BOOK REVIEW: MODERN SCI-FI FILMS FAQ / AUTHOR: TOM DEMICHAEL / PUBLISHER: APPLAUSE BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Author Tom DeMichael is pretty pleased with himself. As he frequently reminds the reader in the first chapters of his book on modern science fiction films, he has written this thick stack of pages and until you have your own book published, you have no right to challenge anything he writes.
Unfortunately, Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ is so safe (and a little bland) that you definitely won’t feel the need to challenge or question anything DeMichael has written. The only thing you might wish to criticise is that completely misleading title. For this is not a list of Frequently Asked Questions about modern science fiction films at all. In fact, there are neither questions nor answers, and instead this is just another title in Applause Books’ series on a range of film and TV topics, that is inappropriately labelled as an FAQ book. Still how much fun could a list of questions and answers really be?
Instead, DeMichael gives a comprehensive overview of modern science fiction cinema from the 1970s onwards. Beginning with the literary greats who influenced and inspired filmmakers from Kubrick to Spielberg and ending with some of the most important people behind the special effects required to bring sci-fi stories to the big screen, it is an occasionally fascinating delve into one of the most entertaining and frequently experimental of film genres.
The real problem is that a huge chunk of this book is given over to detailing some of the most important films ever to have boldly gone where no films had gone before. While it should be a pleasure to read about some of your favourite sci-fi films, some others that you may not have seen, and possibly even a couple you may not have even heard of, the structure and focus of this book can be frustrating. For each film, DeMichael takes you through a synopsis of every single plot point from the first scene to the last; so if you’ve seen the film already, you will likely wish to skip this detailed retelling of the story and if you haven’t already had the pleasure of a viewing, then you sure as hell won’t want to read how it ends. DeMichael also includes some trivia about the films, which is more interesting and revealing, though major fans of the genre will likely have already read much of this before. Also the categories (e.g. future worlds, alternate worlds, time travel etc) occasionally have a tendency to overlap and some of the inclusions and exclusions are a little baffling.
While Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ may not reach for the stars, the sections on seminal spaceships from Star Wars to Prometheus and SFX experts like Dennis Muren and Stan Winston are revealing enough to make this an illuminating read.