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C'mon Hollywood: Tighten up your science fiction characters (and logic)!

08.13.2013

SPOILER WARNING: Details of this year’s OBLIVION, PACIFIC RIM, and ELYSIUM will be discussed here. Proceed at your own peril (this includes images).

Last year, a little movie called PROMETHEUS came out, an anxiously anticipated sci-fi prequel to the ALIEN franchise, directed by Ridley Scott. Fans rabidly awaited its release, and when it finally arrived, they were divided. Although it had all the usual trimmings of a beautifully shot Ridley Scott film, it lacked in two very important aspects: character and logic. Now, I enjoyed PROMETHEUS for it’s ambiguity, which was a turn off for many, but can’t defend the actions of the onscreen scientists (the best money could buy), which was insulting, inconsistent, and just plain stupid. It was my hope that these glaring issues would be noted by Hollywood and that they would proceed in a way that wouldn’t repeat those mistakes, essentially tightening up their game.

Oh, naïve little me. Really, I had no such thoughts. I knew they’d go and screw the pooch again (and again…), but that didn’t stop me from hoping I’d get some decent follow-ups to the genre in the future (natch). And so, I set my sights on what 2013 had to offer, most notably, the big budget romps of OBLIVION, PACIFIC RIM, and ELYSIUM. So did Hollywood learn from the mistakes of PROMETHEUS with those entries? The answer ranges from “f*ck no” to “kinda-sorta,” but it’s definitely not a resounding  “hell yes.”

For some reason or another, someone is under the assumption that flashy objects are enough to distract the average moviegoer from noticing the little things, like, y’know…detail. It’s not that every sci-fi film has to achieve perfection or be as intricately woven as a Hitchcockian thriller, but there are some glaring issues that continue to repeat themselves in the genre of late, which fall squarely on character and logic.

For OBLIVION, I felt that Tom Cruise did his usual solid job as Tom Cruise in a different setting (let’s face it, the guy excels at being himself) and I thought co-stars Andrea Riseborough and Olga Kurylenko did a fine job as well. But then, you have this other set of characters, the Scavs, who come in the form of Morgan Freeman, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and a bunch of folks we learn nothing about. After we discover the secrets of the main characters, it makes it that much more essential that we care who these guys are, since they are what’s left of humanity. Yet, we never do, and the movie feels somewhat cold as a result.

When it comes to PACIFIC RIM, a movie I’ve seen twice in the theater, the characters come off mostly as pieces on a chess board rather than people we are supposed to care about, particularly Charlie Hunnam’s character. I’m a fan of Hunnam, but he simply wasn’t given much more to do than be an insubordinate and defiant lead. His struggle is minimal, even after the loss of his brother in the beginning, because we still don’t know anything about him. Why is he a pilot? What does he want? Why does he want it? Simple back story stuff can solve that, but the majority is given to Rinko Kikuchi, whose character is set-up with a tremendous challenge to overcome (her fear and hatred of the Kaiju), but she barely scratches the surface of achieving an arc, instead opting to pass out each time she finally gets the chance. Work with me, here people!

For ELYSIUM, forget about the obvious eye-rolling social commentary, as that’s got its own set of unrealized issues, but the main problem is that we’re meant to believe that the whole planet is basically a Rio de Janeiro slum, even though the only place we ever see is Los Angeles. We see nothing of the rest of the world to really signify why people would want to live on some floating space station other than one shitty-looking locale. The stakes are too low for what we are shown.

That’s small potatoes to the biggest issue, though, which is the device that drives the film. No, not the exoskeleton or the supreme badass awesomeness that is Sharlto Copley as Kruger, but the magic machine that just cures people (ironically, much like the surgery machine in PROMETHEUS). There’s no explanation as to how this machine works (hey, it’s magic! Magic fiction!), but it can cure everything from cancer to your face literally being blown off. It also makes no sense that they would have such a thing on a floating space station and not on Earth, let alone why they’d hoard it, when trillions could be made by using them on the home planet. So, everyone on ELYSIUM is a dick that doesn’t want to share? Come on.

ELYSIUM also suffers the same character issues, but mostly in the use of Jodie Foster, who basically shows up to talk tough, and…that’s about it. It could quite possibly be the biggest waste of an Oscar-winning actress so far this year.

The thing is, I enjoyed each of these movies. I really did. But, given the talent involved, the level of work that went into them, and the base ideas they begin with, the characters, logic, and general storylines needed to be pulled tighter to really capitalize on their potential, rather than just plod along. In the end, what we’ve gotten is three fun sci-fi flicks that kind of crumble from greatness, because simple things like character development and fully realized ideas fell to the wayside in the face of spectacle, which is a damn shame. I’m tired of Cliffs Notes sci-fi. I want the whole book.

What do you think? Is the genre pulling its weight for you or do you think it's getting lazy?

Hey, no matter how much I bitch, at least none of the films mentioned here come close to this...

Extra Tidbit: Who do you think is the most memorable sci-fi character of the last decade? Those that immediately come to mind are Riddick and Wikus (from District 9).
Source: JoBlo.com

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