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Almost everybody likes a good science fiction flick. Over the years there have been some real classics - The Day the Earth Stood Still; The Thing; 2001: A Space Odyssey; and many others. Television was slow to cash in on science fiction; The Twilight Zone was a big hit, but very few other shows of the genre were successful. One reason was probably the lack of special effects technology in the early days, another was a dearth of decent scripts. Then came Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek broke the barrier for good science fiction. It proved that an eager audience was out there, waiting for something to tease their imagination. By today's standards, Trek was pretty crude, but in 1966 it was truly cutting edge. The show only lasted three years, but ran forever in syndication, and spawned a string of movies (the most recent released in 2009). And of course there were spinoffs, the best of which, in my opinion, was Star Trek: The Next Generation. Many good shows followed; Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5, The X-Files... and a host of not-sogood ones. The "Sci-Fi" channel was established, providing an unending stream of movies and series throughout the broadcast day. Unfortunately, most of it was bad. Stuck In A Rut Apparently, when it comes to sf ("sf" is the abbreviation used by serious writers of science fiction...anyone who says "sci-fi" is immediately flagged as an amateur), Hollywood had no imagination. Many shows that began with promise quickly devolved into the same old trap - space aliens and monsters. While there have been a few really good shows involving aliens and monsters (Alien, The Predator, Terminator), most of them are pitifully lacking. They sometimes work well in movies, but in episodic TV they quickly become deadly boring, which probably accounts for the failures of such shows as SeaQuest DSV. If you can't write an entertaining script that doesn't include a monster, then you don't have much of a TV show. Many shows that offered promise in the initial episodes failed because they couldn't break the paradigm of cheap monsters or hostile aliens with superior technology (which, somehow, the good guys always managed to defeat at the last moment).


Yawn. And if it wasn't monsters, it was some kind of demon. What is this fascination with the supernatural? Surprisingly, several movies that featured supernatural bad guys have done quite well. Personally I can't imagine anything less thrilling than a "supernatural thriller". But that's me. The Trouble With Science Fiction The reason most of us like science fiction is that it presents us with stories that stretch our imagination. I learned most of what I know about astronomy and space travel from reading sf as a kid. The big names of the day were often scientists in their own right, and they knew what they were writing about (even though much of it was still theory). They presented us with scenarios that were great fun, and we still remember them fondly. Unfortunately, most of those who followed, especially in the visual media, just weren't very good. For every George Lucas and Michael Crichton there were a hundred or a thousand hack writers, producers, and directors who were more concerned with visual effects than storytelling. Their movies seemed more dependent on breakthroughs in computer animation than solid writing. As a result, we got more movies with monsters, aliens, and supernatural bad guys. Even Gene Roddenberry, whom many consider the godfather of modern TV sf, often bogged down in the mire. His best series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, didn't really take off until after he died, when his writers suddenly found the freedom to create. The final three years of that series were spectacular. But even the best of these, from Stargate to Dark Angel, had one overwhelming Achilles heel they just couldn't get away from aliens and monsters. A New Era? Until 2004. It took Ronald D. Moore to break the next barrier. With the introduction of the new Battlestar Galactica, Moore went where no producer had ever gone before. He eschewed monsters, gadgets, and gimmicks in favor of creating a series about people! For perhaps the first time, science fiction took on a dramatic quality that had been missing for decades. While the show featured spectacular CGI effects, the scripts were not about monsters, aliens, or supernatural villains, but people. Human beings, caught up in a cosmic tragedy. Even the Cylons, whom we remembered from the original series as a race of machines, were suddenly made flesh and blood, and we sympathized with them. The result? BSG was the biggest success in TV sf since the original Star Trek. And the new series, Caprica (scheduled to debut in 2010), promises more of the same. Hopefully, Battlestar Galactica will signal the beginning of a new era in sf. Give us more science fictions shows with human interest and tone down the monsters a bit. You can still use CGI, but use it with a well written script this time.


What novelty that will be!

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