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September 03 2009

Is sci-fi better when it's low budget? Serenity is mentioned as an example of a low-ish budget sci-fi film which might be all the better for not costing big bucks.

I think low budget sci-fi is the bomb! IMO, the whole idea of sci-fi is to use your imagination and low budget shows almost force you to suspend disbelief and embrace the story's concept. (I think early Dr. Who is the perfect example for TV and for film I'd go with, oh, I don't know, how about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

Even as a tiny tot, I loved The Land of the Lost as a very low budget sci-fi-ish sort of show...watch out for the slesstack!!
Scifi originals say no.
Primer had a budget of around $7000
Okay, Serenity wasn't exactly *low* budget -- wasn't it about $40m? Considering, say, The Matrix was $60m I wouldn't say that's low exactly. As for Primer, that was something of a special case, since if I remember correctly it was mostly the one guy who filmed/acted (one part)/edited the entire film...

For an actual low budget sci-fi film, I'd have to mention Franklyn -- an ambitious 6m British film from a first-time director. I haven't seen got around to seeing it yet, but it's meant to be brilliant for a low budget/first time film, if a little confused (and frankly, I'd rather somebody tries to do something new and exciting and fails rather than create a perfect carbon copy of everything else out there).

Edited to add: here's a wiki link about Primer for anyone interested. I can't help but smile at the credits list on the right, I'm amazed he managed to pull it off.

[ edited by MattK on 2009-09-03 22:46 ]
<3 Low Budgie. Except for a spa-like setting.
Dark Star rocked! Sci-Fi originals... suck.
I love Sci-Fi originals and LifeTime movies! The cheaper the better!
So help me, SyFy's "Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus" was the greatest science fiction film of this or any other generation, or my name isn't Gazebo Potchagaloop.
At least with the name change SyFy is now as lame as their shows.
Wait, did the Sci-Fi network actually change their name to "SyFy"? You've got to be kidding me...
Sad but true.
Two words: District 9. What can you say about a movie whose mini-Transformers were more convincing than the big ones?
I think Serenity counts as the upper end of low budget. The Matrix was 60 million in '99 dollars, and it shot in Australia. Serenity was 35 million in '05 dollars, not 40, I believe, and shot in LA, which is more expensive. Plus, District 9 was 30 mil, and everyone's using that as an example of low budget. And even The Matrix was cheap compared to its sequels or most tentpole sci-fi action films.

That being said, I don't think budget has too much to do with quality. I would say the only thing is, the more expensive films get, the more money is on the line, so the more executives will push the films to be more "commercial."

However, Serenity is pretty commercial in a lot of ways (I know it wasn't successful, but I mean commercial in that it's a fast-paced space opera, with lots of thrills, action, and laughs... we're not talking about Solaris here). I think if Serenity was made on a hundred million dollar budget, it would be just as good, just with better production values.

And on the flip side, there are plenty of lame, cheap sci-fi films (especially if you go really cheap, like the made for SyFy stuff). It really just comes down to "stop making bad movies."
Money isn't everything.
Well one thing the budget definitely forces the director's hand to either struggle to make a great movie, or make a movie pretending he had a large budget. When you look at low budget, you either see a large number of really bad special effect shots, or you see a judicious use of good shots in between large expanses of plot.

A low budget is not a prescription for good science fiction, but it is a good way to keep a good director honest.
hacksaway - "scifi originals say no"

lol, ain't it the truth?!
I would say the only thing is, the more expensive films get, the more money is on the line, so the more executives will push the films to be more "commercial."

Yeah, exactly bonzob. Sometimes "commercial" means "entertaining fun" (e.g. 'Independence Day') and sometimes it means "cynical lowest common denominator shite" (e.g. 'Transformers 2'). So I don't think low budget necessarily means better (whatever that even means) but it almost always means more daring (i.e. original) and usually more cerebral just because less money at risk means less interference and less pressure to make $50 million on your opening weekend by appealing to absolutely everyone and their dog. If you prefer original, cerebral sci-fi exclusively then I guess that's better to you (personally I like both the spectaculars and the smaller "idea movies" and always have).

...I haven't seen got around to seeing it yet, but it's meant to be brilliant for a low budget/first time film, if a little confused

Saw 'Franklyn' at the cinema and it's not bad at all. I don't think it's quite as clever as it thinks it is (or maybe i've just seen/read a lot more science-fiction than the intended audience) because I saw the ending coming a mile off but it's well acted, nicely written, looks absolutely great for a low budget film and has some interestingly diverse characters ('Moon' is another great little indie by a first time British director BTW, well worth a look).

I also liked 'Primer', really nice little sci-fi film that doesn't entirely succeed as entertainment IMO but has some great ideas as well as a pretty mind-bending plot (it's definitely science-fiction though which may not be everyone's cup of tea). Got it on DVD and the commentary is a great extra (at one point the writer/director/star talks about how he couldn't spare film for overrunning after a take so that you can sometimes actually see him mouth "Cut" at the end of scenes he's in ;).

And not mentioned in the article but also a great film is 'Sunshine', made for about 20 million which, at the time, was about $40 million so about the same as 'Serenity'. Not convinced that $40 million actually is low budget but it's not the crazy money 'The Island' or 'Transformers' cost.

And is Will Smith a diva-ish actor BTW ? I hadn't heard that and always think he brings a lot of character stuff to even the most blockbuster-ish sci-fi.
I've now seen Franklyn (I finally made the time after this thread reminded me), and it really was truly excellent. I agree about cleverness of the storyline--the same could be said about Moon, which I did see in the cinema and I second your recommendation--but when it comes down to it, it's the journey that counts and both films more than succeed in that respect. And that's not to say their plots aren't clever or original, just that there's a very high standard to match for anyone who's read good sci-fi for a movie that's trying to, as you say, make something cerebral.

As for Sunshine, I heard that went off the rails a bit at the end not that that should mean it's not a worthwhile film. And as far as Will Smith goes, I believe he's a scientologist now, which is unfortunately the first thing that comes to mind whenever he's mentioned.
Well he's a Buffy fan, so he can't be all bad.
I think the comparison between Serenity and the Firefly pilot Serenity might be a great way to compare budgets and storytelling, with a comparable length of running time, and specifically, both of them are awesome and we love them.

They both provide us with the same characters, many of the same introductions, but the scope and pacing of the two is so different and opposing, and I'm sure every person here prefers one method over the other.

I think I tend to gravitate towards a lower budget approach, because it makes creators slow down a little and spend time (I like azzer's phrase, "keeps them honest"), but like everyone here has pretty much said, it seems like lots of money or any lack of it can't help a bad movie.
As for Sunshine, I heard that went off the rails a bit at the end not that that should mean it's not a worthwhile film.

Yeah the last third briefly descends into a different (lesser IMO) sort of picture MattK (it's almost like the creators lost faith in the film they'd been making up to then) BUT it brings it back at the very end IMO and on balance it's a good film, quite traditional sci-fi in many ways since it has the "scientist as hero" you used to see a lot in the 50s.

Well worth a look anyway, you can probably even buy it for about 3 quid now (and largely thanks to Moore's law, it's got some truly beautiful CGI - 10 years ago I doubt it could've been done at that price).
Wait wait wait wait... scientists can be heroes? What kind of perverse message are we trying to send to the children?!
Well, it is fiction. Obviously in real life they'd never have time to be heroes what with their busy schedule of kicking puppies, parking in the handicap spot and practicing communism.
Getting to this very late, due to very long weekend.
I don't think budget has much to do with it. A good story is a good story, regardless of the budget.
And a mega-pic that relies on expensive special effects, but doesn't have a good story. Well, there you have it.

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