Science-fiction and fantasy are utterly mainstream these days, and superheroes of various descriptions are as plentiful in movies and on TV as private eyes were back in the 1980s. And yet, despite a level of mass acceptance that I couldn’t have imagined when I was a nerdy little kid living in fear of getting teased for liking stories about spaceships and robots, I still have moments when I feel like I need to defend the merits of this stuff. As popular as SF&F (as folks in the know call it) has become, there’s still a snotty assumption made by many people that it’s just silly kid-stuff… superficial trifles that are beneath the attention of true cineastes. Or at least ought to be. Even people who’ve made their careers by participating in this genre occasionally fret that grown-ups aren’t really justified in enjoying it. And it really bugs the shit out of me.
For one thing, I could make a case that something like the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe actually is quite meaningful, if you’re willing to attune yourself to and look a little more deeply than the surface-level “stuff blow up good” veneer. But even if a given superhero movie or a story about spaceships and robots really doesn’t have much to say about the human condition, so what? I tried to be a film snob in my younger days, I really did. It didn’t stick. Because on some fundamental, instinctual, hell, probably molecular level, I knew what it takes the title character of the Preston Sturges classic Sullivan’s Travels an entire movie to figure out: that there is value in escapism for its own sake.
The mesmeric film star Christopher Lee, who passed away yesterday at the enviably advanced age of 93, understood this too. Here’s something he said in an interview given 12 years ago. He was speaking specifically of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, but it applies equally well to any genre movie or trashy “airport novel,” in my opinion:
…we all love to dream. We don’t live in a particularly attractive world. I don’t really remember, except as a small boy, anything but a pretty grim world. I’m old enough to have seen Hitler in the flesh. I’m old enough to have been in Munich in 1934, on the night of the long knives, when Hitler butchered so many of his own people. I’m old enough to remember the Second World War and all the other things. So I’m not being a Cassandra, who prophesied nothing but evil and misery; I’m simply facing reality. So, yes, let us not lose faith, let us be optimistic, let us believe in the good things, but we still have to face the world as it is. When you live in a world like that, what do you want? You want to escape, to get out of this world from time to time, into another world, a magical world, an enchanted world, where things happen we dream about, a world of fairy stories and wizards. It is like the conjurer, the enchanter, or magician who says, “Look, nothing up my sleeve. When I do this, you will come into my enchanted world!” Dreaming, escaping, that is what we’re talking about. I firmly believe that is why this kind of film is so universally popular, and always will be, because people like to get into another world.
Amen, sir. Thanks for helping to bring so many of those other worlds to life…
Via Boing Boing.