Optimistic Sci-fi

Optimistic Sci-fi
Posted by on Jan 15, 2016

The screen opens to a desolate wasteland. Remnants of some great city can be seen in the background. Humanity is all but extinct with only a few bands of  wandering humans scavenging the wasteland. If you’ve paid the smallest amount of attention to Hollywood, you may have noticed a trend in sci-fi. To blow-up the world and show what happens after.

Whether it’s in the form of a YA dystopian society (The Hunger Games, Divergent), dystopian sci-fi with humanity fighting a never-ending war against some threat (Terminator: Genisys, Oblivion), or a nuclear/environmental fallout (The Book of Eli, Mad Max: Fury Road). Right now, the popular thing to do is blow-up the world and see what happens. There are many theories you could come up with about why this is so. That’s not why we’re here today. I want to go in the other direction.

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These dystopian sci-fi films like to put the protagonists in a world where humanity already lost. To showcase the struggle of living in a world that’s harsher and more savage than our own. At the same time, it showcases the inevitability that our world is going to die. At some point, Hollywood got very depressing about humanities future. So what happens when we aren’t?

You get films like Tomorrowland and The Martian. One was a flop while the other is one of the biggest films of 2015. Let’s start with the flop. Tomorrowland had plenty of issues. These mostly revolved around the narrative and the often conflicting dialogue structure. However, while the ending could have been reworked to be less sappy, it gave us hope. It aimed, somewhat ambitiously, to demonstrate the power that one person has to change the world. Echoing many of the same sentiments that today’s scientist (see Neil Degrasse Tyson) tell the scientist’s of tomorrow.

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Honestly, Tomorrowland works far better as an animated film in my opinion. It targets a broader younger audience that is quickly showing that positivity is the way to go. An audience that grew up during the golden age of animation plus the families that have young children that enjoy animation would be far more receptive.

The Martian has a different approach when it comes to optimism. Set in the near future (2035 or 2047) where the world is not only still in one piece but we have reignited our journey to the stars. Here you have one man stuck on Mars whose only goal is to survive. What is so engaging about this film is the display of the indomitable human spirit. Sure, there low times in the film where Mark Watney, our protagonist, hits more than a few setbacks. Things explode, fail to work, and just plain go wrong. However, he and NASA never give up.

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Here again, you have a future where humanity isn’t on the way out but thriving. A story where humanity comes together for the greater good. Not only that but The Martian is more science than fiction. Any problem is solved with scientific know-how and the resources available. Where most movies might create some nifty plot-device to solve a problem, the characters are forced to use the resources they have available to them that would most likely actually be available on a similar Mars mission.

What I’m getting at is there is a place for the optimistic sci-fi drama. Where humanity is able to avert whatever disaster is looming regardless how big or small. An important distinction I want to make between this and say your superhero or run of the mill action adventure is the basis in science. You have regular people who have struggled and put in the time to learn something that inevitably saves themselves or even the world. It is much more of an earned victory.

Is this the beginning of a new trend for sci-fi? Maybe. I sure hope it is and look forward to more.

Big Hero 6: A Love Letter to Geeks

Big Hero 6: A Love Letter to Geeks
Posted by on Nov 13, 2014

Big Hero 6 premiered this weekend and is already pulling ahead in the box office, beating out Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. To say I was looking forward to this movie is a little bit of an understatement. Being a self described Disney and comic book geek, having a Marvel inspired Disney movie was a dream come true. So, going in with a set of established expectations I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

I was expecting a pretty straight forward origin story involving the typical loss and an eventual rebirth of our main characters. While our main protagnist, Hiro (Ryan Potter), did go through that traditional arc there was something else going on within the film. Leading up to the premiere, there were many articles pointing out that Big Hero 6 was set to be one of the most diverse Disney films to date. With a group of characters that seemed to break every mold, there was truly a character for everyone to relate to.

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There was Hiro, who was struggling with the loss of his parents and his brother. A genius who was unchallenged in everyday life and simply needed a place that fit him. Go Go (Jamie Chung), one of my favorites, is the Wolverine of the group who just does her thing, always looking to go faster and not getting hung up on others perceptions. Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) who at first you’d expect to be the big, rough and tumble member of the group is actually the type-a OCD team member, Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), the “girly-girl” of the group who would be just as excited going shopping as designing a new chemical concoction to aid in her crime fighting. Lastly, Fred (TJ Miller) is the simple enthusiast, he might not be able to build these incredible inventions but he will be the first volunteer to jump in and test it.

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Combining their varying geeky styles with the cultural diversity of each character, you see how anybody from any background could be anything. A clear lesson in diversity and about forming judgments based on a persons appearance. So, how does geek culture fit into this? Simple, every single member of Big Hero 6 is a geek! A geek is, at least by modern definitions, a person who is enthusiastic about a subject. Most often these interests lean more towards pop culture and academic pursuits. However, you can still be a football, shopping, marketing, or even a cooking geek.

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Big Hero 6 takes this approach of having multiple passions that interact with each of its main characters. Instead of making each one of Hiro’s friends a stereotypical one dimensional geek, we get a variety of characters with different interests that help shape them. Go Go is all about racing and she is hard at work creating mag lev suspension. Wasabi is a neat freak who borders on having OCD whose plasma swords cut with such precision that it would make even Monk proud. Honey Lemon has an eye for fashion and embodies that in her power purse that she uses to combine chemicals into crime fighting pods. Fred who while not scientifically inclined is a science enthusiast with a passion for superheroes is unashamed of letting his geek flag fly. Each character has their own quirks which clearly show through each one and makes some of the most unique characters in Hollywood today.

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We have established that we are dealing with a superhero team comprised of geeks. What this all means about geeks and geek culture is something any self-described geek already knows, everyone is a geek. I mentioned up above that being a geek is about being excited about something so much that you can’t help but tell others about your passion. For me, it’s film and comic books with a particular focus on those people or companies that tell great stories. I have had many brain dumping sessions involving coworkers and friends who asked just the right question to kick off an hour lesson on a particular subject. If you think about it, I’m you yourself probably have one or two subjects that people would have to physically stop you from talking too much about.

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Disney shows that this is okay. That being passionate about anything is okay. Fashion, science, robotics, chemistry, racing, kids, superheroes, everything is open to geek culture and that’s okay. Big Hero 6 does a lot of things well, showing diversity, showing how cool science has always been, superheroes are fun, friends are important, and while losing someone hurts we have to keep moving forward. What is most important is that it’s okay to be passionate about things and to surround yourself with people that fan the flames either through support or participation. This is what Big Hero 6 does the best. My favorite scene is when Hiro first meet his future teammates. You see the joy and passion they have for their individual projects that just brings a smile to your face.

Big Hero 6 may not be the best Disney film out there. I certainly still have my favorites and few criticisms. What is so special about Big Hero 6 is it presents its message in a very clear distinct way both actively and passively. Representing diversity passively by just having a wide range of characters that are different by being themselves. From backgrounds, to physical appearance, and even their little quirks, it’s easy to see how each character is there own person. The dialogue actively presents their messages of togetherness and support. From Fred’s science enthusiastic comments to the teams words of comfort and advice as Hiro struggles with the loss in his life.

Disney has made a huge step in terms of stepping into the modern era with their story telling and character diversity. We’ll just have to wait and see if they continue the trend with Moana and  Zootopia in 2016.

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