Friday, March 23, 2007

Oh Mimzy, DNA has saved the day!

The MSN Movies article "Sci-Fi From Page to Screen" points out that the recently released The Last Mimzy has significantly changed the classic short story it is based on to give it a warm fuzzy ending. In the original short story, "Mimsy were the Borogoves,*" the parents ultimately lose their children, because their adult brains aren't plastic enough to unlearn Euclidean Geometry. In the new movie version, the family not only stays together, but one of the children's DNA is used to save the future.
"Mimzy" takes the haunting original story — about two children who evolve quickly beyond their parents' understanding, with the help of toys from the future — into a heavy-handed and often insipid plea for understanding and family interaction. The story posited the ultimate parents' nightmare, in which they are no longer capable of communicating with or comprehending their kids, partly through their own lack of participation. The movie keeps the family united and also argues that "innocence" is a genetic trait that, hundreds of years from now, has been shut down — all we need to save the future Earth is a little girl's teardrop containing the crucial DNA.
The notion that the DNA from an "innocent" can save a technologically advanced, but genetically deteriorated, humanity sounds ridiculous. If they know their genes are a problem, and they have the technical skills to manipulate their genome, why don't they just fix their genetic issues directly?** Based on the reviews***, it sounds like The Last Mimzy simply uses DNA as a technical stand-in for the "love of an innocent child that saves the world". Perhaps children will like it, but it sounds that the message is a bit heavy-handed for my taste.

Maybe there is still room for an adaptation of "Mimsy were the Borogoves" that addresses the issues of brain plasticity, learning and children who can out-think their parents. Now that would be a story!

* The original 1943 short story is not available online, but it has been widely anthologized.

** Perhaps what the future men really want is an easy source of DNA to grow primitive human slaves. Bwa ha ha! OK, maybe not.

*** I haven't see the movie yet (it might happen, since I am a Rainn Wilson fan), so if I've misunderstood based on the reviews, I'll update the post.

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  1. oooh... I think I have a new favorite blog. I'm enjoying your posts!

  2. Anonymous3:50 AM

    That sounds wrong on so many levels. I loved and hated the underlying sadness of that story when I read it far too many years ago. I read it in my pretentious teens as a metaphor for what happens to generations in a time of rapid societal change. One film I will go out of my way not to see.

    I also worry about DNA references in films being so very much a stock piece of science. As I love to tell people, my mother trained in biology at university and started teaching in 1956. She had to re-learn everything before she could walk into a biology classroom, because that was when DNA theory changed the biological teaching world. This means that to even refer to DNA in something from a 1943 story means the film-makers have really changed the basic premises, which fits your thoughts.

  3. dorid: thanks! I'm glad you enjoy them.

    gillian: the discovery of DNA's structure (and understanding of its function) must have created a huge mental shift for people in the biological sciences. Exciting times, I'm sure. I think part of the blame today likes at the feet of the hype surrounding the human genome project, that made it sound as if DNA sequence was the solution to everything, making it a useful plot device for the lazy science fiction writer.

  4. That, and movie companies like to BS paying customers with stuff they don't particularly care to understand themselves. The way they figure, the majority of moviegoers probably won't notice.

    DNA isn't the first, and probably won't be the last.

    (My favorites are always the screw-ups they do with aircraft in the name of Hollywoodization)

  5. I don't have a problem with warm fuzzy endings - except when they have set me up to expect something else, or, as in this case, when they re-write the story out of recognition.

    The title for the story you suggest in your last graf would naturally be 'And the Mome Raths Outgrabe.' :P

  6. Anonymous6:24 AM

    As a genetics student, the increasing use of DNA as a plot device is driving me crazy. It seems like anyone with a very basic knowledge of genetics feels that it's ok to use it in an overly dramatic way. I'm finding this makes the average person overreact to terms like 'mutation, because mutant=some horrible creature in their minds.

    I dread to think what the media does with other sciences ...

  7. Anonymous1:38 PM

    I don't understand. I posted something here two days ago. It accepted it. It said it was saved. And today I stop by to see if anyone has left an interesting comment, and my comment's not here. *grr*

    Basically (I won't do the long post again) I said that Hollywood screws up alot of the movies. I'm not sure why. You'd think they'd learn when people come back and say "That sucked, why didn't they stick to the original?" but they don't. Not that ALL stories-to-movies have been hacked and eviscerated, but quite a few of them have. It's sad.

    So now I don't want to see the movie, but I do want to find a copy of the story. Thanks for the link to where it's been anthologized!


  8. I didn't realize that Mimzy was based on a short story. I recall seeing the first preview, looking at my roommate, and asking, "What the frell is a Mimzy?" She didn't know, either.

    Doesn't sound like the kind of film I'd enjoy. I like my warm fuzzies in moderation, not gallon buckets.

  9. MWW: it's true, most people won't care about the DNA at all. I'm glad there are a few other people out there who notice the details.

    Zonk: The Mome Raths would also be a cool name for a band :-)

    Imelda: I partially started this blog to complement all the other sites about fictional physics. No science is safe.

    Joshua: I'm sorry Blogger ate your comment. I'm sure it was an excellent one! Anyway, I usually avoid movies based on books and stories I've enjoyed for that very reason.

    Kelly: Not only did they make the story warm and fuzzy, but instead of referring to Carroll's Jabberwocky like the original story, they made Mimzy a toy rabbit. Maybe they were inspired by the teddy bear in A.I.

  10. Anonymous11:45 AM

    We had actually planned to go this movie over spring break but something came up. The more reviews I read about Mimzy the happier I am that we didn't go. I dislike walking out of a movie and feeling that I've wasted my money.

  11. This short story is one of my favorites. I'll probably see the movie in the near future.

    Good blog, by the way. I just added the feed to my newsreader.


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