DOCUSERIES "The Real History of Science Fiction"
WHEN | WHERE Saturday at 10 p.m. on BBC America
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Maybe science fiction isn't an endlessly open universe of imagination run wild. This BBC-made "Real History" pigeonholes the sci-tech genre into four "corners," or thematic tentpoles -- artificial life, space exploration, alien invasion and time travel.
That makes each of the miniseries' four hourlong essays more precise, starting with this week's look at robots. Things get even tidier with the premiere's preference for first-
person testimony and color film, emphasizing Douglas Trumbull and "Silent Running"; Anthony Daniels (C3PO) and "Star Wars"; Gale Anne Hurd and "The Terminator"; Paul Verhoeven and "RoboCop"; "Blade Runner" villain Rutger Hauer; and actor Keir Dullea with his best-known vehicle, "2001: A Space Odyssey." Plus, "The Six Million Dollar Man," "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence," "The Matrix" and more.
The hour finds time for vintage black-and-white with the father of robotics, 1940s author Isaac Asimov, and "2001" brainiac Arthur C. Clarke, along with a glimpse of 1927 archetype "Metropolis." We hear from cyberspacer William Gibson and io9.com's Charlie Jane Anders. At which point it seems "Real History" may be a misnomer. "Real ideas" is more the thing, exploring the concepts (and context) behind some of our culture's most influential iterations of hopes, fears and humanity.
MY SAY See that loooong list of first-hour inclusions? And it's hardly complete. The time allotted isn't long enough to truly convey the touchstones a sci-fi devotee might demand. But with so much skated through, it's plenty to confuse a newbie. So, who's the audience here?
"Real History of Science Fiction" sets itself a thankless task, at least at this length and structure, and with seeming limitations on footage and interview availability. The second and third hours linger on "Star Wars," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "E.T." without involving auteurs George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Other talking heads digress and profess (unchallenged) inaccuracies, and narration makes its own dubious pronouncements.
While it's true big movies are how most of us consume these concepts, the focus on recent blockbusters shortchanges the earlier thinkers and writers who laid the groundwork. Smart folks like Neil Gaiman and Ursula Le Guin are too little heard here with time spent on sound-bite spouters like "Star Trek's" Nichelle Nichols. Segues leap from "The X Files" to "Godzilla."