Is it really possible? After all the schlock and pseudo sci-fi hitting theaters this summer (I’m looking at you Terminator Salvation) could Hollywood be gearing up to unleash a cornucopia of sci-fi gems? Looks like it.
I will be the first to say: I didn’t see this coming. It seems that just about everything coming from Hollywood, for better or worse, is a dumbed-down popcorn flick focusing on eye candy and simple stories with little subtext and not much to say. But the following four flicks, from what we can tell, are the exception to the rule. True science fiction is about more than showing off cool futuristic gadgets; it’s about social commentary, dreaming of what the future could hold, and positing realistic possibilities about where science is headed.
Utopian, dystopian, or somewhere in-between, true good sci-fi makes us look forward at what the future could possibly hold. And I doubt that will be giant transforming robots.
Without further ado, then, let’s unveil the line-up. Four movies that any true sci-fi fan should seek out the second they become available.
This is the only movie on the list that has been released as-of-yet, assuming, that is, that you are lucky enough to live in a city that got the film. I saw it a few weeks back in an almost-empty arthouse theater, and the movie didn’t disappoint.
It stars Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, a government contractor doing a three-year stint on the lunar surface to harvest Helium 3, a newly discovered energy source that currently powers all of earth. Sam is only weeks from going home when he starts seeing visions. When a duplicate Sam shows up, things get hairy.
I won’t ruin the twists of the story, but the thing that was most affecting about this film is that the film isn’t about the twists. It’s about a man dealing with his own identity and how each discovery affects him in a very personal way.
As a sci-fi yarn, though, the movie excels, positing a future where humankind’s thirst for energy is, as always, without bounds. The twist on the HAL-9000 computer is sure to make any 2001 fan geek out, and the well-designed lunar living quarters are a marvel of science and style. All of these elements are used for one purpose–to explore a character. The story is never left behind, and that’s how it should be.
This is the one on the list that I think might bring me the most flack. And I understand; a bleach-blonde Bruce Willis is not always the mark of quality.
For me, though, this makes the list in spite of its traditional thriller elements. Its concept is just too damn interesting to ignore. In the future, each and every person has a surrogate self–a machine–that experiences the world exactly as we would and sends signals back to us, all cozied up in bed. The result is that we experience the world without any danger or pain, but it isn’t really us.
The possible thematic questions this brings up are endless. What does is mean to “experience” something? Without danger, is there joy? Or true feelings of accomplishment?
The movie will throw in a standard “what if it’s not really safe” plot, but the trailer definitely hints at an exploration of these complicated ideas. This one is directed by Jonathan Mastow, director of Terminator 3. While a lot of people give that movie flack, I really dug it–especially the last fifteen minutes which really pushed the franchise further by going a direction we didn’t expect and truly furthering the technological ideology of the mythos. With Mostow at the helm, then, there’s a good chance we’ll get smart science-fiction that really understands the unintended repercussions of technology gone wrong.
3. District 9
This one seemed to come out of left field. While everyone was bustling about the new Transformers movie, Neil Blomkamp was quietly chugging away at this politically-charged opus filled with aliens and alien technology.
The idea is simple: a race of aliens with a busted ship settle down in Johannesburg. While they say their only desire is to return home, they are still looked on with concern, fear, and hatred. Can we really let them leave, knowing how advanced they are, technologically? Knowing that they might be able to wipe us off the face of the earth if they so desired?
It’s a complicated issue about xenophobia and racism, but it looks like the movie goes further than that. Besides all the cerebral stuff, this one is full of action and ‘splosions, all captured in a docu-drama way that takes the high-tech and paints it in decidedly third-world tones. The imagery in this trailer is not quite like any sci-fi we’ve yet seen. Here’s praying the movie holds up when it hits on August 14.
I know…it’s annoyingly arrogant to put this one on the list before the masses have seen a single frame of footage. But when it’s James Cameron, the director of Aliens and Terminator 2, returning to sci-fi for the first time in decades, I think we just need to give the man the benefit of the doubt.
The movie, with it’s cutting-edge 3D IMAX technology, promises to take us to an alien world like we’ve never seen–a world so harsh for humans that they must send out biological “avatars” of themselves in order to mingle with a race of aliens that is facing extinction.
Or at least, that’s what I can gather from the plot synopses we’ve seen so far. The movie has been kept so tightly under wraps that anyone who didn’t read the leaked script a few years back has no idea what this one is about. And yet it’s the most-anticipated sci-fi film of next year.
I guess only James Cameron can pull that one off.
If the past is any indication, the movie will be intelligent and well thought-out. It will be an exploration of the future that refuses to get caught up in its own minutiae and instead focuses on telling a compelling action-filled story.
That’s the hope at least. It doesn’t hit theaters until the end of this year, so we definitely have a chance to change our minds about this one. If the response from the footage shown at Comic-Con is any indication, though, this could be something special.
That about wraps it up for me. Here’s hoping these movies live up to the great sci-fi films we direct in our own heads. The other thing to note: none of these are remakes or sequels. Hollywood grasping for originality? Talk about science-fiction! *rimshot*