Arnold Brought Sci-Fi to the Masses

Friend in real life and frequent blog commenter, Neil, posed a theory to me:

Did Arnold Schwarzenegger Bring Science Fiction to the Masses?

Of course he did.


Neil also jokingly added, “and we’ll just pretend Star Wars never happened.”

Nerd in-jokes aside, in any discussion of science-fiction Star Wars has to be dealt with, because more often than not, it’s name-checked by everyone who talks about the genre.

Star Wars is one of the greatest movies ever made and is incredibly popular to the point that every franchise, every big budget, kid-friendly, epic movie ever made is constantly compared to this, the first true franchise. Sequels, billions in merchandising, religious movements, and fervor for a piece of media not seen since the heyday of the Beatles. I for one am reduced to a screaming pile of tears anytime I see Chewbacca. Then I try to marry him.

I’m getting this tattooed on my face.

But Star Wars doesn’t count in this discussion of bringing science-fiction the masses for two reasons.

First, Star Wars has long since surpassed any trappings of genre and has become cultural. Everyone knows Star Wars. Even those rare, pitiful bastards who haven’t seen the movies (or only saw the prequels) know what a lightsaber is, or an ewok, and have, at one time or another said “Luke, I am your father” into a fan or at a friend of theirs named Luke. It’s still kind of nerdy to be really into Star Wars, but that’s due to fringe elements that take it WAY too seriously.

Ride together, die together, bad boys for life.

Second, it’s not really sci-fi. The first movie (and by first I mean New Hope, Episode 4, the one that came out in 1977, you know, the FIRST one) is broad, and I don’t mean that as a slight, but rather an explanation of it’s staying power and ability to reach people. The movie’s characters do grow, but they are, in essence, broad archetypes that have existed since there were stories to tell: young and inexperienced hero, the brave princess, the loveable rogue, the wise old man, the black knight, and of course the bear-monkey with laser crossbow.

Lucas has even said he based the structure on Kurosawa’s the Hidden Fortress. It’s a fairy tale that instead of taking place in the enchanted forest, besieged kingdom, or on the road to grandmother’s house, takes place a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The lightsaber could easily be a sword. The Millennium Falcon could be a faithful horse or stage coach. The Star Destroyers are massive armies on the march. The Death Star is the evil castle or the fearsome dragon that kidnapped the princess. It’s a fairytale wearing sci-fi’s clothes. The story and the characters could easily fit into Japanese folklore, medieval Europe, or a western motif (Firefly).

Literally the best thing to come out of the prequels. Seriously, the 2-D Clone Wars vol. 1 and 2 by Genndy Tartakovsky are incredible. Go watch them.

The lightsaber can cut through anything, but so can most legendary blades, and the aliens, while weird looking, don’t do anything alien. They get drunk; they snitch; they’re greedy; they’re good, etc.

Wow, that was a lot of stuff for me to be nowhere near my main point. Christ, I need an editor.

Well, he’s going to have, because everyone else sucks.

So, yes, Star Wars doesn’t count, because, really, just putting something in space doesn’t make it science-fiction. There has to be a game-changer. Something different, alien, and at such a remarkable level that society and/or basic interaction is affected by it.

And in space.


It’s so easy to bag on Arnold. He butchers our language, spouts one-liners, and stars in movies where his co-stars are usually explosions.

Did I say “bag?” I meant “love forever.”

However, when you look at a lot of his movies, there are a lot of deeper ideas and themes going on, and, as Neil put it, he truly brought science fiction to the masses.

Let’s start with what is obviously one of my favorite movies of all time, Predator.

One of these days, I’m just going to have to break down and buy this damn poster.

Predator is a straight-forward action movie; there’s a bit of the bullshit twist/betrayal stuff that seems has to be in every action movie these days, but it comes up early, explains something to the plot, and then politely leaves.

Where the sci-fi comes in is the alien itself. The Predator first of all looks completely fucking insane. It doesn’t look like a space bear, or space cat, or a space shark, or a space iguana, it looks like a fucking nightmare. No part of it can be construed as as adorable or relatable. It’s ugly as hell and mean as fuck.

Second, it’s motives are something we can understand, hunting, but beyond that it is inscrutable. It can’t be bought, or deterred by automatic weapons, and has every conceivable advantage from camouflage to weaponry. It’s here to hunt, and not for food, or money, it’s here to kill because that’s what it does. We get no insight into the culture other than what the creature shows us. We have no idea if they prize honor in hunting above all other virtues, or if their society functions off a spine-based economy.

Hello, again, old friend.


The best sci-fi functions as a good story but also to hold up a lens to contemporary society. A lot of people have pointed that it could be a parable to the Vietnam War, a more advanced and heavily armed army against a numerically superior, entrenched, and scrappy force, or the evils of trophy hunting. Given that it’s directed by John McTiernan, I’m going to say the hunting metahpor is probably out.

Take that, taxes!

The Predator is a completely alien being with motives unknown to us from a culture we cannot understand, and the movie examines how humanity could deal with something like that: gunfire. Which, like it or not, is probably how it’d go in real life.

Next up, The Terminator movies.

I wanted to recreate this image for my senior pictures. Got mom vetoed.

All together now, Ja jung, jung JA JUNG.

Easily the most popular movies he’s made, and for good reason. The exoskeleton is iconic and scary, as is the look of Arnold as the killer robot, especially in the second film. Clean lines, nothing unnecessary, but given everything it needs to do it’s job efficiently. With so much put into making things look overcomplicated to show that it’s high technology in modern film, The T-800 looks like something a machine intelligence would actually design.

I want to wake up every morning and feel the way this picture looks.

Add the iconic look to the myriad of quotes and classic moments, the first ‘I’ll be back’ at the police station, the endoskeleton crawling toward Sarah, the motorcycle chase in the LA river, the T-1000 walking out of the flames, coming up from the floor, the ‘I’ll be back’ before Arnold takes on the LAPD (again), the frozen T-1000 shattering, I could go and on, but the point is, there is a reason this movie was wildly successful and put Cameron on the map as THE modern action director.

Almost twenty years old and it still looks better and is a million times cooler than the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four 2: the Turdening.

Now, about that sci-fi. In between all those well-shot action scenes, tense moments, and iconic dialogue there is a lot of stuff going on. It’s a commentary on us becoming too dependent on machines to the point where they don’t need us anymore.

The idea of the machines taking over. It’s been done before in novels, short stories, and comics, but never like this. Those showed us the entire world and what would happen, but the Terminator movies made it personal. It made the battle for your life, not some abstract notion for the future of humanity.

Sarah Connor, the future is coming to kill you.

I wish she and Ellen Ripley would team up to fight crime and solve mysteries.

Then we have all the fun time travel stuff. You can only go back in time, never forward, you can only send organic material, and the time travel paradoxes.

If they shut down SkyNet and destroyed all the T-800 pieces shouldn’t John Connor not exist? Or can matter not be destroyed? But you prevented it from ever forming?

Hot damn, who wants to watch T2 with me, right now?

Finally, the really sci-fy one, Total Recall.

Leave him be. He’s governing.

Man, where to start? There’s all the speculative fiction stuff about Mars having a civilization prior to man discovering the telescope; the terraforming of other planets to make them suitable for us; the ideas of corporations becoming government entities; what is identity; personality restructuring, and more.

Not bad for a movie most people just remember for ‘Quinn, start the reactor,’ and ‘GETCHA ASS TO MAHRS!’ And of course ‘LOL three bewbs.’

*sigh* if only…

Okay, terraforming and ancient alien civilizations is just that, and terraforming can look at colonization and government collusion in developing countries in the contemporary world, and the moral implications of terraforming any planet or surface, whether a dead world or a planet filled with non-sentient life.

The ancient alien civilizations comes out of a line of thinking in the 1970’s that our world was visited by “alien astronauts” that seeded our world with knowledge and technology. Mostly about pyramids in early civilizations looking a lot alike, or what appears to be UFO’s in some Incan and Egyptian art, and to explain the pantheons in every culture as aliens with technology so beyond early man, that it could only be explained as magic and divinity. Combine that idea with Mormonism and you have the original run of Battlestar Galactica.

This creeped the hell out of me when I was 8. Not a lot’s changed.

Then we get to the false memory implants. If something didn’t actually happen to you, but you believe it does, does it count? If you didn’t go to a place, breathe the oxygen, and move the atoms assembled into objects does that experience count?

Shooting from the hip, you’d say no, of course not. however if those memories and experiences are implanted in you to the point where they are indistinguishable from your actual memories, and that you act on the knowledge and experience gleaned from them, then they would count, right? If the way you live your life is affected, or it forces a change in your personality, then real or not, those experiences count, because they’ve shaped you.

But what if you, is not actually you?

Quinn, whether or not he was Hauser and whether or not Hauser was a traitor doesn’t matter. Unless it does. He lived like everything that they said happened to him actually did happen and he acted accordingly. He took that information from those experiences and what happened was the fallout of knowledge meeting a call to action.

Big ideas, interesting theories, and limitless fodder for late night/drunk/stoned conversation all hidden in big dumb action movies, presided over by the world’s biggest action star. Born geeks, and converted nerds all owe a debt of gratitude to the Austrian Oak.

Special thanks to Neil for the topic, and to anyone who read the whole damn thing. This one got away from me.

And here’s the most metal thing you’ll see today.




Posted on July 15, 2010, in Matt Loman, Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. sci-fi is the best, i always watch science fiction movies and read science fiction novels _

  2. forums which go in the very same themes? Thank you!

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