Three science fiction movies in a week and a half? Buy me the world’s biggest popcorn, drown it in petroleum butter, grab a straw for my Mello Yello, and hold my pocket protector—I’m going in.
I don’t know when sci-fi earned its reputation as a geek only club. You know where Ray Bradbury published a lot of his stories of imagined worlds? It rhymes with Rayboy, and it has fueled the imaginations of more young people than all of science fiction combined and then multiplied by eight. Science fiction is and has always been cool. Ask anyone. Ask Jules Verne.
Some of my fondest memories are of watching crappy old sci-fi flicks on summer nights. If not for cable TV, I would never have seen The Time Machine (awesome), The Omega Man (awesomer), 2001: A Space Odyssey (didn’t know what to do with it at the time, but have since come to know its awesomeness), Flash Gordon (awesome only because of the soundtrack), and of course all the Mad Max movies (edited for television but awesome nonetheless). I don’t know how reliable my memory is—I feel like it’s sharp when it wants to be—but I remember being very small and lying on one section of our couch with my hear to my Dad’s stomach, listening as it gurgled like something that came from outer space. I know for sure we watched Omega Man, and I know without a doubt we caught The Time Machine, and I have fragmented memories of a movie with maybe Richard Dreyfuss in which people learn how to record what a person is thinking or feeling. I remember someone having a heart attack and dying, but remembering to hit ‘record’ in time to get it all on that futuristic tape. It might not even be a real movie, I don’t know.
I will just have to wonder.
I like wondering—people generally do. Which is why we have coming back to speculative stories for a long time, and why we will keep coming back until we have all become horse-riding, gun-toting, people-lassoing apes for Charleton Heston to be all grouchy at. And we are a long way away from that point, so there’s plenty of time to catch all the good ones and most of the bad ones.
Last week, even though I didn’t dedicate my weekly post to it, Leslie and I caught Ex Machina—one of the most compelling movies I’ve seen in a long time, sci-fi or otherwise. We are, here in reality, on the cusp of living alongside artificial intelligence. We are probably leaning over the edge of that chasm right now, and some folks are looking down and feeling a little scared.
Maybe we have reason to be scared. Maybe almost every story involving A.I. doesn’t end with group hugs and a laugh track. They almost always end with human laughter dying out altogether because the robots have inherited the earth. If that doesn’t give you the willies, you too are a robot and your day is coming. Congratulations.
That imagined day sort of begins in Ex Machina, a gorgeous meditation on what a machine has to do in order to pass the Turing test—a sort of mirror to the Voight-Kampff test Harrison Ford proctors professionally before pulling the plug on naughty replicants in Blade Runner (awesome). I don’t want to spoil the movie, but Ex Machina is emotionally riveting and will stress you the heck out for at least fifteen minutes. On our walk home, Leslie turned to me: “I feel like we just watched the first truly Millennial sci-fi movie.” And she is maybe right. It’s humor, it’s awareness, it’s removed observation—it all tangles up with our obsession with technology. You might like it; I’d give it a whirl if I were you.
Earlier last week, we watched the film adaptation of The Giver. I have said it before in a thousand places, but the book had a huge hand in shaping me as a young person. As a quiet soul with an insatiable appetite for sentimentality and eager to be given a meaningful place in the world, I often wished they would have chanted my name over and over instead of Jonas. If there is a parallel in the real world to Jonas’s job of absorbing beauty and pain and holding onto their meanings, then consider my resume and cover letter already written and submitted to Monster.com.
It will suffice to say the movie kind of sucks—while there are moments that are good or even almost great (they all involve scenes with Jeff Bridges), the movie skims over the humanity of the book. Also, I love Asher as Lois Lowry writes him, and I pretty much didn’t care if he had crashed his stupid drone plane in the stupid action sequence they invented for the movie. Books don’t always trump the movie (see also: Frankenstein. I know, I’m a disgrace to reading but I thought it was boring), but here the words beat out the moving pictures. Big time.
To round out our stress fest, I opted for the delightful and cheery Mad Max: Fury Road. As someone who grew up loving the Mel Gibson trilogy, it pains me a little to confess they end up looking like a fun but campy road trip movie next to the two hours of cardiac arrest you get in Fury Road. It’s a car movie, yes, so it’s pretty much a one hundred twenty minute chase scene, but for it’s lack of dialogue, its story is clear. It’s the story of most great sci fi: do not let the things you are going to see ever happen, because they could.
It’s not hard to imagine a world laid to waste as greedy mitts scooped up big handfuls of whatever they wanted to take. It’s not hard to imagine how he rules would suddenly have to change–how decency would go the way of the carrier pigeon. It’s not hard to imagine a person’s character mostly being whittled down to the will to survive. Is it happening now? If there are pale dudes wearing respirators adorned with horse teeth borrowed from nightmares who are afraid of mortality and are afraid of leaving no legacy and are not acting very mature about their insecurities, then we have only a few minutes to trick out our vintage muscle cars and get used to how leather chafes in the apocalyptic, Australian heat.
Creators of science fiction are the prophets writing on the walls of our fears and of our hopes (they share a lot of real estate in life, those two opposites). This movie is pretty scary, but it’s not without good guys (good, interesting, fully realized women in this case, much to the annoyance of a so-called Men’s Rights Movement–a prospect as ridiculous as horse teeth masks and high-octane Valhalla death culture and twice as repugnant). If Ex Machina doesn’t test your constitution, check this one out while slurping a tank of Cherry Coke. It’ll give your heart the jump start it’s always wanted. (Edit:Consult a physician first. Sincerely, Andy’s team of lawyers.)
And if you need a good nap, The Giver awaits.