Movies: lectures versus fun?

It’s an old debate. Is the object of Science Fiction to educate, or is the object of Science Fiction to entertain?

Lots of people — fans and writers — would probably say: both.

Me? I’ve come to the conclusion that if you have to err to one side or the other, absolutely err on the side of entertainment. On the side of fun.

Earlier on this blog, I wondered whether or not James Cameron’s Avatar wasn’t just a gargantuan Southern California Liberal lecture. My wife is taking myself and my daughter to see it Wednesday, so I am going to grind my teeth and hope that the SFX are as eye-popping as they seem, so that I can enjoy the film in spite of the thud-footed sermon.

By contrast, today I saw the Iron Man 2 trailer for the first time, and was instantly electrified.

I didn’t see Iron Man in the theaters, but I did see it on DVD when I was in Italy with the Army back in January. I’m not sure what I expected, but it was a far better comic adaptation than I’d seen in a long, long time, and as I prep for the excruciation of Avatar, the Iron Man 2 trailer reminds me that not everyone in Hollyweird is determined to put me to sleep with a pious pontification on the evils of America and American history.

Which is not to say that the story of Tony Stark lacks lessons. The first film is very much on-message in that it criticizes rampant corporate greed — especially the kind that “double deals” against the forces of liberty and freedom. Indeed, it’s the very use of Stark weaponry against U.S. troops that drives Tony Stark to realize that he needs to point his company in a new direction.

Which is probably why Iron Man was so much fun. Stark never stopped being who he was: an unashamed American capitalist playboy. He made few apologies for who he was — for what America was — and instead turned his attentions to simply using his wealth and technology to take a direct role in correcting the errors that his company’s regent — Stane — had made. Does Stark ever hate himself or his nation or his way of life? No. Does he ever hate who he is? No, though he appears to be learning that there may be some value in growing up — relationship-wise — where the available Ms. Potts is concerned.

Anyway, the bottom line is that Iron Man and Iron Man 2 put the fun up front. Any lecturing — and there wasn’t a lot of it in the first film from what I could tell — takes a back seat.

Whereas Avatar is hanging a gargantuan sign over the marquis at the theater, “THIS MOVIE IS GOING TO TEACH YOU THINGS, BECAUSE YOU ARE A DUMMY (AND A SINNER) AND WE ARE SMART (AND HOLY) YOU NEED TO BE EDUCATED (BAPTISED) PROPERLY….”

Is it just me, or is anyone else tired of that holier-than-thou attitude, too? Even if I happen to agree with the lecture being given, I get flat-out annoyed at anything that ought to be entertaining me, but which lectures me instead.

Because I think that’s bait’n’switch, if I go to see a movie to have fun and walk away feeling like I’ve just had my teeth drilled. If I want my teeth drilled, I will go to a dentist. When I go to see a movie, I want to have some fun. If the fun gets trumped by the “message” then you’ve lost me. And I suspect this is true for the majority of the movie-going public, both in this country and elsewhere.

So roll on, Iron Man franchise. Thanks for focusing on the fun.

Avatar? Meh. I’ve usually enjoyed Cameron, so maybe it won’t be so bad. It’s just that he’s attempting to bludgeon with so many hammers at once.

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