Saturday, February 7, 2015


Back in the early half of the 20th century, science fiction had gotten so ludicrous as to defy ridicule. In the age of space operas and planetary romances, the genre degenerated from Wells and Verne's imaginative but sober speculations to Burroughs' reprehensible Barsoom series of puritanical guilty pleasures, and SciFi in all its pulpy goodness was relegated to the sphere of what we'd now call "young adult" fiction, devoured feverishly by thirteen-year-old boys who would later disavow all knowledge of such ouvres. Decades would go by in this fashion. The trend's greatest aftershock carrying over into modern culture is the persistence of Star Wars as the chief SciFi reference point among pop culture at large.

So, while starting with the '50s (the Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke/etc. generation) the genre has gradually been regaining some legitimacy, it yet exists in a greater social climate which pigeonholes it as cheap sensationalism. Even younglings were raised by past generations who thought "fire lazorz pew-pew" was all there is to SF. This is a subculture which has by necessity grown into a healthy, self-conscious aptitude for thoughtful self-parody. Whether through Adams' Hitchhiker books or Futurama, we fans are duly reminded that we tread ankle-deep through pulp, and by and large we appreciate that occasional well-meaning slap to the face.

Paul, once you get past the appeal of dick jokes, addresses the relatively narrow niche audience within the convention-going, fanfic-writing, toy-collecting crowd possessing the introspection to actually consider its place in the greater social sphere. It's more of a parody of parody, an attack not only on the juvenile aspects of fandom but on the mundanes which denigrate it. It plays on SciFi's appeal to the thirteen-year-old boy in us for cheap laughs ("three tits... that's awesome!") but also serves as a reminder of Science Fiction's role in expanding minds. The protagonists may be doofy jokers but nonetheless are also scientifically-minded, progressive, rational individuals. Their contrast to backwoods simpletons is not only a constant source of cheap gags and necessary dramatic tension but the most memorable part of the story.

Very few movies dare to portray religion in anything but glowing terms, yet Paul so unabashedly and un-subtly elevates a character from repressive dogma to independent thought that it's no wonder it left much of its audience feeling a vague discomfort at having watched it. It leaves no room for argument as to the superior position of rational individualism: enlightenment is a worthy goal even if achieved by ridiculous means. Neither did it play to other politically correct tropes. Birds are a source of nutrition. Self-analysis is dignified. The main female character is not a superior being civilizing the lowly brutish males, but an individual with her own problems and faults. It is okay to crush the wicked witch beneath a flying house.

The flick does get slightly predictable at times, while other times it very successfully plays off predictability for comedic effect. Cut-and-dry dramatic moments get truncated by a "get over yourself" attitude and when you see who the big villain is, the alien's antagonist, you'll have to agree it makes perfect sense. By the end though, Paul mocks the scarcity of respectability of its genre. The superficial fans, the authors who despise their readers, the paucity of creativity, the sometimes dangerous lack of balance, all color science fiction's role as springboard from obfuscating mundanity to an interest in and understanding of the wonders of scientific reality.

No, Paul is not the best written, edited or original movie out there, but within its niche it serves its purpose wonderfully.

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