Monday, December 9, 2013


Ever had some family member try to make a minor nice gesture toward you which completely backfired? Over the week surrounding Thanksgiving, I did the done thing and visited relatives. Said relative attempted to pander to my tastes in entertainment by renting a SciFi movie. It had the words "Asimov" and "best scifi ever!!!" on the cover, so you can't go wrong, right? Wrong.

The flick in question is the 2000 adaptation of Asimov's Nightfall, and it's one of the many adaptations which seem to deliberately attempt to deface and defame their supposed source material. I have never read the much later novel-length version so I don't know how guilty Asimov himself might've been of watering down his own idea, but I was familiar enough with the original 1941 short story that after ten minutes of the irredeemably despicable movie which bears its title had gone by, I stormed out of the room in disgust. Go watch ten minutes of Xena or one of the worse episodes of the original Star Trek and you'll get the gist of it.

Unfortunately, it cannot be ignored, because though the movie itself is better left unwatched, the ways in which it denigrated its inspiration are entirely too relevant to contemporary culture. Had I seen the box cover I might've warned against the idea of a loving couple as the central image. Asimov's story contains about as much sexual tension as Green Eggs and Ham and indeed features no female characters whatsoever. Neither did it portray any swashbuckling scenes or fireball-spewing sorcerers.

There was indeed a lovely little scifi short story bearing the title Nightfall, written by Asimov. So far as that goes, the movie studio can't be accused of false advertising. Also, as wikipedia informs us, the story was declared the best pre-1965 short story by the Science Fiction Writers of America... back in 1968. Somehow the year-2000 movie's box cover left that tidbit out. However, the honor bestowed is in itself interesting. The Science Fiction Writers of America of 1968 must have been aware of how ludicrous any declaration of "best" is, especially when discussing largely subjective matters such as fiction. Such awards are more often than not a means of popularizing a particular work for secondary reasons. It's not just the Oscars that are political. And, kudos to those '68 Fiers of Sci, they picked a doozy.
There is indeed a contemporary relevance to Nightfall, just as there was in '68, with the religious revival backlash against the human rights movement building. The story is largely a polite, drawing-room deliberation between men of reason, of truth, of science, as to a possibly cataclysmic event and the hope of averting it. It's even set inside an astronomical observatory. Their communal antagonist is the "Cult" which seeks to speed the Apocalypse for dogmatic reasons. Sound familiar? It's a delightfully concise, heavy-handed depiction of the progressive attempts of science sabotaged by the demented mass of the people deliberately whipped into a destructive frenzy by religious manipulators. All the more relevant today, as religious extremists backed by corporate interests all too eager to divide and conquer have seized control over so many of the more backward states in the U.S. and are actively destroying the progressive social programs of the past few decades, to say nothing of similar religious revivals abroad.

All the more relevant the guilt of that video-store owner who would seek to defame Asimov by shelving a so-called adaptation which turns his rational flight of fancy about the limitations of human thought and the need for the structure of science to stretch our awareness into the vastness of the cosmos into a pathetic farce in which a priest with magic powers is the hero and he does it all not in search for the truth, not for progress, but for the love of a good woman. So they become a new Adam and Eve.
Spinning much down there, Isaac?

If you want Nightfall, read the story.
If not, the Escape Pod audio version is, if not entirely palatable, digestible and blissfully un-adapted.

With the original story being short, set almost entirely in a single room and composed of simple roles which though all male are fairly unisex and should be easy enough to act out, it would make for an excellent one-act play. Can we get this thing played by high-school and college drama clubs?

No comments:

Post a Comment