May 12, 2012

Horror, Comedy and SciFi in the Woods?

Please kill me so I can get out of this movie.
This is the third in a series about science fiction films in 2012.  

Full disclosure: I've never seen a horror movie that I liked, and thankfully I've only seen parts of some on television. I don't understand people who pay $ to watch fantasy torture, dismemberment and cannibalism. More to the point, I have a problem with the concept of "science fiction horror", particularly when it involves aliens traveling vast distances between the stars in an attempt to provide movie-goers with chills and a fright. I'm trying an experiment aimed at testing if I can get over my disinterest in horror: I've started working on a science fiction story that includes human sacrifice. I'm still in a personal mental space where I prefer thought-stimulating mystery over fright-inducing surprises.

I imagined that The Cabin in the Woods is a horror story...on Earth...with no alien invaders....the story taking place in our time....that is to say, not SciFi.  I was recently surprised to see it described as a science fiction story.

Fox, I am your father.
So, there are some dudes using pheromones and other pseudoscientific tricks to manipulate the behavior of people...and make them suffer horrifying deaths....and that makes The Cabin in the Woods science fiction?

The X-Files. I've long thought of the aliens in The X-Files as being the least competent alien invaders in the history of Hollywood. However, since I dislike alien invasion stories, I am pleased that the vast incompetence of the alien "Colonists" actually made The X-Files a non-invasion story. I suppose it was a huge budget reduction to have so many X-Files episodes where they only had to buy cigarettes for the CSM rather than pay the costs of generating CGI aliens. I like SciFi stories about aliens who collaborate with some humans while keeping their existence secret from most people on Earth (see Exodemic Fictional Universe), so The X-Files is of interest to me, and I've even written some X-files fan fiction. However, many of the X-File episodes strike me as being more oriented towards fantasy and horror than science fiction.

If the Syndicate had no interaction with alien invaders, if they were just a super-duper-secret organization that was trying to placate mysterious subterranean "ancients" by trying to create human-version-2.0 in a genetic engineering lab on a Hollywood backlot then would The X-Files be counted as science fiction? If The Cabin in the Woods were just a variant of The Truman Show where Joss Whedon and a gang of Hollywood ca$h $ucking millionaire$ were killing kids for fun and profit then would it count as science fiction? I think not.

Die, virgins, I'm saving the world.
I've never seen The Cabin in the Woods, but my understanding is that it functions as a meta-horror story where it is imagined that all the blood and gore of Hollywood horror stories can be blamed on a mysterious "ancient being" who demands human sacrifices. Sigourney Weaver is there to keep the blood flowing and so prevent The End Of The World. Ta Da! Yuk yuk.

The meta-horror premiss of The Cabin in the Woods reminds me of the story Jokester where Isaac Asimov had fun with the idea that humor only existed as part of human culture because it was an experiment being performed by aliens. Question: could The Cabin in the Woods have depicted the idiocy of horror films as being caused by space aliens and, in so doing, firmly established itself as a science fiction film? I think not. If you leave the source of evil as a fantasy "ancient one" then it does not have to make any sense.

Fuller disclosure. I've never watched Buffy, Firefly or Serenity. If you throw a spaceship into a space western story does that really make you a science fiction writer?

Wagon train to the stars
Even fuller disclosure. I have a personal problem with the boundary between fantasy and science fiction....and the boundary between horror and science fiction...and the boundary between westerns and science fiction. My problem is that, for me, horror and fantasy and other genres like westerns are oil to science fiction's water. I say: please do not mix!

I'm fascinated by people such as Joss Whedon who have no trouble mixing and combining elements of fantasy, horror, westerns and science fiction, but I'm an advocate for bringing to the big screen more thought-provoking science fiction adventure stories that make sense of the universe and humanity's place in it.

I'm not happy when I'm subjected to science fiction that is written by people who 1) do not understand science, 2) have no interest in the revolution in discovery, exploration and understanding that defines our scientific age and 3) just want to throw in a random spaceship or other technological wizbanger into a story as part of an effort to advance and $ell an otherwise tired old plot.

Some science fiction is just a fun and creative story set in an imagined future. If I actually took the time to watch Firefly I might find that I adore the cast and stories and I might be satisfied. That is a bit of a fantasy because as a science fiction fan I've never been satisfied by any SciFi television show. Some episodes of Star Trek fascinated me when I was 12 years old (example), but then I started reading science fiction and, in my opinion, television has never managed to do justice to science fiction.

They should have sent a poet.
Picky, picky, picky. You might ask if any science fiction from Hollywood has ever satisfied me. I'm fairly happy with the way that Carl Sagan's Contact turned out. Sagan's story provided a combination of discovery (SETI and first contact) and big questions, particularly, 1) where is everyoneRobert Zemeckis took a story written by a scientist and Ann Druyan and gave it some big screen magic while retaining the flavor of Sagan's original vision.

My largest complaint about Contact is that Sagan was never able to give us a sequel that would have explored the second big question that was explored in the novel by Sagan: 2) could there be scientific evidence to support the idea that the universe was created by intelligent design? I think there is a waiting opportunity for creation of a Contact television series that would build on the 1997 film.

2012. I'm pleased that horror fans were treated to a clever horror movie (The Cabin in the Woods) and that comedy science fiction fans will be getting another dose of Men in Black this Summer (update: MIB3 is out...see my blog post). It is nice that many comics fans are luxuriating in The Avengers (but see this view: "sound and fury, signifying nothing" from just beyond the theatrical moshpit of the fanboys). I'm still waiting for a science fiction miracle: that Hollywood might release a movie this year with an interesting SciFi story about human-alien interactions. I'm not holding my breath.

What interests me most about The Cabin in the Woods is that at a meta-meta-level it is a "critique of what we love and what we don't about horror movies". I think comic and horror fans have a fighting chance of seeing satisfying films in their favorite genres if there are people creating those films who love and understand the genres. I'd like to see that happen for science fiction. Sagan and Zemeckis showed that it is theoretically possible to put intellectually-stimulating science fiction on the big screen without needing to throw in some absurd alien invasion or other tired old Hollywood plot device. It is sad that Sagan seems to have been a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, someone who understood science and science fiction and how to use media like television and film to edify and entertain. It would have been fun if Sagan had lived into the internet age...maybe he could have been a force for meaningful change in how Hollywood looks at science fiction.


Continue to part four of John's Summer 2012 Search for Interesting Hollywood Aliens:
Aliens in Drag

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