What I love/don’t love about Sci-Fi

Yesterday, I took my older kids to see Avatar, the movie. We had to keep reminding my nine year old that it would not be a movie version of the cartoon/comic series also called “Avatar.” I wonder if there was some legal transactions around that name recognition, since the first time I heard of the movie in progress, I too thought of the comic series. (And to make it more confusing, I see now that the series is coming out as its own movie called The Last Airbender, or did I miss it already?)

This was the first full-length 3D movie that I have watched, wearing the funky glasses and all that. Three hours later, I had a bit of a headache but it sure was an interesting experience.

But the movie reminded me of what I have always loved about science fiction and what still rankles me.

I love how James Cameron really creates an entire world on the screen. It was beautiful and rich and stunning in its vision. I was particularly swept away by the little floating seeds. I won’t go into all the accolades that other reviewers will say about the beauty of the film, but it was magical to see. I’m not sure the 3D experience did a whole lot,however, and I would probably have been just as happy to see it in 2D (and save a few bucks in the process).

I was expecting to be knocked out with the 3D effects after all the press Cameron got. Some of it was cool, but I guess 3D still has a long way to go to become a fully immersible movie experience (Don’t tell Cameron that — every interview indicates that he has revolutionized filmmaking with Avatar — don’t believe the hype).

But Avatar also contains the weakness that drives me — a sci-fi nut, really — crazy. The story was another rehash (it was an updated Pocahantas, as done by Disney) and the dialogue was mostly terrible or barely passable. Character development, which was really the heart of the story, was just OK. The acting was pretty wooden for the main character (interestingly, I thought he did a better job when he was the computer-generated avatar than when he was a live person on the screen.)

Why can’t movie producers pull these these strands (effects, new worlds, dialogue, story arc and character development) to make a film that will blow away all audiences? I don’t get it. Last summer’s Star Trek took a good step in that direction (and now I see it popping up on a lot of Best of … lists) and the old TV series-turned-movie Firefly (the movie was Serenity) had some elements and updated Battlestar Galactica (against all odds, considering its history) kept storytelling and character development at its center.

But the movie world is littered with sci-fi crap. How can I expose my sons to the wonderful element of Science Fiction if so much of what falls under that umbrella is worthless junk?

Give them the books, of course. Give them the books and let them imagine the worlds and go deep into the stories.

Peace (in the worlds),

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