back to article 1980s sci-fi movies: The thrill of being not quite terrified on mum's floral sofa

2017 saw two major cinematic milestones of different extremes. One was the mega release of Blade Runner 2049, the originally unplanned sequel to, yes, Blade Runner. The other was the more overlooked anniversary of the vastly smaller Tron. Blade Runner 2049 review: Scott's vision versus Villeneuve's skill READ MORE They were a …

Anonymous Coward

Re: CGI is killing sci-fi

but a sci-fi movie has not to be an horror movie.

Still parsing that sentence.

BTW, why does everyone think Alien was sci-fi, not horror?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: CGI is killing sci-fi

CGI isn't killing films it's weak directors with big egos using it to fill in the gaps they've created.

Or in the case of Michael Bay, it's all he's got going for him.

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Re: CGI is killing sci-fi

"Because we forget all the shit that was made back in the day - and only remember the good stuff. "

Completely this.

Prior to about 1975, the highest-grossing film every year was a Western. Usually, the top 5 highest-grossing films of each year were. It was never even close; Westerns completely dominated cinema for about fifty years.

Near enough all of those highest-grossing Westerns have been completely forgotten. A few decent ones are remembered, but a genre of cinema which often out-produced all other genres put together has been basically reduced to half a dozen 'classic' movies and a huge amount of forgotten dross.

The current age of sci fi is much the same; there was a lot of shite sci fi in the 1980s which has been quietly forgotten (Howard the Duck, anyone?) and there's a lot of shite sci fi currently which will also be forgotten.

Looking back at history, if you get two genuinely good movies in a year, then that's actually pretty exceptional.

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Re: CGI is killing sci-fi

Question: Was Ender's Game essentially unfilmable? Or did they just screw it up? I loved that book, must re-read it and see if it's still as good.

Just finished reading the Ender books for about the seventh time. They improve on every reading. If you haven't read 'Speaker of the Dead', 'Xenocide' or 'Children of the Mind' then I would recommend you do. These books are actually better than Ender's Game.

As for your question - yes I think Ender;s Game was unfilmable. So much of the story is based on what is going on in Ender's mind, his motivation and feelings. These didn't come over in the film and I don't know how you would successfully translate this to film. Watching the film is like peering through a dirty window. You see some of what is going on but miss the true clarity.

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Re: CGI is killing sci-fi

"Watching the film is like peering through a dirty window. You see some of what is going on but miss the true clarity."

And even the book is like an unnecessary extended cut of the truly amazing short story. He only wrote the book so he could write sequels. And we'll never know whether the true motivation behind *that* is whether he "wanted to write sequels" or "wanted to pay his electric bill". It's a short, intense, psychological horror story with some great action scenes that are also largely great because they are psychological and strategic. As spectacle it fails.

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Re: CGI is killing sci-fi

@tekHedd

If I understand correctly "Speaker for the Dead" (first book of the Speaker Trilogy) was the first book planned but Card wanted to pad out Ender's character first - hence "Ender's Game" so while you're right, he only wrote the book so he could write sequels, I don't think it was done as cynically as some authors.

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Re: CGI is killing sci-fi

@ Naselus:

"Looking back at history, if you get two genuinely good movies in a year, then that's actually pretty exceptional."

That is Sturgeon`s principle: "90% of everything is crud". He meant it regarding submissions as an editor who started in the "golden years" of scifi, but it applies to almost everything in media IMHO..

One of the problems with book sources for inspiration is another old maxim " a thing has within it, that which the viewer brings means of seeing". Imagination is needed to flesh out the missing bits.

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Re: CGI is killing sci-fi

I am just old enough so that I can remember my Dad taking me to the first Star Wars all those years ago. What I see comparing those distant memories to today is this; Once kids went with their parents to see a film that was made for both and now it's kids taking their parents to see a film made for kids. The Last Jedi and the Force Awakens have only had good reviews from people I know who took their kids and their kids loved them.

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Re: CGI is killing sci-fi

I dunno, I can enjoy a film that's just for kids if it's done well. I really enjoy the Despicable Me films. I seem to be in a minority that really liked the 3rd one but maybe I'm just the right age to get all the 80s references right down to the wallpaper.

But I also enjoyed the Cars and Planes films. Those were made for 6yr old boys with no concession to adults (except Cars 2 it sucked).

My son was bored at Last Jedi. I liked the last two Disney SW films. The Force Awakens was just a homage for Ep4 but that was ok because it was done pretty well. Rogue One I really enjoyed, I think it's one of the better SW films ever made, up there with Empire. Last Jedi was just disappointing, it was a beautiful film with a terrible story.

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Angel

Re: CGI is killing sci-fi

In my opinion Dick's best book is A Scanner Darkly - which is magnificently paranoid and twisted. Also an excellent film.

Philip K. Dick did epic amounts of LSD and other psychotropic chemicals - as did many of the creative people of his generation (Maybe there should be a logartimic "Shulgin scale" to quantify what "a lot" is).

I think being smashed out of ones head during working hours, inspired quite a few of the more visually stunning / intriguing stories and for Philip K. Dick drugs definitely created many of those story lines exploring common difficulties in figuring out what objective reality is and who it applies to, and of course the general paranoia.

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Mushroom

"BTW, why does everyone think Alien was sci-fi, not horror?"

Alien was a horror movie.

Aliens an action movie,

The less said about Alien 3 the better.

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Re: CGI is killing sci-fi

"When special effects were difficult and expensive, directors had to fill the time between them with a story..."

I find the same with today's video games- flashy sounds and graphics, and boring, basic gameplay. Back when sounds and graphics were primitive, the developers had to put the effort into the gameplay.

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Re: CGI is killing sci-fi

Moon is a cracking film. Can't wait for Mute to be released. ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1464763/ )

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FIA
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Re: CGI is killing sci-fi

I dunno, I can enjoy a film that's just for kids if it's done well.[...]

Me too.

I remember as a kid reading Roald Dahl autobiography and he made the point that he used to just write for kids like they were adults with less experience. All the best 'kids' stuff is written in this way IMHO.

My son was bored at Last Jedi.

For me, this is where they went wrong with The Last Jedi, as far as I'm concerned Star Wars films are for kids, and they should be. Any film in the main 'canon' should first and foremost be a film for kids. I don't mean it shouldn't be enjoyable by adults, but that the underlying thrust of the film should be a fight between good and evil.

Use the supporting films to tell the more adult side of the story, or to explore the moral grey areas that occur. Rogue One isn't a kids film, yet as a kid who grew up with Star Wars it's probably the best SW film since Empire. (And I say that who doesn't blanket hate the first 3).

The latest SW flick felt like it was trying to explore the shades of grey aspect whilst still maintaining the good/evil thing too; which for me didn't work. You had a random bad guy who just seemed to exist to be killed by the angst ridden new bad guy. (I mean seriously... if the galaxy didn't learn from the Emperor and let wassisface rise to power, maybe it doesn't deserve to be 'saved'*; but then that would imply he had a tangable back story).

This is why the force awakens made me feel a bit sorry for Lucas too, he may have ham fistedly tried to tell his origin story, but at least he told a story. After Ep VII I left the cinema thinking 'Wow, that was great' but by the time I'd got to the car and thought about it a bit more, realised I'd been conned with some shiny rose tinted FX and a 'feeling'.

* I mean seriously, I get building a big space laser because it got blown up... but to do it 3 times.... Fool me once... and all that....

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Re: "BTW, why does everyone think Alien was sci-fi, not horror?"

Alien 3 walked all over the ending of Aliens so I can understand the hate it gets, but taken on its own terms it's pretty good.

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While modern CGI can be entirely convincing

Like Princess Leia in Rogue1? The autopsy scene in Carpenters The Thing was stomach churning, gross and awesome, the CGI in The Thing '11 was laughable. Apart from CGI spaceships (which always look amazeballs) and the CGI bugs in 97s Starship Troopers it mostly takes me out of the movie.

The recent Apes movies were excellent, the CGI was almost perfect, but it's the almost that takes me out of the story and leaves me marvelling at the FX.

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almost

the CGI was almost perfect, but it's the almost that takes me out of the story

Me too. I find the visual artefacts of modern CGI just as distracting as puppet strings and latex animatronics. If the plot or characters are strong enough to motivate me to suspend disbelief then the FX quality isn't that important. Good FX won't rescue a bad film but a good film can carry weak FX.

I can;t think of a film carried mostly or wholly by cinematography that wasn't live action or visually stylised enough not to be trying to create a live action simulacrum

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Chz

Re: almost

"If the plot or characters are strong enough to motivate me to suspend disbelief then the FX quality isn't that important."

See also: Farscape. Though I kinda like the muppets, the effects in Farscape are really only a step up from "laughable". And yet it works.

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monkey business

The recent Apes movies were excellent, the CGI was almost perfect, but it's the almost that takes me out of the story and leaves me marvelling at the FX

I think quite a bit of the CGI for the Apes movies is based on live action motion capture, so likely to be more convincing than some other CGI which is, let's face it, like watching a cartoon

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Re: almost

> I can;t think of a film carried mostly or wholly by cinematography that wasn't live action or visually stylised enough not to be trying to create a live action simulacrum

So you're asking us to name a film that was:

a) filmed, and not a cartoon (the cinematography bit)

b) not live action

c) not re-creating live action?

That boils down to a pretty short list of films, the most famous of which is probably Koyaanisqatsi. Is that what you meant?

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MJI
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Re: almost

Farscape = upvote

Excellent series

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Re: almost

The other one I had in mind, after not spending very long thinking about it, was Le Quattro Volte. I was also interested to hear of anyone else's examples or counter-examples

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Re: monkey business

I think quite a bit of the CGI for the Apes movies is based on live action motion capture, so likely to be more convincing than some other CGI which is, let's face it, like watching a cartoon

Well, Andy Serkis is a convincing actor.

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The uncanny valley is strong. It's like adjusting the resonance of a filter--the closer you get, the deeper and more horrifying that chasm becomes. You just have to meet some real people who are totaly lying losers inside to they point they have abandoned their humanity, to see that even casting a real human body in the role does not eliminate the horror. If you slip up on even one tiny element of the humanity, it becomes a monster.

Oh god Rogue One. I know a guy who keeps describing it as a "good movie." Like, in those terms. Really.

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Re: almost

Farscape = upvote Excellent series

Good, but its no Firefly

Firefly is best sci fi series ever , hands down . IMHO of course . Me and the other cult members.

Firefly also sums up the above discussion on FX - so much actual character development and storylines that the fx are secondary , not and adequately not distracting.

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Re: almost

So, you favourite SciFi series in Firefly, and yet your name is from H2G2.

Hmmm. Irony.

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Re: monkey business

I think quite a bit of the CGI for the Apes movies is based on live action motion capture, so likely to be more convincing than some other CGI which is, let's face it, like watching a cartoon.

Most CGI characters are created using motion capture. If it looks like a cartoon it's probably just Keanu Reeves wearing the reflective dots. (Andy Serkis can't be everywhere at once.)

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Resolution, resolution, resolution

Resolution, resolution, resolution—the mantra of screen real estate. The article is interesting for its nod to the influence of video, but misses a significant point: how have the increasing, and arguably unforgiving advances in screen resolution affected the required standards of SFX?

Sure, cinema had always offered vastly better resolution than your TV screen, but it was, as the article, said, a transient experience. You got to see the Thing morph into a disembodied organ, or Jeff Goldblum curiously rip off bits of his body, only *once*, then and there, and you couldn't ask the projectionist to rewind the reel for loving frame-by-frame inspection. The pace of the story, clever cutting and camera angles, even the composer's score to distract you—it all helped the SFX to bite you on the emotional arse and then move on, quickly, before you could raise critical faculties to make judgements on shiny latex, unconvincing red jelly, or jerky stop-motion robometalskelebots.

VHS was low resolution, and arguably was kinder than cinema to the SFX: the "problem" of high resolution really kicked in with Blu-Ray and HD broadcasting. It wasn't just that actors and presenters began to worry even more about their makeup, concerned that—oh, horror!—pores were now visible: it was the SFX guys too, realising that they had fewer and yet fewer places to hide.

If personal (i.e. outside the cinema) screen resolution had remained low, I wonder: would CGI and SFX technology have developed with the urgency and pace that it has? Answers in a freeze-frame please ...

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Re: Resolution, resolution, resolution

Yes. I think the effect resolution had on the speed of CGI development was by and large zero, much as the number of people who study any movie frame-by-frame - while yes they do exist, they are not even a blip on Hollywood's radar of concerns.

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Re: Resolution, resolution, resolution

Resolution is bullshit snake oil.

You dont need a 4k tv. You sure as hell dont need a 1080p smartphone.

How can "HD" be the standard for both a 50" TV and a 3" smartphone?

The only resolution you need to worry about is what your eyes can detect, and at what distance.

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Re: Resolution, resolution, resolution

I once went to a talk by Doug Trumbull (yes, the one mentioned in the article - Siggraph 94 IIRC), and he was asking for 16kx16k resolution for IMax (specifically, the Back to the Future ride at Universal, again IIRC). So resolution is important, it just needs to be applied in the right place.

1080p is not necessary on a smartphone.

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Sci-Fi is now Sci-reality

I've always loved Sci-Fi. As someone who was born (just) before the first satellite was launched, I spent the late 60s and 70s hooked on SF - mainly the space-opera type - Asimov, Larry Niven etc.

But now it's fast becoming fact. My PC (hah - Personal computer - who'd uv ever imagined those?) now displays a photograph of Pluto, taken from not-very-far-away. Another lappie has a photo of sunrise over an alien landscape - Mars. Rich Americans are building and launching their own massive rockets. Space probes from Earth have left the Solar System. There have been humans living off the planet, pretty well continuously, for 30+ years.

What's the next exciting step?

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Re: Sci-Fi is now Sci-reality

And these have only been first steps, when SpaceX Falcon Heavy gets going we'll have an electric car in orbit around Mars for starters, but actual space exploration isn't going to be that far behind - just think what could be found on the Red Planet; A giant ice thawing machine left by ancients?, a cluster of pod-like eggs that open up?, Matt Damon?

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Re: Sci-Fi is now Sci-reality

> What's the next exciting step?

Flying cars, of course. :-)

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Re: Sci-Fi is now Sci-reality

"What's the next exciting step?"

No idea, but while I absolutely admire all those things you mention, I reserve getting excited to when we have humans going again farther that one earth diameter in any direction. Which is another way of saying "not expected to happen in my lifetime"* **.

* Please consider that starry-eyed (but conspicuously non-committal) plans for space-this-and-that in "10 to 15 years" are just a polite way of saying "fuggedaboutit any time soon, and certainly nowhere near in the mentioned timeframe".

** The Chinese might just prove me wrong yet. Or not. The others - nope: no financial incentive.

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Re: Sci-Fi is now Sci-reality

What's the next exciting step?

Collapse of society. Resource war. famine. Water shortages. Bandits. zero fuel. no food. Throwing your principals and morality out of the window or be killed.

possibly with nuclear fallout thrown in for extra lulz.

Sorry , thats way I see it . We've gone as far as we're gonna go.

I really hope I'm wrong and its flying cars and robot butlers though.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sci-Fi is now Sci-reality

What's the next exciting step?

Autonomous Kill-Bots roaming the land looking for "terrorists" - the definition of which is quite dependent on who commissioned them and send them off to roam the land?

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Re: Sci-Fi is now Sci-reality

Collapse of society. Resource war. famine. Water shortages. Bandits. zero fuel. no food. Throwing your principals and morality out of the window or be killed.

So you're a Mad Max fan, huh?

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Happy

Lovely lovely Sci-Fi.

Tripods, Chocky, Children of the Dog Star, "Benji, Zax & the Alien Prince", The Tomorrow People, all squarely aimed at kids, and in some cases quite dark (Chocky, I'm looking at you...). Knights of God was my first proper Dystopia, and the bastards never released it officially....

But then we got some proper trippy stuff. Manimal. Automan (not at *all* trying to be Tron). And the action sets (Airwolf, Knight Rider, Street Hawk). And big budget sci-fi, like "V", in all its latex goodness. It even had Freddy Kruger hiding in it.

What I want to see (properly restored) is "The Highwayman". That was proper, classic, dystopian cheese (with added Jane Badler, of V fame)....

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You are one of the very few people I've come across either online or IRL that remembers Manimal and Automan (which actually I always thought of as "reverse-Tron").

Have a pint on me :)

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The first rule of Manimal and Automan is you don't talk about Manimal and Automan.

Also you don't talk about Series 4 of Airwolf.

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I think the pic used in the article is actually Automan, not Tron :)

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Anonymous Coward

You are one of the very few people I've come across either online or IRL that remembers Manimal

That's because we've spent the intervening time trying to forget.

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Hmm, I've always thought of Tomorrow People as trippy with mushroom influence, while Manimal & Automan were clearly done under the influence of white powder....

Northstar freaked me right out though, argghhh his pulsating brain is going to blow....

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The first rule of Manimal and Automan is you don't talk about Manimal and Automan.

Also you don't talk about Series 4 of Airwolf.

There wasn't a Series 4 of Airwolf. No! There wasn't! LaLaLaLaLa I can't hear you.....

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"Tripods, Chocky, Children of the Dog Star, "Benji, Zax & the Alien Prince", The Tomorrow People, all squarely aimed at kids, "

Was there much decent kids SF TV in the US at that time or was it all aimed at older ones and the kids stuff was call a bit camp and comefyish? That's my impression if the US imports I saw at the time.

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Trollface

Okay, I'm not entirely sure about this - will admitting that I remember reading Street Hawk get me or cost my nerd card..?

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MJI
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Highway Man

I remember that, one of the first series I watched in stereo (NICAM).

There is no way that a Helicopter Lorry cross is not cool.

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I think the pic used in the article is actually Automan, not Tron :)

I think the pic is from The Lawnmower Man, isn't it?

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Anonymous Coward

Also you don't talk about Series 4 of Airwolf.

Jan-Michael Vincent must have been a reasonable actor - after all, he appeared to be mainly NOT drunk in the show.

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