We love to wax nostalgic at PoP!, but sometimes it’s what’s yet to come that most quickens our nerd pulses. For better or for worse, let’s start the speculation over what’s making us Future Tense.
Science-fiction has been a prominent movie genre since at least the 1950’s, but its popularity seems to vary from year to year at the multiplex, even in this current era of 3D, Imax, and Computer-Generated Special Effects. 2012 gave us a few new entries in the genre with Prometheus, Looper, and the not-as-bad-as-it-could-have-been Total Recall remake. From the look of things, Sci-Fi is poised to make a huge comeback in the eyes of moviegoers with eight highly-touted releases to come out throughout the year, many of which seem strangely similar to one another in terms of their themes, visuals, and promotional images. Today, I’m taking a closer look at these upcoming releases and making my own predictions on whether they will be worth our time and money during what is sure to be a heavily-contested year at the movies.
The Host, Directed by Andrew Niccol, opening March 29th
This first official sci-fi film of 2013 has the potential to resonate more with general audiences than with “real” fans of the genre. The Host (not to be confused with the Korean monster movie from 2006) is based on a novel by Twilight‘s Stephanie Meyer, which will more than likely turn off a lot of moviegoers who aren’t thirteen-year-old girls. It has a little Sci-Fi cred already as it’s directed and co-written by Andrew Niccol, who gave us the underrated 1997 futuristic thriller Gattaca. The Host takes place in a dystopian society where most of humanity has been taken over by a malevolent alien species that inhabits the bodies of the humans. The movie follows the protagonist, played by Saoirse Ronan, as she bonds with the alien who tries to possess her and joins with other humans to try to take the planet back. Of course, there’s a huge romantic angle at play, as Ronan’s character falls in love with an “oh so dreamy” fellow human, and this will no doubt be the main focus of the movie. Niccol’s background has me at least somewhat optimistic, but judging from the trailer and the source material, this will probably be this year’s answer to The Hunger Games, in that it will likely resonate with younger viewers but will do almost nothing for me Anticipation Level – 2 out of 10
Oblivion , Directed by Joseph Kosinski, opening April 19th
Next comes another tale of a dystopian future, only with a much bigger budget and a bonafide Hollywood superstar in the lead role. Starring in his first science fiction film since Minority Report, Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, a native Earthling whose job it is to repair the robotic drones left behind on his home planet, long deserted by the human race after losing a devastating war against an alien species. During one fateful visit, he discovers a mysterious spaceship and meets an underground society of humans who have continued to live on Earth, whose leader is played by Morgan Freeman. The trailer for Oblivion does a decent job of establishing the storyline without giving away a lot of crucial information, and the special effects and art direction look competent, if not particularly eye-popping. Oblivion is director Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up to 2010’s Tron Legacy, which had a great overall look but was fairly lacking in story and character. Here’s hoping that he shows a little more substance for this sophomore effort. Anticipation Level – 6 out of 10
Star Trek: Into Darkness, Directed by J.J. Abrams, opening May 17th
The first month of the Summer Movie season brings us geek icon J.J. Abrams’ follow-up to his wildly successful reboot of the popular Star Trek franchise. Abrams reassembles the young crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to battle a mysterious and enigmatic threat, played by Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch in what could potentially be a star-making role. Speculations have been high about this sequel for going on two years now, and Abrams has been particularly tight-lipped about a lot of the details. He’s been especially secretive about the significance of Cumberbatch’s character, whom he says will be quite familiar to longtime Trek fans. Based on the recently released trailer, Into Darkness appears to be a much more serious and somber entry in the rebooted franchise, much like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was when it opened 31 years ago. It’s pretty safe to say that this new entry in the newly established canon will be one of the big hits of the Summer, if not the entire year. Anticipation Level – 8 out of 10
After Earth, Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, opening June 7th
Despite having box-office heavyweight Will Smith in one of the lead roles, the jury is still out on whether After Earth will be an acclaimed entry in the genre or another colossal disappointment from M. Night Shyamalan, whose last four films were all but laughed out of theaters. It doesn’t help that the premise isn’t that far removed from Oblivion, which also deals with humans returning to a long-abandoned Earth and premieres two months earlier. It also seems like the main protagonist of the film is actually Smith’s son Jaden, with Will functioning as an Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque mentor. One bright spot of this film is that it was not written by Shyamalan and was actually penned by Stephen Gaghan, the Oscar-winning writer of Traffic. After Earth marks Gaghan’s first foray into the world of Sci-Fi, and it remains to be seen whether his words will be a decent fit with Shyamalan’s dubious direction. It says a lot about his current standing as a director that the studio made sure that M. Night’s name did not appear anywhere in the original trailer. Many moviegoers, including our own Jose Guzman, are hoping that After Earth marks a return to prominence for Shyamalan, and while I’m definitely rooting for him, I’m still not quite sure if this is going to be the movie that takes him there.
Anticipation Level – 5 out of 10
Pacific Rim, Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, opening July 12th
Sure, Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel look really cool, but this latest film from the great Guillermo Del Toro is THE movie I’m most looking forward to seeing in 2013. Nearly everything I heard about this movie during its production made me excited to see it. Japanese-style kaiju monsters? Giant robots? Ron Perlman, Charlie Hunnam, AND Idris Elba? Sign me the hell up! The delightfully geeky Del Toro even went so far as to cast the voice of GLaDOS, the AI entity from the Portal series of video games, to be the voice of the main computer used by the heroes in the trailer (though sadly, a slightly different voice will be featured in the film). The awesome trailer inspired a lot of oohs, ahs, and cheers in the theater where I first saw it, and every clip, photo, and poster I find for the movie just makes me increasingly impatient for July to get here. In a year where most of the sci-fi movies have a decidedly somber feel, Pacific Rim just looks like pure ass-kicking fun. Anticipation Level – 10 out of 10
Elysium, Directed by Neil Blomkamp, opening August 9th
The late Summer brings us the second film from South African auteur Neil Blomkamp, whose debut feature District 9 was the surprise hit of 2009 and garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. His follow-up features a bigger budget and an impressive cast that includes Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, and Sharlto Copley, the star of District 9. Like that previous film, Elysium tells a story set in the far future but still draws on themes that are relevant to today’s world. Damon stars as a man living on a dilapidated Earth in the year 2159 who embarks on a mission to try to earn passage on a lush space station where all the more well-to-do Earthlings live. In light of our current economy and the widening gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” Elysium looks to be a poignant parable that taps into the current zeitgeist in a way that the Total Recall remake tried to do but didn’t quite pull off.
Anticipation Level – 8 out of 10
Riddick, Directed by David Twohy, opening September 6th
In a year marked by a lot of original sci-fi and at least one highly anticipated sequel, September brings us a sequel that literally no one asked for in Riddick, the third film featuring Vin Diesel’s titular antihero that was introduced in 2000’s Pitch Black. This newest chronicle finds the former mercenary trapped on a desert planet and battling a fierce alien race. He activates an emergency beacon that alerts two ships to his presence, one of which carries a significant figure from Riddick’s past. Having not seen any of the previous films in the series, I have very little interest in checking out Riddick, but fans of the series should have a similarly good time with this latest installment. It at least features an interesting supporting cast, featuring Battlestar Galactica ‘s Katee Sackhoff, former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista, and Karl Urban of Dredd 3D and Star Trek fame. Time will tell whether audiences have grown tired of Vin Diesel or if this new installment will leave them clamoring for more films featuring this Mad Max-ian protagonist.
Anticipation Level – 3 out of 10
Gravity, Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, opening October 18th
The Fall Movie season usually brings us films of significantly more weight and depth than their Summer counterparts, and that trend seems to be expanding to science fiction as well. Mexican auteur Alfonso Cuaron returns to sci-fi for the first time since his excellent 2006 film Children of Men with Gravity, which stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as a pair of astronauts attempting to return to Earth after their spacecraft is left damaged and drifting after being hit by a piece of space debris. This film appears to be a more quiet, introspective science fiction film along the lines of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Duncan Jones’ Moon, and Andrey Tarkovsky’s Solaris, which was remade in 2002 by Steven Soderbergh and starred Clooney as well. The movie seems to only have two principal characters and one primary setting, which should make for a claustrophobic movie experience that, knowing Cuaron’s previous film work, could provide one of the most gripping films of the year.
Anticipation Level – 8 out of 10
Ender’s Game, Directed by Gavin Hood, opening December 1st
Closing out the year is Ender’s Game, the film adaptation of the legendary science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card. Gavin Hood will no doubt attempt to erase all memory of his previous film X-Men Origins: Wolverine like an adamantium bullet to the brain with this tale of a gifted young man (played by Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield) who has been sent to an advanced military school to prepare to defend his home planet against an impending alien invasion. A trailer for this film has yet to surface, but advance photos have generated a fair amount of interest among moviegoers, mostly because these photos confirm that Harrison Ford will be making a return to sci-fi with his role in the film. Card’s original novel is considered to be one of the most significant works of sci-fi literature in the past thirty years, and his legions of fans will no doubt be anxious to see how the movie lives up to the original book, but it remains to be seen if Card’s controversial political views will generate any negative buzz that could potentially hurt its chances at succeeding at the box office. What matters most, however, will be whether the movie itself is any good, which will remain a secret until the movie is released. Until then, we’ll have to wait a few months to get our first good look at a trailer. Anticipation Level – 6 out of 10