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Wachowskis and Lucas and Jackman, Oh My! John Scalzi Answers Your SciFi Questions

This past week my brain has collapsed like the proverbial flan in the cupboard, so rather than think of a whole column topic, which is hard, I’m going to answer some e-mails I’ve gotten from readers, which is easy.

First, a letter from Karen:

“Last week you wrote that you thought the Wolverine film would do good but not great business. I think you’re underestimating its potential, because you’re forgetting about one large segment of the audience: The women who are going to the film to stare at Hugh Jackman.”

Ah, yes, the Hugh Jackman Estrogen Brigade. And, well, who can blame them? When Jackman’s all ripped and snarly and bearing the most impressive sideburns this side of the Civil War, even straight men start questioning themselves (“Hmmmm, maybe just this once…”). Don’t ask me how I know that one, incidentally. Also, don’t tell my wife. Please.

That said, I’m not entirely sure the HJEB is all powerful, because Jackman was pretty much all man-candy in Australia, and look where that one ended up, box office-wise. Maybe the sideburns are the key. In any event, while I don’t discount the appeal of Jackman in an artfully torn T-shirt for some people, I’m not entirely convinced that those people will be the key to taking Wolverine’s ticket sales into the stratosphere.

Second, a letter from Bill:

“New reader, catching up on your columns. They’re great, except for all the Lucas hating. Seriously, what’s up with that?”

Good question. I don’t hate George Lucas — in fact, I’m fond of saying that I think he’s easily the most influential filmmaker of the last several decades, and possibly of all time. The modern cinematic experience is what it is because George Lucas has decided that’s what it should be, and by and large I like the modern cinematic experience: I like seamless special effects, theaters with crystalline digital sound and all the other back-end bits that Lucas and his minions either invented or championed. So well done, George.

The problem is, in addition to being the most influential person on the back-end of the cinematic experience, Lucas also likes to write and direct. And, well… the best you can say about that is no one is good at everything. On the other hand, it was the writing and directing that allowed him to get to a point where he had influence on filmmaking (and to be fair, the dude has two Best Director and two Best Screenplay Oscar nods), so what do I know. Clearly, I’m conflicted. But in the end, he gave us Pixar, which gave us WALL-E. So it’s all good.

The next letter isn’t actually a letter, but a comment from my wife after she watched Speed Racer on cable last week:

“Hey, I actually liked that! I thought you said Speed Racer sucked! What’s wrong with you?”

I’m not entirely sure I said that Speed Racer was horrible, though I don’t think I said it was good, either. I did say that I wasn’t entirely surprised it didn’t do well, because A) Plotlines that work in badly-dubbed ’60s Japanese animation don’t necessarily translate to $150 million live action movies and B) Warner Bros. did a botch job in marketing what was essentially a kiddie flick to Matrix audiences.

I found Speed Racer a bit of a mess the first time I watched it, but it’s been growing on me with subsequent viewings. This is partly because it makes a bit more sense the second time around, and partly because — despite a very silly plot and a design scheme that resembles an exploding candy shop — the Wachowski Brothers are doing some interesting things relating to cinematic grammar. Most notably I’m intrigued with the movie’s time-shifting story elements, over-lapping images and other such wackiness that’s only available now through the advent of easily manipulable digital filmmaking.

The downside is that the screen is so jam-packed with information all the time that you get visual overload, especially if you don’t spend a lot of time, say, playing video games. That said, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if some of things the Wachowskis play with here get wider use in the future as audiences get used to this sort of information dump.

It’s a bit weird to have all that going on with Speed Racer, but hey: Star Wars was kind of goofy, too, and look how influential that’s been. And we’re back to Lucas again.

Winner of the Hugo Award 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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