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THE MANIC MANIAC- We Are Standing Still
Sci-Fi is Going Nowhere in a Hurry
By Joe Crosby
December 11, 2008
The famed robot Gort from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL(1951).
© 20th Century Fox
Sad news came out of Los Angeles last week, when we found out that genre icon Forrest Ackerman had died. More obviously, this is significant because Ackerman was the steward of present-day genre--sci-fi, horror, fantasy, among others. He nurtured it from its toddler days and helped launch or inspire the careers of many of those who have brought it into maturity. And, as Mania commentor Bill_the_Pony said, Ackerman "made loving the strange and wonderful a thing not to be ashamed of." Not least, every time we say, "sci-fi," we're offering a nod to him. But maybe his death is significant not just because of who he was, but what he stood for. He stood as the old guard, a godfather of that from which nearly everything after derived. Maybe his death means there's room for a new guard, the likes of which we haven't seen.
We're reminded of this on Friday, as The Day the Earth Stood Still opens, a remake of the sci-fi classic released in a year at the (very lengthy) height of Ackerman's career, 1951.
Ackerman did, indeed, make it OK to be weird and interested in the bizarre. He fostered an environment of originality. But remakes are arguably the least original thing that occurs in entertainment, but we're seeing them in numbers before unseen. In genre, this year alone has seen renewals of Day of the Dead, Death Race, The incredible Shrinking Man, Prom Night, Quarantine and Shutter. What's worse, is that genre remakes account for the vast majority of of 2008 film re-interpretations.
The argument is cliche, we all know that. I'd be the 100th person today to say the industry is suffering from unoriginality, remaking and adapting nearly anything to capitalize on a fan base, while neglecting many original storylines. What's surprising, though, is that genre seems to be suffering the most, at least in film.
If Ackerman made it OK to flaunt our the darkest corners of our imaginations, then why aren't people still doing that? In what is supposed to be a creative avenue--film--genre is arguably supposed to be the most creative we're afforded. A drama or comedy might be original in its approach to the human condition--there are vaults overflowing with legends. But genre films are doing these same things, while giving them life in other worlds. They're removing the restrictions of what we see and feel and hear and touch. At least they were.
With regard to sci-fi specifically, we're at a low point. If it isn't a remake or a sequel we're seeing, then it's the regurgitation of the same old atmospheres. Aliens attack. Machines take over. Zombies eat your face. You can almost always find exceptions, but they are few.
As Ackerman has died, there isn't a torchbearer to lead sci-fi film into a new era, where dimensions untold are explored. Almost everything is derivative of another film or book or comic, and almost every one of those are derivative of Ackerman's influence. His indirect footprint spans genres, mediums and decades.
Now that the face of the old guard is gone, may he rest in peace, so too should every The Day the Earth Stood Still. Just like the creators are supposed to be somewhat mad by conventional standards, the genre audience is driven by different standards of creativity. And it's being neglected by this mostly stagnant state.
That's not to say films aren't entertaining. You could easily identify The Dark Knight as an immensely enjoyable film, but could that same creative energy have been thrust elsewhere, rather than at the sequel of a remake? Further, are those creators even capable of producing something as good, or better, without a loose model to lean on?
We'll likely never know. Because the earth is standing still. We're operating in safe mode, just as Gort does after the incantation Klaatu barada nikto. Ackerman didn't live his life in his life in safe mode. If he had, we'd likely not have seen much of what we have. We need a generation like that--one that spawns a new era as another is laid to rest. Until then, you'll find me at the cinema, seeing a movie I've already seen.