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Awful Scifi Films, Smart “Battleship” Moves, Evil Jedi: To the Mailbag!


This week I am going to answer reader questions AND YOU CAN’T STOP ME (unless you’re my editor. In which case: Hi. Please don’t fire me).

To the mailbag!

First question:

“Last week you listed the science fiction movies you’d show aliens to avoid us being annihilated. Which ones would you show if you wanted us all to die?”

What a horrible and morbid question. And, of course, I immediately thought of several. In no particular order:

Battlefield Earth
Recently crowned the worst science fiction film of all time by the readers of io9,
and rightly so. I think the aliens would be offended both at the
portrayal of the Psychlos and the idea that an F-16 would still be
flyable after centuries of disuse.

Highlander II: The Quickening
A
film so bad that adding “The Quickening” to anything you say signals
its horribleness (“Transformers: The Quickening,” “My 18-Hour Flight to
Australia in a Coach Seat: The Quickening,” “Your Face: The Quickening”)
and so incomprehensible that the filmmakers had to make two separate
“Special Editions” of the film just to have it make sense.

Either Alien vs. Predator film, but especially the second one
Just in case the aliens wanted a primer on how to murder us in murky conditions.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash
Could also be used as an argument to save us, as we could tell them that we
were smart enough to stay away from this film in droves, making it one
of the biggest flops of all time.

Mac and Me
The gag-worthy knockoff of E.T. featuring a dance number with Ronald McDonald. We deserve annihilation for allowing this film to come into being.

There are of course many others. But these are the ones I’d show.

Next question:

“The film Battleship won’t be out until May in the U.S., but it’s already in theaters overseas. What’s the thinking there?”

First, a necessary disclosure: One of the the producers of Battleship, Scott Stuber, is also the producer of the upcoming film of my novel Old Man’s War.

Second,
it’s not entirely unusual to have films release overseas ahead of a U.S.
release, especially if the film has more appeal elsewhere. A fine recent
example of this is The Adventures of Tintin, whose lead
character is far better known in Europe than he is here, which is why
the film grossed well over $200 million there and elsewhere before
landing on our shores, and why 80 percent of its overall $373 million
theatrical gross was from outside the U.S.

In Battleship’s case,
however, the title doesn’t have any particular cachet outside the U.S.
(it’s very glancingly based on the popular board game), so that doesn’t
apply. But it’s an action-packed science fiction film, a genre which
typically does very well internationally: The last Transformers, a
series which this movie at least superficially resembles, did
two-thirds of its business elsewhere. It’s also facing a hugely
competitive box office scenario here at home: The Avengers releases two weeks before it, Dark Shadows one week ahead of it, and Men in Black 3 a week after. These films will also likely show up in most major overseas markets on or near their U.S. release dates.

So in this case, it looks like the Battleship
folks are taking a film they already expect to make a large percentage
of its money abroad and positioning it well ahead of other
predicted action/science fiction juggernauts so it doesn’t have to compete
directly with them. It’s also a potential hedge against its competition
in the U.S.; if the film rolls into the U.S. with much of its $200 million
production budget already covered, then it’s going to weather the Avengers/Dark Shadows/MiB3 storm a lot better than it would otherwise.

As the film opened with a strong $58 million overseas and at the top of the box office in 24 countries, it looks like it was a pretty smart movie to launch this ship ahead of the summer overseas.

Third question:

In your ‘Evil or Misunderstood?’ column, you appeared to suggest that you think Star Wars‘ Jedi knights were actually the evil ones, not the stormtroopers. Really?

I
don’t think I said I think the Jedi are evil, but I do think there’s a
very good argument that the Jedi were autocratic to the point of being
morally compromised, and they certainly engage in activities we would
find questionable, like, for example, taking infants from their homes to
be raised in training cloisters, shut off from the rest of the
universe, leaving only to be assistants (i.e., something close to a
slave) for older Jedi on highly questionable missions. The entire Jedi
Council could be locked up on child endangerment charges, and that’s
just the start.

The real interesting question is whether the
Jedi moral ambiguity is there because George Lucas is a genius and
wanted to show the complexity of the Star Wars universe, with all its
shades of gray, or because Lucas is a sloppy writer and didn’t think
through the implications of his “good guys.” I think one of these
answers is more likely than the other, but at this point enough hands
have stirred the Star Wars story stew that there will never be a clear
answer. Just like real life!

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