Monday, August 17, 2009

Question: The Most Overused SciFi Cliché?

I was talking this morning with the Commentarama sentient toaster. It’s trying to figure out what it means to be human. I told it I didn’t know. Then it asked me, if you go back and time, will you always meet yourself? I had no response. . . I just wanted toast. But that got me thinking, what is the most overused science fiction cliché?


Unknown said...

"If we interfere with the natural course of events, only bad can come out of it." Say good bye to civilization. Or did I mix it up with the Obama political platform?

Suzie1 said...

I am amazed that English is prevalent throughout the entire universe, as is Western culture. How did this happen?!

Suzie1 said...

And, "space" accessories are usually sleek, shiny and clean, though I don't know where the dirt goes - no trash cans in space.

ScottDS said...

In addition to the comments listed above, I'll use Star Trek as a framework:

-spaceships that explode in huge fireballs (and make noise while doing so)

-aliens that look just like us (or have just one subtle difference like a forehead ridge or marking)

-evil twins, doppelgangers, etc. (Data/Lore/B4... William and Tom Riker... the Mirror Universe)... I do think this one is a lot of fun and sci-fi isn't the only genre that does this

-telepathic violations (the annual Troi "mind rape" episode)

-this one gets me every time... every alien planet features one "central continent" with one "central government" which is run by "the prime minister" and there is only one of everything (the Vulcan Science Academy, like it's the only place for studying science on the planet!)

-no money, or something generic like "credits"

-every ship used by every alien race has a.) artificial gravity, and b.) common docking collars

-no Earth pop culture!... why do the humans listen to only human classical or alien music (and read only the classics like Shakespeare and Dickens)?

AndrewPrice said...

No bathrooms either Suzie. Hmmm.

I'm sick of the phrase "your ____'s strategies were required reading at the academy."

I'm also sick of the inevitable "main character ends up out of phase and can't be seen, and can't touch anything." These are never done originally.

Suzie1 said...

Every alien can sit in a chair.

(Andrew - I forgot to mention how much I love the production quality/videography on Top Gear.)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I couldn't agree more. LOL! These things are all totally cliche. It always amazes me that across all SciFi shows, the "alien" civilizations always end up turning out to be identical civilization that we've seen a million times before -- and they all wear jumpsuits. Has everything in the universe except Earth developed at the same speed and in the same boring manner? Come on people!

The evil twin bugs me to no end as well, just like the possessed main character. Not only is the concept rather silly, but it's always done the exact same way!

AndrewPrice said...

Suzie, me too -- though I have to admit that tonight's new episode really wasn't very representative of the series! (and it was a little dull) Ug!! I hope people catch the older one that follows the new one instead.

Suzie1 said...

They were very "chatty" tonight.

AndrewPrice said...

Yeah, and I missed the usual insane challenges. It's not Top Gear if something doesn't blow up by accident.

ScottDS said...


-spaceships that fly on the same axis (Star Trek II played with this idea quite nicely plus CGI has made it easier for animators to do crazier moves, whether the science works or not, unfortunately)

-this stupid prop!!

-any human can operate any piece of alien hardware if the plot depends on it

-emergency power, auxiliary power, etc. (depending on the plot, it either works fine or not at all)

-"That's on a need to know basis, and right now, you don't need to know." (sci-fi isn't the only genre to use this but I swear, three Babylon 5 episodes used it in a row!)

-interspecies mating is no problem

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I see we've hit a nerve?

I have such problems with the use of CGI these days, in all aspects. And I've always had problems with cliche dialog like that. If it sounds like you've heard it before, don't use it folks!

On interspecies mating and B5, you've got to admit, when Londo was using his privates to cheat at cards on Bab 5, that was funny!

Anonymous said...

Why do they always do the Peter Pan episode, where they find a group of kids stuck alone on some planet?

ScottDS said...

I wouldn't say you've hit a nerve; it's just that I've always been a huge nerd and it's nice to share the wealth (voluntarily, of course) with my fellow netizens. :-D

You know, I watched B5 when it originally aired for a season or so. Then I watched the first three seasons in 2004. Then earlier this year, I bought the whole show on sale at Best Buy (I've since sold them on eBay). I'd watch them as I walked the treadmill, slowly slogging through til the end.

When it was good, it was very good but some of the dialogue was downright pretentious... mystical, spiritual nonsense "I'm the candle and the star" and so on and so forth. The acting was hit or miss and the humor was eye-rolling most of the time (I did like the B5 store with the subtle jab at Trek: "We're not some deep space franchise!").

Andreas Katsulas (R.I.P.) and Peter Jurasik were the best, but Jerry Doyle (why didn't he become a big action star?) was very good too. The others had their good and bad moments. And every other episode seemed to have a Trek alumni in the guest cast, from Jeffrey Combs and John Schuck to Walter Koenig and Majel Barrett-Roddenberry (R.I.P.) herself.

The alien villains were fine but 95% of the human villains were mustache-twirling cliches on legs. And I know the visual effects were early CGI but on DVD they look awful (it's technical... I won't get into it here!). At the time, model work and motion control photography were still the better options.

Writer X said...

"The truth is out there."


Little, green men. Although I think that's code for Henry Waxman.

BevfromNYC said...

First of all, tell your toaster the next time he/she asks that the ability to EAT toast means you are human.

Secondly, it's not so bad that your toaster is questioning you, but that you are answering. I just ignore my smaller appliances otherwise they will never shut up.

Thirdly, aliens just don't ever say "Take me to your Leader!" anymore. They always seem to know exactly where to find them and almost always blow them up.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I eat toast, therefore I am. Brilliant! :-)

It is funny how easily aliens find the White House, even without having to ask anyone!

Writer X, I thought that was a brilliant line when I first saw it, but by now it has morphed into cliche, hasn't it?

Scott, I agree about B5. I thought it had some incredible moments and a great start, but I think it took a lot of wrong turns and kind of fell apart at times.

Anon, That does seem to be a cliche that every sci-fi show stumbles into don't they? And I can't say I enjoy those episodes.

LL said...

It depends on the budget.

High budget: You see all alien faces

Low budget: You see the important alien faces, the rest (guards and pawns) wear visors.

Primer said...

Andrew, Little off topic, but I am curious. What season did they premier for TG in your area? We had season 7 in Chicago. Weird. Should be 13.

and while I am here. I think the most overused theme in SciFi movies is that all Alien lifeforms are smarter than us. Just once I'd like to see someone go to a planet with a bunch of knuckle draggin' hairless apes living on it(Washington?)!and not have them turn out to be vastly superior to man. Even the bugs in Sci Fi movies end up being smarter than humans......

StanH said...

"We come in peace!"

CrispyRice said...

Did I hear someone making disparaging remarks about B5?!?! The (As long as you pretend the 5th season never happened.) Naaah, couldn't be.

Speaking of Jerry Doyle, did you know he eventually ran for congress as a Republican and he now has a conservative talk radio show? He's pretty interesting. will get ya there.

Re the topic, ummm, it just makes me sad that there will be no pet dogs in the future. Excepting Porthos in Enterprise and the occasional Planet Whateverian Slugworm, people don't seem to do pets much, and dogs almost never. Sorry, but I'm not going to space for 10 years without my pooch.

ScottDS said...

Hi Crispy...

I didn't think B5 was bad, I just thought it took a turn for the melodramatic at times, and the acting was very hit or miss. And I actually liked the fifth season!

I actually knew about Jerry Doyle's political affiliations but I'd forgotten he ran for office. Shame, he'd make a great action hero in the Bruce Willis mold (and I doubt I'm the only one to say that).

AndrewPrice said...

Primer, they started Season 7 here as well. I was expecting Season 13.

CrispyRice, I agree about the pets. Why no pets in the future? Did the aliens eat them?

Stan, "we come for your stuff."

CrispyRice said...

LOL, Scott! I'll agree that it had its moments of melodrama, but on the whole I found it to be a relatively philosophical, thoughtful show and MUCH more well put-together than anything else at the time. I still have a license plate frame that says, "Who are you? What do you want? B-5"

Plus, B-5 addressed many of these cliches - they had bathrooms, they had union workers, they had homeless people and grime on the station, they had money and commerce and theft, they had aliens with different philosophies that just didn't care about "what's right" for humans. It was a much more plausible future than the Star Trek TNG utopias that we'll never see.

Anyway, Jerry Doyle would make a *great* action hero!

Andrew, I think the "aliens ate my dog" theory is very viable.

AndrewPrice said...

The aliens can have my dog over my dead body. Try it and they'll pull back a bloody tentacle-thingy.

I like Jerry Doyle, I wanted to see him get bigger roles as well, but that didn't seem to be in the cards.

Writer X said...

All this talk of Jerry Doyle and I had to google him. That's when I realized I remember him in a JAG episode a while back and he was excellent. I will try to see if I can listen to his radio program online.

patti said...

"warp speed, scottie."

i swear i still hear folks using that...

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, I think I used that every time I get into my car!

Writer X, Doyle played the security chief on B5. It was an interesting character and he did a great job in the role. Also, in all of the interviews with him, he's come across as a very bright and interesting guy.

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