NEWTON, N.J., June 20 (UPI) -- Are you a science fiction fan?
Not so fast. Take a moment and think about it because you probably are and don't even realize it. Since technology is part of most of our daily lives, and the future is, in a sense, now, the definition of "science fiction" is broadening, as is the genre's audience.
"Whether it's 'The Matrix,' 'Harry Potter,' 'The Lord of the Rings,' or 'The Sixth Sense,' (the growing popularity of the genre is) amazing," Sci Fi Channel President Bonnie Hammer, told United Press International in a recent telephone interview. "People weren't aware they liked the genre because they themselves defined the genre in an unfair way. It was like the perception of liking sci fi wasn't cool or wasn't right, but if you look at big box-office wins, millions of people are attracted to it. They just wouldn't necessarily define themselves as sci-fi fans because their own definitions were limited."
Technology is evolving so rapidly and embraced by so many people, Hammer noted, that it is no longer reserved for that small segment of the population that once spent considerable time considering what conveniences and miracles the future would hold, what happens after we die and if there is, in fact, life on other planets.
"I think the audience for sci fi is different now than when we grew up," Hammer remarked. "But now in many ways the population is very different because they don't necessarily care about the things we used to care about because the future is now, and technology to a lot of the new younger viewers is just another day in the office, and space operas or futuristic series isn't what they want. They just want a different twist on the here and now."
A glimpse at this summer's slate of Hollywood offerings reveals a variety of feature films and projected blockbusters with sci-fi elements: "The Hulk," "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life," "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," just to name a few. Television is also home to more than a dozen series featuring action, horror, magic, technology, creatures or some blend of those characteristics, among them: "Andromeda," "Alias," "Angel," "Charmed," "Beyond Re-Animator," "Futurama," "John Doe," "Smallville," "Stargate: SG-1," "Threshold," "Tremors: The Series," "The Twilight Zone" and "Veritas: The Quest."
Asked to explain the one quality that ties together all of these different types of stories, Hammer refers to the Sci Fi Channel's marketing campaign, in which the "i" in "Sci" and the "F" in "Fi," pop out at viewers, challenging them to wonder, "what if?"
"All the possibilities that exist, which live in our imagination (make up science fiction,)" Hammer explained. "That's what really makes the genre amazingly broad and wonderful... One thing that is wonderful about the genre is that it is thought provoking. It allows you to use your mind and your imagination. Everything is not spelled out. It's not like simple action adventure where you know what's going to happen and everything is derivative. It's right in front of you on the screen. There are no surprises. In science fiction, you're left with the 'what if?'"
She added: "I think that's why you can watch and re-watch (sci-fi films and television programs.) I can't even tell you how many times I've watched the original 'Matrix,' and I still have questions. I loved it, but I'm still trying to figure it out in a lot of ways."
While many of the major networks seem more concerned with ratings and budgets than creative, intelligent storytelling, Hammer said the Sci Fi Channel remains dedicated to bringing "fabulous fiction ... steeped in our myths and our lore" to television.
"We've become known for our mini-series events," Hammer said. "We know that a good portion of the sci-fi audience loves literature. Loves reading. Loves great storytelling and great characters, so we know that we can do quality programming and people will come and see it."
Noting that last year's 20-hour mini-series, "Taken," directed by Steven Spielberg, broke viewership records and introduced a whole new audience to the channel, Hammer said her team's commitment to provocative programming and creative marketing are also attracting major-league players, such as "X-Men" filmmaker Bryan Singer and Oscar-winning actresses Whoopi Goldberg and Susan Sarandon.
"A couple of years ago, we had great ambition, but we couldn't necessarily get the talent we wanted to buy in because they said: 'Oh, yeah. They've been doing some nice stuff, but it's just a little cabler.' Now, what's happening is people are calling us, and if they're not calling us, when we call, they pick up our calls on the first ring."
The Sci Fi Channel is currently reinventing the landmark science fiction series "Battlestar Galactica; recently closed a deal to make Ursula Le Guin's "The Left Hand of Darkness" into a four-hour original mini-series; and secured producer Gale Anne Hurd ("The Hulk," "Terminator 3") to executive produce the six-hour mini-series, "Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars."