Archive for December, 2016

A couple of posts ago we identified that both 1997 and 2009 were both vintage years as far as cinematic Sci-Fi was concerned. Which, by some fag packet maths reckoning, means it’ll be 2021 before we get another cluster of quality films. It’s no shock then to realise, in hindsight admittedly, that 2016 won’t be bucking this spurious trend. Despite the superlative reviews for Rogue One, and Star Trek Beyond being completely serviceable, there’s still not enough to make it a stand out year. Even Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, with its emphasis on narrative over special effects, still didn’t mark itself out as being a classic – although we can but hope for more movies in this cerebral vein.

So what does the New Year hold for fans of the genre?

We’ve called out Seth Ickerman’s vanity project on Drozbot before, but the film’s premise of merging the real world with the virtual remains intriguing. Plus there’s now a dedicated website where you can witness the film’s impressive opening trailer.

Ridley Scott is a name that ends up being frequently mentioned on these pages, and 2017 has not one but two films returning from his oeuvre. However, the sad reality is that both Blade Runner 2049 and Alien Covenant have some tough acts to follow. The former needs to take one of the most iconic Sci-Fi movies of the 1980s to a new and relevant space, whereas the baggage that surrounds the latter already weighs heavily against its hopes for success.

In other quarters, we have another film heavy with heritage about to receive the live action treatment – Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell. Scarlett Johansson is once again showing off her interest in Sci-Fi by taking up the role of the female cyborg protagonist – although her recent outings with Under the Skin and Lucy make us cautious for another mixed reception. And, talking of Lucy, we have a new endeavour from director Luc Besson with Valerian. We’ve not been complimentary about his output over the years here on this site, but we’ll reserve judgement despite the opening trailer seeming to hint at a Jupiter Ascending clone.

Daniel Espinosa’s Life, with both Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds bringing some serious acting skill to the production, is also of interest. But our greatest hope for the year sits with the sequel to a surprising 2014 tour de force. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is scheduled for release this April, and we’ll be hunting out our “super awesome” mixes in anticipation!

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Science Fiction has always taken a bold stance on the subject of death. A final frontier that can take even the bravest and best of us and leave those behind with a very palpable reminder that everythig here on Earth is, for the time being, wonderfully transient.

Captain Kirk can, and did, die on screen. As did Spock, only to miraculously return and then be taken from us again in a very real sense. Death has always been a reality in Gene Rodenberry’s creation ranging from the sublime – with the Next Generation showing ongoing grief at the absence of Tasha Yar – to the risible with John Scalzi’s Red Shirts.

Like Spock, a similar trick of resurrection was also performed by Han Solo in Star Wars. I remember being traumatised at a trailer shown on a British children’s TV series, Screen Test, which displayed my personal hero being frozen in carbonite. No explanation was given as to what was going on, and the death of central figures had already been highlighted as a result of Darth Vader cutting down Obi Wan Kenobi. Lesson learned. The Star Wars universe was a dark and capricious one. Much like our own.

This year has been a tough one for Sci-Fi fans, whichever way you look at it. From the death of David Bowie at its beginning, then with the demise of Alan Rickman, Nicholas Fisk, Anton Yelchin, Kenny Baker and now Carrie Fisher. Their departure is, however, vitally important to those who remain. There’s a growing appreciation for Fisher as someone much more than just Princess Leia – an actress who bemoaned the sterotypic depition of her character while simultaneously bringing a gun-toting, wise cracking female commander to life within the leading ensemble.

Death is real, but its anthesis is creation – both bilogcal and artistic. Thanks to these dearly departed, and their drive to create while they were with us, we all lead richer lives. As such, a debt of gratitude is owed to them all.

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Ed Power, writing in The Irish Times, recently decried the original Star Wars as being a pivotal moment in the downfall of Science Fiction. While I can empathise, writing off the subsequent 39 years of creativity within the genre seems to be more provocative than considered.

No irony is lost here on the fact that the USA is now more the evil Empire than the Nazi regime George Lucas used as a reference. Nor that the constant firework displays of the director’s prequels didn’t stray from the binary opposition of good versus evil. But there have been a host of other films that bear out Power’s call for a more thought-provoking approach to the fantastical. While he does cross-over into the realms of literature within his article, the focus of his piece is predominantly cinematic. Admittedly, not every movie can be superlative, and Sci-Fi does have more than its fair share of fillers.

And so, to avoid this turning into a seasonal listicle, let’s just stick with the most stimulating movies as far as this site is concerned. In the 1980s, Blade Runner (1982), Brazil (1985) and Akira (1988) were all created, whereas the 1990s featured 12 Monkeys (1995), Cube (1997), GATACA (1997) and – for all the flaws of its sequels – The Matrix (1999). Move into the 2000s, and you’ll find Donnie Darko (2001), Primer (2004), Moon (2009) and District 9 (2009). All those before we get into the likes of Inception (2010) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).

How we treat robots, and what that means for us as their creators; The development of a society based upon a sanitised form of eugenics; Presentiment and time travel leading to narrative structures that make the head spin… Yes, the genre is awash with crap, and thanks to its pulp heritage it always will be. But there are enough transcendent moments in the above to turn any pause for thought into a welcome period of prolonged contemplation.

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