Posted by: Staff | 04.15.2010

Science Fiction: Moving Toward Realistic Fiction?


Unlike our beloved, older science fiction movies like Star Wars and Back to the Future, there has been an undeniable theme of an attempt at realism in a lot of modern science fiction movies. A few examples: AvatarDistrict 9 and I Am Legend. There are many other movies out there that encompass this theme, but these are probably the most popular out of those that do.

    It is hard not to bring up Avatar when discussing modern pictures, as it has taken the world by storm, but it does in fact fit this theme. At the end of watching Avatar, in particular I remember thinking that if the human race were in a situation similar to the one they are in in Avatar, we would follow the same selfish destructive course. In Avatar, it is the greed of humans that leads to the conflict; their egocentric desire to get their hands on the fictional substance called “Unobtainium” leads to them crossing the Navi, the now famously blue human-like population who live in an enormous tree right over the humans’ treasured Unobtainium. This is the theme: even in movies as crazy as Avatar, writers and directors are trying to establish conflict with a realistic premise. Instead of building conflicts around silly but lovable concepts like The Force in Star Wars, more and more movies are moving towards conflicts that are actually happening in the world today. In the beautiful forests and jungles of the Amazon, precious materials are being harvested carelessly without a thought to the effect on nature and the lives of indigenous peoples living there. This issue is almost a perfect parallel to the one in Avatar.  

    District 9, though not as perfect a match to this theme as is Avatar, has a pretty realistic conflict. The premise of the movie, aliens landing on earth in Johannesburg, South Africa and being immediately exploited by humans for weapons and technology, seems like one of the most realistic alien movies out there. Although the concept of aliens is outlandish within itself, if we were ever visited by other dwellers of this universe, this is how it might play out; a bloody, gory, disgusting abuse of our power and intelligence as humans in a quest for personal gain. 

    Finally, the premise of I am Legend is that Robert Neville, played by Will Smith, is the last man on earth in a zombie apocalypse due to an infection stemming from what the human race thought was a cure for cancer. Dozens of people were being treated with this new medicine, which turned out to essentially destroy the world. The movie looked awesome, and although the concept of zombie apocolypse by itself is ridiculous, the possibility of how this conflict came about is not. In our stumbling walk toward a cure for cancer, it is not difficult to envision us finding something that seems like a cure but is actually a global killing virus. Also pretty understandable is the idea that in our euphoria over finding a cure for cancer, we won’t check all of the possible problems that could lead to the destruction of society.



  1. Just quickly–

    Star Wars is arguably closer to fantasy than science fiction. It is set, after all, “a long time ago,” in mythical times. The setting often calls to mind the Wild West more than the techno-utopia of, say, Star Trek. But it also has some pretty massive historical parallels of its own — to WWII, the Civil War, Iraq, the Knights Templar….

    And the Pandoran metasentience isn’t allll that far from the Force, though Dr. Augustine takes the midichlorian reductionist approach and lends it, too, an air of “reality.”

    District 9 draws *enormous* historical parallels to apartheid, right down to the title itself.

    I do agree (to the expect possible, as a young’un) that there’s been somewhat of a trend toward gritty realism in film. Indeed, across the board, people seem to be clinging to any sort of “realism” they can find, perhaps in recoil from virtualization.

  2. So what do you think is responsible for the shift you’ve identified? I agree with you; Star Wars was pure entertainment, just escapist fun. Now the trend is to use science fiction to spread a message about the planet or social justice or the dangers of modern medicine. Would a message film have been as popular in 1977 when Star Wars: A New Hope premiered? What is it about either our world today or the science/art of movie making that makes these didactic films so successful?

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