Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Science Fiction--Just in English?

When I saw the Star Trek movie reboot in 2009, I was one of the first people in the world to be able to see it in the theater.  I was living in China, and, excited to be able to get to a premiere of a film before my friends commented on it on Facebook, I decided to go to a midnight showing at the cinema in our small town. 

In the early 2000s, I’d been a reporter covering the midnight showings of the new Star Wars movies in the US, and I had great memories of people dressing up in costumes, getting their lightsabers confiscated by ushers, and making the movie an event rather than just another film to see. 
The cast of Star Trek.

However, I had a feeling that Star Trek wouldn’t have the same cult status in China. 

And I was right. 

We had booked our tickets in advance--but there was no need. Dan and I were two of only a handful of people in the large theater. At first we guessed that this was because it was a premiere, and premieres in China are often shown in English, with Chinese subtitles. But no, as it turned out, we’d be watching the film in Mandarin. Good practice for our language skills, but not much for helping us grasp the nuances of character and plot. 

Since then, I’ve been wondering how different cultures view science fiction. I know there are Chinese authors of science fiction, though I have never found a translated book I could read in English. And I have heard that Avatar is one of the top-selling movies in China of all time, right after Titanic, which was the first Hollywood blockbuster to be released in the Middle Kingdom. But, the percentage of science-fiction films coming from China seems to be much below the percentage of science fiction being produced in English language film studios. 
Much of Looper takes place in China.

It could be because science fiction is ill-regarded in China. In 2011, it was announced that Chinese censors were going to ban movies featuring time travel. This may be why, some industry insiders suggest, the films Looper and Iron Man had such large chunks of plot set in China. This inclusion perhaps greased the wheels and made censors more friendly to the idea of letting the movies release to their huge population of cinema-goers. 

What are your experiences with science fiction in other cultures? I’d love to hear about some books or movies you’ve enjoyed. Leave a comment below, or Tweet me @bethverde. 


  1. Finally saw Star Trek into Darkness this weekend--I hadn't been to a movie theater in ages, so it was fun.

    1. I thought it was fun too! Science fiction is always good on the big screen.