Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Against Stupidity

When I was 12 or 13, I joined the Science Fiction Book Club, mainly because the first four books were only one penny, a price a jobless 12 (or 13) year old could easily afford. I did it mainly to get myself a copy of Splinter of the Mind's Eye, a novelized sequel to Star Wars. I wasn't much of a reader back then and didn't really give a crap what the other three books would be. I was lucky in that, quite by accident, I picked books by three of the greatest science fiction authors who ever lived. One was The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein, another was Imperial Earth by Arthur C. Clarke and the third was the book that got me interested in reading, The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. Considering it was one of my favorite books, you can imagine my mixed feelings when I heard that Sony was planning to do a movie adaptation. Then I read this: "The project will be developed as a directing vehicle for Roland Emmerich," and my feelings changed. At first, my feelings were happy anticipation at the thought of seeing Asimov's vision being brought to the big screen mixed with my cynical knowledge at the odds against pretty much any movie being any good, much less a huge, complex science fiction epic. Then I saw Roland Emmerich's name and my feelings changed to nausea mixed with diarrhea.

Roland Emmerich? ROLAND "10,000 B.C." EMMERICH? What, was Kurt Wimmer unavailable? Was Uwe Boll too busy making another straight-to-DVD Bloodrayne sequel to take the reins of the Foundation project? What in the name of what must be some sort of pagan, horse-fucking god are you people at Sony thinking? Roland Emmerich's oeuvre includes movies like the above mentioned 10,000 B.C., The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day, The Patriot, Godzilla and Stargate, movies that range in quality from "dumb but enjoyable" to "dumb but stupid". The Day After Tomorrow, a movie that treated the Laws of Science as if they were merely the Loosely Enforced Guidelines Of Science, falls into the first category. Sure, probably 2/3 of the world's population died in a global super-storm but it was okay since you didn't give a damn about any of the characters. Included in the second category are 10,000 B.C., a movie that posited the idea that our prehistorical ancestors were all super models, and Godzilla, where Emmerich and his crew said to themselves, "The key to box office gold is to take one of the world's most well known and iconic monsters, pit him against the super team of Matthew Broderick and some French douchebags and just see what happens."

Whether Emmerich's movies are any good or not, the key word used in describing them is always Dumb and it's a word that does not suit the works of Isaac Asimov. Asimov hasn't had a good track record with Hollywood. I'm sure most of you remember I, Robot which should have been called I, Suck. Asimov's book I, Robot was a series of short stories about the life story of Susan Calvin, a woman who devoted her life to the studying the psychology of robots. Robots in Asimov's stories are always guided by three unbreakable laws, laws which sometimes caused conflicts that they couldn't resolve such as the time a mind reading robot would tell people exactly what they wanted to hear, even if it wasn't true. An I, Robot movie was supposed to have been made in the late 70s with a script by my favorite writer, Harlan Ellison. The project fell through and Ellison released his screenplay in book form. It is considered to be a classic and would have made a wonderful movie. Naturally, that script was set aside in favor of a script by the guy who wrote Batman and Robin, the movie that shut down the Batman movie franchise for a decade. The main character in the book was Susan Calvin so, naturally, the movie is about a homicide detective named Del Spooner (Will Smith), a character who didn't exist in the book. Also, Susan Calvin was famously a very plain, unattractive woman so, naturally, they cast Bridget Moynahan to play her, a woman who looks like this:

I, Robot made money, but it's remembered as a stupid and incoherent disappointment, remembered by me anyway. Now, here's the bad news: I, Robot was the best movie adaptation of Asimov's books.

The other one was Nightfall. Some science fiction fans don't believe me when I tell them that a movie was made out of Nightfall but, as you can see here, it exists. I first saw this sitting in a video store with a note on it that read, and I quote, "This is the worst movie in the store. In fact, it may be the worst movie ever made. Let it rot on the shelf." I was thinking, "Could it be that bad?" and let me tell OH HELLS YEAH, it's that bad and more. I don't know how to describe the movie version of Nightfall. The only thing I can think of is that it's as if the movie was made by blind and deaf people. Asimov's vision of a technologically advanced world turned into a group of long haired jerks who wander around in the desert.

A big problem with Asimov is that his stories don't easily lend themselves to the screen. When you couple that with studios who not only don't understand his work but don't think they have to, you get movies like I, Robot. Add talentless filmmakers to the mix and you get Nightfall. And now, we have Roland Emmerich. If Emmerich stays true to form, the movie will mostly consist of beautiful people fighting rousing space battles. The movie's scientific accuracy will be similar to the accuracy achieved when a famous science fiction film had one of its characters bragging that he had made the Kessel Run in 15 parsecs. Eventually, there will come a point where plot and character developments set up earlier in the film will become inconvenient for whatever grand finale is planned so they will simply be ignored. That is the type of futuristic world we can expect from Roland Emmerich.

The only good thing is that maybe, just maybe, Isaac Asimov will be so disgusted by all this that he will come back from the dead. Or maybe, like Hari Seldon did in Foundation, he foresaw all this and made a series of cool tapes about it that will now be revealed. More likely, though, is that Roland Emmerich is like the Mule, the villain from Foundation and Empire that even Hari Seldon couldn't foresee and, if that's the case, I'll be thinking that the Foundation movie doesn't measure up to the quality and genius of Nightfall.

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