“If you think this universe is bad, you should see some of the others” Philip K. Dick
It seems to me to be an increasingly peculiar fact that in an age of such technological innovation and sophistication, the science fiction movie is largely starved of the imaginative will that was once so prolific among film makers. The innovation to creative imagination ratio is so unequally balanced that the thought smashing spectacle in movies has all but disappeared. Hugely impressive tech abounds, yes, and I’m the first to appreciate the brilliance of much of it, but as good as some of it clearly is, it falls monumentally short of fulfilling maximum potential. I say all but disappeared because recognition must be made (thankfully) to those films that provide the spectacle that cinema is so short of within the genres of Science Fiction and the Fantastical. To find the conceptually imaginative one must sift through the regurgitation of CGI porn to much smaller movies. If one looks hard and long enough, there are many to be flagged and favoured. A recent ode to the gratifyingly odd and wonderfully realised science fiction movie is William Eubank’s remarkable debut, “Love” (2011). Written and directed by Eubank, the film chronicles the time spent wasted and eventually altered by and for the story’s central protagonist, US astronaut Lee Miller, aboard the International Space Station (ISS). There is no need to explicate further regarding plot. The reason for this is because this film, whilst reliant on a perfectly coherent narrative, exists as more of a contemplative journey towards an obscure but inevitable ‘ending as a beginning’ finale, a kind of public dream for the philosophically nosey. And it’s in many of the moments that bind this film that we find the truly spectacular with not a green screen in sight. It’s ridiculously modest budget of $500,000 beggars belief when watching a number of sequences, most of all the very last scene, which illustrates perfectly what can be done on a micro budget if an imaginative concept is fully in place.
Mike Cahill’s “Another Earth” (2011) meets similar imaginative aspirations with a combination of simplicity and conceptual depth, all for a budget of $100,000. Herein lies a film with an idea that forcefully skips it’s place in the line right to the front and holds sway until the very last scene. But of course there is only so much a low budget movie can do (thank God) which only compounds the fact that the complete epic science fiction movie, save the odd effort, is dead. Yet big Science Fiction movies are being made all the time. Last year’s yawns from the list gave us Godzilla, Transcendence, Edge of Tomorrow, Guardians of the Galaxy, Lucy, Robocop, Divergent, The Maze Runner, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Interstellar. There were more, and just as forgettable as most of the above. With the exception of Guardians, Lucy and Interstellar (and these were good but by no means exceptional films) not one big budget science fiction film remotely delivered on anything approaching eye and mind popping spectacle.
Interstellar, a film that was supposed to and so easily could have risen to or perhaps have even superseded in scope the glorious relics of yesteryear – Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dune, Blade Runner, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Disney’s The Black Hole, 2001: A Space Odyssey – in the end just couldn’t match the hyperbole that padded it all the way to the cinemas and ultimately the finished product just didn’t meet it’s hugely ambitious premise. But the point is, it could have and should have. Why is it now that the imaginative quality within this species of film is so lacking when so much is in place to produce quality within the genre and not least to nullify and/or subdue the leading and tiresome onslaught of the superhero movie (how I wish they weren’t labelled science fiction movies) and embark upon a new glorious era of the big science fiction film???
Don’t get me wrong, I love well-made and interesting supers movies and I count the likes of Watchmen (the best I’ve ever seen), Superman: The Movie, V for Vendetta, Batman, Unbreakable, Dredd, Superman and the Mole Men and Leslie H. Martinson’s Batman proudly amongst my discs/videos. What I can’t stand is the merciless proliferation of make to demand low rate high budget let’s wheel out another one because we can suck billions from the filmo and by extension suck the movie marrow from the genre (a process that has by and large sanitised the screen comic adaptation into total formulaic submission) and then tell us that these are the golden years of the superhero movie. I’d complain less if more quality big science fiction movies were being made and if the overall quality of the comic book movie was way better. I mean, can you imagine a similar generation of high concept epic science fiction movies being produced on the scale and rate that supers movies are being churned out? No, nor can I. This simply shouldn’t be the case though. And there are no credible or legitimate reasons for this if looked at closely enough. Cinema should be the epicentre of a no fear/unlimited vision policy, but it’s not.
The bottom line here is that way too many mediocre big budget science fiction movies continue to be made, forcing the emaciated quality science fiction devotees among us to settle for the much smaller movie (we’d be fucked without them) and to have to return time and again to the auspices of those science fiction movies that we covet and will never stop watching, but so badly want and need to see more of.
Article written by Paul Donovan (2015)