12 Incompetent Characters from Science Fiction History2
By Chris Littler
12 Incompetent Characters from Science Fiction History
The best science fiction stories take us to worlds that are altogether new, but they are often as familiar as stepping into an old pair of self-lacing tennis shoes. The technology and landscape therein may take heaps of explanation to rationalize, but the people creating it need to act in human ways if we want to be able to follow the story. Science fiction characters are, more often than not, archetypes of the people we know in our everyday lives. The intrepid hero: he’s just like us. The sexy love interest: she looks and acts an awful lot like our office crush. The comedic sidekick: he’s just like our best friend growing up.
Unfortunately, the same can be said for the incompetent buffoon. There always seems to be one around, whether you like it or not, like the hapless space Captain Zerks Ganymedewski from Zerks Log. The only difference is: when the buffoon at your office screws up the coffee order, the worst that happens is a little too much froth in your mocha. In the world of science fiction, one little slip-up can translate to a blaster shot in the face, a really annoying catch phrase, and/or a planet exploding – but they sure do give us a good laugh between epic intergalactic race wars, time travel mishaps and brutal battles with alien killers.
Zerks Log – Captain, At Last
1. Jar Jar Binks – Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
The scorn heaped on Jar Jar Binks after the release of The Phantom Menace was nearly unprecedented in the history of cinema. People hated him more than they hated the Emperor Palpatine, a man who embodies the Dark Side, the man they were supposed to hate. There’s a lot to dislike about Jar Jar Binks. He serves very little purpose in the narrative, offers very little to the conversation, and speaks in vague ebonics. A lot of people claimed he was a racist stereotype, but he’s no more racist a stereotype than those Japanese Trade Federation guys. You could argue that George Lucas has created a universe out of racist stereotypes. Jar Jar Binks is an awful character on his own. He doesn’t need any help from vague racist theories.
2. Hooter – Captain EO
Hooter is Captain EO’s hairy elephant friend. He’s so incompetent that literally 90% of the lines directed at him are just people lowering their brows and groaning his name. “Hooter, put that thing down.” “Hooter, stop blowing your nose like a trumpet.” “Hooter, you’re going to get us all killed.” Hooter serves no purpose on Captain EO’s crew, except to provide everyone something to yell at when things go awry. And things seem to go awry pretty often. Of course, Hooter does have one trick up his sleeve that seemingly validates his existence. When Captain EO kick starts the magical powers of dance, Hooter transforms into the accompaniment and plays himself. Hooter!
3. Billy – Predator
Predator is an equal-opportunity alien who hunts people. He doesn’t distinguish between race, creed, or age. That’s why he has no problem giving poor Najavo Billy a good onceover on a log set perilously over a huge ravine. Billy really has it coming, though. He spends the entire movie prophesying his own death with quotes like “we’re all going to die.” And his big challenge to Predator, even though the chopper isn’t much farther down the road, is to pull out a giant knife and cut open his chest. We presume that’s supposed to show courage, but it’s kind of a moot point when your enemy is coming at you with heat-seeking technology that can indiscriminately blow your head off from a mile away.
4. Louis Tully – Ghostbusters
Are you the Gatekeeper? That’s the question Louis finds himself asking after he’s been possessed by a demon named Vinz Clortho. Vinz needs to unite with the gatekeeper to open the gates and allow Gozer the Gozerian to bring about the end of the world. He succeeds in his task – though Gozer doesn’t – making it the only time in his life Louis has ever done anything right. Previous to his demonic possession, he was a socially-inept fellow who invites clients to parties and can never seem to get a break. And that’s what he returns to after the Ghostbusters have saved the day. The upside is that his newfound friendship with the gang leads him to become an honorary ghostbuster in the battle against Viga the Carpathian in the sequel.
5. George McFly – Back to the Future
A pushover in the present, a Peeping Tom in the past, whatever era you’re in, George McFly is one damaged individual. He’s a gaunt, lanky sort of guy who talks in a weird cadence. He’s never gone on a date and spends most of his time reading science fiction novels. Before Marty travelled back in time and mucked everything up, the only way George would have bagged a hottie like Lorraine is if her father hit him with his car. Sure, he punches Biff square in the jaw in alterna-1955, but that’s only after being pushed to extremes. If you had a six-foot bully yanking on your arm, laughing maniacally, you’d probably find the strength the make it happen, too. Lucky for George, Doc Brown stole that plutonium!
6. Mankind – Wall-e
Mankind doesn’t show up until about halfway through Wall-e, but it’s clear from first appearances that they were in no hurry to be on camera. After nearly seven-hundred years of living on the BnL Starliner Axion, humanity has devolved into boneless blobs dependent on technology to fit even their most basic needs. Microgravity will do that to a race. After the events of Wall-e, we’re left to assume that man will do his part to take care of the planet he once called home. But considering centuries of slothfulness and a really trashed planet, it’s hard to imagine these people not spending at least 8 hours a day sipping on piña coladas in an oversized hammock.
7. Dennis Nedry – Jurassic Park
Dennis Nedry’s plan to steal InGen’s embryos from Jurassic Park’s labs, escape via boat and shut down the electric fences nearly works – regardless of how insane it was. So we have to give him credit for that. But executing MOST of your plan nearly isn’t enough when you’re dealing with a park full of blood-thirsty prehistoric creatures. Nedry makes it to the fence leading to the docks but loses control of his jeep and crashes into a sign. While trying to free his ride from the mud, Nedry stumbles upon a playful Dilophosaurus, who proceeds to playfully spit in his eye and eat him alive. Then the dinosaurs go on to eat a lot more people and eventually get off the island and wreak havoc for many more sequels.
8. The Ministry of Information – Brazil
In the dystopian world of Brazil, mankind has become dependent on a bureaucratic, totalitarian government and the poorly maintained machines they man. It’s as if the government from George Orwell’s 1984 was populated with bumbling idiots who slapstick their way from one brainwashing to the next, keeping the public under their thumb. They’re a moronic lot, selfish and greedy, and you only root for government worker Sam Lowry once he dreams of escaping their incompetency and saving a beautiful maiden. Of course, the Ministry of Information does do one thing well: drive a man insane.
9. Harry – 3rd Rock from the Sun
From most outward appearances, the Solomon’s are your average family: a widower and his son, living with his sister and brother. Of course, the Solomon’s are anything but normal. They’re a quartet of space aliens sent to spy on us by assimilating into our culture. They’re just weird enough to seem normal, with the exception of Harry, the Communications Officer, who was only brought along because they “had an extra seat.” From time to time, Harry will fling his arms over his head and transmit an incoming message from their leader, The Big Giant Head. Harry offers little support to the team other than to mope around and screw up a well-hatched plan from time to time, but we suppose, in certain contexts, that’s the most human thing any of them ever do.
10. Dr. Zachary Smith – Lost in Space
If not for Dr. Zachary Smith, the Robinson family would never have ended up lost in space. So we can thank him for three years and 85 episodes of so-so classic television, but not much else. Dr. Smith is hired by foreign interests to sabotage the Robinson family’s trip to Alpha Centauri, where they’re expected to find conditions favorable to human life and presumably spread their American ideals to space rocks until the rest of the colonizers arrive. He’s competent enough to reprogram the ships robot into destroying vital systems but not enough to get off the ship during launch. His added weight throws the shuttle desperately off course, and he spends the rest of the series trying to make up for his mistake by mugging for the camera and generally being a bumbling, self-centered idiot.
11. The Monarch – The Venture Bros.
Malcolm was only a young boy when his parents died in a plane crash in the pine barrens. He was on board and wouldn’t have survived the elements if not for a nearby colony of Monarch butterflies who adopted him until it was time for them to migrate. When Malcolm eventually decided to go into the promising world of “arching,” he took on the moniker The Monarch, dressed himself as a butterfly, and used his sizable inheritance to build a giant floating cocoon, (which makes zero sense if you think about it). The cocoon isn’t The Monarchs only logical oversight. He’s constantly attacking the Venture Compound for no reason, and when presented with an opportunity to kill his nemesis, chooses not to, so as to continue a “deadly game of cat and also cat.” That being said, the Monarch must have something going for him if he can bag a looker like Dr. Mrs. The Monarch.
12. Charles Widmore – Lost
Has there ever been a billionaire as incompetent as Charles Widmore from Lost? Sure, the man can run a multi-faceted global empire, but when it comes to taking back control of one measly time-travelling island, the guy can’t seem to get his ducks in a row. Widmore spent his formative years there under the leadership of Richard Alpert, but when schemer Ben Linus took control, Widmore was banished. Of course, no one that leaves the world of Lost is gone for long, and Widmore staged not one, but two separate plots to get back what he thought was rightfully his: once with a freighter full of mercenaries and once with a submarine full of Desmond. We don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but let’s just say Widmore should have stuck to entrepreneurship.
Zerks Log – Frustration
Zerks Log – Morale
Chris Littler lives in Hollywood. He has a degree in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, one of the most prestigious writing programs in America, which he totally plans to hang on the wall when he has a Study. Chris currently covers video games at UGO.com when he’s not performing improv at iO, and is currently writing a one-hour TV pilot with his friend Wes. Like everyone else you know, he has an album available to purchase on iTunes and has lots of things to say on his blog: chrislittler[dot]com.