I have already mentioned repeatedly that I am a huge fan of science-fiction, which I see as not separate from sociology. Said it before, say it again: good science-fiction is good sociology.
So, it seems to me that fans of science-fiction should rejoice because there have recently been quite a few good scifi movies (in addition to good TV revival shows, such as Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who). Let me just mention a few examples of things that I thought were great.
Of course, the scifi movie of the month is Inception. Love it or hate it (I liked it, didn’t like the end but was not bothered by the fact that this is not a movie about getting attached to characters, thank goodness for that actually), it has an intriguing storyline, neat special effects. In many ways, it reminded me of Dark City (another good recent scifi film). Exploring the dimension of human consciousness and mind is not a new theme for science-fiction. When Dark City came out, Roger Ebert declared it the future of science-fiction films”
“”Dark City” by Alex Proyas is a great visionary achievement, a film so original and exciting, it stirred my imagination like “Metropolis” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” If it is true, as the German director Werner Herzog believes, that we live in an age starved of new images, then “Dark City” is a film to nourish us. Not a story so much as an experience, it is a triumph of art direction, set design, cinematography, special effects–and imagination.”
Quite frankly, I am not sure whether the space opera sub-genre of science-fiction has much left to offer, since Star Wars sorta killed it (although the latest Star Trek movie gives me hope), so, quality in scifi movies has to be found elsewhere, and both films do that: telling you an intriguing story you have not seen before, which is more than most movies have to offer (you know, the kind where you can tell not just the ending, everything that is going to happen between opening and end credits just by watching the trailer).
In addition, in both cases, great care has obviously been taken regarding cinematography, special effects, set designs and soundtrack. Going back one step further in film history, I would argue that both films are the descendants of Brazil, minus the sarcasm and dark humor. Brazil remains an all-time favorite of mine.
In all three films, a lot of the has to do with dark urban settings (whether real or imagined or manufactured / and re-shaped on a regular basis) and characters struggling with reality (such as it is and pushing back against its oppressive nature, and sometimes paying a price for it. In all three films, the city is a dehumanized environment, impersonal or hyper-capitalized where other urban denizens are anonymous figures, easily interchangeable. Holding on to one’s individual identity gets tricky and a form of resistance.
In terms of construction and malleability of reality, I should mention the very scary, highly intriguing Spanish film Time Crimes even though one might argue it is not strictly science-fiction, it involves (very short) time travel, so, to me, it counts although I would concede that it straddles the fence between science-fiction and horror, not that there is anything wrong with that.
And when there is time travel, there is always the question of whether one can change the past to right some wrong (even if the wrong took place just an hour or so in the past) or whether such attempts keep making things worse. It is a movie that was probably shot on a shoestring budget but it grabs you and does not let go until the end.
Moving on, science-fiction has also always explored “what if” scenarios, exploring what happens after the big disasters that we fear actually do happen. In this post-apocalyptic genre, one can find zombie movies (the old living dead movies of the 50s reflecting on the fear of Soviet invasion, or the post-nuclear holocaust sub-genre). More recently, of course, the disaster genre has focused on environmental devastation whether due to climate issues or planetary “malfunctions”. More interesting, from a more strictly scifi point of view are a couple of films related to the scarcity era: once we run out of vital resources, then what. I think two movies stand out:
Moon is not an artistically elaborate film. It is actually quite simple but deals with what it means to be human. I like it precisely for its simplicity. And it is more entertaining than Solaris (yeesh, I never got that one, old or new). The movie also involves the consequences of the commercialization of everything and how far economic and labor exploitation can go.
The other movie, of course, is Pandorum. I am usually pretty good at figuring movies out and solving enigmas. So, I especially appreciate a movie that keeps me guessing for a while, and this one did. It does deal with being forced off the Earth for various reasons and what happens on the way to getting to some other planet. Along with ethical issues pertaining to being the only humans left.
So, I guess, my main point for fans of intelligent science-fiction, there are a lot of interesting things going on right now in movies and on television (as opposed to crappy, misogynistic, homophobic and reactionary adaptations of comic books), and not just from the US, but from Europe as well.
And I may have mentioned before how much I liked this animated film as well. Again, a simple and relatively short story but very well done and carefully crafted (even though I did not like the end, seemed like a cop out to me).
I don’t know whether we can speak of a “renewal” or “revival” of the science-fiction genre and its various sub-genres. That might be pretentious but it just seems to me that there just has been a series of interesting films that show that young directors with distinctive artistic visions are interested in scifi and its narrative possibilities.
I am just glad to see there is still life in that genre (as opposed to romantic comedies, and doods movies) because quite frankly, wizards and hobbits and superheros are annoying.