Worst Moments in SciFi

As my alter ego (a Trekkie and otherwise dedicated SF geek) I was blindsided a while back by a friend's post that a linked to this little gem on TechRepublic:

Sci-fi rant: When did Star Trek jump the shark?

I recently came across Something Awful’s list of The 22 Most Awful Moments in Science Fiction. Now, I like me some Something Awful. They bring the funny. But this list is a bit padded, and wanders off into some crazy territory that most SF fans don’t care about. (Seriously, who is bent out of shape that President Reagan’s pie-in-the-sky Strategic Defense Initiative got nicknamed” Star Wars?” Like that is the worst fate to befall the franchise.) So, instead, I’ve trimmed and rearranged the list to my liking, and as your beneficent Geekend dictator, ye shall like it as well. Now, these rants are long, so they’ll each earn their own belabored blog entry. The series starts off with a subject near and dear to my heart:
Q: When did Star Trek jump the shark?
Most Trekkers would count First Contact as the last good Trek movie, and at first blush I’m inclined to agree with them, even if the film rather significantly retconned Zefram Cochrane’s history (He was originally from Alpha Centauri, not Montana) and paved the way for the four-year punch-to-the-brain that was Enterprise.
In the plus column, we had a big screen showdown with the Borg, a new movie-worthy starship Enterprise, actual gunfights, Worf back with his real crew, and even a little rock & roll, all set on some their-past-our-future Earth. It was like all five of the good ideas from the entire NextGen era of Trek fan fiction made their way into one really decent script.
But then there was the Borg Queen, and that ruined everything.
It's a rather entertaining piece, in a lightly pseudo-misogynistic sort of way, you might want to finish reading it. There are two other entries in the series at TechRepublic; Sci-fi rant: When did Star Wars jump the shark? and Sci-fi rant: When did Trekkers jump the shark?
adequately penned by geekend host Jay Garmon.

His work is a derivative work (much like DS9 is derivative of B5. No wait, hold that thought...) which makes anything I have to say on the subject twice removed from the original work over at Something Awful. So I took the time to peruse the list of awful moments in SciFi; of which the list itself probably counts as one of the most awful moments in SciFi, considering how broadly the realm of SciFi is construed to be, within the list.

[Yes, number one is Reagan's Star Wars. Isn't that a bit dated?]

The cheap shots at James Cameron aside (clearly the 'Awful' author never saw Cameron's apology for the theatrical release of The Abyss, the director's cut) and the clearly irremediable lack of taste in what is or isn't good Science Fiction (If we're going to be picking on Dr. Who aliens, the phosphorescent painted garbage bag that is the Rutan really ought to rank as the "most awful"; but believability was never a requirement for filming Dr. Who, or any British television programme for that matter. Suspend disbelief. Have another Guinness) I just have to question what dart board the author picked the worst moments off of, including the number 22. (Perhaps it's like 42, the answer to life, the universe, and everthing) Seriously, the love scenes from Attack of the Clones is fresh on your mind, and the best awfulizing you can do is summon the ghost of Reagan? For shame.



As for the derivative work at TechRepublic, the fact that he uses the phrase "jump the shark" without further explanation establishes his true geek credentials (or at least his bona fide age) when it comes to judging media. Not everyone breathing today was around to watch Fonzie in that episode of Happy Days; I'm surprised that most people around today would realize that Happy Days ran for so many years that towards the end it began to be a parody of it's former (more engaging, more interesting) self. But he makes several valid points.

I would have to agree that First Contact represented a beginning of the end for Star Trek as we knew it. (not that there was ever a time when it was what we remember it to be. Memory is like that) I liked Insurrection, but it was little better than a two hour next generation episode. First Contact was the last good film, but it also appears to have started several trends that lead to Nemesis (an aptly named film if there ever was one) and Enterprise.

Nemesis (as I've pointed out elsewhere) is so disconnected from cannon that it doesn't even count as Star Trek, and the same can be said of Enterprise. But those are just the end of the franchise at the moment. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the saying goes, and the road to Star Trek irrelevancy is similarly paved.

I've always traced my abandonment of hardcore Star Trek fandom to Paramount's ham-handed attempts to start their own network on the backs of Star Trek fans; But truthfully, it started much earlier. It started with Final Frontier and Undiscovered Country; with poorly executed scripts on the one hand, and the sabotaging of a potentially good film on the other. Both films suffer from both ills, and I'd be hard pressed to say which one is more flawed at this point in time.

[and for those people who love Undiscovered Country, let me just say "Valeris" (Kim Cattrall as a Vulcan. Not buying it. Would have bought her as the third actress to play Saavik much easier; at least I could have pretended she was Kirstie Alley) and "Checkov reduced to a comic element". ("Why not just waporise them?" You were in security once, remember?) Those two pieces alone are enough to make me dismiss the film. Like Generations that followed it, The opening sequence is the best part of the film. The rest of it is just filler. ]

Those two films mark the beginning of the end of Trek for me. Final Frontier was shafted on effects to such an extent that I began to wonder if Paramount thought the fans would buy anything (Enterprise proves they will, at least for a time) no matter how low budget it looks. Undiscovered Country had a lavish effects budget, but suffered from a complete lack of plot and consistent characterization.

I would go so far as to say that Undiscovered Country foreshadows what First Contact hints at, and then Nemesis drives home with a vengeance; that Star Trek is just another franchise to Paramount, and that the only thing that matters to them is dollar figures in the financial ledger. They don't care what the fans think, they don't care what the latest offering does to the overall saleability of the franchise, and they certainly don't care about established cannon or WWGD. (What Would Gene Do) Just spend more on effects, and the fans will eat it up.

Truthfully, a corporation is only going to care about dollar figures anyway. As long as the fans keep buying, they'll keep turning out Star Dreck. The only thing the fans can do is stop buying, and I am solidly on that bandwagon.

"Fool me once, shame on you..." to paraphrase Mr. Scott. I'm done with being fooled by Paramount. J.J. Abrams may be able to walk on water in Hollywood, but that still doesn't make him Gene's equal in my book. He's going to have to prove his product is worth my investment in time and money before I'm shelling out for tickets to this one.

J.J. Abrams getting his hands on the next Star Trek film could well rank in the top ten most awful moments in SciFi, but that remains to be seen. Paramount (a subsidiary of Viacom, which is really all that needs to be said on the subject) owning the rights to Star Trek definitely ranks in the top five.



The moment when Star Wars jumped the shark was the moment when George Lucas was convinced he could script a motion picture. That also happens to be the same film in which the Midi-chlorians are introduced, but the parody wasn't in the introduction of the plot device, it was in the brain of director who could in fact only parody what he had shot on film before. This becomes quite obvious in Attack of the Clones. Several of the lines are word for word repeats of lines in previous films. I'm sure it was done as a tribute to the previous film, but the line between tribute and parody is very fine indeed, especially if the previous work is your own (think of M. Night Shyamalan casting himself as a major character in Lady in the Water; which, if it was SciFi, would count as one of the Most Awful) paying tribute to yourself isn't something one should do in public.

Star Wars having jumped the shark actually means less, in the scheme of things, than Star Trek. Star Wars never pretended to be anything other than a rollicking space adventure (at least the original film did not) so it's becoming something more contrived than it was before really is a moot point. If you didn't enjoy the first film, you didn't bother to watch the rest. If the later films aren't entertaining, don't watch them. Works for me. As far as I'm concerned there were only two Alien films before AVP showed up. (Alien3? Never heard of it) So your Star Wars saga only has three films (pick any three) in it? no problem. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.



Which brings up the last post in the series, When did Trekkers jump the shark? I'm not sure that fandom itself can Jump the Shark, but if it can, then it should apply to all forms of fandom. Quoting again:

Once upon a time, Trekkers (or, if you prefer, Trekkies) weren’t universally mocked as basement-dwelling pointy-eared social reprobates who were more likely to have a working knowledge of fictional faster-than-light propulsion systems than they were the mating rituals of their own species. Though it may be hard to fathom, there was an era when Trekkers were seen as quaintly optimistic hobbyists fascinated by a vision of the future that saw mankind as better off socially, intellectually, and technologically than it is now, and who supported an amusing little sci-fi show that had a good heart and was boldly ahead of its time in social commentary, if not production values. Trekkers were no more unusual than folks who passionately followed a sports franchise or popular musical act, though they probably had better costumes.
Any Trek fan that cares whether he's called a Trekker or a Trekkie is automatically a Trekkie; and the 'get a lifers' amongst the Trekkies make up a very small percentage of Trek fandom on general.

Deriding the whole of Trek fandom for the excesses of the few is no different than deriding all of sports fandom for the actions of the face painters in the endzone of every football game; and declaring that thereby all sports fans are no better than the average ignorant Roman citizen cheering the violence at the coliseum while waiting for their promised loaf of bread.

Something I take great pleasure in doing every chance I get.
...what was your favorite sports team, again?



So, you might well ask, what would be my worst moments in SciFi? Do you mean other than the first ten times some busybody with a camera decided to shoot a film purportedly based on a book near and dear to my heart? (name a film, any film) Or perhaps the unavoidable blurring of the lines between Horror and SciFi that all those 50's monster movies created? (Is Slither SciFi? Is it Awful? Awful disgusting) Cardboard cut out characters voicing unconvincing lines? ("I'm haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me" Yerch) Cheesy effects? (already covered that one) Make it funny? Some other time perhaps.

I did learn a few things reading the awful list. I learned that Robocop 2 & 3 are good enough reasons to hate every subsequent thing done by Frank Miller. Saves me the trouble of having to see The 300 after the disappointment that was Sin City. And I learned than nobody 'gets it' when it comes to wrestling on the SciFi channel. What's up with that? It's fiction, yeah; and it is horrifying. But SciFi? I'd have ranked that one much higher on the list.

And lastly I learned that good ideas, like the government not being free to spy on me, or robots being designed to be prevented from harming people, were superfluous; just forget 'em. That camera watching your every move really doesn't remind you of 1984, and the idea of deadly machines should comfort you like the cold embrace of The Terminator. Maybe it's just me, but I prefer to think the future will be a bit brighter than that, even though it makes for good cinema.

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