Tuesday, April 25, 2006

SciFi Original Movies and Haters

Last Saturday, the Kung Fu Monkey John Rogers of The Core and Blue Beetle fame wrote a brief review of the SciFi original movie MAMMOTH. His thoughts were that, basically, MAMMOTH was the type of film that SciFi original films ought to be, namely fun homages to the films of William Castle etc. His commenters, and there have only been a few, have been from essentially two camps. There were those who think that SciFi Network should never make the low budget SciFi Original movies, but should stick to series like Battlestar Galactica and Stargate. Then there were those, like Bill Cunningham of DISContent who pointed out that the SciFi originals get higher ratings than the regular series. Bill has a funny, but smart alecky, sense of humor and likes to refer to shows that have multiple "branches" by ironic titles. My favorites are CSI: Silverlake and Stargate: Cleveland. Bill, by the way, writes direct to DVD movies.

Which brings me to my thoughts on the SciFi original films versus their television series.

As an aside, prior to reading the Uberhaters website, I had mistakenly assumed that these features were primarily for television consumption. I have since discovered that most of these films are released simultaneously (or within close proximity) on DVD and that the DVD versions usually have decent added features and aren't edited for content.

When I started watching the SciFi channel, in the early 90s, it was because they were running reruns of The Six Million Dollar Man and Buck Rogers. A part of me still wishes they would run these series, but in the years since I have come to enjoy many of their television shows as well (Stargate chief among those enjoyments). There shows have been hit or miss for me though and it would be dishonest for me to say that I think all their series programming has been good. I have pretty much hated all of their "reality" based programs, Ghost Hunters schmost hunters, Scare Tactics schmare tactics. Yawn.

My wife and I are also among the small minority of SciFi fans who don't like the new Battlestar Galactica. My reasons are different from my wife's, I still can't narratively understand why the humans ever went back to an integrated defense system when their chief, and narratively only, enemy can easily take such things over. There is more to my complaint, but it stems from the fact that I think the show is all surface and no depth. It is too post-modern. I know people enjoy it, and I am always happy that there is a growth in the number of SciFi fans (yes that's a big Wanker sign to Harlan Ellison) in the marketplace. But like with Star Trek it's "only the original for me."

Back to the movies though. The SciFi original movies have created a wonderful thing, a marketplace for creative genre fiction on a modest budget. Sometimes that means films that are along the lines of drive-in films of the 50s and 60s, like the film MAMMOTH that John Rogers enjoyed (or Alien Apocalypse with Bruce Campbell or as I like to call it "Battlefield Earth, but fun"). Sometimes it means a Terminator redux with a post-apocalyptic future, or a low budget version of the Forever War. Sometimes it means fantasy, like the recent SciFi original Dungeons and Dragons 2: Wrath of the Dragon God Movie, which I thought was a significant improvement over the theatrical released, or the recent made for SciFi adaptation of the Nibelungenlied, Dark Kingdom. Like Roger Corman, SciFi is becoming a work-mill where genre fiction has a place to meet its audience. No one will argue that Death Race 2000 is an artistic masterpiece, but I love it and I think it is well written. Which brings me to a point. When the budget is low, as it is in all the SciFi originals (at least compared to "Hollywood" movies), it is solely the writing that makes or breaks the film. (Hmm..kind of like original Star Trek.)

I like that SciFi does its original films. I was delighted to read that they are profitable. I find some of them unbearably bad, but I find many of them entertaining and fun. Why pay $20.00 (I have a wife) to see Final Destination 4: Because Death Always Forgets to Kill Someone in the Prior Film when I can buy (or watch then buy) Dark Kingdom for the same price and see how Diane Duane and others have adapted one of the great legends of Europe?

I guess you can tell that I like the SciFi original movies, but that comes from me being a pretentiously non-pretentious genre fan. I would write more, but I have to go watch "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra." I know it isn't a SciFi original, but it is genius.

"I'm a scientist...I don't believe in anything! Ha, ha, ha!"

"I sleep now."

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