Early in the new, sci-fi/vampires-rule-the-world flick Daybreakers, Ethan Hawke, playing a handsome, charismatic, and morally conflicted vampire (is there any other kind these days?), enters the world headquarters of the international corporation that is the sole, global supplier of human blood. He steps out of an elevator and beholds before him a vast, seemingly limitless atrium, stacked row upon row with stainless steel racks containing human bodies being "milked" for their blood.
Think about that for a second. Think about where that harvest is taking place. Imagine going into McDonald's world headquarters and finding that, just as you step past reception, you're confronted with a fully operational slaughterhouse and hamburger processing plant. Does that make sense?
Any science-fiction movie is predicated at least a little on the suspension of disbelief. You're asked to accept that the laws of physics can be overturned so that starships can break the speed of light, or that an automated household's computer system not only understands colloquial English but also possesses a dry sense of humor, or that a race of giant blue aliens is both intimately in touch with a planet's natural forces and is uniformly, incredibly hot (hey there, Mr. Cameron!).
But then there are points where the process of willful suspension of disbelief breaks down, where what we're presented with so defies logic, physics, or natural human behavior that the mind rebels. At that point, the credibility of an entire movie can be at risk. Not many survive.
Even the best of movies can have its "Oh, come on!" moment (although, admittedly, those movies are far outnumbered by the really, really sucky ones). Here are our favorite sci-fi jaw-droppers. Remember: In outer space, no one can hear you groan.
We've got trees, and we're not afraid to use them.
Hiya, Mr. Lucas. Look, we're all down with your triumph-of-the-little-guys sympathies, but, really, Ewoks beating the Empire (and not because they trigger a terminal gag-reflex in storm troopers)? Nope, sorry, just not buying it. The height of implausibility from the tumultuous finale? A pair of logs crush a battle-armored Imperial walker like it was an aluminum soda can. Order up another portion of "Oh, come on," and throw in a side of "Yeah, right" while you're at it.
Is it me, or does this apocalypse smell like burnt fruit salad?
Doctors Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) and Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci) are two smart scientists. They know that when you're trying to convince an assemblage of government representatives that the earth's molten core has stopped rotating and worldwide catastrophe looms, you don't want to fall back on such questionable support materials as computer simulations or satellite scans. Nope, you want to go with hardcore, incontrovertible proof … like sticking a peach on a fork and roasting it with a makeshift flame-thrower. Science!
What's Swahili for, "You're not fooling anybody?"
Lieutenant Uhura: Hot crewmember of the U.S.S. Enterprise, or the hottest crewmember of the U.S.S. Enterprise? Back in the original 1960's series, as portrayed by the legendary Nichelle Nichols, there was no argument either way. Some 20 years later, when Bill Shatner — in a directing stint that still gives hard-core Trekkers the hives — asked Nichols to shake her 50-something booty in an embarrassing fan dance ... ehh, not so much. There's some controversy about whether or not a body double was used, but one thing's for sure: It took another 20 years, and the character's reincarnation by Zoe Saldana, to purge this ill-advised moment of sci-fi "eroticism," one guaranteed to obliterate anyone's archive of sweet, sweet adolescent fantasies.
Clearly, they've stopped serving smart drinks at these things.
Humanity has a choice: Submit to the heartless rule of the machines and be enslaved in a gray, dispirited virtual society, or overthrow our mechanical masters and live in the real world. And how will we revel in our regained humanity? By celebrating our freedom with a joyous, humongous, subterranean rave, of course! Uhhhh, can we look at that enslavement-to-the-machines option again?
Some creatures fall off the evolutionary ladder, some just beg to be pushed.
Back in the '60s, producers of the original Lost in Space TV show could slap a wig on a chimpanzee and, presto, have themselves a suitably "alien" pet for their intergalactically wandering Robinson family. Come the '90s, though, borderline animal abuse wasn't good enough for writer-producer Akiva Goldsman, not when he could rally a formidable team of CG artists to visualize all forms of weird and wonderful life. So what did those whiz kids in the computer lab come up with? Blarp, a hideous, befanged, goggle-eyed monkey-thing that looked less like a credible inhabitant of the physical universe and more like an escapee from a late-night ad for a computer-graphics trade school. They should have just let Mario and Luigi hitch a ride on the Jupiter 2 and then quit.
I only have eyes for yyyyyaaaaaahhhhhh!!!
Director Paul Verhoeven wanted audiences to pause and consider the ambiguity of Total Recall's storyline, in which all the action we witness might just be a machine-induced hallucination being experienced by Arnold Schwarzanegger's Douglas Quaid. Which raises some interesting questions about the nature of reality, and also conveniently sidesteps some real dodgy physics, like the idea that a machine can terraform the entire planet of Mars in less than five minutes, or that both Schwarzanegger and Rachel Ticotin exhibit some incredible resiliency after having been exposed to the vacuum of the planet's surface. Bottom line: Once your eyeballs swell up to the size of tangerines, they don't just get sucked back into their sockets once the pressure's off.
I'll have the foie gras chalupa and a bottle of your finest Mountain Dew.
Good use of pop culture satire in a science fiction setting: Futurama. Bad use of pop culture satire in a science fiction setting: Demolition Man. It isn't just that most of the references in this tale of Sly Stallone's future cop now sound incredibly lame ("President Schwarzenegger" was dumb in '93, it's even dumber once you factor in his track record as governor), it's that some of these references are clearly mere product placements masquerading as "edgy" humor. Case in point: Turns out that in the future, Taco Bell will be the victor of the "fast food wars," and thus the only restaurant still operating. That's just silly. Everybody knows that, if provoked, Burger King would be the first to launch their nukes.
Maybe you do have to live like a refugee.
Kevin Costner's overlong, post-apocalyptic paean to the endurance of the American spirit and the importance of adequate postage has no shortage of goofy elements, ranging from a fascistic copier salesman to occasional lion attacks. But for pure, "You're kidding, right?" fun, nothing beats Costner's aimless-drifter-turned-impassioned-mail-carrier seeking refuge in a pacifistic community led by Tom Petty. Let's be clear about that: It's not Tom Petty playing a guy who's leading the community, it's Tom Petty leading the community. We know he kept the Heartbreakers together; who knew his skills extended to municipal organization?
So long, and thanks for all the wetware.
Poor Keanu Reaves. He's trying so hard to look James Bond cool in this cyberpunk tale of a "mnemonic courier" who has to unload a headful of contraband data before his brain melts down. Sadly, the story — replete with a psychotic Jesus-freak hit man and a corps of Lost Boy revolutionaries — keeps undermining his cred. Nothing, however, will take the wind out of your cutting-edge sails like having to trust your fate — and the fate of all society, as a matter of fact — to a hard-wired, microwave-armed, and rather thin-skinned ... dolphin? Yeah, Sea World. That's cool.
Now that's a spinning pinwheel of death.
While watching Roland Emmerich's first major foray into wholesale, global destruction, New Yorkers got a giggle out of discovering that sometime between its construction in the '30s and the incursion of alien forces bent on invasion in the '90s, the Empire State Building had been secretly nudged into the center of Fifth Avenue. Meanwhile, the rest of world took comfort in the fact that we need not fear the threat of intergalactic intruders, since it turns out that the whole of their mighty war machine is Mac compatible and can be hacked into from any ol' laptop. Shoulda sprung for that firewall, dudes.