Ten Mainstream TV Shows or Movies that are Science Fiction or Fantasy “Light”

June 18th, 2010

A few days ago I blogged about mainstream stories that I thought could be categorized as light versions of fantasy or science fiction.   To qualify, the stories had to fail to reflect reality in some fundamental way without being obviously science fiction or fantasy.   When that failure was over-the-top and great liberties are taken with reality, it’s mainstream fantasy (e.g., the movie 300).   When the failure is a subtle one required to make the show work, but that isn’t how reality works, that’s mainstream science fiction (e.g., most detective shows, House, CSI).   I use the word “fail” or “failure” but these things are done on purpose to specific effect.

I’ll start with repeating 300 here, a fantasized version of history, and intentionally so.

I’m not always such a huge Michael Crichton fan, as you may know, but his novel that inspired the movie The 13th Warrior was a brilliant piece of historical fantasy.   There’s no magic or other elements common to fantasy.   He just made up his own history and merged it in with conventional history.   It really is cool.

CSI has led a generation of Americans who will sit on trials that there should always be forensic clues and that there’s huge amounts of money to be spent on pretty much any kind of crime.

House makes easy diagnoses look easy — doctors can tell at a glance what is wrong with someone.   Again, infinite money to be spent.   Corners to be cut.   Rare diseases pop up all the time and are solved in an hour, usually saving the patient.   Medical shows in general have convinced people that CPR works much more often than it really does.

Charlie’s Angels, as originally on TV did conventional stunts.   When it moved to the big screen the fights and stunts started to defy the laws of physics.

Kill Bill is pretty obviously a fantasy.   In additional to the conventions of Kung Fu movies, defying physics in the fight scenes, there is a very lovely bit about the airline that the Bride flies.   They let you take on samurai swords and have holders for them on the seats!   This is not the real world, even though it’s impossible to tell that from many other scenes.

Oh, another hugely popular mainstream fantasy: The Godfather. I remember hearing stories about real mafia getting a kick at how noble this movie made them out to be.

In the past, there were a lot of westerns and war movies that didn’t worry about getting anything realistic. They tended to reflect the propaganda of their times, with one-dimensional evil Indians and Nazis for our heroes to fight. I feel that both genres have veered hard for larger doses of reality in recent years. Think about Unforgiven that deglamorizes gun fighting, or Saving Private Ryan with its D-Day landing scene pulling no punches. The Hurt Locker looks like an another attempt at serious reality (although I have not seen it yet). War and death aren’t fun, is the message. But there are signs that this may be swinging back the other way with Inglourius Basterds, which is technically alternate history (and I won’t spoil it here if you haven’t seen it), but that’s what every fictionalized attempt at history really is, and even non-fictional history is only a reflection of past reality.

Tarantino’s partner in crime, Robert Rodriguez, has also pulled his over-the-top westerns with Desperado and the killer Mariachi gang toting guns and even rocket launchers.

Let’s finish up the list with something that’s obviously not very realistic, and very intentionally so, that mixes Frank Miller, Tarantino, and Rodriguez: Sin City. They make sure the cars bounce and careen along in ways that intentionally defy physics because they want a particular mood and style.   That’s one of the more subtle things that isn’t real, but a clear indication that they’ve created their own world that is only superficially our own.

Any other suggestions of some big, popular shows or movies?


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