THE END IS NIGH!!!
Er, sorry. I guess that was a bit rude. I shouldn’t just throw a dire prediction out there before I even say “hello”, should I? We may be facing the end of days, but that’s no excuse for poor manners, and I apologize. Let’s try this again, shall we?
There. Much better! Wouldn’t want you to think I was raised in a barn or anything. Now, where was I? Oh, right. *achem*
THE END IS NIGH! HUG YOUR CHILDREN KISS YOUR SPOUSE!! TURN THE FAMILY PET OUT TO GIVE IT A FIGHTING CHANCE!! LISTEN TO YOUR FAVORITE SONG ONE LAST TIME AND SMOKE BACON-WRAPPED CIGARETTES DIPPED IN ABSINTHE!!
Might as well. There’s a *gulp* SNOWSTORM.
The dude on the radio called it the “Snowpocalypse,” so you know it’s serious. MSN had an article with the headline, “Winter Storm Bears Down on Densely Populated Northeast.” Sounds bad, huh? I think it was the Huffington Post that said, “Storm to Cut 250 Mile Swath of Destruction.” Not sure if it was HP or not, but doesn’t it sound like a Huffington Post headline?
We’re getting a storm. Wicked blow, if you’re from a bit further south. Nor’easter, if you prefer. In our house we just call it, “…*sigh*…shit.” It’s all about intonation, though. You have to say it in the most defeated way possible.
I joke, because it’s New England. Of *course* we get snow. However, I guess I kind of agree that this one is shaping up to be one for the books. We’ll have to see how it plays out, but the potential is there for a whole lot of shoveling later. At the moment, there are only a couple inches. We’re supposed to get up to two feet. We’ll see.
Schools are canceled. They actually were called off yesterday afternoon. As of this moment, there are 1012 school and business closings in NH. I’m stunned. I didn’t even know there 1012 things that COULD be canceled in NH!
…kidding. Calm down angry rednecks. It’s a joke. Go back to your bacon-wrapped Absinthe pacifiers.
Towns are closed. Whole towns. In the list of cancellations, there are many towns listed. When I was young, this cracked me up.
Fine, you caught me. I’m no longer young and it still makes me giggle. Picture it, though. You’re driving along completely unaware when you slam into an invisible wall. No, wait! Even better! An ancient iron gate that wasn’t there the day before. “You shall not pass through these kingdom gates,” says the guard, dressed head to toe in aged armor. “Ye towne is closed.”
“Bethie, you worry me.”
I’m bored, okay? It’s snowing. A lot. And bitter cold. It’s one of those storms that just takes your breath away with the iciness of it. Often it’ll warm up some before it snows. Not this time. And it’s windy, too. The wind gusted almost all the snow off one car and deposited it on top of the other. Um…thanks? Can’t tell if that’s a win or not. My point is, it’s not even a snow you can go out and play in.
I think we’re going to be watching bad movies on Netflix later. Like, intentionally seeking out steaming piles of crap. It’s great fun! Sometimes it’s far more enjoyable to uselessly kibitz a bad movie than to remain quiet and respectful through a good one.
I’m a sci-fi fan. I tell you what, it’s good that I can laugh at horrible sci-fi instead of scoffing and getting mad, because the vast majority of science fiction movies suck. They’re terrible. Utter pieces of garbage. If there are good effects, the acting will be horrible. If the acting is good, the effects and plot will be abysmal. If the plot is incredible and the acting is passable, then the set will literally consist of a distracting array of masking-taped plunger “ray guns” and hastily glued on alien masks that are crooked. There really aren’t many science fiction movies that can capture the three critical elements and put them together properly.
I have given this a lot of thought. Perhaps more than I should, to be honest. Hey, I’ve lived through 36 NH winters. There’s been a whole lotta down time in my life!
Anyway, I have thought about why it is so difficult for movie houses to make a proper science fiction film, and I think it comes down to a basic lack of understanding of what science fiction is supposed to be.
Let’s take the most mainstream sci-fi concept: aliens. We’ll use that as an example, since that’s what the average Joe’s mind goes to when they hear “sci-fi.” In a book about an alien planet, there is an incredible amount of back story, world building, environmental explanation, etc. A new race has been completely designed by one person and is translated to the reader through a million little ways.
For example, let’s say I invented the Gjorks. They live on an ice moon of Saturn. As an author, my job is to tell you all about the Gjorks, their world, their day to day lives, personalities, politics, relationships, food, clothing, technologies… I need to introduce the reader to every single thing about them. And I could do it by saying, “Hey peeps, these are my homies, Gjorks. They live on an ice planet, punch a time clock in the diamond mines, tend to be standoffish, lean strongly to the right on social issues, have two spouses and three children on average, eat daisies, wear crepe paper top hats, and light their homes with the asses of glow worms,” but that’s clunky and weird. Sure, it would make things a whole lot easier for movie makers to convert a 400 page novel into an actual movie, but that’s not how writers do.
If I’m going to introduce to to the Gjorks, I’m going to give you all that information, but it’s going to be in a far more organic way. The main character Gjork will pick up a top hat made from crepe on his way out the door to work the mines. Maybe he’ll kiss one of his wives goodbye, then meet up with the other for lunch fifty pages later. He’ll attend a recital for one of his kids in the next chapter, then get into an argument about the latest issue up for vote with one of the other parents after they listen to the kids play the glorptrapis they’ve been practicing so hard to master.
See, in sci-fi, it’s not a matter of the details making the story better. The entire story IS detail. Through the course of a book, there are a million facts that combine to create the picture of a foreign world and its people that the reader has never before seen. You can’t say that in any other genre of writing, and that translates to movies.
A romance? A mystery? A thriller or an emo Millennial “memoir”? In stories about humans on Earth, the author can tell you about the main character in one paragraph, because you know what hair is. The author can say, “She had long, strawberry blond hair,” and even though “strawberry blond hair” actually only exists for romance novel heroines, you still get the picture. You know what hair is, you know what human eyes are, you know we wear clothes…or don’t. You can picture all of it with literally one paragraph. A basic understanding of humanity is already in your head.
Likewise, the scenery in a story about humans on Earth is familiar, or at least relatable. You may have never seen the type of hut described, or personally been inside a castle, but you have seen and learned enough about humanity on earth to extrapolate and build a picture.
It’s the same for everything in a story based on Earth with humans. Food? Yep, we eat it. Water? Drink it by the gallon every day. Weaponry? Sure, the author might describe some kind of gun you’ve never heard of, but you still know the basics of what constitutes a gun.
In an alien sci-fi, everything must be explained. Good sci-fi authors drop bread crumbs for you to follow. They tell you some basic ground rules, guidelines in the beginning to help you start to see for yourself the world that lives in their head. Take the Gjorks, for example. A good author will have the Gjork walk out of the mine at the end of the shift, gritty and cold from the bitter day of work as he gazes upon the image of the setting ringed planet over the icy horizon. Perhaps he has to duck his cone-shaped head, or blow on his four-fingered hands to warm them up while he waits for the glide transport that will slide him home across the frozen tundra.
Think of how many details you just got from those couple sentences, how much of a world has already begun to form in your head. A good author will tell you critical details, then pepper the rest of the info through the story itself. They’ll drop enough bread crumbs to gently lead the reader through a whole new world.
An excellent author does this so well that the reader doesn’t even realize it. An excellent science fiction author can build the new world and its people in a way that makes the reader adopt the ideas as fact. If you read an excellent alien sci-fi, you WILL look up at the stars at night and wonder where that civilization actually lives and when you will get to meet them.
I think that gentle hand and carefully crafted mental voyage of learning is one of the things that makes it very difficult to translate a great sci-fi story into a movie. I can’t imagine the amount of work and pouring over the details that’s required. And that Gjork example, that’s clearly a humanoid form. What about an alien that doesn’t have hands? Or can’t see? Or translates thoughts instead of words for communications? The detail building is even more critical there, since the author is starting from an utterly blank slate. And if the movie maker misses one of the key details, then no matter how much other work is put into the movie, the end result will always fall short. It’s a tall order right from the get.
Even if the movie makers do manage to get the props, make up, and sets right, they need to find quality actors. A sci-fi needs actors that believe it. Or, believe it *could*. So many Hollywood actors that have played aliens have done so from the basis of being humans. Big names. Actors with statues on their mansion mantles and too many red carpet appearances to count. They accept the job and pick up the script and throw their whole human heart behind the project. And those who do that, who approach it as a human pretending to be an alien, come off exactly like that. They don’t *believe*, so neither do I.
“Uh, Bethie…they ARE humans.”
Yes. But the good ones forget that while they’re acting. The good ones read the book, read the screenplay, take note of the little mannerism details that draw the line between Gjorkism and humanity. I think in order to truly play an alien, the actor must be a science fiction fan. LARPing for pay.
And then you’ve got the director. I think the director plays such a key role in a sci-fi. You can have a director that wants to embrace the story and demands his actors truly get into character, or you can have one that says, “You know what we need? Space explosions!” In the old days of bad sci-fi, you could see strings dangling the UFOs. Now you see green screen run amok, but at heart, it’s the same thing. Pretty CGI does not make a quality science fiction movie.
Ah, but it sells tickets, doesn’t it?
That’s the thing that really gets me. Some of the biggest stinkers in the eyes of true sci-fi fans have done blockbuster sales because they look really fricken pretty. That fuels the wrong kind of sci-fi. Take Prometheus.
“WHAT? That movie was GREAT!!”
No. No, it was not. That movie was the theatrical equivalent of a used baby wipe. The script was nonsensical. The plot line was trite. There were details that did not make any sense at all and holes in logic so big that even Stephen Hawking couldn’t come up with a plausible theory for their existence. It was a piece of shit horrible science fiction movie. It was also a pretty big hit. The world was expansive. The scenery was pretty. The action parts were hella actiony.
Want another example? Avatar.
“Oh no you didn’t.”
I did. And I meant it. I can’t tell you how much I hated that movie, or hated the hype it got just because it was pretty in 3-D. I hate that movie. The ideas were old, the story wasn’t unique, there were jumps in the plot that needed explaining, and you always, ALWAYS knew through the whole thing that the actors were acting. They didn’t believe in the story, and, as a result, neither did I.
I was, perhaps, the only person in America yelling at the screen as it played. Ah well. I had fun. Not the kind intended by the million+ people on the cast and crew of that film, but fun nonetheless.
The dude on the radio just announced that the governor of NH, Maggie Hassan, has called a “state of emergency” and asked that people only drive on the public roads if they absolutely have to. I actually don’t mind that. It’ll mean less salt on the roads and an easier time of shoveling the berm later. I’ve got the teens, and enough shovels to go ’round. And it’s fluffy, so the little electric snow blower we’ve got will probably do some good.
And in between rounds, I’ll watch crappy, horrible, terrible sci-fi movies that’ll keep me laughing through the arduous day. All in all, the end of the world isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
Thus concludes a snowy Musing for Tuesday, The Last Day of Existence. I’m off to queue up a bunch of junk on Netflix and rouse the kiddies to put on comfy sweats and join me. Until we shovel, I see no legitimate reason to put on real pants.