Tag Archives: Paul

Should SF Be More Optimistic?

A panel at Chicon 7 discussed whether science fiction has become too pessimistic. Dystopian dramas such as The Road, The Walking Dead, and I Am Legend seem to dominate today’s market. Is this a reflection of current societal woes, or a more widespread sense of doom towards the future by writers and producers? What part do readers and audiences play in contributing to the popularity of these darker stories?

My feeling is that modern science fiction is no more or less optimistic than it has ever been. Classics such as Metropolis, Dr. Strangelove, and Blade Runner have often painted cautionary pictures of the future, warning us of what might be, not what will be. I would argue that dystopian SF is generally more thought-provoking than utopian SF. The best literature relies on conflict to propel characters to change and grow. Utopian societies are often bland and uninteresting.

Things like Buck Rogers and Star Trek are loved by millions for their optimistic visions of technological innovation and political harmony, but even they have conflict to drive their stories. They are often criticized for their naïvety, too.

Taking a look at this year’s Hugo Award nominees, I see optimistic stories far outnumbering the dystopias. Among the novels, Deadline is really the only dystopia, and even it has an underlying optimism that says society will learn to deal with a zombie apocalypse with new medical testing and security technologies. Among the dramatic presentations, Game of Thrones could possibly be considered a pessimistic fantasy universe, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows certainly has some very dark moments before the forces of good spectacularly triumph over the forces of evil.

Last year saw pessimistic films such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Contagion, but they were more than countered by generally optimistic offerings such as Source Code, Captain America, X-Men: First Class, Super 8, Thor, Cowboys and Aliens, and Paul.

Science fiction TV has been dominated for several years by Doctor Who, the ultimate in optimism. Battlestar Galactica was certainly dark, but depicted the eventual triumph of humans. I think one reason Terra Nova failed was that audiences were not attracted to a world where running away from a dystopian society was encouraged rather than staying and working to improve it. Meanwhile, shows like Eureka, Alphas, and Warehouse 13 continue to offer lighthearted SF adventure.

To me, no matter how dark or depressing a science fiction story is, there is a fundamental optimism inherent in all science fiction. After all, science fiction (at least the majority that’s set in the future) imagines that there will be a future for mankind. You can’t get much more optimistic than that!

For Your Consideration: Hugo Award Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

The deadline for nominating works for the Hugo Awards is March 11, 2012. Members (as of January 31, 2012) of Renovation, Chicon 7, or LoneStarCon 3 are eligible to nominate. For the Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category, I have compiled a list of productions that could be considered.

A number of people are recommending Hugo be nominated. Hugo is by far my favorite film of 2011, but I just don’t see how people can consider it a fantasy. It’s got an automaton as a plot point, but that’s based on a real invention. I suppose Hugo could be considered an alternate history, but that seems to be stretching the definition too much.

A multi-part production such as Game of Thrones or Torchwood: Miracle Day can be nominated in the Long Form category if nominators feel that the mini-series should be taken as a whole, rather than as individual episodes. The dividing line between Short Form and Long Form is 90 minutes running time, but may be adjusted slightly one way or another if a majority of nominators place a borderline work in the other category.

My expectation is that Game of Thrones will be nominated no matter what, so I will use my nominations for other works. I will surely nominate Rango, and most likely Arthur Christmas, Puss in Boots, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and X-Men: First Class will make up my other choices. The Adventures of Tintin and Source Code would also be worthy, in my opinion.

For your consideration:

The Adjustment Bureau

The Adventures of Tintin  [Annie Award nominee]

Another Earth

Arthur Christmas [Annie Award nominee]

Captain America: The First Avenger

Cars 2 [Annie Award nominee]

Cowboys & Aliens

The Divide

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos

Game of Thrones, Season 1 [Emmy Award nominee]

Gnomeo & Juliet

Green Lantern

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

In Time

Kung Fu Panda 2  [Annie Award and Academy Award nominee]

Limitless

Melancholia

Midnight in Paris [Academy Award nominee]

Paul

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Puss in Boots  [Annie Award and Academy Award nominee]

Rango [Annie Award winner and Academy Award nominee]

Real Steel

Rio  [Annie Award nominee]

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Source Code

Super 8

The Thing

Thor

Torchwood: Miracle Day

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Winnie the Pooh

X-Men: First Class

Paul

Paul (2011) (unrated version)
Written by Simon Pegg & Nick Frost; directed by Greg Mottola

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Two comic book nerds (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) from England go on a road trip through the American southwest to visit Area 51 and other alien sighting locations. When they meet a real alien (voice of Seth Rogan) named Paul, they become embroiled in a chase across Nevada and Wyoming, trying to elude inept federal agents (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio) and their somewhat less inept boss (Jason Bateman). Along the way they meet a variety of eclectic characters, most notably a pretty young woman (Kristen Wiig) from a dysfunctional, ultra-conservative Christian upbringing.

I wanted to like Paul, I really did. It just seemed like a by-the-numbers comedy that was only intermittently funny. The actors were fine, but they didn’t have much to work with. In this age of routine special effects, the substandard integration of the partly puppet, partly CGI alien with real humans was off enough to take me out of my suspension of disbelief.

There were some interesting cameo appearances that helped things along, but ultimately I really didn’t care whether Paul reached his destination or not.