The Last Sci-Fi Blog: Sci-fi at SXSW, 'Y: The Last Man' Returns, and Other Hastily Assembled News

The Last Sci-Fi Blog: Sci-fi at SXSW, 'Y: The Last Man' Returns, and Other Hastily Assembled News

Mar 15, 2012

The Sci-Fi News: Forward Momentum on 'Y: The Last Man,' 'Paladin' and 'The 5th Wave'

Let's call this one the "Oh No I'm At SXSW And Still Need To Write The Sci-Fi Blog" edition of The Last Sci-Fi Blog. With that out of the way, here's the news I desperately searched for since I haven't been following it at all this week:

First off, new writers have been hired to tackle the film adaptation of Brian K. Vaughn's acclaimed comic series Y: The Last Man. Matthew Federman and Stephen Scaia got started in television, writing for Charlie's Angels, Human Target, Warehouse 13 and Jericho, but they've recently become a hot commodity in the feature world and are already working on a "Zorro origin story" for Disney. Y: The Last Man is one of the great comic book stories ever written, a smart, funny, human epic that uses science fiction to ask all kinds of questions about masculinity, feminism and how the sexes function in society. In short: it'll be a tough script to write and I wish them the best of luck.

Elsewhere, Disney has hired Justin Springer to write the script for an in-development science fiction project called Paladin. What's it about? Who knows. Space, probably. That's all that's fit to print.

Finally, to complete a trilogy of news pieces about writers working on projects that aren't even close to seeing the light of day, GK Films has picked up the rights to The 5th Wave, an in-the-works young adult novel about a girl searching for her missing brother against the backdrop of an alien invasion. According to Variety, Tobey Maguire's production company is involved, which gives them an opportunity to run a picture of Tobey Maguire next to the article.

The Sci-Fi Discussion: South by Science Fiction

This is the spot where I was initially planning to review John Carter, but the whole SXSW thing has has reduced my John Carter watching time to zero. Look for that review when the Last Sci-Fi Blog returns in two weeks.

Considering where my boots are on the ground at this very moment, shall we talk about the state of science fiction filmmaking at SXSW? Don't worry. I'll do the talking. You just do the listening.

SXSW is one of the most genre-friendly film festivals in the world and its midnight line-up tends to be a terrific showcase for films that you're bound to discover on DVD and wonder why the hell they never got wide release and make you bemoan how bad mainstream movies truly are. But I digress. The point is that there is a ton of great genre stuff on display on this festival.

Except that this year, almost all of those films are horror. There are only two science fiction films playing the fest.

Those two films are Iron Sky and Extracted and I'll be talking about both of them in detail in the site's regular SXSW coverage. So, here's the big question: why aren't there any more science fiction films playing this year?

Surely it's not for lack of audience interest or submissions from filmmakers. Both films have drawn huge crowds and generated buzz regardless of their quality. Thousands of films are submitted to or sought out by festival programmers. Fest-goers want 'em. Surely there were a few more in contention.

I'm sure there were. I'm sure SXSW programmers suffered through dozens of awful low budget science fiction films. I'm sure they actively sought more and literally could not find anything else worth showing. When you actually break it down, it's much easier to make a watchable independent horror film or thriller than science fiction film. In fact, the vast majority of indie science fiction out there is unbearable.

Why? What makes science fiction so much harder to pull off than its sister genre, horror? At the risk of sounding like I don't like horror movies (I love horror movies), it's because a great indie horror movie can get away with being dumb. A great indie science fiction film can't. An indie horror film can be rough around the edges, but if it delivers scares and/or clever gore, an audience will be pleased. A low budget science fiction film doesn't have the cash to build a world or utilize extensive special effects, so it has to rely on the things that define truly exceptional science fiction: ideas.

The obvious example is Primer, a film that overcame its minuscule budget by telling a science fiction story so complicated and fascinating that many fans are still debating exactly what it all means. Primer is probably one of the smartest movies ever made and it portrays insanely detailed science fiction ideas almost entirely through dialogue. To be blunt, this is very difficult, requires a great deal of intelligence and care and many filmmakers simply don't have the ambition or the talent to build a science fiction story with a foundation of ideas.

Hollywood is home to the space opera, but indie cinema is home to thoughtful, quiet and human science fiction. Naturally, we see much less of the one that's hard to pull off.

The Sc-Fi Horizon: The Hunger Games as Science Fiction

I'm not a fan of the marketing for The Hunger Games for a number of reasons…and by number, I mean three. One: they're trying to sell it like Twilight, which is ridiculous considering how superior it is to anything Stephanie Meyers can squeeze out of her brain. Two: they're neglecting people who haven't read the book, skimping on potentially interesting details that would attract someone unfamiliar with the material. And three (and this is the big one): they're not selling it as a science fiction film!

Here are things I didn't know until I finally cracked open the book a few weeks back. Ahem.

A. I didn't know that it took place in a dystopic, post-World War III future, where a new society has emerged from the ravaged United States.

B. I didn't know it was full of monsters and mutants and weird, oddball science.

C. I didn't know it had more in common with The Running Man (both the original Stephen King novel and the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, oddly enough) than Battle Royale, in that it's scathingly critical of how society consumes media and the dividing line between the upper and lower classes.

The Hunger Games is not great art (and the film has insane potential to improve on the weaknesses of the source material), but it's pretty damn good and much of what make it fascinating is the complex science fiction world the story takes place in. By not selling The Hunger Games as the science fiction tale that it is, Lionsgate is doing the film and its potential audience a disservice.

Categories: Features, Sci-Fi
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