Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2012 Science Fiction Experience: Science Fiction "B Movies"

Joining the 2012 Science Fiction Experience has made me crave not only books, but also science fiction movies! Now, I'm not talking about the best of the best here... I do love those: Star Wars (the original series), Blade Runner, The Matrix, Alien, a few of the Star Trek movies, etc. I also happen to have a secret passion for "B" movies. You know... the ones that get the dreaded "Rotten Tomatoes" ratings every year, the ones that the critics hate and that serious science fiction fans can't stand to watch? Those.

So, I began by watching some of those movies that I know are flawed (some of the seriously flawed), but that for some unknown reason I get stuck watching anyway. It's interesting because here and there these movies all offer something to science fiction fans. I looked for that this time around instead of doing what I usually do -- talking through most of the movies, pointing out what's wrong with them to my poor husband (who does the same thing to me), or just laughing at the most inappropriate moments, it's fun!

The first movie I watched was Pitch Black. Pitch Black was directed by David Twohy and stars Vin Diesel. Why do I watch this movie? I enjoy the action, the fact that in effect it has that sci-fi/thriller/horror edge to it with the aliens providing the gore, while some of the humans provide the real horror through their questionable actions. They prove to be the true monsters to be conquered by the oh so very dark hero, Riddick. Of course the thriller aspect of the film is still provided as those same humans are pitted against the aliens. It's nothing new or fresh in science fiction, but I do enjoy that type of story line within this genre.

Now, when it comes to the actual sci-fi details and world building, the story is lacking and the action aspect of the film takes precedence over character depth or specific details. This is where Pitch Black falls under the "B movie" category for me. A great science fiction film is all about the details, and those are missing. For example right at the beginning of the movie the pilot (Caroline Fry) crash lands the ship on the planet after they are hit by debris from a comet. However there's no way she could have survived the crash as all the windows of the ship burst right on her face as they are entering the planet's atmosphere at top speed. Later on, Fry should not have survived her foray into the alien's cave either, but obviously it wasn't her time to die yet.

There's also the planet itself and the fact that seems to be very close to three suns, with desert-like weather and blistering temperatures. The survivors are not prepared for a trek through this blistering desert. They don't have the right gear, nor do they have water... yet they survive a long trek by drinking alcohol without any outward effects. And then there's Riddick, the questionable hero of the piece. He obviously has abilities that are beyond those of a mere human. For example, he can see in the dark, but the rest is basically implied. In Pitch Black, Riddick is just a very dangerous criminal who somehow can survive in the dark when others can't, can smell when someone is bleeding (even though this is not apparent), and can even fight the native aliens and win, but how he does this is never explained. Ever. Not even at the end of the movie.

There are also lots of cliches used in the film. Most of what happens is foreshadowed. You know when someone is going to bite the dust, or make the stupid move that's going to get someone killed. This is not a movie I recommend as a great example of a science fiction film. However, as an action film with some of that science fiction flavor it can be highly entertaining to watch on a Sunday afternoon.

There's a sequel to Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick where Riddick's abilities are explained. I've also seen that film, but that would be another post. :)

I did watch two other movies in the "B movie" category:

Soldier is a 1998 science fiction-action film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. The film stars Kurt Russell as Sgt. Todd, a soldier trained from birth. This was one of the biggest flops ever in the history of film! There's some military sci-fi action in this film with a bit of social sci-fi. The problem is that neither is really developed and the film devolves into an action film that doesn't really make a point either way.

The interesting factoid about this film? The screenwriter David Peoples "considers Soldier to be a "sidequel"/spiritual successor to Blade Runner." Ahhh, nope! Sorry, but I don't see it.

Push is a 2009 American science fiction thriller film directed by Paul McGuigan starring Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Joel Gretsch and Djimon Hounsou. The film focuses on a group of people born with various superhuman abilities: Movers (Telekinetics), Watchers (Foreseers), Pushers (Mind Controllers), Sniffers, Shadows, Shifters, etc...

The main characters, three young adults band together in order to take down the "Division", a government agency that is developing a dangerous drug to enhance their powers, hoping to create an army of super soldiers. This was an interesting movie with a good premise I enjoyed, even as I watched the dead end action scenes that had no real purpose and its inconclusive and sequel-bating ending. This movie is like an episode in an ongoing series with no real conclusion. Incomplete.

That's it for my science fiction "B" movie watching. That was fun!


  1. Hi Hilcia,
    I can't believe there is at least one other person who has seen Pitch Black! My husband and I always end up watching it - every damn time it's on TV. I agree with your review it must just be the action with the scifi element that is entertaining and maybe b/c it has Claudia Black of Farscape fame in it! Ah the power of a B movie =)


  2. We watch some B sci fi movies sometimes too. I can't recall any titles right now (they're THAT memorable)--I'd have to look through our past movie queues-- but at the time we're watching them, they're entertaining enough.

  3. Hi Negine! LOL, maybe we'll be the only two (together with our husbands) to admit that we watch this movie! But you said it... the power of the B movie (especially if it's sci-fi) is mighty. It pulls me every time. *g*

    Christine, that's too funny. They're that memorable? No titles? That's too good. I remember them because after a while I wind up watching some of them over and over again. As soon as we see a sci-fi B movie come on we run to get the popcorn ready.

  4. Not sure I would classify Pitch Black as a B film, but that is just a niggling point. It is a really fun movie, best watched of course with all lights out.

    I can't recall if I've seen Soldiers or if I just know so much about it that I think I've seen it. I noticed it on Netflix streaming the other day and almost watched it just because once in awhile a Kurt Russell action flick is the perfect answer to scratch that entertainment itch.

  5. I must confess to quite liking Pitch Black (and The Chronicles of Riddick). I heard there was a third one in the works, but I think it has folded for lack of funding :(

    Would it be bad to bring up sci-fi TV series? My particular favourites are Blake's 7 (a fantastic British TV series - very old, so the graphics are brilliant, but had one of the best anti-heroes EVA!), Bayblon 5 and Battlestar Galactica. Weird...all begin with B :)

  6. Carl V. I agree with your assessment on the term. It's all relative to the times, though. It doesn't mean what it used to mean (budget-wise, craft-wise). Of course... there are always the C and the Z movies! I didn't get into those! :D

    Seriously though, Soldier by Russell doesn't really qualify as a "B" movie. If I think about budget, it's more of a financial flop. However, although as you say his movies are always, always great for entertainment. This one is not an exception.

    Orannia, Battlestar Galactica is a classic! I loved it along with the original Star Trek. I ate all those programs for breakfast. *g*

  7. Isn't that the truth. The budgets of what would now be considered B movies is certainly very different from what it was back when the phrase was first coined.

  8. I watched Pitch Black just because Vin Diesel was in it, and enjoyed it very much. :) It wasn't an Oscar contender, no, nor even a Hugo contender, but it's a fun popcorn movie, and that's reason enough to watch. And the sequel has Vin Diesel AND Karl Urban -- can't go wrong there. :D

    If you're looking for little-known SF movies that are worth watching and also have great eye candy, try Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale (yum!) with Sean Bean and Taye Diggs (more yum!) It's based on an interesting worldbuilding concept, too.


  9. Equilibrium is very good. The gun-kata can be a bit silly if you are overcritical, but by and large it really is a great undersung sf movie.

  10. I love watching the gun kata. :D A friend of mine has an edited vid of all the gun kata bits on her journal, and I go over there to watch it periodically. I know it wouldn't work in real life, but I don't care because it's massively cool. [grin]


  11. Angie, you like Vin Diesel? You're too much fun! The Chronicles of Riddick was more interesting to me than Pitch Black, although again not a Hugo contender either.

    I love Equilibrium. As a matter of fact, I watched it again last month. I really like the whole premise of that movie and think it was well done. The fact that Christian Base stars in it is a plus, of course. :)

    Carl V., undersung is the perfect word for that film! Although, of course in my humble opinion the gun-kata is what brings a bit of fun to the whole.

    Angie! I love that you watch just the gun-kata. My husband would do that! LOL!

  12. Ooops, Christian Bale! Not Base. *g*

  13. Don't get me wrong, I like the gun-kata, but it has been the one part of the movie that has given some friends a chuckle and if anyone has heard of that and would consider it silly I always want to say that the film as a whole is excellent. I wish I had seen it in the theater.

  14. I loved Push and Pitch Black. I hadn't heard of Soldier, but will be checking it out.

    I also enjoyed the Chronicles of Riddick. My brother makes fun of me cause I'm addicted to these types of movies lol..

  15. Carl V. I know what you mean. :) Equilibrium would look awesome in the theater. Like you, I also saw it on DVD. :(

    Mariana, Push has an interesting premise, right? I've seen it a couple of times and always wonder at the end if they plan to do a sequel or if they will. There's just room there for more.

    The Chronicles of Riddick... I remember wondering the first time I saw it if the film was based on a book and if the book had the "details" that I so badly wanted. LOL! It's a story with such great world building potential. I enjoy it every time I see it too. :)


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