Earlier I saw some concept images for the upcoming (2011) Green Lantern movie and it got me thinking...
"Wouldn't this make a better science fiction movie than it would a super-hero movie?"
I know that people will argue that super-hero movies are science fiction movies. But that isn't true. Just the same way that there are horror movies that aren't science fiction. It can take place in space, it can defy physics, it can raise the dead or build a laser- but none of these things make it science fiction.
The problem is of course that Sci-Fi is both a genre and a topic. Because of this the distinction between what is science fiction and what is about an aspect of science fiction is sometimes difficult to tell. Stephen King has a book (Danse Macabre) all about how some movies, like Alien, might take place in space and have astro-miners and aliens but are inherently horror films. The astro-miners are the protagonists but the antagonist, the alien, is a monster. This is much the same way that Frankenstein (1931) is a horror or monster movie and not science fiction, even though it is full of text tubes and has a mad scientist. James Bond movies are full of lasers and space technology but it is pretty clear that these things are plot devices, MacGussins, furthering the plot but adding very little in terms of theme.
But that's what makes a movie science fiction. Theme rather than content is what makes it a genre. However, its common for the dichotomy in science fiction to be taken advantage of. Not jut works borrowing the look or style of science fiction but by the direct degeneration of genre based on its successes. As a prominent literary genre science fiction shares some themes with other genres, as they all do. But too often is a successful piece in this genre re-categorized as Literature, implying something about the nature of science fiction as a genre and the other books under that distinction. (But this, in itself, raises the issue of genres. There is a very strong argument against organizing art by genre. Non-stronger perhaps than walking through a book store and recognizing the complete incompetence of the aisles. Nevermind high and low art. Because Brave New World can be removed from 'Science Fiction' and put in it 'Literature' it should not be a surprise that Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man can be taken out of 'Literature' and put amongst the growing number of black romance novels that are beginning to define the 'African American Lit.' section. But it is a surprise.)
Science fiction is a very difficult to interpret type of story telling because it is a topic and a genre. But it shouldn't be this hard. the themes in science fiction, the true tropes of the genre, are abundant, giving, and clear. The morality, implications, intentions, behind these ideas and how they are used is what breathes life into true science fiction. Traveling through time or flying through space can mean more than just point A to point B. But often it doesn't, and that is why so much posing as science fiction sucks. And it really sucks.
If we are going to hold on to antiquated organizational means such as we have now than new distinctions need to be made. Maybe there is a difference between science fiction and sci-fi and maybe it is high and low. But even if there isn't, is it so much to ask that people at least start to think about it and make some better decisions.
There is a line in the sand. It the past few years I have only seen a handful of truly great and truly science fiction movies made. Moon, Sunshine, District 9. If movies like these want to compete than they need to avoid the Superhero Summers. I have pretty low hope for science fiction at the movies this year. I'd really hoped that the superhero trend would end and that movies like Avatar would start a new trend and like the 80s we could finally get some good science fiction back. But maybe next year or the year after that.
I don't really care about Green Lantern, at all. But, here is an opportunity, a real chance, to do something with the superhero movie as a type. Of all the comic book characters that have been offered the chance at film none of the big names has the clear option to be a science fiction movie more than Green Lantern. As far as a superhero story goes Green Lantern is soft science fiction bordering at times on fantasy. What more could they ask for? How much easier could it be to make this mainstream film science fiction and do it right- making it enjoyable but also provocative. Make a superhero movie sure, if you must, but make it explorative.
photo credit: io9