Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Close Encounters - just how sci-fi is it?

Re-watched Close Encounters yesterday and whilst there are, as a writer, elements about it that I just love - Roy Neary seeing shapes in the shaving foam is one of the subtlest act 1/2 breaks I know - there are still a whole load of things in it that don't make sense.

Why do the aliens send Earth co-ordinates, a totally artificial, man-made (literally) nomenclature?  How big are those alien ships? they seem to be either huge or the size of a car, depending on what SS feels like; Father Dougal would never cope.  And I've never quite understood the topography of Devil's Tower, there seems to be lots of climbing just to get to the bottom...

Matthew Dicks has some other, more major issues with it which, as a father of two I should share but oddly don't, well argued as his piece is.  I think the problem is with me rather than Matt...

But the reason for my mentioning my re-watching of the Speilberg classic is that, ask anyone whether this is sci-fi and they'd say yes, each and every one of them.  But is it?  It's about space and aliens, but science?  Even Truffaut wanders around saying it's important but he doesn't know why, and the officer in charge of the supposed gas leak evacuation tells him it isn't science.

This isn't about differentiating between hard and soft sci-fi, but noting that most sci-fi now doesn't even pretend to bother with science, not even a black box of gizmos that the mad professor has perfected to prevent the Zartrons from over-running the Bronx.  At least the (pseudo-)science, even if delivered as a deus ex machina, of the 1950s Blob-era B-movies made sense in terms of powering on the story.

Ask yourself this, can any movie set in the space, or in the future, not be sci-fi?  Is the flexibility of sci-fi - anything at all as long as it's got aliens, or is set in the future or another planet - actually its undoing?

I've got nothing against any of it, it's what I write, but I rarely find myself looking up any science.  My strongest science fiction was a detective story that involved poisons and placebos.  We need another name for science-free sci-fi.

Hokum-fiction?  Or is that too close to the bone?

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