***WARNING*** I am about to vaguely spoil the end of a host of movies and the following TV shows...X-Files, Buffy, Angel, Farscape, Babylon 5, Torchwood CoE and Beauty & the Beast!
One of the teeth-gritting problems I have with those people raving about Torchwood's Children of Earth is the idea that it is not only "realistic," but also, somehow original to present a grim, dark view of the world or the future. These are the people saying, "Oh, this is so astounding and groundbreaking!" Yeah...RIGHT! A dystopian view of society in the future is the norm in science fiction, not the exception.
One assumes listening to the claims of "bold originality" given to Children of Earth, that we have been innundated with happy, sappy science fiction, over and over again. That joyous uplifting endings are so commonplace we are sick of them. Fed to the back teeth, sci-fi fans are celebrating the grim ending as a refreshing change of pace. Let's look at this idea more closely.
Far from being an original concept, the idea that the world is a sad, dark place requiring terrible sacrifice is the premise behind...The Man Who Fell to Earth, Silent Running, Soylent Green, Alien, Alien 3, A.I., Dark Knight, No Blade of Grass, Day of the Triffids, Pitch Black, Blade Runner, Dr. Strangelove, 12 Monkeys, 28 Days Later, V is for Vendetta, Planet of the Apes, THX 1138, Metropolis, A Boy and His Dog, 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Dark City, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Solaris (Russian Version), Fail-Safe, Lathe of Heaven, Omega Man, I Am Legend, The Fly, Vanilla Sky, Event Horizon. Brazil fits in here somewhere and that's the list off the top of my head. Give me a film guide and I am sure I could go on and on.
Grim, dark sci-fi worlds and scenarios are, in fact, completely cliche. They are yawnably predictable. Dystopia is coming. We know it.
And I'm not even touching on those films that can be considered uplifing simply because our hero survives. Films which are nihilistic in presentation...like...The Matrix, Aliens & Alien Resurrection, Riddick, Mad Max, Road Warrior, Terminator, Terminator: Salvation, Reign of Fire, Serenity, Outlander, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Day After Tomorrow, Children of Men, Minority Report, Deep Impact, Escape From New York, Resident Evil, In The Mouth of Madness, Unbreakable. I am wondering about Enemy Mine. It does have a bit of hope at the end. Still, the universe presented isn't a happy place. There is a boatload of grimness.
Let's face it Grim and Sci-Fi appear to move hand-in-hand.
But what about those space opera feel good flicks? Star Wars or Star Trek or ET...or Close Encounters or Independence Day? Well, lots of people die in Independence Day, but Close Encounters is rather uplifting and ET is bittersweet, not unlike Wall-E. I wouldn't say ET has a happy ending. But children's fantasy stories offer your best bet for something like hope in the science fiction genre. You smile, but often with a tear in your eye. You know that there is heartbreak all around the little fellas as they grow toward adulthood. Elliot's friend leaves, even if he's still "right here." This I think was what they meant to sell us with Doctor Who's Journey's End. The Doctor will carry Rose with him, but must go. Still he's right there, too. The idea presented is that there is no perfect solution. Life is not about hope but is instead all bittersweet poignancy.
That's a view of the world and a valid one. But my point is that it isn't groundbreaking. Not in Torchwood's genre. A happy ending, a storybook ending, would be FAR more groundbreaking, brave and memorable.
The Star Trek and Star Wars movies are generally feel good, happy ending movies...what I call cowboy sci-fi. White Hats and Black Hats. Literally. Like Westworld or Armaggedon or I, Robot, these are big, bold films designed to make you cheer at the end. But even so, they often flirt with the idea of the dark side. "I have been and always will be, your friend," Spock says as he dies. More often we have a lone hero or group of heroes standing against the march of grimness. The last Star Wars film was quite grim (and not just because of the acting). For that matter, Return of the Jedi has that "heroic sacrifice" thing going on, doesn't it? But you could argue that in Jedi, Vader's sacrifice is truly redemptive.
Alright, no need to hammer the point home. Movies might have leaned a little toward the cliche of unhappy, hopeless futures or endings. But what about the very persuasive notion that it is cutting edge to kill off some major characters for "reality" in your art? Didn't Cyclops and Phoenix and Professor X have to die to make the war "real" for us in X3? I mean, don't you need to teach those complacent viewers a lesson about life? Perhaps the lesson that you learned as a geek who likes sci-fi so much you stayed home to watch X-Files on Friday night rather than date? Don't you want to say that life isn't fair? Heck, even our superheroes are tormented losers, look at the weepy depressive state of Spiderman or the Dark Side of the Dark Knight.
But surely Children of Earth is a television show. And television is a bastion of happy endings. Don't the television audiences really needs to get this grim, hopeless lesson to balance the happy endings they are used to having? Hmmm!
In Buffy, a show Russell T. Davies admits admiring, two major characters die in the finale, though they are supposedly "redeemed" by this. In Angel, we lose Wes, more unforgivable in my mind than Ianto, Tosh and Owen combined. In Farscape, we lose D'Argo. In Firefly we lose Wash and Book (since I count the movie as the last episode of Serenity). In Beauty and the Beast we lose Catherine. OMG! Sadly, BATB tried to reset for a third season after this meaty hunk of "reality" was jammed down our throats. Much as I fear New Who might try to reset to cheerful Doctor, ignoring how hard they've hit the grim tragedy button on him. In Babylon Five we lose Marcus (so unfair) and Sheridan (totally foreshadowed, but...OMG!). And let us not forget the X-Files took down ALL of the Lonegunmen. Which was a travesty! And don't get me started on Forever Knight or Battlestar Galactic or we will be here forever.
Maybe it would be easier to list those science fiction movies or series that ended happily. Everybody lives. The world sucks less than it did or, wonder of wonders, the world didn't suck at all only the situation involved conflict. Again, we can find this in the original Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry was a real groundbreaking genius.
But come on, if happy-endings are cliche, there must be a few more examples. I can't think of any just now, but let's see what you all come up with in the next day or so. Remember, you can't count the ambigous Prisoner or Blake's 7 endings as happy. Nor, can you count those shows that wandered off the air with no resolution.
who wonders if she can count Ghostbusters and Lost in Space.
Is a nihilistic view of the future in SciFi...groundbreaking?
July 30th, 2009