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Dear SF Film Makers: Give These Plot Points a Rest

And now, for no particular reason other than I get paid to write things like this in public, here are some science fiction tropes in movies that I would be happy to see filmmakers not use again for, oh, at least five or ten years or so:

1. Stone-faced government officials seeking and/or hiding aliens. This one got trotted out again this year with Super 8, and was the most wearisome part of an otherwise pretty entertaining flick. Look, Area 51 and officious looking g-men and scads of government minions invading a town have had a good run, and back when they showed up in E.T., they were still a little scary. But that was thirty years ago, and now, when you see them you know they’re the token opposition. Too easy. Move on.

2. The overwhelming alien invasion. Most recently essayed in Battle: Los Angeles, but, of course, going all the way back to War of the Worlds. It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching apparently superior alien forces blow the hell out of large buildings while a rag-tag team of humans fights back, eventually finding whatever chink in the alien armor, be it the power source of the invading armada or a bunch of water glasses lying around the house, that will allow the humans to score a major victory and turn the tide against the alien horde. But as the previous sentence may suggest, the folks making these sorts of films are relying a little too heavily on one particular plot engine. No matter how you deck out the details it still runs the same.

3. The dreary, oppressive dystopia. This year Priest ran with this one, chucking in a vampire plot twist in an effort to shake things up (it might have been more effective had not Resident Evil and Ultraviolet gotten there first). Most films with oppressive dystopias borrow heavily from Blade Runner or The Road Warrior or both; the problem is that, as with E.T.,
both are three decades down the time stream now, which means filmmakers
borrowing from them now aren’t showing anything we haven’t seen dozens
of times already.

4. The very special youngster. This is
more often the domain of fantasy (hello, Harry Potter!) but it was given
a science fictional run-through this year with I Am Number Four, and of course Star Wars
trotted out Luke, whiny as he was. These run down a checklist.
Orphaned? Of course! Having special powers waiting to be unlocked? Yes,
indeed! Found and trained (and protected) by a wise mentor? How could it
be otherwise? Hunted by the forces of evil? That goes without saying.
When this very special youngster shows up, we know where he’s going.
Best to leave him in hiding.

5. Super heroes. I know, I
know. No chance of that. But I thought I would throw it out there. And
actually, it’s not so much super heroes that I’m bored with, than it is origin stories
— which is to say, the whole set-up of how said super hero got his
powers, how he fumbled a bit with them before he figured them out, how
he felt alienated from the world, blah blah blah blah blah, man, I get tired just thinking about them at this point. You know, one of the very salient reasons why Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight are
considered better than their predecessors is that they didn’t have to
spend any time setting up the super hero; they could just focus on the
story they wanted to tell. But of course it’s difficult to get to those
films without doing the set-up exercises. It’s a catch-22, it is.

now, having written this, I have no doubt that someone in Hollywood
will make a film about a boy, orphaned in a dystopian world, who
develops super powers just in time to thwart an alien invasion — that
is, if he can evade the government agents trying to track him down. And
when this film is made, and it will, I am certain of one thing: It will
be in 3D.

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