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What makes a sci-fi fim or book?
Case in Point:
Star Wars, Inception, Alien and Resident Evil

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by    Posted august 21, 2010
science fiction
a form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation in its plot, setting, theme, etc.

so there's the what do you guys think? is Star Wars sci-fi or fantasy? I think Inception is a psychological fantasy-thriller. Resident Evil is a video-game inspired movie that is a zombie-horror action flick, Alien is a horror movie with a spice of sci-fi.

So do these four movies meet the standards as defined above? Sure, it can, but it depends on who you ask.

What is the more dominant element in these films?

This is a good-spirited discussion and not to prove who is right and who is wrong....
by    Posted august 21, 2010
Well, I think you're right in that real science fiction is tends to use futuristic and technological story elements to convey a social or political message (think Les Miserables with spaceships). That is different from science/sci-fi fantasy, which is an epic adventure that takes place in a futuristic setting (a.k.a., Lord of the Rings with spaceships).

Star Trek is a good example of the first - each episode makes some argument, either about abortion or the Vietnam War. While the Star Trek universe does have its share of battles and drama, almost every single installment also has a larger message. Any use of sci-fi elements tends to be portrayed as "scientifically accurate" (even if they're not) and idealize scientists (after all, the Enterprise is nominally out there to explore new worlds). Gene Roddenberry even once told Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) that the original Star Trek was really just a bunch of "morality plays."

By contrast, Star Wars and the Dune novels are the archetype sci-fi fantasy pieces. They follow a hero who undergoes a mythic journey a la Joseph Campbell. The hero usually joins an epic quest to overthrow a tyrant. Battle scenes and religious mysticism are crucial to these stories. They make far less pretense to be scientifically accurate. Warriors and villains take center stage. To the extent these types of sci-fi have larger messages, they tend to be vague and mystical, such as the struggle between good and evil or "believe in yourself" (cue Yoda: "do or do not, there is no try").

(Alien is just a horror film which doesn't fall within either category easily).

I personally prefer the latter sci-fi fantasy stories, although I do like Star Trek. Part of my problem with traditional sci-fi is that its focus on science and technology poses a risk that it will become obsolete soon. For instance, when I read some of Isaac Asimov's short stories recently, they seemed outright silly. Asimov goes on about huge computers with pneumatic tubes managed by elite computer technicians. Of course, 50 years later, that portrayal of both the technology and society seems way off base. Computer engineers and programers are stereotyped as a bunch of geeks (no offense) and computers themselves have become as mundane as a toaster. I certainly can forgive a sci-fi author for not predicting the future correctly, but sometimes in sci-fi the story becomes so entwined with the technology that it loses much of its impact. I think Star Trek by and large avoids this problem by focus on characters and setting the series far enough in the future (although those Eugenics Wars never really happened).

By contrast, sci-fi fantasy just removes technology and obsolescence as an issue completely. In Star Wars, you don't have to struggle to suspend disbelief because it takes place "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." This forces the focus onto the story and the characters. Also, for the medium of a handful of movies or books, having constant political or social messages just wouldn't work (with hundreds of episodes, Star Trek can afford to wade into abortion). Rather, sci-fi fantasy's exploration of larger issues can be quite nuanced. While I know many people were disappointed with the prequels, I thought Lucas made some interesting choices with Anakin's turn to the Dark Side. Anakin was never inherently evil, but rather became evil because he made the wrong choices for the right reasons (means don't justify the ends). Interestingly, Frank Herbert's Dune takes a completely different approach by arguing that power attracts those who are already corrupted, so Alia (the corrupted) becomes a monster, while Leto II (the prodigal son) makes the tough sacrifices. On the other hand, I suspect a long-running sci-fi fantasy series would become quite boring if it didn't take on a new message or issue each episode the way Star Trek does (after all, how many lightsaber battles can you really watch?).

 Anyway, those are some of the thoughts I have whenever I hear nonsense about "Star Trek vs. Star Wars." The two are very different and have their own distinct benefits and limitations. I suspect members of this Lunch community will discuss and follow both science fiction and sci-fi fantasy, but hopefully keeping in mind that direct comparisons across the media might not work well (now, I do think it would be fair to compare Dune and Star Wars, but that's for another post...)
by    Posted august 21, 2010

"Inception" is a science-fiction psychological thriller since the method by which the characters infiltrated dreams was technological rather than occult and the dream-world was ruled over by a specific set of logical rules.

In the case of "Star Wars", I tend to think of it as a hybrid since many of the archetypes were drawn from mythology, from whence fantasy as a genre first sprang forth, however it also contains certain contemporary allegories which are not as commonly used in fantasy as they are in science fiction. The fact that the characters and settings take advantage of certain science fiction elements (space travel, extra-terrestrial lifeforms, technological advancement) is ultimately important and does give the series a quasi-scientific platform to build upon, but if you look at the stories themselves, they can be lifted out of their environment and comfortably placed into a fantasy fiction world without any real issues arising. So, "Star Wars" possesses qualities that make it difficult to categorize. Hence my labeling it as a hybrid, much like "The Matrix" and "Dark City", which also utilized elements of both science fiction and fantasy.
by    Posted august 21, 2010
Basically, Woopak has covered it. Science fiction is extrapolation into the future involving either 1.) scientific technology where no one has gone before or 2.) predictions of future sociological movements or developments. It's either the hardware of technology or the software (read human heart) of society, or #3) some combination of the two. JP
by    Posted august 22, 2010
Nice responses everyone! Thanks for the participation. FreeDom4 has especially made a very powerful comment.

I am waiting on someone to come along now... :)
by    Posted august 23, 2010
AerinBlue, you're right, sometimes this comes to resemble more taxonomy and less appreciation of the art. As a policy, I hope Forbidden Planet keeps an "open door" policy and allows me and others to post Star Wars related material here. However I think there is actually something to be said for thinking along the lines of science fiction vs. sci-fi fantasy because I think the audience is supposed to get very different things out of each. I always find that I can enjoy the book/movie more when I am clear in my mind where on the spectrum it belongs. If you try to watch/read sci-fi fantasy in a "science fiction" frame of mind, it won't work.

I think Dune and Star Trek are a great examples of this. I know some people who hate Dune because they read it expecting straight science fiction, and come away frustrated with the fact that the technology is utterly unrealistic and it seems to be a lot of pointless fighting and politicking. There's even a book about the "science of Dune," but, to me at least, it misses the point. Dune requires a heavy investment in the mythos of the story. You need to accept the powers of the spice, not question them. Dune is about the story and the exotica. You can't read Dune and expect Frank Herbert to hit you over the head with a compelling denouncement of Nixon or the dangers of terraforming. Although there are traces of these issues in the book, they're woven in and subordinate to the story itself.

Likewise, there are people who watch for the first time Star Trek hoping for epic space battles and drama thinking it's essentially a sci-fi fantasy, but who miss the subtle political and social messages of the science fiction. Unlike sci-fi fantasy, where the battles and aliens are central, in science fiction viewers need to realize that they need to move beyond the wrinkly heads on Klingons and the fact that Picard wears pajamas (two common complaints with TNG from the non-initiated). In my opinion, that's why Star Trek movies haven't fared nearly so well - mass audiences nowadays don't think deeply about the moral messages behind movies, the directors feel they have to "sex" things up with action and big guns. The 2009 Star Trek movie was unfortunately an attempt to move closer to sci-fi fantasy and away from the science fiction roots of Trek.

I guess my point is I hope this discussion continues as long as it opens up new and interesting realizations on how best to appreciate science fiction/sci-fi fantasy. It might also be useful for the uninitiated in letting them know what to expect from certain works. If it does become merely a debate over taxonomy, then I agree that it would become meaningless and a waste of everybody's time.
by    Posted august 23, 2010
agreed on the last post. That is fantastic. I'll have to re-watch DUNE since it has been quite a long time since I saw it last. You clearly know your stuff and you have passion for this genre, FreeDom4. I am more of a "Next Generation" kinda guy but I did like the Star Trek movies with Shatner.

This discussion is all for fun and information. There are so many things that are now a hybrid of genres, and there is still a more defining element in each book or film. Oh, we maintain that the creator of any list, review and quick tip be the only one to determine where their stuff goes or not. When Inception came out, there was a debate as to what it really was sci-fi or fantasy; same with Alien and the Star Wars thing finally sealed the deal for this discussion. Sci-fi and Fantasy have always been confused for being one or the other (I look at stores and I see KING KONG under sci-fi). Perhaps next, I'll begin a discussion on the different types of horror.

Aerin, I am waiting on Adrianna to join the fold. She says she has a lot of stuff to say about Inception.
by    Posted august 23, 2010
I might modify what I said above to say that the taxonomy might help people who aren't open minded going into movies or reading books (believe me, there are many such people). Case in point: in high school, if I ever recommended to a friend or teacher that they watch a Star Trek episode, they'd think I was nuts or a nerd. If, however, I said they should watch a particular Star Trek episode because it deals intelligently with, say, abortion or torture, then they might be more willing to try it. It depends on the audience.

I do hope you're right AerinBlue - frankly, it'd be a shame for taxonomy to impede discussion. For some topics, a science fiction community could at least cast a large enough net so people know where to look, even if it some works aren't "technically" sci-fi. I'm thinking the Alien and Predator series here - they're both popular and they deserve some sort of special attention, but probably don't have a large enough following for their own separate community. They are commonly associated as sci-fi (even if they're really sci-fi horror), so it seems like people looking for more about either series would naturally look to a place like Forbidden Planet. That's my reasoning anyway in including Star Wars stuff.
by    Posted august 23, 2010

Oh, Aerin,  that Kraken melee was actually more about something else. I invited that person involved to join this discussion, just to make things clear, but he hasn't joined us here. I cannot specify exactly what happened at that Kraken melee,  to protect a certain party. I don't agree with how this person approaches things but hey, I've already told him so. No need to discuss it here since I made it quite clear to that person directly. I have no issues addressing things I don't like directly, especially with this person since I know him personally. I do not need to start a discussion to get any point across.

I see that this discussion is giving the impression that this is a continuation of what happened to a certain event. (I will not bring it up to protect certain parties since they've already been blocked from some of our communities); so I will just remain on point with this discussion. I suggest we all remain on point than be misdirected by other factors.

Star Wars is often classified under science fiction, the Predator and Alien movies are indeed classified as sci-fi; and yes, this may belong under sci-fi or something else like "Movie Monsters" or "horror" if such communities existed. It can also easily belong under fantasy. But it is all about the freedom where someone wants to post their review, list and QT's. (but don't post a review on 'DIRTY HARRY' in my Asian movie community because I will reject it. LOL)

This is not a discussion on what members would like to post under a certain community. Everyone has freedom to do what they wish. This is however, something that needs to be discussed for fun; since some folks have indeed asked this question. I wanted to begin this since the success of INCEPTION. It is always nice to have a little friendly discussion and I am impressed with what Dom has to say.

Also check out the discussion thread with "Jaws: Horror or Adventure Film?" by Count_Orlok_22. This thread has the same goals.

Oh, this was sent to me by another member; interesting what these guys have to say:


by    Posted august 23, 2010
ok, now that I opened another can of worms, is Jaws Horror or adventure film? I think it is epic horror.
by    Posted august 23, 2010
No harm done, Aerin. You should know me by now, I am pretty direct. see my toe-sies wiggling do yah? LOL.
by    Posted august 23, 2010
My thoughts on the topic...well, I side with William with basically everything he's said. Call me a "purist" if you will, but I do feel strongly at least about the Star Wars versus Star Trek debate, lol. I'm usually more easy-going about genre overlaps because I find this happens very often with reading materials but alas not in this case.

My problem with calling Star Wars sci-fi is that it's not. Simple. There is no scientific explanation behind any of the "scientific" elements presented in it. Just because a story's setting takes place in space does not make it sci-fi nor does the inclusion of aliens. I wouldn't even call it a hybrid. Seemingly sci-fi elements does not equate sci-fi hybrid. It's a fantasy story, best expressed by the intro: "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." This reads like a fantasy or fairy tale opening, not like a science fiction epic.

One reason creators like their creations to cross genres is because they hope they will get a wider audience. Of course there is nothing wrong with that, especially with something as well crafted as Star Wars. I just like to be aware of the marketing and selling of a product too. 

Another reason I think people cling to the belief that Star Wars is science fiction is because when the first Star Wars movie came out, it was the first time s science fiction/epic fantasy suddenly became a respectable genre in Hollywood. People respect that Star Wars paved the way for other films that more adequately fit in that genre category. 

In the end, even Luca himself claims that Star Wars is "a work of fiction. It's a metaphor. It's not real. And therefore, you can either like it or not like it. Whatever." 

When referring to Star Wars, I prefer the term "space fantasy" rather than science fiction or even a hybrid. There is a big difference between science fiction as a story versus science fiction as a setting.

SquareMans writes an article that I agree with in regards to what real science fiction is (at least as far as Hollywood is concerned):

Here's a good interview with George Lucas too that fans might be interested in listening to:

I'll address the film Inception in a later message to this thread. It's getting late here, and I have to head to sleep. Look forward to sharing my thoughts about that film within the next day or so. :)
by    Posted august 23, 2010
yup. I am having those issues too. I'll report it.
by    Posted august 23, 2010
I am having the same issue. I think it's some type of a bug. Thanks for reporting it, William!
by    Posted august 24, 2010
We've been around on this one a number of times. =) But to me Jaws is a classic (I can hear The Count cringing) monster movie which would put it squarely in the horror category. But then to me the definition of  the difference between horror and science fiction has frequently been decided by answering the question "Is something chasing people around trying to kill and/or eat them?
by    Posted august 24, 2010
yep, still not working on my end. Can't see page two.
by    Posted august 25, 2010
When it comes to the Science FIction vs. Fantasy debate, I tend to think that Science Fiction usually requires science.  The things which happen within science fiction happen logically through, well, science.  I think people tend to equate science fiction with space because so much sci-fi takes place in space or in the future.  So I think that space and the future isn't exclusive to Science Fiction anymore than the Medieval times are exclusive to fantasy.  But it's very easy to tell the difference that way.

I take the side of the debate for Star Wars that looks at it as a Fantasy, though.  Because there's not a lot of science to Star Wars.  There's a lot of adventure and it happens to take place in space across the galaxy.  And while there's a lot of technology that doesn't exist like say... The Lightsaber or the Death Star that's not exclusive to Science Fiction either.  Science Fiction, as far as I'm concerned has a more scientific approach.  This is why I don't think Star Wars falls into that category.  The unexplainable can't be explained through science.  It's explained through faith and believing in a mysterious force.  In Star Wars Luke can call a Lightsaber to his hand and use it and we accept that it's because of the force that he can do that.  In Star Trek, however, there would have to be a more logical and scientific explanation as to why Luke can do that.  It wouldn't simply be accepted on Faith alone.

Star Wars doesn't have to explain most of its mysterious nature because we accept that the Force is a powerful thing behind it all.  It binds us, it penetrates us etc.  Star Trek, on the other hand doesn't rely on a ton of fantastic elements.  The Jedis powers and abilities are not derived from science.  You're not likely to see characters with a lot of these kinds of abilities.  There's no magic in Star Trek, for example, but there is a kind of magic in Star Wars.  Someone out there would tell me I may be going a little too far in describing "The Force" as a kind of magic, but it kind of feels like that.  In a lot of science fiction the unexplainable doesn't remain unexplained.  The characters will even speculate about the nature of where a particular something comes from.

Consider Dean Koontz's breakout horror novel Phantoms.  It's a mysterious thing, but at some point in the novel, Dean Koontz provides us with a completely scientific explanation for the monster's existence and even why he can shapeshift and all that jazz.  It dilutes (actually destroys is more like it) the mystery, but upon reading it, you're very much certain you've stepped out of the realm of fantasy and into the realm of a more science fiction kind of story because now we don't simply accept that the monster is there for unknown reasons, but that the monster is actually something that doesn't just feel real... but actually IS.  The science is, of course, fictional.  But I like to think that if Koontz hadn't insisted on giving a very scientific explanation (that last for quite a few pages and experts happen to be on scene and everything) the novel might be more fantasy like.  It would've been more horror fantasy rather than horror sci-fi. 

So I guess what I'm saying is that in Science Fiction the unreal can be real because you can actually see that it is.  There's more deep rooted logic and reasoning behind it.  In fantasy the monster's abilities origins and everything remain a mystery or don't get a lot of attention.  We simply accept that they exist in the world that we've stepped into.  In Science Fiction you might have questions.  Depending on when it takes place.  If it's in the future you might accept that we've discovered Alien life and that they can feasibly co-exist. 

So I guess what I'm saying is there's a more down to earth sense of reality to Science Fiction.  Where as in Fantasy their tends to be a lot more Faith.  If Star Wars was purely Science Fiction, I imagine it would've been a lot more political, for instance.  So I tend to think that Star Wars is more Fantasy than simply Sci-Fi.  We just have different ways of how we see the two.  We typically think that Fantasy has to take place in middle earth or in the past for example.  Science Fiction we tend to think needs to be in the future or in space.  So Star Wars gets slapped as Science Fiction despite a severe lack of actual science.  It just happens to take place in space. 

To put it another way... imagine if Lord of the Rings was the EXACT same story, but it took place in space instead.  Frodo gets the one ring, but Mordor just happens to be another planet... a lava filled planet, of course. Now imagine that he meets his allies.  Instead of simply using axes, bows and arrows and swords they're using laser swords (and possibly laser like axes) and instead of bows and arrows they're using blasters.  Instead of riding horses they're flying space ships and instead of a castle where a King resides, it's a space station (or perhaps a castle on a planet).  I'm not trying to change too much, but I think it's unique to think about.  If Lord of the Rings were a space epic instead of an epic in middle earth (changing just the technology) it would still be fantasy, I think.  It's just hard to separate science fiction from space... or the future. 

And we know science fiction doesn't have to take place in the future.  Books like Flowers for Algernon have demonstrated that (and I must say, I like Flowers for Algernon a great deal). 

On the other hand, I don't consider Resident Evil to be Science Fiction at all.  I understand that certain movies have science fictionlike elements, but that seems odd to count it just for having elements.  You wouldn't call The Empire Strikes Back a romantic drama just because there's a small love story in there.  Resident Evil just seems to feel it has to explain the existence of Zombies somehow.  If we're talking the video games it's pretty darn far from being Science fiction.  On the other hand if we're talking about the movies, they're very much action movies.  They don't even try to be horror.  Probably because at some point the video games couldn't really do the horror thing anymore (but that's a different discussion for a different time).

So yeah, it seems to me that Science Fiction tends to make the unreasonable logically reasonable.  And it explains the logic and reasoning behind it.  Fantasy, however, seems to ask the audience to dream a little, to have some faith and to accept that what happens can happen without any real explanation as to why.  I guess the best way to sum this up is simple: In fantasy the possible becomes possible through faith.  In Science fiction the possible becomes possible through logic and reasoning.  Fantasy isn't asking you to think about it and wonder... but Science Fiction sometimes does.  In Star Wars you just accept that the force gives Luke the ability to call a lightsaber to his hand and can make rocks levitate.  In Star Trek there would have to be something more to it.  You don't see anyone in Star Trek able to do those things because in a world of science how could you explain that kind of phenomenon?  In Fantasy you can leave it up to magic or something like that.  In Science Fiction... not so much.  This is why in Star Wars Luke can jump out of the Carbon Freezing Chamber easily after Vader knocks him in.... but in Star Trek the character would have to physically climb out.  Luke uses the force to jump really high and really fast.  This is something that no typical human being could possibly do without the aid of some kind of technology.  Fantasy bends the rules while Science Fiction honors them.

I can see where those who think Star Wars is purely Sci-Fi are coming from, I'm just not one to accept that being in space in and of itself necessarily means Science Fiction.  If Star Wars didn't have that element, I don't think a lot of people would be so quick to jump to conclusions that it's sci-fi, I think they might stop for a moment and wonder about it a little longer. 
by    Posted september 10, 2010
I just wanted to say, 'Hi,' here.  I find everyone's take civil and interesting, but I have nothing to share. 
by    Posted october 16, 2010
I agree with @Sean_Rhodes. Very poignant argument made. :)
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