A couple of days ago Slashdot linked to a NYT article about the Sci-fi Channel’s increased production of B-grade sci-fi films (full text here). As a sci-fi buff I’m quite excited about this. And as a fan of B movies, I’m even more excited. I’m not as keen on Sci-fi’s original films (though they tend to be pretty good) because I prefer the films from the 80’s and 90’s (aged to perfection I like to think). However, I’ll take what I can get. The only problem is I don’t get the Sci-fi Channel right now. Comcast’s cable package is too expensive to justify it. I guess that’s what happens when some company thinks it can gouge customers. Customers don’t buy the product and the business sells less product: everybody loses. Anyway, I’m digressing, back to the article.
“ATTACK OF THE SABRETOOTH.” “Bloodsuckers.” “The Man With the Screaming Brain.” And, most indelible of all, “Mansquito.”
A combination of outrageous genre concepts, low-budget filmmaking and sensationalized titles like the roll call above are all part of the Sci Fi Channel’s attempt to establish a presence on Saturday nights, when a good number of potential viewers are out, asleep or watching reruns. The programming strategy has been a major success, with numbers that far exceed anyone’s expectations.
However, the producers seem to be a little confused about the purpose of B movies:
People like Ken Badish jumped at the chance. Mr. Badish’s company, Active Entertainment, will have produced nine Sci Fi movies by the end of 2005, high-concept features like “Mansquito” (experiment gone awry creates man-mosquito hybrid!), and “Alien Lockdown” (government science produces horrific slime thing!).
The most important element of a Sci Fi film, Mr. Badish said, “is a topical film that has relevance to our audience.”
“In a film coming up,” he added, “stem cells are key to the plot; in another, it’s mad cow disease. Secondly, there’s a good story. Like we’re shooting a ‘Jaws’-kind of movie featuring a giant squid. We make a reasonable use of C.G.I., because the audience wants that escapist thing. And we add emotional content, so the audience can feel for the characters.”
Topical films can actually be rather annoying and hackneyed, thus making them un-fun to watch. For example, a movie about terrorist attacks would not interest me. A movie about giant cockroach attacks would interest me. A movie about stem cells would not interest me, but a movie about mutant killer zombie cells would interest me. Bradish is right that the audience wants “that escapist thing” but making topical films won’t allow us to escape this world becuase it forces us to think about the very world we’re trying to escape. Also topical movies such as these often tend to get preachy or political, which is always a no-no. Secondly, the audience doesn’t want emotional content or wants to “feel for the characters.” Look, we’re watching B movies. We only want to be entertained by some fantastical tale told with sub-par effects, acting, directing, and writing. I love watching these movies, but I really don’t give a rip if the hero/heroine dies or not. Actually, that would be pretty cool for a surprise ending to a movie. Say it’s an alien attack movie, and at the very end the hero agonizingly reaches for the button to fire the missle that will save the whole world, but before he can press it he is mercilessly and triumphantly devoured by an anonymous alien. Then the whole world perishes. That would be cool. I’d buy the DVD of that movie (if it was less than $15). Mr. Bruce Campbell hits the nail on the head:
“B movies don’t mean bad,” said Mr. Campbell, who starred in the classic “Evil Dead” films. “They’re just operating on a limited budget and are trying to be entertaining. You go to the Sci Fi Channel, you see a high-energy thing.”
And the money quote (haha! pun!):
Shot on budgets ranging from $1 million to $2 million, Sci Fi’s movies are made in money-saving locales like Bulgaria, Romania and Missouri.
In other news, the entire state of Missouri has unsubscribed from the New York Times.
Which movie am I looking forward to the most? “Fire Alien” starring William “I need to rip my shirt off and make out with a hot, green alien chick” Shatner. Now I just need to find a friend who will let me camp out his/her house all day Saturday.