I’ve been watching the previews for Battle: Los Angeles with what I can only describe as “gleeful anticipation.” Explosions? Check. Aerial shots of missiles detonating in the atmosphere? Check. Aliens? Check. It’s an embarrassing problem, for someone with delusions of grandeur and intellectual pretensions that rival any bespectacled Brooklyn-born gentleman author: I love, passionately and without reservation, truly terrible space movies. In the same way I’ve finally worked up to being able to unashamedly haul Dragonlance books on the L train (sometimes you just have to reread them, no matter the social situation) I can at last admit it openly.
Armageddon makes me cry. Every time. (“Daddy, no!”) Independence Day I have seen so many times I know whole sections of it off by heart. (“Yes, yes, yes, without the oops!”) I didn’t just watch the Keanu Reeves remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still; I enjoyed it. Ditto Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds butchery (a.k.a. “The Movie that Everyone Else Forgot.”) I’m not totally without dignity: I skipped Skyline, after all. But I made up for that exercise of good taste by voluntarily watching 2012 (apocalypse can sub in for aliens in a pinch). More than once. In the theater. And come on, Signs isn’t THAT bad.
I wish I could chalk it up to some uncontrollable yen—a happy childhood association, or something. (I did first see Independence Day in the theater with my dad, but it was my idea, and I was seventeen, so I don’t think that counts.) Maybe I watched Batteries Not Included a few too many times! Maybe witnessing the seminal dinner-table scene from Alien at an early age (that babysitter so got fired) scarred me for life! A youthful obsession with Milla Jovovich’s hair in The Fifth Element certainly didn’t hurt—not to mention a persistent Gary Oldman fetish, even as weird as he was in that movie (you’re going to laugh me out of the room when I admit I still have a special place in my heart for Francis Ford Coppola’s lugubrious and ludicrous Dracula).
I could blame the original Star Wars trilogy, which, like many people my age, I’ve seen more times than I can count; but those movies are actually good, so it makes sense to love them. Same with Flight of the Navigator—sure, it’s hokey, but it’s still got plenty of charm, and little David’s journey through space and time has just as much resonance and pathos twenty years later as it did when I first watched the movie as a seven-year-old. Aliens is, of course, one of the greatest movies ever made (not to mention what is probably the most feminist action movie in cinematic history)—but again, that movie is indisputably one of quality. None of that explains this bizarre compulsion to watch more and more awful films, as long as they include alien battles, interstellar explosions, or space travel.
It would be nice to attribute this unsightly affliction to some factor outside my control—trauma, genetics, chemical dependence. But the truth is I love terrible space movies of my own volition and on my own recognizance. I love them despite questionable-at-best gender politics, often overt racism, and straight-up stupidity. I love them despite their transparent plays on the most dubious aspects of American mass culture, their shameless wild-eyed nationalism, and their frequent invocation of “old-fashioned” American values that never existed. Who can forget that epic multicultural photomontage of the President’s speech in Armageddon, with its Wyeth-esque shots of dusty small towns and soda fountains interspersed with images of rapt, weeping global citizens and Liv Tyler gazing proudly at her wedding ring? You could write a doctoral thesis deconstructing just those two minutes, slo-mo shots of proud-looking white guys marching toward their spaceship and all. And of course, it’s always white guys, unless it’s Will Smith.
And yet. I go to see these movies in the theater, sometimes repeatedly. I rent them so many times I’ve paid their purchase price ten times over—but of course I can’t BUY them; since owning them would be tantamount to admitting that it’s not just a passing thing, it’s a real problem with no visible solution. I’ll say all kinds of cantankerous things about bad science fiction books—“Terrible characterization,” I’ll snap, or “No worldbuilding!” or “This plot makes no sense!” But don’t even TRY and tell me Armageddon is an awful movie, unless you want to rumble. There’s no logic to it—I categorically refuse to watch, for example, Transformers; but set it in space and I’ll be queueing that trainwreck faster than you can say “Netflix.”
Like they say, the heart wants what the heart wants. In my case, apparently, the heart wants a laptop-sporting Jeff Goldblum or a whole lot of Bruce Willis making noble faces in a variety of scenarios. If you’re taking requests, Hollywood, please add Katee Sackoff. Or at least a couple of dinosaurs.
The Rejectionist is a freelance writer and aspiring vampire-about-town. She blogs at www.therejectionist.com.