Sunday, November 26, 2006

Modern Pop Culture Takes A Look Backward At SF

I saw a commercial tonight that made me, as a sci-fi fan, sit up and take notice. Don’t know how long it’s been airing, but tonight was the first time I’d seen the new Honda Civic commercial set in the computer world of “Tron”. The spot features a group of Civics being put through their paces on the Game Grid after the fashion of the Light Cycles. It wasn’t a blow-by-blow reproduction of the original sequence from the movie (there were some terrain additions to the ‘Grid and the cars were merely zooming around, not engaged in combat), but I was really impressed with how many of the scenery details and camera angles were faithful to the original. I have to wonder if the commercial producers built on top of original footage or just reproduced the CG from scratch themselves. In either case, brilliant job! I’m not saying the commercial was enough to make me buy one of the cars in question, but I am impressed someone at the ad agency’s creative department was enough of a fan and had enough guts to successfully pitch the idea to the big boys of using a 1982 sci-fi classic to sell a modern car. Couldn’t have been easy, especially given that a lot of Civic buyers tend to be younger people who wouldn’t have been old enough, or around at all, to have seen “Tron” back in the day (either in theatres or in subsequent video release) and likely wouldn’t bother digging it up now. Add to that the likelihood that the percentage of older viewers/consumers who would remember “Tron” is probably pretty small in and of itself, it must have been a challenge pitching what is ultimately an inside joke. I wonder if the back-up justification for the spot was that even for the majority who wouldn’t recognize the visual reference, the commercial just looks cool. In any case, I’m glad to see what is now a classic of sci-fi (and not just a classic because it’s 24 years old, but because it’s a hell of a good flick) get a loving minute in the fickle present-day spotlight.
Another relic that’s recently made an appearance, after a fashion, is that gigantic hunk of cheese from the late 70’s known as “Buck Rogers”. I was trolling through the SF Signal site a few weeks ago and noticed they’d highlighted a feature from YouTube on one of their daily summaries. Seems it was a bit from South Park doing a tongue-in-cheek homage to Buck Rogers. Cartman takes the place of Buck and winds up in the future in a pretty sweet take on the ‘Rogers opening credits. I didn’t catch this particular episode of South Park, so the riff was all new to me. I practically fell off my chair laughing. I’ll admit, as a kid back when Universal was inflicting “Buck Rogers” on audiences, I loved the show. (Except for an episode with a big gooey black blob monster thing that eventually turned into a man. – Scared the crap outta me back then.) Recently, I caught an episode being rerun on TV and regretted every minute of it. The whole thing sparked an ongoing conversation with my brother about the state of TV back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, where he pointed out that it’s possible for those old stinkers, bad as they were, to inspire genius. Case in point: “Battlestar Galactica”. The old show was so cheesy it was well into Limburger country. That being said, it did inspire the new series, which I’ve raved about before so there’s no need to indulge in its merits again. I guess sometimes it takes crap to fertilize the soil good things grow from. Back to Buck, though, as bad as the series was, it’s great to see it revived, even if briefly, by the tender ministrations of Parker and Stone.
With a “Tron” and a “Buck Rogers” reference making their appearances on the pop culture scene, I wonder if this is a trend (aside from the barrage of allusions in any Kevin Smith movie) that will continue, or will classic SF fade from the general public’s short attention span?
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