Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Top Sci-Fi and Fantasy Disappointments

By Kenneth Parker

Over the years we all have had experiences where we went to go see a movie or sat down to watch a TV show and were devastated on what we saw.  Whether it was high expectations or just the fact that the product was bad, we were let down by the hope of something better.  Often this happens with sequels but it could also happen for something that looked good in the trailer or had all the elements for a good outcome.  In any case, we are left shaking our heads and either being sad or even mad, wondering how this could happen.

I have chosen a few of my own personal experiences, some you would expect to see while others might be controversial.  Not everything on my list is a bad product.  Some are excellent but because of expectations or other factors, they are deemed a let down to some degree. 

Prometheus – I want to say that I absolutely love this film.  It has so many elements that are great.  The look of the film is one of the best of any film I have ever seen in a while.  The effects, music and design are superb.  But, I had huge expectations for this film.  I really wanted this to be on par with Ridley Scott’s other films, Blade Runner and Alien.  WOW – talk about setting the bar too high!!  That is what I did.  I think most people expected higher than what we got.  Sure, some elements blew me away.  I love the entire story of looking for your creator and finding something different.  Like the scientists in Prometheus who were disappointed with what they found, audiences followed suite.

There were a number of character design failures in Prometheus.  Some scientists were acting dumb, doing stupid things and being unprofessional.  Other characters sacrificing themselves with little motivation and others not being able to run left or right away from the rolling spaceship!  These problems among others were not horrible but they were enough to turn off a lot of people.  You compare these characters to the ones in Alien and it is like night and day.  The ones in Alien are realistic and likable and well defined.

Must go faster....must go faster.....
We also have a confusing array of aliens and black goo which interacts with humans with so many different outcomes that the story logic falters.  The connection with the Alien universe is there but was never an importance to me.  I didn’t even care if we even saw the ‘alien’ at the end of the film.  It is enough to know we are dealing with the same universe.  This is not the case for all movies.

Still, enough of the story of faith and belief as well as the story of the Engineers gets through that I see the quality of this movie.  At the time I was deflated quite a bit as I knew this was not this perfect movie I had hoped for.  As time as gone on, I think this film is within my top 50 and is my 3rd favorite ‘Alien’ film.  I have recently watched it and have enjoyed it greatly and hope for a sequel.  A better sequel.

Alien 3 – Again, Alien 3 is not the worst ‘Alien’ film… um… actually it is.  This film certainly rebooted the entire franchise within the first few minutes of the opening credits.  The characters we grew to like and the mother-daughter relationship that was so powerful in Aliens are all wiped out during the opening credits.  It was obvious the writer wanted to go in a new direction and instead of having Ripley waking up and realizing that Aliens was just a dream, they decided to wipe the slate clean by killing off the surviving characters unceremoniously. This set the tone for me for the rest of the film.  You could have had Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott and James Cameron creating the perfect movie after that and I would have still been upset.  The movie ignores the previous movies in order to go in its own direction and it sucked.  The movie was probably okay but light years back from the first two films.  I barely recognize it as canon really.  The next movie was better and the fact that I had accepted what the 3rd film had done by that point, expectations for the 4th were much lower. 

What a drop for a movie franchise.  Most movie series do this eventually but this was turning its back on excellence and going in a different direction.  Sometimes movie franchises and series need to do this and perhaps Alien 3 did, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Stupid adults... let's save the day.
Thunderbirds – one of the common factors that leads movies to this particular list is the product’s inability to capture just a portion of what would make this movie superb.  In the case of Jonathan Frake’s Thunderbirds he took the primary elements on what made the original Thunderbirds TV series so popular and good and chucked them in the trash.  He then boosted up his own elements of children saving the day and goofy humor to create a low intelligent kids romp which in of itself wasn’t horrible, but missed the target completely.

Fans of the original often site the ship design as a primary problem with the film.  Not at all. The designs were fine.  It was the fact that the story sees all of International Rescue being totally inept while the young kids save the day.  If this was a TV series, it would have made an excellent dream episode where young Alan dreams that he saves the day only to wake up and see his older brothers laughing at the idea.  You would have thought Frakes, if anyone, would have known not to have the kids save the day.  People, including kids, want to see the adults save the day.

Number One.......how could you?
The idea that a movie about Thunderbirds would be considered seems to me to be an easy bet.  What better idea than to have a movie about epic rescues and action with futuristic vehicles and so on.  It is an idea that you would think would be difficult to screw up and Riker did just that.

My expectations were not very high for this but I did expect something a bit better.  It is not the worst film ever and I can see my daughter watching it in a couple of years and enjoying it.

Escape From LA – Similarly to Thunderbirds, I felt that the character of Snake Plissken would be a bankable franchise that would be extremely hard to derail.  Take the character and put him into any type of situation in the dark future and you are done.  Put Kurt Russell and John Carpenter back into their respective roles in the movie and you have a winner!!  Except, whatever you do, John, don’t copy Escape From New York too much.  And don’t parody LA too much and don’t make the movie more biting commentary and less action.  And whatever you do, don’t have Snake Plissken surf a Tsunami!!

I almost could have accepted it without this moment
The film was a massive disappointment on all levels.  I understand the humor that Carpenter was presenting for us and the ending was pretty cool but it was too similar to the original, with the same lines of dialog and scenes that were too close to Escape From NY.  The story was way too much in your face commentary on society.  As a parody, it is a pretty good movie but where is the action and originality? How could this have happened?  What was Carpenter thinking?  He was trying to recreate the magic of Escape From New York but he kept it too close to the original.

Expectations were high and this was one of the reasons why this film is on this list. The movie failed to deliver us the character Snake in an environment that would satisfy viewers.  Horrible let down.

Star Wars -The Phantom Menace – this is probably the most popular example of this type of let-down.  Talk about high expectations.  While I think most people would have rather seen a continuation of the original trilogy, we trusted George Lucas in his plan to cover the past in this new trilogy.  We knew the films would have to deliver some good material as we already knew the outcome of the story. 

Correct me if I am wrong but the initial response to The Phantom Menace was positive.  Most people who watched it, loved it.  As time went on though I think people realized that it wasn’t that good and that high hopes and false attachment to this latest installment created a level of denial.  For kids who were seeing Star Wars for the first time, perhaps they loved it but was it really as enjoyable as when kids saw the first movie in 1977? 
Yousa don't like Jar Jar Binks?

The ongoing trilogy did improve but rarely reached any level of the original trilogy.  The disappointment is similar to so many other let-downs.  How could Lucas have screwed it up?  I would argue that there was no way he would be able to live up to the expectations of the return of the Star Wars franchise.  It was doomed to disappoint.

Lucas failed in many aspects with casting and script.  He continually ruined characters and ideals established in the original trilogy and he probably didn’t even realize it.  These kinks in the armor, coupled with the fact that most people had preconceived notions on how good this movie was going to be, really was the formula for it becoming the biggest disappointment in movie history.
Now this would have been cool!!

Beneath The Planet of the Apes – most sequels don’t live up to their originals and I could go on and on with so many.  I mention this one mostly because I just re-watched them this summer and was shocked on how bad this first sequel was compared to the classic Planet of the Apes.  Attempts to capture some of the tone of the original and really force so many plot problems that did not fit the story of the original were frequent.  The movie series would improve but Beneath, in my opinion was a huge drop in quality and really did nothing to improve the movie series at all.
Its ending makes little sense as hero Taylor decides to destroy every living being on Earth just because he hates the Apes and the mutated humans.  It is a forced story that doesn’t even set up the next sequel.  How would three apes recover a spaceship and get it working in time to leave the Earth’s surface before the bomb blew up?

There really isn’t much in this film that is any good.

Wake up, its almost over....
Solaris (1972) – This is one of the only movies on my list that isn’t a sequel or an adaptation from another movie or TV show.  It is a movie I just recently watched after hearing about it for years and years. It was one of only few of the usual top sci-fi movies that I had not experienced and I finally decided to watch it before I began my top 25 sci-fi movies of all- time list. Solaris did not make that list.  It was boring and while the idea was imaginative, it was a huge let down.  I have seen movies like this in the past that are revered as the best of the best only to find that my expectations were too high. 

Even so, I try to have an open mind but Solaris tries to be like 2001: A Space Odyssey and fails.  There is a 5 minute car ride for God’s sake.  I didn’t hate it, I love an occasional nap during the day time.
Was it because my expectations were too high or is it just not my type of film? 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Movie – Everything that this franchise had done was superb.  Radio Play, audio recordings, books and TV were all funny and excellent.  Then this movie comes along and the highlight is seeing the original Marvin Android in a scene and that is it.
I know how you feel Marvin...

For years Douglas Adams wanted to do a movie adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and many years after his death it finally happened and it wasn’t in the same galaxy as the others.  Again, on its own for people who have never experienced this story, perhaps it was funny and original.  Maybe it was because I had seen it all before so many times that nothing was funny.  Of course this franchise is no stranger to disappointment.  Many fans love the books but not the play or series while others love the play and not the books or series.  I like all of these but am a fan of the series and books first.  So to each his own.

The Prisoner (2009) – Normally I do not have high expectations for American remakes.  They usually take an excellent idea and are only able to make it a shadow of the original, at least with Sci-Fi series anyhow.  Life on Mars is an example of this.  Gene Hunt?  Really….. ?

Anyhow, the original The Prisoner is one of the best TV series ever and a present day remake should have been pretty spectacular.  Imagine a series of guest performers coming in each week playing a different Number 2.  Imagine the weirdness and social commentary that would be unleashed in this new series.  What a great concept and one that is timeless.  It is easy to bring this show into the 21st Century, right?  WRONG WAY!!  This mini series conformed to the usual American series formatting.  It was not an individual stand out.  It became a faceless nobody behind a mask of obscurity.

Why do these things happen?  What decisions were made to not follow the blueprint of excellence? 

Doctor Who (2005) – Okay, now here is the controversy.  I am a big Doctor Who fan and when the show returned in 2005 I was all in and was ready to see this new series excel to the point where it would soon be better than the best of the classic series.  There is no reason to doubt this unless producer Russell T. Davies decided to take the show less serious, add a lot of jokey humor, cram agendas down our throat and skimp on plot and make it all about romance and sex. 

Now The Gunfighters and Delta And the Bannermen look good!
I will then say that the first 4 seasons were overall good with 3-5 excellent stories a season and 3-5 more that were good while the rest were Meh.. or horrible.  Not bad but the general tone of the series was not something I felt made for a good series.  It tried and writer Steven Moffatt would save the season each year with excellence that the rest of the writers would only hope to approach.  Goofy monsters such as the Slitheen and a Master than makes Anthony Ainley seem like Lawrence Olivier all did not help the cause.  I was disappointed right out of the gate and felt with some minor tonal changes and not forgetting the plot, the series would have been a lot better.
When good actors go OTT

Now, when my favorite writer took over as producer, based on his writing up to that point, it was obvious that we were in for a new age of Doctor Who that would put the classic series to shame.  Alas, Doctor Who fooled me again and suddenly I wished for the return of Russell T. Davies and his ability to give us characters we cared about.  What happened to Moffatt?  More disappointment.  I still hope for a few excellent stories a season and with Moffatt, that is harder to do than ever.  I have lowered my expectations again, hoping to share in the delight that other fans somehow get from this series.  Good news was that this past half season was, in my opinion, a vast improvement (apart from the “Nightmare In Silver” garbage).  Unfortunately that half season was probably the least liked series of episodes since Doctor Who returned, if the internet chatter is correct.  Figures.


We all have expectations, whether they are high or low or perhaps you just want to be surprised.  These notions can change the way we perceive a movie or TV show.  What are we looking for and when are we seeing it?  Are you a fan of the original version and dislike the idea that someone is remaking it?  Do you not like the changes the series is undergoing?  Do you feel you just are not on the same page as the producers of the product.  Whatever the reason, we all have our opinions and root for certain films and expect excellence in others.  What sort of Sci-Fi disappointments have you had?

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