must do that again. I do remember they had countless endings. Now when I watch them I shall also try to pay more attention to the music.

I watched the pilot for Warehouse 13 on discovering I had the Season 1 DVDs. It seems quite entertaining and i like the chap who seems to run the warehouse. So I splurged and got the Import British Blurays which some chap was selling for about half the price of the US ones. Supposedly they work fine as they are region free.


RE: The State of Space Sci-Fi - Mattias Westlund - 07-25-2017

(07-25-2017, 12:22 AM)bigcat1969 Wrote: It has been some time since I watched LOTR. I really must do that again. I do remember they had countless endings. Now when I watch them I shall also try to pay more attention to the music.

You definitely should. LotR are my all-time favorite movies and I've watched them... well I don't know, probably 30 or 40 times over the years? I have a personal tradition of watching LotR in its entirety at least once a year. They're simply a showcase of brilliant movie making on all levels and by now they're so full of nostalgia that watching them just gives me a nice, warm feeling. They're not perfect by any means, but they certainly do far more things right than wrong.

As for the music... well it's absolutely worth checking out more closely, but TBH it's not my favorite part of the trilogy. Howard Shore knows what he's doing and there's some nice and memorable stuff in there. I was really into the LotR soundtrack back in the day. But it hasn't really stuck with me like other scores from great movies have. Listening to it nowadays I actually find it a little bland overall. OTOH Shore isn't a composer in the Williams/Goldsmith/Silvestri/Horner/etc category, so it's to be expected that his work sounds different. I guess it comes down to tastes and preferences.


RE: The State of Space Sci-Fi - Samulis - 07-26-2017

(07-25-2017, 10:30 PM)Mattias Westlund Wrote: As for the music... well it's absolutely worth checking out more closely, but TBH it's not my favorite part of the trilogy. Howard Shore knows what he's doing and there's some nice and memorable stuff in there. I was really into the LotR soundtrack back in the day. But it hasn't really stuck with me like other scores from great movies have. Listening to it nowadays I actually find it a little bland overall. OTOH Shore isn't a composer in the Williams/Goldsmith/Silvestri/Horner/etc category, so it's to be expected that his work sounds different. I guess it comes down to tastes and preferences.

You know what, Mattias? I have had a similar experience. I absolutely loved the score back when I was growing up and through high school (primary), but now I don't really listen to it. I am and always have been mostly interested in the complete 'making of' series they did about how the films were made- that itself is almost more interesting than the movie in some parts to me!

Some scenes are divine musically- I still think the march of the ents to Isengard, the fellowship theme itself, and the departure into the west at the Grey Havens (Enya, if I remember right) are three fantastic parts. But, a lot of the filler stuff isn't really that 'stick-in-the-head'. I mean, I can remember it when I think about it, but only the fellowship theme really comes out naturally. As much as I think about how Shore and the score to LOTR inspired me to begin my journey through composition, I realize it has been a natural part of my development to now turn my back on it as I have grown immensely since my first steps. A lot of people never turn their backs on their initial inspirations, and while I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, I think doing so is a sign of progress and openness of mindset towards new ideas, and the unwillingness to simply repeat and upchuck the same ideas over and over again.

The Hobbit music was totally forgettable to me. I can't even think of a single melody from it, nor did I find it very enjoyable at the time. I haven't even bought the Hobbit in any medium- so much for a movie that was so highly hyped. I thought at the time that Howard Shore had simply reached the apex of his career over-extending himself with LOTR- the guy wrote like 2+ minutes a day at one point, not to mention the score is vastly more intricate and well-crafted than anything else that came out at that time or really in my opinion since then. I had the opportunity to even play a piece from the Hobbit for an orchestra I was in and it was one of the most boring and trope-stuffed pieces of music I have ever sat through half of.


RE: The State of Space Sci-Fi - Mattias Westlund - 07-29-2017

Well, like I said Howard Shore definitely knows what he's doing. I'm just not a big fan of his music. Yes, the Fellowship theme is magnificent. I particularly like The Ring Goes South (which is where the theme is first introduced IIRC) but also later variations of it. There are also other memorable bits, like the Rohan theme, and I remember thinking the Isengard theme with its 5/4 signature and sparse instrumentation was really cool at the time.

That said, a lot of the trilogy's music is over-reliant on dissonance and big choral parts, at least the dramatic bits. The more cheery parts sound like something anyone could have come up with in 10 minutes (like The Shire theme). I simply think Shore doesn't have a knack for strong melodies, his strength seems to be textures and chordal structures, which abound in LotR. And I simply get bored with that after a while.

And I agree, the "making of" stuff from the extended editions is equally (if not more) enjoyable than the films themselves! It just seems like everyone involved had one heck of a time. As Peter Jackson himself said, LotR is probably the most expensive B-movie ever made Wink