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G.I. Joe, Toy Stories and Hugos – John Scalzi Dives Back Into the SciFi Mailbag

G.I. Joe, Toy Stories and Hugos – John Scalzi Dives Back Into the SciFi Mailbag” width=”560″/>

Hey, folks! I’m back from Montreal where, as noted on this blog, I picked up a Hugo award for one of my books. I’m very happy. But I’m also still totally discombobulated, so you know what that means: It’s mailbag time!

First question:

“I noticed that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra didn’t have any advance reviews. Isn’t that usually a sign that a studio hates the movie and wants to dump it?”

It often is, yes — movie studios sometimes know they’ve got a stinker that they simply want to push out the door and not think about ever again, and those are usually the ones that slide into theaters, do terrible business for a week, then get shuffled off to home video as soon as possible.

However, there is also another sort of movie that studios decide not screen for critics: The ones they expect to be profitable, but which they already know the critics are going to hate, so there’s simply no upside to letting them get a whack at it before audiences see the movie. Horror is one genre where this happens quite a bit: The flicks always get bad reviews, but also almost always bring in piles of teens and young men as a first weekend audience. Why drive any of them away with a bad review?

G.I. Joe is not a horror flick (except possibly in an existential sense), but it is a mindless explody action movie based on a toy line directed by Stephen Sommers, who while competent in his genre, is definitely no critic’s darling. Paramount looked at what they had, knew what the critics were going to say, and said, “Why bother?” Given the $55 million opening here in North America ($100 million worldwide), you can’t say it was the wrong strategy. Mind you, a better strategy would have been to make a movie that they could actually show to reviewers with some sense of pride, but this is the business. It’s not all Citizen Kane.

Next question:

“Both G.I. Joe and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen are pretty terrible films. Are there any good films based on toys?”

Off the top of my head I can’t think of a single one. And in fact theaters are littered with the terrifying cinematic spawn of profitable toys and games. If you are of a certain age, you may remember the eye-gouging horrors that were Masters of the Universe (based on the Mattel He-Man toy line), The Garbage Pail Kids Movie and (slightly upscale but a failure nonetheless) Clue, based on the board game and released with several different endings, so the movie you saw depended on the theater you went to. And of course there’s the original animated Transformers movie, much beloved by Gen-Xers who apparently fell down a lot of stairs as children. Let’s not even speak of movies based on video games.

All these flicks may be different flavors of terrible, but that doesn’t stop producers from wanting to make more, probably because G.I. Joe and Transformers are hits. Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) is slated to remake Clue, while Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) of all people is attached to a big-screen version of Monopoly. Yes, Monopoly. And of course there’s meant to be a third Transformers flick and a G.I. Joe sequel is likely. Prepare yourselves.

And, hey, I guess I can answer this here:

“Tell us a little bit about the Hugo Award you just won, please.”

It’s the Best Related Book Hugo, for my essay collection Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded. This is the award you get when you’ve written something that’s related to science fiction but doesn’t fit into the traditional fiction categories, such as a biography of a science fiction author, an art book by an artist in the field, or in my case, a collection of essays, at least some of which touch on matters relating to science fiction and scifi film. As someone who comes from a journalism background and has several non-fiction books published (including a book on science fiction film), it’s a very cool award to get.

This year I was also nominated for Best Novel — the award was given to Neil Gaiman for The Graveyard Book, which as discussed last week is well on its way to a movie adaptation. I was also nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form in my role as editor of the audiobook anthology METAtropolis. This was a very cool nod, since the category is dominated by movies: The competition this year was The Dark Knight, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Iron Man and the eventual winner, Wall-E. As I thought Wall-E was the best science fiction flick of 2008, I can’t really complain. It was fun to be nominated.

Winner of the Hugo Award (twice! Whoo-hoo!) and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, John Scalzi is the author of The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies and the novels Old Man’s War and Zoe’s Tale. He’s also Creative Consultant for the upcoming Stargate: Universe television series. His column appears every Thursday.

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