Sunday, 21 February 2016

Recent Scifi film series - time to raise the bar?

You may have noticed the recent flurry of young adult scifi film series: Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent, etc. They all have four things in common: they're targeting the young adult (YA) population, they are all dystopian with humanity's hope resting in the hands of teenagers, and they are all science fiction. Of course older generations watch them as well, but they are tightly focused and marketed for the teenage population. What's going on? And I said four, right, and you were counting, weren't you? Bear with me...

A few years ago it was Twilight, Lord of the Rings, and the Hobbit, with Game of Thrones stealing the limelight on TV. There have also been a spate of Marvel and DC Comics films and spin-offs, from X-Men, Iron Man and Captain America, to Flash on TV. The past decade has been ruled by Fantasy, with notable  interruptions from the Scifi world like Prometheus and Gravity. The last big challenger on TV was Battlestar Galactica, on the screen the new (slipstream) Star Trek films. But is the tide now turning in favor of Science fiction? And is this a fad, or can it be sustained?

Ok, what's the fourth thing? No aliens. This is light, easy-to-swallow scifi. Young people can relate to the new film series because they are about the young being oppressed by more mature generations. That trope just never gets old, it's practically hardwired into our DNA!

So, there's a strategic choice facing Hollywood, other than quick money. It can either keep pumping out these kinds of series, and enjoy it while it lasts until Fantasy picks up again and takes over. Or, it can think longer term, and build on the appetite it is creating. First it has to accept a truth - people are not dumb, they're actually pretty smart. Which means they could graduate to more serious science fiction. That doesn't have to mean alien attacks and more dystopia, or even any aliens at all. But it does mean getting off Earth. It also means not settling everything with a fist-fight or more guns, and not building absolutely everything around a boy-girl relationship.

Some series are hard to translate on the screen - or rather, they used to be. But Gravity, Prometheus, and Avatar all show us that pretty much anything can be done now. So, why not turn back to Dune (again), or Rama, or Foundation? Those three book series not only sold millions of books, they converted people into long term scifi lovers.

So, Hollywood, listen up, because we're talking serious, long term return on investment here. You're creating a need, and not doing too bad a job of it. It's time to start planning long term, and moving to phase 2. Time to get more serious about science fiction...


  1. I also think a big reason YA books are big now, is that they're light reads. It's like watching a movie. They're all action, all plot.

    Our world is becoming more and more instant, more and more condensed. Novels are adapting too. The world of Tolkien is brilliant and makes the story of Divergent or etc. seem minuscule.

    Maybe people are starting to prefer lighter works?

    1. I agree. The top sellers in SF on Amazon are fairly light action-packed series of 7 or 11 episodes. Good for them, but I'm still a bit old school :-) but there are also some great series out there. I winder what Tolkein would write today, or Asimov...


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