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Steampunk, Star Trek and Salvation – John Scalzi Answers More SciFi Questions

Star Trek and Salvation – John Scalzi Answers More SciFi Questions” width=”560″/>

Hey kids! My ThinkTron 3000 (your people call it a “brain”) has melted out of my ears and I can’t come up with a topic this week. You know what that means: To the mailbag!

First e-mail:

Why hasn’t steampunk hit it big in movies yet? It seems perfect for the movies, visually.

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? For those of you not in the know, “steampunk” is a type of science fiction that imagines what the world would be like if we had today’s technology, retrofitted for the Victorian era. So, lots of steam-powered technogadgets (thus the name) and groovy waistcoats and ascots. It’s visually awesome stuff, and really does seem well-suited for the spectacle of the silver screen.

And yet steampunky movies have been critical or commercial flops. The most successful would have to be Wild Wild West, which made $100 million despite being absolutely terrible, thanks to star Will Smith. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen flailed domestically ($66 million box office on a $78 million budget), was disowned by creator Alan Moore and was such a stressful shoot that director Stephen Norrington essentially abandoned Hollywood for almost a decade. Then there’s 2004’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which despite being the first “total green screen” movie, took a dive on the silver screen.

What all three of these major movies have in common, aside from their steampunkery, is the fact that they’re all awful: Badly written, badly directed stuff that looks great but doesn’t go anywhere.The fact that they’re so bad — and generally performed poorly — will probably kill steampunk on the big screen for the foreseeable future.

Second e-mail:

You said you liked the new Star Trek film, but how could you sit through it when the actual science was so bad? You know it’s bad. You said so on your blog. I thought you called yourself a scientist!

If I called myself a scientist, my friends with actual science degrees would kick my butt. But yes, the science in the new Star Trek is epically bad, particularly with the bits involving black holes and that insipid deus ex machina known as “red matter.”

Why I’m able to tolerate it: Well, come on. Star Trek science has always been epically bad, hasn’t it? It’s been bad in the movies since the explanation of how V’Ger got halfway across the universe in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The various TV series were never any better: I was always amazed in Star Trek: The Next Generation that Geordi LaForge had not won the Nobel Prize for discovering so many new sub-atomic particles (and then immediately making beams out of them, and routing the beams through the warp nacelles, etc).

There is no reason the science in Star Trek needs to be as aggressively wrong as it is. But we’re 42 years, five series and eleven movies in, you know? It’s a little late. You might as well get hung up on how Kirk goes from being suspended from Starfleet Academy to captain of the Federation flagship in about the same amount of time it takes the rest of us to order lunch from Taco Bell. And on that path lies madness.

Last e-mail:

Terminator Salvation got punked by Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. How did that happen?

This is referring to the fact that over the Memorial Day weekend, the new Terminator movie made $51 million while the Night at the Museum sequel brought in $70 million.

First things first: $51 million for four days (and $65 million for five days, since Terminator opened on Thursday) is nothing to sneeze at; it seems reasonably likely that this Terminator will match Terminator 3’s domestic gross (about $150 million) and even more likely will outperform it internationally. I personally thought it would do better, but it’s no flop.

It’s also not entirely surprising Night at the Museum was on top. The first Museum flick made $100 million more in domestic box office than Terminator 3, and came out more recently, so its built in support was bigger and fresher. Second, despite its PG-13 rating, Terminator: Salvation is no “family film,” whereas the whole clan could get out to see Museum. Third, Museum had the box office boost of IMAX screens, for which people pay more. Finally, Museum was on 500 more screens last weekend than Terminator, which translates to a significant advantage — even if Terminator had made the same amount per theater as Museum, it still would have made $10 million less. Add that all up and the box office disparity makes more sense.

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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