It’s ever been the assumption that those who write, direct, and act in Science Fiction films are slumming it — that Serious People don’t do SF, and SF is not for Serious People. Daniel Kimmel’s Jar Jar Binks Must Die is a collection of his film reviews that show the reader what happens when you assume.
SF is not the hokey, campy snooze-fest that people dismiss it as being, contends Kimmell. Okay, there’s actually more than enough camp to go around, but this collection urges us to look beyond it and take in the deeper conversations SF creates through seemingly unbelievable stories.
Is The Fly (1958) about a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong, or is it actually a romantic tragedy about the problems smart people face? Are those aliens as they seem, or do they represent a bigger idea (healers, evil empires, corrupters)? And who is more human in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the astronauts or HAL 9000?
I’ve always been a sci-fi fan, albeit in a more modern sense: I’ve watched entire swaths of Star Trek and Farscape, and enjoy authors like Mary Shelley and Kurt Vonnegut.
My one foray into classic SF — the bulk of Kimmel’s focus in Jar Jar Binks Must Die — is 1954’s Them!, known in my family as “The Giant Ant Movie.” It’s the lightest of the films discussed in the book, but it’s still about some tough concepts:
- Authorities should follow scientists’ orders because only scientists can handle things properly
- The general public should be kept in the dark when scientists deem information is “too dangerous”
- What unknown dangers have been created by atomic bombings?
- The world has become so unsafe and unpredictable that we don’t know what to be sure of anymore
Still think SF is brainless fluff?
Jar Jar Binks Must Die begins in the 1950s (the acknowledged heyday of the SF genre) and skips around through the decades, wrapping up in 2000 with the stinking poo that was Star Wars: Episode I.
It’s doubtful I’ll ever become a Science Fiction super fan (no 2001: A Space Odyssey or Planet of the Apes, thank you), but Kimmel did leave me with a list of films I’ll definitely check out:
- Things to Come (1936)
- It Came from Outer Space (1953)
- Happy Accidents (2001)
- Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
- The Andromeda Strain (1971)
- 28 Days Later (2001)
- Planet 51 (2009)
Kimmel’s book reads quickly, but don’t let that fool you — it’s packed with thoughtful reviews of films from every decade and from under every rock.
Whether you like Science Fiction or not — and possibly even more so if you don’t — Jar Jar Binks Must Die is a fantastic overview and dive into the genre.
Come to the Dark Side, readers. We have great films.