He [H.G. Wells] became, even more than Verne, a Schoolteacher Absolute, a fate that would befall so many later SF writers—Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, Le Guin, Delany—that it must be considered an occupational hazard.
—Thomas M. Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World (1998)
(The tightropes of prose prophecy & phantasmagoric vision are hard ones for novelists to walk. At least there’s a net, even if it is pedantry.)
But the movie can’t escape that curse endemic to big-budget Hollywood sci-fi movies: The worlds they create on screen are almost always exponentially more interesting than the stories they tell.
—Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, “The ambitious War For The Planet Of The Apes ends up surrendering to formula,” avclub.com (7 July 2017)
(A follow up to Ss-35/10,000: even in the realm of screened media, the tension between watching & reading is becoming one of antithesis. Some further qualification—
Screen mediums oriented toward the presentation of worlds, like SF films or slow TV, and so made for watching or viewing, can be distinguished, à la Cavell, from those that, like live TV or streaming, present “event[s] standing out from the world,” open to a certain kind of reading: monitoring. One monitors both in hopes of a readable event occuring—e.g., the cataclysmic & apocalyptic social collapse so often represented in SF films—and in hopes of no readable events occuring—e.g., the cataclysmic & apocalyptic social collapse so often represented in SF films. Either way, one monitors at the expense of actually reading.
With respect to viewing & film, the screen is to SF films what the horizon is to environment-poems: it’s “a meeting ground between imaginative and perceptual vision.” On film, SF requires a very careful visual blend of imagination & realism, failures of which are now blamed on an imbalance of CGI & practical effects. But Ignatiy’s sentence is very precise. “Sci-fi” is already a name for hack-work in the realms of narrative & characterization, for the popularization of rudimentary SF conventions, and for their formulaic production. Sci-fi films transform SF worlds into series of events—plot points, character arcs, three-act structures, all of that Blake Snyder stuff—that stand out in such a way as to obscure the viewing process. That’s their curse. The narratives of the purest SF films, 2001, Blade Runner, Under the Skin, approximate a pure viewing experience: wandering through their environments, seeing things that you almost never see on film, in a sequence that mimics spontaneity, breaking the curse.)