John Scalzi – An Experiment in Accurate But Misleading Movie Descriptions


There’s a famous television listing for The Wizard of Oz, written by newspaperman Rick Polito, which goes like this: “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.” It’s amusing because, despite not being the way that one usually describes The Wizard of Oz, it is, in fact, an accurate summation of the story. Accurate but misleading.

And, of course, it’s easy to do it with science-fiction films as well. “Disaffected farm boy destroys military installation, killing thousands” is, for example, an accurate but misleading description of Star Wars, giving the impression that it’s a different kind of film than it really is. If nothing else, this sort of exercise makes you look at your favorite films in a new light.

With that in mind, here are some accurate but misleading descriptions of popular science-fiction films. Enjoy.

2001: A Space Odyssey
A well-meaning computer’s attempt to fulfill its mission runs afoul of a human crew with other plans.

Alien
A rambunctious alien child invites itself aboard a human cargo ship; a memorable game of hide-and-seek follows.

Aliens
Humans and aliens join together to raise alien youth, but the marines take exception to their methods.

Alien 3
A lady and a stowaway change the lives of lonely prisoners forever.

Avatar
A company attempts to solve the Earth’s ecological woes; unhelpful aliens interfere with the task.

Back to the Future
A bewildered teenage boy fends off his mother’s disturbing and unnatural attraction to him.

Blade Runner
Poor product design leads to trouble for a manufacturer and one exasperated policeman. (Note: this is also the description for I, Robot.)

Cloverfield
A group of hipster Manhattanites find their plans for the night completely overturned thanks to an unexpected visit from an out of towner.

Escape From New York
A former soldier tries to find someone in the Big Apple but is frequently distracted by the colorful locals and their interesting lifestyle choices.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
An interloper endangers the life of a small boy in a desperate attempt to get home.

I Am Legend
A New Yorker has trouble getting along with his neighbors, especially at night.

Inception
An eclectic group of dreamers meet a poor little rich boy and try to change how he feels about losing his father.

Independence Day
Humans and aliens engage in a dispute over resource management.

Jurassic Park
A couple tries to have a good day at an amusement park and is thwarted by faulty ride management.

Logan’s Run
A young man seeks to discover if he can ever trust someone over 30.

Men in Black
A cop joins the immigration service and loses his sense of identity and his place in the universe.

Planet of the Apes
An astronaut shows a civilization the errors of its prejudiced ways but discovers that the ways of his own people aren’t always perfect.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
A child’s attempt to find his parents leads to misunderstandings on a galactic scale.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Time travelers attempt to steal an endangered species just to save their own behinds.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
A floppy-eared alien meets two robed humans who take him on a series of increasingly disturbing adventures, including an attempt to acquire a small boy on a bet.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
A budding romance between a man and a woman is threatened by her political career and his job in a paramilitary operation.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
An ambitious young man’s career choices confound his wife and his immediate supervisor.

The Fly
Lax operating standards in a laboratory lead a scientist to change the way he lives his life.

The Matrix
A lonely programmer discovers he’s spending more time in a massive multiplayer online game than he ever suspected.

The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions
The owners of a popular immersion video game fight outside attempts by technophobes to shut it down.

The Terminator
A robot with a funny accent goes looking for a woman in eighties Los Angeles.

The Thing
A visitor tries to blend in with the crew of an Antarctic base but find attempts to become one of the guys is met with suspicion and resistance.

Transformers
A young man’s desire for a car involves him in a philosophical dispute between two metalheads.

WALL-E
An employee at a garbage dump abandons his job to pursue a woman he’s just met.

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