As a lifelong fan and occasional writer of science fiction, I have always had a love/hate relationship with Hollywood’s idea of what makes a compelling genre film. Sometimes the filmmakers work with masters of the field, such as the collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke on “2001: A Space Odyssey” but that is rarely the case.
In most cases, filmmakers do not work closely with science fiction writers or they simply eschew the short stories and novels in favor of what they consider an “original vision” that almost inevitably borrows from superior fictional works. That also isn’t always the case, as is evidenced by Ridley Scott’s seminal adaption of Phillip K Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” retitled “Blade Runner.”
However, this article isn’t about the times Hollywood got it right. Below is a list of seven science fiction films so ridiculously awful they should have their own sub-genre. The basic criteria for these films was that the filmmakers apparently have no concept of what he or she was doing and, in the process, failed to even liven up the crappiness with some good old-fashioned self-conscious irony.
Pacific Rim- Guillermo del Toro seems to think he can do anything well just because he directed one of the better “Blade” films. His track record tells a different story, and nowhere is this more obvious than in his attempt at making an homage to Japanese kaiju films. Featuring flat performances, bad science, a listless plot and passionless action sequences, this is the one movie that proved Idris Elba isn’t good in everything.
Oblivion- Despite how some Americans might feel about him, science fiction and Tom Cruise are generally a winning combination. Not this time, though. “Oblivion” indulged in the sort of pretentious navel-gazing usually reserved for foreign films that are long on style and short on substance. The “story” is an overlong, convoluted mess featuring a lame pay-off that feels more like a time restraint inspired compromise than a revelation. Worst of all, it’s really little more than a shallow imitation of a superior, smaller budgeted film called “Moon” starring the criminally underrated Sam Rockwell.
Armageddon– There’s awful and then there’s “Michael Bay Gouge Your Own Eyes Out Awful.” At best, the film is an updated Irwin Allen disaster flick. At worst, it’s a Michael bay macho-thon with annoying one-liners, a ridiculous plot, and the crime of finding a way to make the great Steve Buscemi suck. The rah-rah writing is bad enough, but never once does it ever feel as if there’s any real danger, in spite of an almost spectacular meteorite strike on New York. Bruce Willis is wasted in this movie and the slow decline of Nineties Ben Affleck officially began.
Soldier- Paul W.S. Anderson makes Michael Bay look like Francis Ford Coppola, and that is no easy task. Where Bay seems to at least have fun with the fact that he isn’t making movies for critics, Anderson appears to have convinced himself that he can make serious genre films with a message. He has yet to do it, and “Soldier” has to be his lowest point. It’s uncertain how one can make such an awful film while pulling its plot right out of the Phillip K Dick and Robert Heinlein playbooks, but awful it is. Kurt Russell has about three lines in the film as his genetically bred soldier is forced into retirement after numerous campaigns. In some sort of bizarre attempt at a futuristic retelling of “Shane,” Anderson’s film is about our unnamed soldier befriending colonists on a planet that is about to be attacked by…yep, other soldiers. But at least Russell’s character learns to care at the end. Unfortunately, the audience didn’t.
Avatar– Smurfs in spaaaaaccccce! Sorry, people who like pretentious, self-congratulatory pabulum, but this is simply a terrible film. James Cameron began his slow slide into self-indulgence with the painful “Titanic” and here it’s on full display. Featuring possibly the most unlikable alien species to ever spend three hours grunting and barking, this is Cameron’s “Dances with Wolves” on a planet being exploited for a material known as “unobtanium.” A name that’s not only straight out of the most hackneyed pulp novels but also a misnomer since the humans can clearly obtain it. The acting is the only good thing about the film, although Cameron’s evil corporations versus squeaky clean manipulated good guys shtick has work thin by now. Plus there’s the whole communicating with the planet using ponytails thing. It’s heavy-handed pseudo-philosophical claptrap and should never have made it past the planning stages.
Prometheus- Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction was neither triumphant nor necessary, yet he went ahead and made an “unofficial” prequel to the overrated but still vastly superior “Alien.” Embracing every alien astronaut theory ever espoused by Van Daniken, this film purports to reveal the true origin of the human race through a mix of alien DNA in the primordial soup. That’s the first two minutes; the rest is spent on some dull expedition where flat, indistinguishable characters happen upon a ship similar to the one found in “Alien” and wacky antics ensue. Scott’s pretentiousness rivals James Cameron’s, which is probably why Cameron liked the movie so much.
Skyline- This is what happens when children are allowed to play with power tools. “Skyline” is quite possibly the worst movie to come out in a long time period . It plays with the “found footage” genre plotting style by opening with a party for an affluent white guy whose life is about to seriously go into overdrive, then tragedy strikes in the form of ugly spaceships in the sky and lots of ‘spolsions. Unlikable characters seem to be the order of the day in many movies these days, and this film doesn’t disappoint. It’s almost a relief when they die off one by one, with the African American naturally going first. The Latino character is a hostile sociopath and the females are all screaming twits. The script is so incredibly lowbrow it’s insulting to anyone who has ever seen another movie. It’s only saving grace is a truly inspired epilogue until you realize it was probably lifted out of “District 9.”
This is by no means a comprehensive list and many will disagree with the inclusion of films that received generally positive critical reaction. That’s because critics’ opinions are not the final say, especially when considering many of them don’t know the first thing about what makes quality science fiction.
Feel free to add your own films to the list.