Why I like science fiction films

This was meant to have been posted in July, but when I scheduled it, I accidentally scheduled it to post in 2010 not 2014, so it was filed where no one could find it! Enjoy.

For the oral exam in my French class last week, I drew a subject out of a hat and talked about it in front of my classmates. The question was which genre of film do I particularly like and why. My answer was science fiction, a fact recently bolstered by re-watching Alien and taking in last summer’s Oblivion (not bad, if not great) and Pacific Rim this month.

Why do I like science fiction movies?

First, growing up in a small town in Alberta leaves most opportunities for adventure up to the imagination. Of which I had no short supply as a child, I admit. What science fiction films provided for me was adventure far beyond the world of the Clearwater Forest, the North Saskatchewan River, the Rocky Mountains. A world where adventure was as thrilling as what I imagined was going on during a hike in the mountains.

Science fiction fuels the appetite of young boys and young men, provides us with vicarious adventures we’d not otherwise have. And not all sci-fi adventure is violent (not denying the violence of the Alien and Terminator franchises, though) — in The Empire Strikes Back we have the battle on Hoth at the beginning and then some firefight and a legendary light sabre duel at the end. Most of the adventure is spent in running from the Empire and meeting Yoda, the adventure of training young Luke Skywalker.

Second, and related, science fiction can help open our eyes to a bigger universe, a universe not simply of adventure but even of opportunity. My cousin who grew up in actual middle of nowhere at a missionary station in Africa says that Star Trek was a very important influence on her when young because it helped her see a world, a universe, larger than what she knew. Star Trek doesn’t just stave off boredom, it opens minds and eyes to the universe, to the potential of humanity. It can make clever young minds realise that perhaps they aren’t alone in the universe. (For the clever do so often feel alone. And I don’t mean aliens; I mean other clever people.)

Third, science fiction films can discuss issues of philosophy, politics, and society in an imaginary forum without the heat generated by real, live conversations. This way, a person who is being entertained can begin questioning him- or herself about his’er own life. Famously, Star Trek includes the first televised interracial kiss in the 1960s. It also features an episode where two races are at ceaseless war on a planet where one race was black on the left and white on the right half of their bodies, the other race the opposite. And that was the basis of their conflict. Star Trek shows the utter folly of racism.

District 9 raises questions about the treatment of refugees. Elysium makes us probe into the growing disparity between earth’s rich and poor and the mental apparatus for a just society. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country makes us ask: what is it to be human? Can ancient enemies become friends?

The final frontier is not space, my friends. It is the human mind, and human potential is the subject of many of the greatest science fiction stories, from Forbidden Planet through classic Star Trek to Inception. What are the limits of the mind? If you give a human brain too much power, what sort of person do you get? What does character have to do in relation to this intectual potential?

Finally, it’s fun. This is coming full circle to the first reason. Beyond the questions of what is human and what is just action and all of that, I like science fiction because I enjoy it. I read a lot of books all day and work fairly hard at my PhD. It is nice sometimes to come home and watch a movie like Pacific Rim that has a good story and is visually stunning but doesn’t require as much brain power as I’ve expended all day.

These are the reason I gave, only much more eloquently and with more examples in English than in French!

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