2007/04/05

One Drop-dead Cool Idea

So let me start this post by stating that if you're not a science fiction fan, you may want to go and read RawStory or something.

A recent poll by SFX magazine named Joss Whedon's Serenity the Best Sci-Fi movie of all time. Really? Serenity? I mean...it was good. In fact, when you consider that he was constrained to dealing with many loose ends from his unloved series Firefly, it was better than good but not the best ever.

So what really makes for good sci-fi, and how do we rank movies if we had a metric to use? Well, as a frog whose written a bit of sci-fi in his time, I contend that great science fiction is based on the notion of the 'one drop-dead cool idea,' DDCI, if you will. It's the hook that nobody has thought of--the secret sauce. You follow it faithfully to it's logical conclusion, and you don't get distracted by less cool ideas and meaningless subplots. And with that in mind, I'm willing to identify the greatest science fiction movie of all time: The Matrix.

"Why?" you ask. Because the simple notion of humans as batteries was f*cking drop-dead-cool! And every element of the movie was placed in the service of exploring that one theme. The sequels? Garbage! Messy, multi-plot fiascoes with no good ideas, but now that we have our metric, how do other popular sci-fi films stack up...

2001, A Space Odyssey - Revolutionary special effects, but no DDCI. So in the end not as good as everyone gives it credit for.

2010 - The Year We Make Contact - In contrast, this film had a great DDCI, the monoliths as "sun-igniters," life-givers, harbingers of evolution. 2010 deserves better than it got from critics.

Alien - Runner-up to The Matrix for 'Greatest Sci-Fi Film of All Time' prize.

Bladerunner - Another excellent film with a great DDCI, but the credit really goes to Phillip K. Dick.

The Terminator - Great DDCI film. To bad it was done on such a low budget. Though that is part of it's charm.

The Star Trek Films - Mostly drek with the exception of one, Star Trek - First Contact--the film that used the only DDCI the whole series ever came up with, the Borg.

The Star Wars Films - Again mostly drek, but the original should get a buy, because the idea of making space opera on a grand scale is almost a DDCI by itself.

Men in Black - Great DDCI, funny film, great characters, no distractions, exactly what makes for good sci-fi.

HT to Kathy over at If I Ran The Zoo whose post got me thinking along these lines.

29 Comments:

Hmmmm...not sure I'm with you on the DDCI. But then, I'm not really a science fiction fan as such.

But applying the DDCI standard, I would say Forbidden Planet has it. So does Five Million Years to Earth, which hardly anybody ever saw.
My love for SciFi as a kid never made the cross over to films as an adult. DDCI to me is Lazarus Long, in Time Enough For Love; Heinlein's, Stranger In A Strange Land and Farnham's Freehold; Asimov's trilogy novels; Canticle For Lebowitz; Herbert's Dune. There are more.

Maybe I got too old by the time SciFi got past its B-Movie period. Did like ET though, for all the wrong reasons.
I couldn't find RawStory, so I just read Bush's latest press conference.:)

He's raised the bar higher for scfi writers/producers than anybody in a long time:!)
Serenity? Pleeeeeease. It was a reasonably good way to waste a couple hours. No way it compares with The Matrix, the first two Terminator movies, the Abyss, Alien, the Road Warrior, 12 Monkeys, Contact, War of the Worlds, Minority Report, Robocop or Starship Troopers.
Tom... Never seen 5 Million Years To Earth, but I have to agree on Forbidden Planet. See, even I get caught up in the 'what have I seen recently' syndrome.

Dave... Personally I'm not a Heinlein fan. Too many plots going on, and the man had a tendancy to get bored with his own stories way before he finished with them. But Asimov? Definitely, many good DDCI's there.
TFWY... Bush? Bah! ;-) The man takes multi-plot nonsense to new highs (lows?).

J. Marquis... Contact! What an excellent choice. DDCI in spades! Starship Troopers too...well at least the book. The movie stunk.
I really liked Serenity, but I understand your reasoning. The Matrix IS really cool. I liked Aliens (second one)better than the first and would consider that one of the best ever, too (along WITH the first one, I'm saying....).
No love for Total Recall, eh?

Bladerunner, sure, but The Matrix? Yuck.

And no love for The Terminator, either. Sorry Ahnuld.
LOVE sci-fi movies and books. Subject made a good post.
Give me movies that play with time, and I'm right there. My favorite sci-fi film is the New Zealand movie "The Navigator". It's about some people in medieval times who are tunneling, and somehow break out into 20th century New Zealand. There are delirious plague-induced visions and behaviors, a possible savior element in a young boy... it's well worth a look. Another favorite of mine from the late 60's (1969) is "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun" starring Roy Thinnes. Also very much worth a look... a planet on the exact opposite side of the sun from Earth has been discovered, and a manned mission is sent to find out what's there. Could it be an exact mirror image of Earth? Very cool stuff for its time.

A couple of Mr. MArquis' favorites are also faves of mine, those being 12 Monkeys and Contact.

I keep hoping there will be more adaptations of Philip K. Dick's books. So far we have had Blade Runner (from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"), Paycheck (which I still haven't seen), A Scanner Darkly, and Minority Report... and I'm not sure what else. But as I get further into his works (I've read about 15 of his books now) I have to think that in every one I have read so far there is definitely a DDCI. I hope more movies get made from his books.

For funny sci-fi without any major DDCI, I have to go with Galaxy Quest and The Fifth Element. I could watch the Fifth Element scene in which Bruce Willis rescues Chris Tucker from the floor below by using a machine gun to perforate a section of floor Tucker is lying on. Tucker's delayed scream is, to me, worth watching the whole movie for.
Solaris. I have never seen the Russian original (which is supposed to be a way better) but the Soderbergh/Clooney flick was grrrrreat.
Nvisiblewmn... Aliens is a pretty good action flick, but there is no drop-dead cool idea--so not such great sci-fi, IMHO. The mama Alien is just an advance on the original concept.

No love for Total Recall, eh?

DBK... None whatsoever. ;-) Total Recall, Running Man? Sorry. When it comes to Arnie flicks, it's only The Terminator. The first Predator flick has a pretty cool theme, but I'm not sure it's "drop-dead" cool.
Robert... Glad you enjoyed the post.

Snave... Fifth Element! Great film, but bad sci-fi. The opposite of The Fifth Element would have to be The Core which is a mediocre film but pretty good sci-fi. The central idea--the earth's core stops rotating and scientists build an 'uber tunneling ship' to head in to fix the problem--though ludicrous is followed up pretty well. Good special effects, a bit of humor, some tear-jerking scenes, and a decent straitforward plot.

Graeme... Ah, Stanislaw Lem was a giant of a writer. Though, he always claimed that he never wrote science fiction. I didn't like the Soderbergh adaptation, but the book is excellent.
Most SF films fall so far short of the books they're based on. I totally agree on "Bladerunner" (but which version, original w/narration, or director's cut without?).

Tom H, I saw "Five Million Years to Earth" & agree wholeheartedly, esp considering when it was written.

I liked Planet of the Apes, just for the moment when the Statue of Liberty's crown appears. Is that a DDCI effect?

I watch "A Clockwork Orange" whenever possible, that one is toss-up for me whether the book is better than the film. I watch 2001 just for the ape scenes, right up to where the leg bone gets tossed up in the air & comes down as a space ship. 2010 was a good read (got sucked in by the rice granules on Jupiter, it sounded so familiar), but I didn't enjoy the movie.

Alien, Terminator & MiB are all good, but I never got into Matrix. I just can't get past the Keanu acting style, sorry. ~~ D.K.
I liked the 5th Element...and I'm a big fan of the Aliens. I even enjoy M. Knight Shamalayan (or whatever it is) movies.
D.K... Which version of Bladerunner? Oh yeah. I seem to remember a promo version with some silly voice-over. I thought that was just an extended preview. ;-)

2010 had some significant differences from the book, but both were good in my opinion.

Sumo... Can't agree on the M. Knight Shamalayan movies. I have yet to stay awake through one, but 5th Element is a hoot. The Ruby Rhod sequences are a "unbelieeeevaaaable!"
I used to really be enamoured with 12 Monkeys, but I watched it again recently and it just didn't age well at all.

The Matrix is a good choice, the only reason I hesitate at all is because the sequels were so bad.

I would mention Alphaville and Metropolis but those seem like they need to be in a different category.

It's no The Matrix or anything, but there are parts of Superman II that I just love. Kneel before Zod!
I think the people who voted for Serenity were voting for the television series as well, thus the totality of the Firefly concept and universe.

That may not be what the poll was about, but I can see how it's hard for fans to separate the one movie (which only needed better lighting, IMO) from their knowledge of the entire story.

And, IMNSHO, the totality of the Firefly universe, characters, development and storyline kicks other Sci-Fi universe's asses.
I really love the film Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky.

It is a strange, long film, and it has haunted me for years. It takes place in a post apocolyptic Moscow, where people pay a man (The Stalker) to take them into "The Zone." Surrounded by barbed wire, and soldiers, inside the Zone is a room where one's secret dreams come true.

It is an incredible film.
I guess I thought Aliens could ride on the coattails of Alien and didn't need a DDCI.
SA... Like I said the sequels were dreck--not fit to live on celluloid, but what is the fixation you have with General Zod? Didn't you link 'Zod for President' for a while there?

Julie... Firefly was great, but no DDCI about that universe, nothing to make it truly unique. Ursula K. LeGuin explored the "rough and tumble" universe long before Whedon ever got to it.
Diva... OK, great, now I've got another film I've got to check out. ;-)

I guess I thought Aliens could ride on the coattails of Alien and didn't need a DDCI.

Nvisiblewmn... Nope, no points for the sequel. It has to stand on its own. 2001, OK. 2010, better. The Matrix, outstanding. Matrix Relo-revo--whatever, sucked for air. MiB, great. MiB II, cr*p! ;-)
It's all about Blade Runner. I fucking love that movie. The first Matrix blew my mind at the time, but the second and third were dissapointing.
Hello, Kvatch.

It looks to me like Total Recall was a rip-off of Videodrome, which, though somewhat dated, is a much better film.

Vote:
A) Debby Harry
B) Arnie Swartznegger

If you voted B, check yourself in to your friendly neighborhood mental hospital and kindly request gratuitous shock therapy immediately.
The one thing I gotta say in defense of Starship Troopers - Teh Movie - is that it was perfect viewing material when stuck in a hotel in who knows where on bizness.
Comandante... Bladerunner is one movie that deviated from the book, and still came out pretty good--the director's cut that is.

ProgressiveT... I've never seen Videodrome. Gonna have to add that to the Netflix list. Thanks.

Michael... I think that one of the problems with Starship Troopers is that they got rid of the subtext condemning the military. The book has a very different tone.
Kvatch, I have to point out that MiB II and the 2nd and 3rd Matrix films are NOT in the same league as Aliens. I think if the second film doesn't drop the ball, and is actually even better than the first, it should be allowed to sponge off the same DDCI (how do you like THOSE mixed metaphors?).
I don't think a film needs DDCI. I much prefer character development, storyline, production values and even believability. Which is why Starship Troopers sucks so bad.
Nvisiblewmn... I'm not saying that Aliens is not a good film. In fact, it's a great "action" film and one of my favorite Cameron movies! But...none of the Alien sequels stacks up to the original. Not as sci-fi nor as horror.

Julie... What is science fiction if not an imagining of something new--something that doesn't yet exist? Serenity/Firefly have great character development and decent enough production values but in terms of ideas, nothing new under the sun.

I agree with you about Starship Troopers where you had caricatures rather than characters.

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