Jar Jar Binks Must Die... and Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Apr 13, 2011
Jar Jar Binks Must Die... and Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies

Daniel M. Kimmel takes his science fiction movies seriously, and he wants you to do the same.

Kimmel, a film critic and author of several earlier books including I'll Have What She's Having: Behind the Scenes of the Great Romantic Comedies, delves into the wild realm of sci-fi cinema with Jar Jar Binks Must Die... and Other Observations about Science Fiction Movies, a collection of 41 essays, some of them on specific films, some on the themes and tropes of the genre, and some that tackle the very essence of what constitutes science fiction and why the genre is important.

Kimmel--who was a lawyer in his earlier career--makes his case for science fiction, presenting evidence (Exhibit A: Fritz Lang's Metropolis) and constructing an inescapably logical argument that should make it clear to all but the most prejudiced that science fiction is not only a real genre unto itself, but that it is fit fare for serious adults--indeed, it's essential to anyone willing to think deeply about questions like truth, social justice, and the human condition.

But sci-fi can also be a lot of fun, and Kimmel writes playfully as well as convincingly, often all at once. In essays that look at subjects as diverse as Leslie Nielson, Batman, and the titular Jar Jar Binks, Kimmel displays expertise on the subject along with a lively sense of humor--scarcely a page is turned that doesn't yield a few good laughs.

Readers who already take science fiction seriously will enjoy the book's panoptic breadth and it's frank jubilation in its subject matter. Where else could you find smart, funny meditations on Robinson Crusoe on Mars, A Boy and His Dog, and Destination Moon between the same covers as a defense of earnest but poorly produced movies like the nearly forgotten Creation of the Humanoids or outrageous campfests like Cat Women of the Moon? Neglected gems (hello, Gattaca!) glitter in these essays, and movies we all think we know--The Truman Show, The Andromeda Strain--are examined afresh, yielding surprising insights.

Kimmel pays tribute to the acknowledged classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but he also sticks up for lesser movies like that film's sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact (not a monumental film, but one of Peter Hyams' better offerings, not to mention a meticulously executed movie that has always been underrated). Along the way he ruminates on the last great year for genre movies (2009 gave up a bumper crop), parses various visions of the future, and examines, in depth, the inherent dangers of surrendering control of human destiny to smart computers. (If they're not insane, like HAL-9000, they are mercilessly, mechanically efficient in discharging their duties to save us from ourselves, like Colossus--a super-computer at the center of a movie by the same name.)

Movies should be fun, but there's no reason why they shouldn't also have something substantive to tell us. Kimmel knows this, and he makes it his business to guide his readers to science fiction films that are worthy of our attention as social commentary, whiz-bang spectacle, or works of entertainment that carry an extra edge: That special chills-down-the-spine feeling of the strange and mysterious. The title of this book may speak to the obvious for comic effect, but its contents grant us access to the sublime.

As with Kimmel's book on romantic comedies, the best advice to take with you on your foray into Jar Jar Binks Must Die is this: keep your Netflix wish list at the ready. You're going to revisit movies you hadn't thought about in years and be irresistibly tantalized by films you've never seen, and maybe never even heard of.

Publisher: Fantastic Books. Publication Date: March 15, 2011. Pages: 190. Price: $14.99. Format: Trade Paperback Original. ISBN-13: 978-1-617-200-618

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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