I love movies, but for me, the problem tends to arise not from writer-brain, but from ex-grad-student-brain. Which is to say, when a movie bugs me, it usually does so first on a critical level (gender issues especially) rather than a craft one, unless there’s a plot hole so gaping I can’t paper over it. I think I go into movies wanting to enjoy myself, in a way I can’t entirely manage with books anymore (because they’re too close to home), so I will actively contribute to the story on a subconscious level in order to have fun.
And me, I like a good spectacle. It’s one of the things movies can do really well, in a way that books have to approach very differently. They just did a one-night-only theatre showing of the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings movies — one night per movie; not all three in one night! — and we saw Return of the King yesterday. The charge of the Rohirrim during the Battle of Pelennor Fields? Makes me weak at the knees. And yeah, you can put lots of words on the page describing it, but when all is said and done I just don’t have the mental references to tell me what a charge of six thousand cavalry even looks like. I would be taking the Kentucky Derby and then thinking “a lot more.” The screen can say, “more — no, more — no, really, I mean it, MORE.” A book would be better at getting me into the headspace of a single character in that charge, but a movie can show me the scope and impact of the whole thing.
That, I think, is why I’m drawn to the Big Dumb Movies, more than the quiet character pieces. Those can work, too, if the actors are good enough — I loved Moon, a few years back — but books draw me into a character’s head far better than the screen does, usually. As for them representing “the genre” . . . if you mean the print prose genre, they don’t at all. (Though I have noticed a smallish trend of superhero novels over the last few years.) If you mean the genre as the outside public conceives of it, movies and video games are most visible face we have. Those media have taken superheroes and alien invasions and zombie apocalypses and made them part of our everyday cultural language, rather than a specialized dialect spoken only by the self-described fans.
I guess I’m mostly in the camp that finds nearly all purportedly-SF movies to be not-very-good or pretty-bad SF, with the exception of the ones based on the funny papers, which have about the same connection to SF that musicals do to actual romance (i.e., rooted in conventions that nobody takes very seriously except as convention). As much as I also enjoy stuff going boom (or vroom or pocketa-pocketa), these are guilty pleasures (minus the guilt in my popcorn moments), and worth talking about mostly as examples of film-making technology or as means of taking our collective pop-culture temperature. Comic or parodic SF dodges the bad-SF bullet by not pretending to be all serious and grown-up, so The Fifth Element and Futurama and Shaun of the Dead can fool around–affectionately and knowingly–with SF/fantastic materials without giving offense.
Oddly enough, I can take fantasy film more seriously–certainly LotR can at least be discussed as a more or less (depending on one’s take) translation of a famous & serious book, and the Harry Potter films have their own odd (if derivative) integrity. (Haven’t read any of the books, so I can’t do the LotR-style comparison.)
In any case, I find myself skipping most of this summer’s eye/ear candy–nothing climbs to the top of the must-see list, and I even missed the next-last Harry Potter. And I swore off Terance Malik forever after suffering through Days of Heaven.
You guys all make me feel terribly out of it and stodgy. I hate movies, I hate the cynical manipulations and the cheap flashy effects. The sf movies I loved were the ones from the 50’s– Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth, It Came from Outer Space. Before the world was corrupted. Or maybe it was me who got corrupted. I’m reading GRRM and loving that but I won’t see the show. I want to make my own pictures. Perhaps I am evil after all.
I should add that I do have a soft spot for those ‘50s films, even though I didn’t see most of them when I was a kid – Invaders from Mars when I was 12, maybe, but only because my next door neighbor had the TV on to it. Most of them – even Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still – I didn’t see until my late 20s or 30s, when I sought them out. I accumulated a videotape collection of them – This Island Earth; Red Planet Mars; It Came from Outer Space – that I still revisit occasionally. Something about the naïve notions of what they thought space and planets and aliens were like adds a special ironic interest, because you know in retrospect you can’t take them seriously, because they didn’t know any better… unlike contemporary films, when you feel they should know better, and so are disappointed that you can’t take them seriously.