Sunday, November 5, 2017

Future Movies

Before I get into more science fiction TV series, let's have a look at some science fiction movies. They have been around for longer than I've been a viewer, but a lot of the early ones are really just B movies with some blob from outer space. Of course occasionally you get a sexy babe from outer space rather than a blob, which is rather nicer. I'm thinking of Lifeforce (1985), of course. But first-rate science fiction movies within my viewing lifetime really started with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) which began the never-ending race to see who could come up with the best special effects. For 1968, it is pretty impressive. Planet of the Apes, the kind of brilliant reversal that science fiction is known for, dates from the same year. The next really big year was 1977 which saw the arrival of both Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The former, of course, launched that multi-billion dollar franchise that we are still plagued with. It sure started with a bang, but it gets less and less interesting with each film. Close Encounters is an example of the bane of science fiction films: the triumph of special effects over, well, everything else.

Another trend, towards dark, gritty dystopian futures, was seen in a couple of films by Ridley Scott: Alien (1979) and Bladerunner (1982). These are both pretty good. In Alien instead of having the blob from outer space terrorize us on Earth, we go to its planet so it can terrorize us there. Bladerunner is a brilliant film with a distinctive look that launched a whole genre of dark, depressing films in which humanity's future is bleak.

The computer revolution led to science fiction films in which the blob from outer space becomes the computer hiding next door or, as in The Matrix (1999), the computer that is secretly running the universe. This film also had a distinctive look in which every character is so cool it is actually physically painful:

The two sequels are perhaps the best illustration of how the excessive use of special effects in the form of computer generated imagery (CGI) is the best possible way to destroy a franchise. My aversion to both James Cameron's bloated epics and environmental hysteria meant that I have successfully avoided seeing Avatar (2009), so I will pass over it in silence. The niftiest science fiction film I have seen recently is Ex Machina (2015) and not just because of the presence of the Schubert late Piano Sonata in B flat major, D. 960 in the soundtrack (actually, playing on a sound system in the foyer, so diagetic). Here the focus is on the characters and the special effects, while very well done, do not dominate.

Speaking of bloated, the two worst trends I can see are the massively overdone film epics based on fantasy novels of which the prominent examples are The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films. Yes, excellent originals, but the film versions, especially of the Tolkien, are grotesque distortions. Of The Hobbit we will not speak. The other horrific trend is the superhero film based on comic books. Please, no more! These combine the worst aspects of overdone CGI with stiff, stilted writing and pasteboard characters. Two of my previously favorite directors, Joss Whedon and Luc Besson, have been sucked into this morass, likely never to emerge.

I know I skipped over the vast majority of films, but this is, after all, just a blog post. Oh, hey, I should mention that The Martian (2015) was an excellent science fiction novel and a pretty decent film as well. It managed to avoid most of the politically correct pitfalls in favor of a compelling narrative.

No comments: