In the sci-fi classic 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still, aliens Klaatu, who takes human form, and Gort, a robot, come to Earth in an attempt to talk to Earth’s leaders during the height of the Cold War. It is only at the end of the film that the message of the film comes forward. Klaatu says that humans must learn to interact with each other in nonviolent terms, which makes sense for the Cold War era. This is perhaps the reason why the original 1951 version of this story has become a classic and exhibits the first example of Science Fiction having a purpose beyond the pure entertainment. In the sub-par 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still the message of international cooperation was changed to the idea that we need to combat Global Warming, although this is not explicitly stated as “Global Warming” in the film. Although this film was a disappointment, it did further the conversation we movie goers have as we are leaving the theater, which Science Fiction does. A successful film that has also established a very clear message to the audience has been the massively successful James Cameron film Avatar. The film has environmental commentary that gives the feeling that the film has a “green” agenda. When I think of the genre of Science Fiction’s purpose is to critique the current society that which we live in. In the last couple of years, I think that Science Fiction has lost its voice and purpose.
There are plenty of examples of Sci-Fi films that critique society, with the most biting probably going to Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 film Elysium starring Matt Damon. The premise of this particular film is that over a hundred years from now, the rich can live almost infinitely because they have the best healthcare on a space station called Elysium, where the main character Max, played by Damon, wants to go after he has been exposed to bad radiation at his place of work. I will not ruin the ending but suffice it to say that this film is the perfect example of what Science Fiction’s mission is, which I have stated above, to expose societal problems for the rest of humanity to talk about and possibly change the world for the better. With this in mind, I do feel that the rest of the Science Fiction genre has moved away from this mission, with Hollywood changing the idea to more profitable measures.
The continuing of the very profitable and popular Star Wars saga has been a welcome sight for many people, including myself. Unfortunately, this has meant that films such as Elysium and others including the new film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which I will get to eventually, have had to take a back seat to Star Wars, which I consider to be Sci-Fi lite. It does have good themes like the fight against light and dark but it does not have social commentary or as much as one who is a sci fi purist would want in a film like this. In order for these films to have the widest possible audience, these movies need to be light on the social commentary that other sci-fi films have had, so as to not upset certain types of people in this very polarized world. Since the series is produced by the Disney Corporation, the fact that these films can have a PG-13 rating is already very controversial, not to mention other imagery that the Corporation has This is shown in The Force Awakens, the 7th film in the series with the mild imagery of the villains, the First Order, having a rally that evokes the imagery of the Nazis. This is a safe image to make in the film because most people know or should know that the Nazis were terrible. It is not controversial at all and does not push the envelope like other Science Fiction films do.
It does not help that Science Fiction movies and tv shows have a small but dedicated audience, which I consider myself to a part of. Star Wars already has a built in audience that it has established from the 1970’s until now, so they have no problem raising the amount of money that it has grossed over time. If Star Wars did not have this, they probably could not continue to make films as expensive as The Force Awakens, which was made for a very sizable two hundred and forty-five million dollars. It is probably because sci-fi does not speak to a universal audience like Star Wars does, that the state of Science Fiction is on a tricky trail. An example of this would-be Luc Besson’s 2017 film Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets. The film, who’s budget rivals The Force Awakens does seem to have the social commentary of international cooperation shown through interspecies collaboration on a space station that continues to grow. The French film should have been a hit with audiences because of its great visuals but because of a lackluster critical response among many other factors, the film has gone down as a complete bust for all involved, especially Besson who is known as a sci-fi pioneer because of his previous venture in the genre with The Fifth Element, a modern classic.
I am not saying that Star Wars is not a great film series, it is in fact one of my favorite. The only thing that it is lacking for it to be up there as one of the best of the genre is the idea of it challenging or critiquing something in our current society. It feels like it is just playing it safe to appease the mass audiences. Audiences need to challenged to think about what they think about the current society. Without this, movies are not living up to its potential.