With this summer's movies offering giant robots, franchise reboots and X-Men Origins, we can't help but wonder, today of all days: Where's the love? Why aren't there any sci-fi romances in our cinematic future?
It probably says a lot about me that I remember Star Wars not only as one of the big cultural touchstones of my childhood, but also entirely incorrectly. In my memory, you see, the original Star Wars trilogy is a lot more romantic than it actually is; for some reason, I remember the Han/Leia thing being much more important than it actually is, and it colors my view of what's missing in the summer blockbusters of nowadays.
(We are, I guess, lucky that I didn't have a similar attachment - and misremembering - of Planet Of The Apes, otherwise this post would undoubtedly be titled "Why We Need More Monkeys In Love." Although, let's be honest. We do need more monkeys in love.)
The role of romance in sci-fi movies has been reduced to almost non-existence, a love interest shoehorned in to give the audience a hot girl to gawk at and something to distract the hero from saving the world and pretend that he's got a life outside the impossible and daring special-effect-filled adventures we've really paid our money to see (And that's at best; Iron Man didn't even have that, after all). Or, alternatively, the excuse for tragedy as plot impetus and cheap emotional drama (Hello, Dark Knight). It's not only science fiction movies that have fallen into this rut, of course, but every genre of mainstream movies, it seems, outside of the dreaded, and often-appallingly done Romantic Comedy. Sorry, but we're not that into you.
Thing is, when SF movies do attempt romance, the results can be amazing. Wall-E, for example, works precisely because of the love story at the heart of it - It uses that as the entry point into a world otherwise devoid of things for the audience to empathize with, and it works, because... well, who hasn't ever been in love? I'm probably alone in thinking of Back To The Future as a love story, but to me, that's another good example of the SF elements being able to be more palatable to more people, because its emotional hook is something that everyone can understand and relate to.
And that, ultimately, is what really surprises me. At a time when it seems that visual effects make almost anything if not possible, then at least plausible, why aren't we seeing love stories being used more and more often as ways of bringing an audience into a story otherwise full of fantastic elements? Was The Fountain really so bad as to scare away filmmakers from trying to anchor their imaginations in something we can all share? Or is it just that science fiction audiences would rather watch explosions than wooing?
I don't know, of course. I'd hope that things would change in light of Wall-E's success - or, for that matter, in light of television shows like Lost, Doctor Who or even Pushing Daisies, which are unashamedly using romance for more than just filler - but then I see the trailer for GI Joe and realize that I'm still a few years away from my dream SF Thin Man, at least.