Via Winch of Atomic Rockets (don't leave Earth without it), a link to Six Sci-Fi Movie Conventions (That Need to Die). 'Convention' here means trope, not a hotel full of people in funky costumes. They are listed in 'countdown' order - rather appropriate, since the countdown itself originated as a movie gimmick - and I'll summarize them in the same order here:
6. Ships' bridges with exploding computer panels and no seatbelts
5. 'Newton, Einstein, Sulak': potted future history in three names
4. Magic character saver / plot killer tools
3. One planet, one culture
2. The 2D ocean of space
1. 18th century infantry of the future
Of these, #6 and #2 pretty well explain themselves. Trek is the iconic violator of #5, naming a couple of Famous Historical People plus one more from our future. Corny, yes, but I'm inclined to give it a pass for at least conveying the idea that there is a history between our present and the era of the story.
The Sonic Screwdriver of Dr. Who is the exemplar of #4, and author John Hart calls such magical gadgets 'plot fixers,' but in fact they are just the opposite. They save the main characters, but at the price of killing plots, or at least sending scriptwriters frantically searching for a retcon. The most notorious such device, unmentioned in the article, is the Trek transporter room. This was originally a simple, innocent budget saver; too late did Roddenberry discover that it made getting out of tight spots all too easy. The implications, and awkward workarounds, have bedevilled Trek right up to the new film.
If colonizable planets are plentiful (for whatever value of 'colonizable'), they plausibly get a pass on #3. The initial colonizers are likely to be a cohesive group, and other groups will look for other worlds to settle. Yet even under this assumption, subsequent immigration could produce 'Chinatowns' - and the more developed, cosmopolitan, and therefore important the colony, the greater the chance that it will draw enough varied immigrants to form their own communities. Alien intelligent races might have a single planetwide culture on their homeworld, but if they are human-like enough to be played by Screen Actors' Guild members with latex foreheads they probably won't.
For the last, #1, the author badmouths infantry in general, ignoring recent historical evidence that boots on the ground still have military utility. (Even more recently we learned the same about naval boarding parties.) But this is no excuse for having future infantry form in line, apparently ready to fight the Battle of Blenheim.
Often, to be sure, this blunder flows from a more general one, unfathomably stupid bad guys, no different from the half dozen ninjas who attack our hero one at a time. In fact the only movie I can think of that showed equally stupid good guys - at least, the protagonist's side - is the film version of Starship Troopers. This movie also had an unusually vivid instance of #2, the crippled Rodger Young 'sinking' out of orbit. Newton weeps, or laughs until he cries.
(Heinlein's book is problematic in far subtler ways, but that is for another blog post.)
None of these bad tropes, as Hart acknowledges, is due merely to unfathomably stupid Hollywood. 'One planet, one culture' is in part a borrowing of the conventions of terrestrial travel literature. If, per Shogun, you want to portray the encounter of Europeans and Japanese, trying to deal with the Ainu would just clutter things up. SF aliens also tend to be metaphors, and one metaphor per metaphor is a pretty solid guideline. Likewise, in various ways, with all the other lame tropes. Even those notoriously unrealistic Hollywood spaceships are perfectly realistic when viewed from a relevant frame of reference:
The general audience is historically happier watching space ships woosh by shooting glowing bolts of energy than they are watching a slowly rotating spaceship lazily drift across the screen. If you're putting tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, you go for the shooty-wooshy space ships every time, pure and simple.What could be more realistic than that?
All the same these tropes are long past their sell-by date. But they will only get pulled from the shelves when scriptwriters (or authors of books intended to pimp themselves to Hollywood) come up with better alternatives, meaning a) they work at least as well in dramatic terms, and b) they can be seen to work well, by directors who frittered away their youth learning filmmaking instead of physics.
As one example, consider the spacegoing equivalent of #1: space battles fought at ranges more appropriate to Trafalgar than Jutland, let alone Midway. One starting point is to borrow from the well-established film convention of 20th century seafights: Bad guy ship shown firing toward the right, then cut to good guy ship shown firing back toward the left. For added impact, position one ship in low orbit of a moon or planet. From the other ship we see the moon in the distant backdrop - making it instantly and vividly clear that these ships are duking it out at Stupendous Range.
What tropes of Hollywood sci-fi (or fantasy, period-piece, etc.) annoy you? And how would you deal with them, if Hollywood came knocking at your door?