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SF in film and TV
September 1999

Mars in Vogue

An article in the Sept. 27th Los Angeles Times summarizes the various Mars projects currently underway in Hollywood. (This link will only be valid for a day or two.) All the projects focus on the first manned mission to Mars, and have aspirations of achieving realism and technical accuracy.

  • Terminator 2 and Titanic director James Cameron has a pair of projects in work: a 5 hour mini-series for Fox TV, and a 1/2 hour Imax film, both due by 2001. The two projects will share sets and special effects but have separate scripts. Cameron (who last year considered and rejected doing a film version of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy) is writing the Imax project with Robert Zubrin, author of The Case for Mars. In August Cameron gave a speech to the Mars Society in which he spoke of the technical challenges.
    I hope this doesn't sound like heresy, but decades of Star Wars and Star Trek have actually done space exploration a disservice. By showing a commonplace abundance of intelligent humanoid aliens from all over the galaxy, and interstellar planet hopping in a matter of days or hours, these fantasies have raised the expectations of the youthful public to absurd heights which can never be fulfilled by the realities of space travel. We as a culture have been distracted by a bright and shiny fantasy, instead of being inspired by the reality of space, and challenged in our souls by the truth of its vastness and the daunting trials ahead of us in crossing such inconceivable distances.
    The films we are making will attempt to show the reality of a humans-to-Mars project ... the challenges and the rewards. There will be no alien ruins, no intelligent humanoids. The epiphany will be a human one, and one which we can reach out and grasp in the next few years.
  • Director Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars (Disney) is scheduled for March 2000 release. Zubrin is a consultant for this film, which stars Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, and Tim Robbins. The film's producer describes its ending as ''speculative'', reminiscent of ''Close Encounters of the Third Kind'' and ''2001''.
  • Red Planet from Warner Bros., the film debut of commerical director Antony Hoffman, is due in theaters next summer. This film stars Val Kilmer and Carrie-Anne Moss (from The Matrix). Though it initially had NASA's cooperation and support (and logo), the agency balked over the storyline, which involves a stranded astronaut and a murder.


Music for Robots

The same musical team that scored James Cameron's film Titanic, whose soundtrack album became a 10 million copy bestseller, is at work again on the film version of Isaac Asimov's story ''The Bicentennial Man''. Composer James Horner, singer Celine Dion, and lyricist Will Jennings have recorded a romantic ballad for the Chris Columbus film Bicentennial Man. Horner is composing the instrumental score for the balance of the film. Starring Robin Williams in a robot suit, the film opens this December.


Moments from Movies

Entertainment Weekly's September 24th ranking of the 100 ''greatest moments'' in movies (from 1950-2000) includes several from SF, fantasy, and horror films. Ranked in 2nd place is Janet Leigh's shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). In 6th place: the jump-cut from bone to spacecraft in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Most of the selections don't focus on such specific moments; Star Wars is ranked 4th for the impact of its special effects, and The Godfather is ranked first in its entirety. Other notable selections: E.T. 17th; A Clockwork Orange 40th; Dr. Strangelove 45th; Sigourney Weaver in Aliens 54th; Charlton Heston seeing the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes 92nd; and The Blair Witch Project (1999) 86th, for the role the Internet played in its success.


Movies from Novels

A discussion in New York City on Thursday Sept. 23rd considered the question of how well Hollywood adapts novels into movies. Authors Walter Mosley, E.L. Doctorow, Scott Turow, and Russell Banks participated in the panel called ''Mangled at the Movies?''. The event was covered both by the New York Times (Sept. 25th) and CNN. Banks recalled director Paul Schrader's observation that films with smaller budgets are most likely to be successful in maintaining the spirit of the book:

Somewhere around $14 million you put white hats on the good guys and black hats on the bad guys. [With a lower budget] you can still have ambiguity, explore things that are painful to many people.
And Doctorow remarked, ''The absolute ideal thing for me is to have the book bought and never made into a movie''.


New Age Horror

A Sept. 16th Salon essay by Michael Sragow contrasts this summer's popular occult/horror films, Stigmata, The Sixth Sense, and Stir of Echoes, with Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, a series where

the endings of the episodes aren't always happy or unhappy. Much of the time they are uncertain: They don't reassert the status quo, and they rarely rub your nose in religiosity.
The fledgling horror moviemakers literalize everything, both to impart an unearned gravity to their scripts and to foster the illusion that, beneath the anarchy and ephemera of millennial life, we're still part of a Great Chain of Being. It's as if they want to bear out our suspicions that the world has gone to hell and uplift us with a glimpse of peace in paradise.


Theater for Cyberpunks

A stage version of William Gibson's story ''Burning Chrome'' is currently playing in Los Angeles at Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Thursdays - Saturdays at 8 p.m., ending October 16th. For information call (310) 281-8337.


(Mon 27 Sep 1999)

© 1999 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.