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Sci Fi, Shlock - Bloggit's Journal

About Sci Fi, Shlock

Previous Entry Sci Fi, Shlock Jun. 26th, 2005 @ 07:31 pm Next Entry
With Enterprise and Andromeda winding down, and with about 20 hours of unwatched Battlestar Galactica on my PVR, the state of shlock Sci-Fi is an interesting topic. But let me preface this by pointing out that quality movies are not at the top of my list. We like shlock entertainment. For example, the last two videos we rented were...
  • Elf - which a friend enjoyed. If it was half as long as it was, it would have been quite good.
  • Dodgeball - which was quite a bit better than Elf, but still not a good flick.
There are some flicks that, against all reason, I enjoy. For example, Kelsey Grammer's Down Periscope is a fun one. It may not be believable, but it's fun.

Fiction (as opposed to prediction) placed in the future comes in several categories. Mentally, I divide it as:
  • SF / Speculative Fiction - serious stuff. Most cyberpunk fits this category.
  • Sci-Fi - some what funner than Speculative Fiction, but also less involved, less detailed.
  • Shlock Sci-Fi - This takes place in the future, but mostly for the gadgets and aliens, and to provide alternate cultures with little explanation.
  • Pablum - Science is irrelevant.
Obviously these are entirely arbitrary, so I'll illustrate my thinking:
Buck Rogers (77 version)ShlockA fun cowboy-in-space series. No analysis of politics or how science really changed people, beyond having mechanized people and an alien with wings. Princess Ardala was hot.
Battlestar Galactica, 1980sShlockLike Buck Rogers, but at least there was a quest here. Except it was easily forgotten.
Battlestar Galactaca, 2004+SFThis is well-made, serious, riveting... except it's just not as much escapism fun. We're talking Life-and-Death here.
Bablylon 5Sci-FiFeatures a very rich set of cultures, science, an actual long-term story-line (screwed up a bit by the vagaries of network commitments and by a primary actress leaving), but it's also fun.
FuturamaShlockThe future is an enabler of gags. Aliens are like people with a few foibles. But enjoyable.
Mork and Mindy
Alf
PablumI liked these shows, but Mork/Alf being an alien merely allow fish out of water behavior and for certain magic to be explained away as "alien".
Mad Max Beyond ThunderdomeSFYou probably expected Shlock, but this movie provided an internally consistent world view, decently-formed characters with clear motivations, and no unexplained gadgets or magic. It's doesn't have to be boring to be SF
Judge DreddSciFiFrom a quality perspective, this may be pablum or worse. But ignore most of the gadgets (robotic room-service carts, flying motorcycles, fancy weapons, force fields) for a moment and focus on the storyline. There is one... about how genetic engineering (the Janus Project) to create the perfect "Judge" created a good one (Dredd) and an essentially evil one (Rico), who wind up fighting it out, the latter with his own army of genetically-modified clones nearly ready.
AndromedaShlockThis is a fun show, and some science/futuristic elements were thought out. For example, one race of genetically-selected humans has certain traits consistently, science and scientific solutions are an enabler, etc. But more often it is more of a fantasy, almost a dungeons-and-dragons with science instead of magic. More than most of the other shows, this is pure escapism. But the quality of the backstory puts it on the line.
Star Trek (TOS)PablumThere wasn't much science in the original Trek. At all. A few gadgets, different colors of women Kirk could woo, etc., but even by Shlock standards this was a sloppy show hewing to a very few consistent formuli, with no arcing storyline or character growth, no depth. It could have easily shared writers with Gilligan's Island. On the other hand, Star Trek was a bit ground breaking in other ways and did enable what followed. But watching 12 hours of TOS episodes in a row would be quite painful.
Dr. WhoSci-FiDr. Who was intended to be educational but quickly morphed. Story was important, but British production values and writing schedules did some harm. There was growth though and again this was a ground breaker.
Space 1999Sci-FiIf you know this series, you probably guessed Shlock. The acting was wooden, the sets were wooden, the stories were wooden. But they were a good deal more creative than Star Trek (TOS); some would have been at home in a Philip K. Dick short story.
Red DwarfShlockI never liked Red Dwarf. The premise is Sci-Fi; a human being punished in a stasis field comes back to life as the last remaining human, joining a "cat" who, in a case of convergent evolution guided by video, resembles a human, and various other non-human companions. (Interestingly, there are no aliens, in the sense of life from other planets, in Red Dwarf, but there are mutated species from earth.) The scenarios are also Sci-Fi worthy, such as parallel universes, but too often slip into adolescent humor rather than relying on ideas. Why it lands in the Shlock category is that frequent collapse-of-purpose. It's no more original than some Battlestar Galactica (original) stories, and less entertaining.
EnterpriseSci-FiBy my metrics for Sci-Fi, this meets them. There are multi-episode story lines, character growth, science (not magic) is integral, and some very interesting plots. A handful of stinker episodes too, and it took a while for the show to hit its stride. As Sci-Fi, it's probably better than Andromeda, but below the 2004 version of Battlestar Galactica and below Babylon5. Unfortunately it was inconsistently entertaining and didn't engage the Trekkies enough to overcome that.
Other ShowsI've omitted a whole bunch of quality shows. Some, like Quantum Leap, just don't hit the radar anymore. Others, like the Stargate franchise, never connected with me at all.
Independence DayShlockThis was a fun disaster movie, but the idea that alien computers could be brought down by computer viruses from our systems is surreally bad. A Commodore 64 worm cannot infect an IBM PC, which cannot infect a Palm PDA, and these use commodity components from our own galaxy!
VSci-FiI didn't watch much of this, but it was a plausible premise. The story is basically one of occupying force vs. resistance. Good idea, but how much of it can you watch?
Knight RiderPablumIt was fun at the time, but the concept was basically a detective whose superpower was a funding source and a tricked out car. Not much growth, plot or science.
Witchblade
Highlander
PablumThese were essentially action-adventure escapism, with no science behind the magic anyhow. Essentially superheroes with no real justifications. And they had wooden acting, stilted dialog and formica character development. And yet I found Witchblade fun. Not good, but fun.
Don't worry if you disagree. Feel free to write (politely), but none of this is meant to be taken very seriously anyhow.
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