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Why I’m Thankful to Science Fiction Films

My daughter, Athena, who is very excited about the upcoming film version of The Hunger Games (the trailer of which she has seen), mentioned to me two things. One, she would like a bow-and-arrow set. Two, she wishes that she could compete in the Hunger Games themselves, “because that would be seriously cool.”

“Well, except for that part where only one person survives, so the statistics look pretty bad for you,” I noted.

To which she rolled her eyes, in the way that only girls who are very almost thirteen can. “Dad, that’s why they call it a fantasy,” she said.

I couldn’t argue with that.

Not only couldn’t I argue with that, but, just a couple of days before
Thanksgiving here in the U.S., my daughter reminded me of a thing that I
am thankful to science fiction (and science fiction films) for: being a
particularly effective agent of stirring the imagination.

I remember quite vividly my own moment of I so want to be there when it came to a science fiction film. I was 8 and all my friends had gone to see Star Wars and
had been blown away, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
So I managed to convince my mom to let me go, and I sat in the theater,
waiting to be impressed. Then the movie started, and a spacecraft zoomed
across the screen, and I thought, OK, that’s pretty cool. Then the Imperial Cruiser came on to the screen, and kept on coming, and kept on coming, and then still kept on coming.
I believe my eyeballs grew three sizes that day. I went home and made
TIE fighters out of my Tinkertoys and a lightsaber out of a broomstick.
I still make lightsaber sounds when I pick up a broomstick. It’s been
nearly 35 years. That’s an influence.

Hey, now, wait a minute, I hear you say. You’re the same guy who regularly fulminates about George Lucas and the prequel trilogy. What’s up with that?
The answer: The ability of a science fiction film to activate a child’s
imagination isn’t based on it being a good picture. Don’t get me wrong,
it’s nice when a kid is wowed by a really good film. But it’s
not necessary. What’s necessary is that the kid looks at the world of
the film, is blown away by what he or she sees, and says, I wish that was me. And then goes home and imagines all sorts of adventures, with him or her as the star.

As a grownup I recognize that five out of the six Star Wars films (and, because I don’t want to just pick on Star Wars specifically, any other number of science fiction films I gleefully sucked down as a child, of both pre- and post-Star Wars vintage) are not tightly plotted, brilliantly acted, deeply thoughtful movies. As a kid, I was all, Stop with the talking and let me see that world. That’s what triggered my interest and imagination.

is not an apologia for filmmakers who create crappy films and defend
them by saying, “Hey, they’re for kids.” That’s an awful abdication of
craft, and we should call them on it every single time, especially when
there are so many obvious examples of excellent films in science fiction
made with kids in mind, from E.T. to WALL-E.
But it is a recognition that kids very often don’t watch movies like
adults do — or at the very least don’t always watch for the same
reasons, or want the same things.

Oddly enough, in the end it’s
often the breaking away from the kid’s view that finally motivates
someone to stop just living in someone else’s world and start creating
their own — looking at these fantastic worlds in films as a teen or
young adult and saying, The world is great, but even I could write that story better. And
off they go, both inspired by and reacting against the visions they’ve
been shown, trying to do them better, because they deserve better, and
so do all those fantastic worlds.

I’m thankful my daughter’s own imagination is being stirred by The Hunger Games,
both the film and the books (which she is currently rereading in
anticipation of seeing the film), just as I’m thankful to all the
science fiction films and books which did the same for me. And if a few
years from now, my kid starts thinking, You know, I could do this better while watching another film, I’ll be thankful for that too. Just as I am thankful that it happened to me.

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