Young Adult Science Fiction

By C. W. Sullivan Iii | Go to book overview

10
No Grownups, Please: A Study of
the American Science Fiction Film

James Craig Holte

Calling American science fiction films childish, adolescent, or immature has become one of the conventions of contemporary film criticism. As Andrew Gordon notes in an article in the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, much recent criticism asserts the “work of Lucas and Spielberg is juvenile or infantile, regressive, escapist fantasy fare, cartoons for adults” (81). What is true of the work of Lucas and Spielberg is true of the rest of the genre as well. Before addressing specific critics, Gordon wisely observes that the “easy dismissal of Lucas and Spielberg’s films as juvenile, escapist junk sounds suspiciously like the traditional attacks on science fiction and fantasy literature as second-rate genres” (83). Obviously, something in the works that constitute this genre has caused so many critics to respond in this way. I suggest that a misunderstanding of how the genre functions has caused this critical confusion. If we look at American science fiction films as a genre, examine the structures and concerns of the genre, and look for permutations in the genre, we might discover that the conventional widsom is wrong. This is not to say that all science fiction films are serious adult entertainment. A large number of films, some good and some bad, are aimed directly at young viewers, but others, employing the conventions of the genre, appeal to older viewers.

One of the major works in genre studies is John Cawelti’s The Six-Gun Mystique (1984). In discussing the function of genres, Cawelti suggests that in any genre

character types and patterns of action are repeated in many works. Indeed, it is tempting
to hypothesize that strongly conventionalized narrative types like adventure and mys-
tery stories, situation comedies, and sentimental romances are so widely appealing that
they enable people to reenact and resolve widely shared psychic conflicts. (12)

-147-

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