Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Politics in Science Fiction-Part Two

So yesterday I wrote about four examples of the intrusion of politics into movies, examples that are, I admit, based on my own foggy memory and maybe strained interpretation of four movies. Each of the first three gives an example of a specific kind of intrusion:

Avatar is a movie made by a political person. It is steeped in his view of the world. You can't have Avatar without also being exposed to the moviemaker's politics. In short, Avatar is a kind of propaganda and not truly a work of art. 

War of the Worlds has political commentary inserted in it. The commentary could just as easily have been left out and the movie would still stand. In fact, the moviemakers should have listened to some old advice--"If you want to send a message, use Western Union"--and left it out. Maybe then their movie wouldn't have died in the middle.

Gravity has the opposite problem: it self-consciously (or not) left something out that should have been in there. At its root, that was a political decision, whether the moviemakers realized it or not. The result was a movie that turned out to be about little more than sensation and spectacle.

Finally, Star Trek Into Darkness is just a mess--and in lots of ways. Instead of getting in over their heads by trying to make a political thriller, the moviemakers should have just made some other kind of film. (1) Instead of making a movie set in the future but about the ephemeral (and forgettable) political issues of 2013, they should have made something that will still be watchable in twenty or fifty years.

I don't mean to suggest that movies should be for entertainment only and that there should never be any political content or commentary in them. But moviemakers should not make propaganda, or hit people over the head with their messages, or make their characters do or not do things for the moviemakers' own reasons, or otherwise make their movies serve their own political purposes instead of making them works of art. If you want to see a movie where political content serves the purposes of storytelling, you might try Doctor Zhivago (1965), a beautifully made and uplifting film about love and perseverance against a nightmarish political situation. Or, if you prefer science fiction in which politics serves art, try THX-1138 (1971) or Logan's Run (1976), both of which are--like Doctor Zhivago--about love and freedom. (2)

(1) They should have learned a lesson from the original television show, in which the most overtly political or (religious) episodes--"The Omega Glory" or "Bread and Circuses"--were so weak.
(2) All three movies are also about Dystopia, Doctor Zhivago at its founding, Logan's Run at its destruction, and THX-1138 about escape from it.

Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

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