Imagine meeting a time traveler from the far future. This individual is not on some poignant mission, he’s not on his way to save John Connor from some malicious Terminator. He’s not fighting for his existence by forcing his mother to fall for his father. He’s simply on vacation to the world of the 21st century.
What would you ask this person?
I can think of many questions, but I know what we should be asking: how bad are things going to get? Because all of us here know things are going to be bad. We just don’t know how bad. It’s inevitable that we are going to mess up a lot of good things. This is a fact that’s hardwired in human history – human beings arrive and screw up a good thing.
We already know we aren’t doing enough for the environment. Our greatest superpower, for instance, is in complete denial and it believes we are doing just fine. We are hoping that maybe our climatologists were exaggerating a bit. Are they? The robots haven’t taken over, have they? You’re not a cyborg, are you? Is death a disease that’s been eradicated in the future? Have genetic supermen taken over the world?
There are so many questions and possibilities. This is why the genre of science fiction is so incredibly fascinating. If done well, it’s a powerful reflection on the awesome power of science, and its wondrous and sometimes terrifying consequences when humans irresponsibly wield their power.
In recent years, we have seen amazing contributions to the genre in cinematic form. In this list, we have seven films that all delve into the most interesting aspects of the science fiction genre – from a cyborg fighting alienation in a human-dominated world, from terrifying clashes with alien life, to a discovery that changes everything about what we know about life and death.
If done well, all of these films could become classics of their genre. Let’s imagine that our visitor from the future is still among us. Let’s ask him if any of these will deliver on their immense potential. Since he has so far refused to answer any of our previous and more pressing queries, to settle this would be a tiny, and barely a fraction of a compromise.
He gives us no answer, just a smile. I can’t quite pick out what this smile means. Is it founded on hope? Or is it the inevitable surrender to despair, like the smile of Sisyphus on his way up to the mountain?
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
7. Ghost in the Shell
Release date: 31st March
A geisha robot roaming a corridor. A sensual moment interrupted by the most poignant existential question of all: “What are you?” Suddenly we see the great Beat Takeshi looking down at us with his lifeless eyes – he seems back in yakuza form! Turning the cylinder of his revolver, its shells dropping down on his victim. A circle of tranquil Buddhist monks with wires attached to the back of their heads, plugged into the sky, possibly experiencing Nirvana through cyberspace.
These were the first series of intriguing clips released of “Ghost in the Shell”. If you are not familiar with the original anime, these short clips piqued your interest immediately. The eventual trailer only sealed the deal. This could be one kick-ass movie.
It’s unfortunate that much of the conversation surrounding this film revolves around the casting of Scarlett Johansson and the ridiculous whitewashing controversy. Unsurprisingly, trolls and social justice warriors are always seeking some useless controversy on which to nibble, and energy was wasted on questions of white supremacy, concerning the casting of a popular actress in a major corporate Hollywood blockbuster.
When it turned out that Japanese fans couldn’t care less, and even thought the casting of Johansson seemed promising, a different argument was made. “Oh, these people don’t know any better! They’ve grown up with only big Hollywood blockbusters starring white people! Of course they won’t comprehend how they are being duped! The argument here is that they need good old white people telling them to be offended! Thank god for white people!”
In some respects, it’s understandable if you had been a fan of the original anime; if you had always perceived the main character of Major to be a Japanese woman, you have every reason to be slightly disappointed. But it would be a shame if this would detract you from seeing this film, as it seems to both loyally explore the original anime’s themes and portraying the action spectacle in all its glorious manner.
Visually, this film looks stunning; it’s a cyberpunk fan’s wet dream, with shades of “Blade Runner” coursing through the streets of Hong Kong (where much of it was filmed). There is the inspired casting of Takeshi Kitano as Chief Aramaki, who could not speak a word of English during filming. The score will be produced by Clint Mansell. There is also the fact that Johansson will wear a skintight suit through large majorities of the film. Which, for many of us, is enough reason to see this film.
Release: Unknown, possibly the end of the year
Those who have read the original novel know that “Annihilation” will divide its audience. Being the first of a trilogy, it’s not yet known whether this adaptation will be the first of a cinematic trilogy. Even so, the first novel, if adapted properly (and with possibly a tad more elaboration on its many mysteries), could serve very well as a stand-alone film. In order for this to work, it does require a talented author behind the scenes. Luckily for viewers, this author is none other than Alex Garland.
Coming out two years after the soon-to-be classic science fiction thriller “Ex Machina”, Garland assembled a great cast to portray its doomed heroes. The always endearing Jennifer Jason Leigh will star alongside Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson. Even Oscar Isaac will return to work with Garland in a yet unspecified role.
Those who have read the novel, however, know that the story is largely female-oriented, and if the film follows the book correctly, none of these women will have the usual tropes of which many Hollywood roles are endowed. They will be actual characters who happen to be women; no Mary Sues to overcompensate for the lack of respectable female roles, or obnoxious sexuality to please the frustrated men in the audience. It intends to be a definitive breath of fresh air – that is, until Ripley returns to the big screen, though this seems to be less likely than ever.
The story follows four scientists on a doomed expedition to an ancient ground known as Area X. Previous expeditions from other scientists garnered little conclusion to the truth of what they are actually dealing with. Like in “Solaris”, no mind goes unscathed once it enters Area X.
Some committed suicide upon return, and in one particularly eerie case, a massacre occurred where the scientists inexplicably turned against each other. The ones who did return lost their minds, having no recollection how they made it back. Those who did come back died of cancer shortly thereafter.
The weirdness that the foursome encounter on Area X goes beyond their particular field of sciences. Perhaps there’s an alien presence that goes beyond human imagination. Perhaps the mind is lost the moment you enter this place. Perhaps it has infected us already. Perhaps the nightmare might never stop. In either case, I can’t wait to see it on screen.
Duncan Jones, the son of the late great David Bowie, made one of the finest science fiction gems of the past decade: “Moon”. Made on a relatively small budget, the film followed astronaut Sam Bell in his final days during a mining operation on the moon. With only a robot named Gerry to keep him company, Sam can’t wait to return home, back into the arms of his beloved wife. However, when he encounters a doppelganger, he begins to question everything, especially his sanity.
The film was praised not only for Sam Rockwell’s central (double) performance but also for its scientific accuracy, something you rarely see in such movies; many have blatant disregard for science and complete ignorance of scientific conduct, such as in “Prometheus” (just ask Neil deGrasse Tyson). It was a small and moving picture, and it cemented Jones as a talent to watch out for.
For this very reason, many fans flocked to see his follow-up film, “Source Code”. While not a bad action/science fiction film on its surface, it simply had none of the heart of his debut.
The pathos of Sam Bell had been a moving one, but it’s hard to root for the main character in “Source Code”, especially since he basically erases a man from existence just so he could be with some chick he met on a train. And the less said about “Warcraft: The Beginning”, the better; granted, it’s beloved by many, and it seemed like a labor of love for the original game, but anyone who isn’t into the game was in for a torturous ride.
Despite his two disappointing follow-up films, “Mute” could be a return to form. Returning back to the world of “Moon”, the story will take place in Berlin, 40 years from now.
Even after all these years, the East and West are starting to clash again; in the words of Snake Plissken, ”the more things change, the more things stay the same.” The main character is a mute bartender (played by Alexander Skarsgard) who descends into future Berlin’s dark underbelly as he searches for the woman he loves.
Not much is known about the film, and no footage has been released thus far (though we’ve seen various intriguing production stills and concept art). There is also the exciting rumor that Rockwell will reprise the role of Sam Bell to give the character a definitive epilogue. If everything comes into place, as we all hope it will, this might not only be one of the year’s best science fiction films, but also one of the best films of the year.