- Peter Jackson attaches his name to Neil Blonkamp’s new sci-fi drama District 9 which hits August 11th
We are entering the third weekend in May, and the summer movie season is already well underway. So far, the biggest surprise has been the box-office strength of JJ Abrams Trek film, which had a great start and has continued to build strong. We’ll find out this weekend how well it fares in the face of the new Dan Brown adaptation Angels and Demons. The most refreshing thing about the new Trek is that in addition to being a terrific summer entertainment, it’s a true blue science fiction film and not just special effects and set design dipped in a sci-fi coating. And for fans of real science fiction, that’s a big thing; sincere, intelligent films in the genre are few and far between.
However, it looks like that all might be in the process of changing. Every year and every summer brings a certain number of films centered around aliens, robots or space travel but it’s been years since we have seen a glut of serious-minded science fiction hitting the theaters. With the post apocalyptic thriller The Road opening in October, and James Cameron’s epic science fiction experiment Avatar coming in for a landing in December, science fiction looks to be gaining steam. And before we even get there, there are clones, aliens, cyborgs, virtual wars and robotic warriors marching their way into multiplexes this summer.
The following are ten best bets for serious science fiction lovers. The titles range from independent features to big blockbusters, thoughtful space odysseys and B-movie action pictures. Some are adaptations or sequels and a few are completely original. What they all have in common: a specific, creative and hopefully exciting, sci-fi vision.
release date: September 4th
Ok, maybe I’m cheating a bit with this one. There doesn’t look to be much thoughtful or intelligent here, but by the looks of the trailer Gamer is full-blown speculative fiction mixed with hardcore action movie tropes. In the future, the biggest visceral thrill is not controlling A.I. avatars, but taking the wheel of actual human beings and pitting them against each other in various battle scenarios. This virtual killing experience is called Slayers and Gerard Butler plays a man trapped inside of this world trying to fight his way out and rescue his wife from another game universe called Society which is like a high-tech, twisted version of The Sims. Add in Michael C. Hall (Dexter himself) as the villain, Ludacris as a fellow Slayers’ avatar and Kyra Sedgewick as the host and you have a recipe that could result in the next Running Man. And we all know that’s a classic right? The trailer looks like a perfect matinee ride, and the creators of Gamerhave taken some pains to make the sci-fi world at the center of the movie enticing if not plausible.
release date: September 4th
Creepy Ben Foster from 310 to Yuma and 30 Days of Night teams with Dennis Quad to take on the sci-fi chiller Pandorum which becomes the latest entry in the “haunted spaceship” genre. That genre’s best entry, Sunshine, turned out to be a hard sci-fi thriller wearing a horror mask in the last third. This one looks typically disorienting, and that’s appropriate since it seems to revolve around the effects of deep space on the mind. The Pandorum of the title appears to be some sort of disease. While it’s slightly disconcerting to see Paul W.S. Anderson’s name on the film, he only serves as a producer and his own film Event Horizon contained without a doubt the creepiest haunted starship I’ve seen. I have some hope for this one.
release date: September
trailer: no trailer available currently.
Director Vincenzo Natali has provenhimself as a strong voice in science fiction with the skillfull thrillers Cube and Cypher. This time, he’s working a somewhat larger scale and telling a contemporary Frankenstein thriller about gene splicing scientists Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley who create a female creature whose own unique biology proves to be catastrophic for the world around her. Though it comes off sounding like Species, every other facet of the movie looks intriguing, including some rather disturbing creature designs that sidestep goopy monster and suggest an unearthly shuffling of human traits into something unnerving but also exotic.
7. Sleep Dealer
release date: playing in limited release right now
Respected in it’s release at the SundanceFilm Festival in January of last year, Alex Rivera’s first feature length film, Sleep Dealer tells the story of a walled off Mexico where workers plug-in to operate robotic construction units located across the border in the U.S. Cyberpunk needs a good jolt in the arm, and this low-budget indie film looks like it has the goods to deliver. I expect that this one might end up trumping the others on this list as far as it’s imagination and character development are concerned, but the trailer shows alot of the low budget seams. Will this matter? If you don’t get a theatrical shot at this one, I expect you will be able to grab it on dvd before summer ends.
release date: September 25th
Jonathan Mostow’s film sits right at the precipice dividing the summer and the fall film slate, but it’s production looks like a summer blockbuster witha neat idea at it’s center. Human shut-ins use robotic replicas called Surrogates to interact in the real world. When humans connected to surrogates start dying, an ex-cop played by Bruce Willis starts investigating, both in person and with his surrogate. It sounds like I, Robot but not being tied to a sci-fi classic and adding in the more compelling idea that the robots are only devices for their human masters impulses safely seperates this one from that Will Smith vehicle. Also, it’s nice to see Willis tackling something a little more ambitious again.
5. Terminator: Salvation
release date: May 21st
At first, I was skeptical about this prequel/revamp of the Terminator franchise. Whether Arnold appeared or not wasn’t such a big deal to me, but extracting the time travel elements was troubling. The original pictures played with fate, destiny and the human drive that proves necessary to trump the more calculating, efficient machines. When McG signed on, I pretty much wrote it off. But the addition of Bale in the cast, and a strong, gritty trailer made me reconsider. Recently I saw McG’s football drama We Are Marshall and was relieved to see that the man can deliver what a movie requires. Sure, that film about a town’s struggle in the face of tragedy is different than this one, but if you consider that the only movie Cameron made before the original Terminator was Pirahna 2: The Spawning, I think McG is in a better place. At any rate, it likely won’t be boring and if it can bring all of it’s pieces together it could be the strongest Terminator outing since the original. I have faith. After all, Bale wouldn’t settle for anything less than something professional.
4. The Time Traveler’s Wife
release date: August 14th
trailer: no trailer currently available
Based off a captivating novel about a man whose own genetic make-up causes him to time travel involuntarily, this film has the opportunity to improve upon that original work. Hopefully excising some of the creepier and ill-advised segments from the book, including a sexual encounter between the protagonist and his younger self, The Time Traveler’s Wife could potentially become a summer movie romantic sleeper. Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams look to be appealing as the couple at the core of the story who struggle to weather the personal devestation that Bana’s time traveling jaunts can cause. Playing with alot of unique time travel concepts(Bana’s character shows up without any clothing or protection when he jumps), and telling a heart-wrenching tale about human love and devotion, Time Traveler’s Wife might be the one flick that offers something for a wider audience beyond the typical sci-fi geek.
release date: June 12th
David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones directs this space oddity about a man over-seeing a robotic mining operation on the moon. Sam Rockwell, who is usually brilliant, plays astronaut Sam Bell and his A.I. companion is voiced by Kevin Spacey. The trailer captures elements of loneliness, isolation and dementia which makes the film look more Solaris(either version) than 2001: A Space Odyssey. When clones of Sam start crashing to the moons surface and questioning his sanity, things take a turn for the wierd. I’m sold.
release date: September 9th
Shane Acker’s 9 was a visionary and exciting short film about a small automaton fighting a mechanical beastie in a ransacked future world for the souls of his compatriots. Now, Tim Burton and russian director Timur Bekmanbatov produce Acker’sdirectorial debut of his own short subject. I’m not completely sure if the story is fantasy or science fiction or a mixture of both, but it draws from classic quest narratives and the sort of robust visual sensibility that old pulp magazines used to possess. With tons of talented voices involved , and a trailer that gives me Gilliam/Del Toro/Juenet-style chills, 9 promises to be, in the words of the sage Michael Bay, AWESOME.
1. District 9
release date: August 4th
For me, this indie film, which boasts the tag “Presented by Peter Jackson”, is one of the most awaited movies of the summer. Drawn from a short film by Neill Blonkamp called Alive in Joburg, District 9 pairs great visual effects with a real-world story. This alien invasion is more like an inhabitation, with hapless extraterrestrials attempting to live among the human beings because their choices are limited. The social and cultural ramifications of this mish-mash look to be explored in the film. Not sure yet if it’s all done documentary style, or that’s merely the hook for the story. Either way, District 9 looks like something special.