Science Fiction Movie Watch: 2011

A fortnight ago I looked back at some of my favourite classic SF novels, so I thought I’d try the flip-side today: a look ahead to the year’s upcoming SF movies.

It’s a real mixed bag, with some odds-on-to-be clunkers, a few fascinating concepts on the lower budget end (as usual), and one or two potential blockbusters I seriously can’t wait for. Admittedly, last year sucked from end to end—Splice, Tron: Legacy 3D and Predators were the only SF movies I’d consider rewatching—but several of 2011’s projects at least sound more promising.

First up is The Adjustment Bureau, a romantic chase thriller starring Matt Damon and the lovely Emily Blunt. It concerns an accidental meeting between a politician and a ballerina (accidental as in: not what Fate intended), and the shadowy agency trying to rectify the situation by keeping them apart. Big ideas wrapped around an intimate love story on the run—sounds good to me. It’s also “inspired by” a Philip K. Dick story, which tends to result in fascinating movies: Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report. The Adjustment Bureau opens this week.

Hollywood has gone alien invasion bonkers this year, with a slate of TV and movie projects to rival anything spewed up by 1950’s communist paranoia. What’s the deal this time? Are we being prepped for the real thing? Battle: Los Angeles seems to think so, with its shaky-cam combat scenes and aliens on our doorstep approach. Yes, the effects look epic; no, it doesn’t come across as original in any way. I’ll still watch it, though, if only because I’m a SF action junkie. Gruff Aaron Eckhardt and perennial GI Jane, Michelle Rodriguez, star in this one.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is sure to give us two things: big robots and bigger headaches. I actually enjoyed the first two, despite the stupid humour, but the prospect of Michael Bay’s robo-bashing in 3D spells cinematic PTS. And no Megan Fox this time either. Real Steel sounds equally as subtle, with Hugh Jackman as a retired futuristic boxer who hangs up his gloves and manages a robot pugilist instead. Apparently it’s based on a Richard Matheson short story—an instant advantage—but I’m wary of this one, as it’s directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum), an artist with the finesse of a sledgehammer alarm clock.

Source Code, Duncan Jones’s follow-up to 2009’s SF gem Moon, should be good, and there’s another secretive “found-footage” project out soon called Apollo 18. A sci-fi alien invasion version of Cloverfield perhaps? That’d be my guess. The talented J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) also has a top secret SF film out this summer, inspired by Spielberg’s Amblin movies of the 1980s. Another alien invasion? Or something entirely different? The trailer gives absolutely nothing away—which is kinda cool these days, I have to admit.

The two I’m most looking forward to in 2011 couldn’t be more different. One’s a sure-fire summer blockbuster with huge, proven stars, the other features a young cast and is big on philosophy and SF ideas.

Cowboys and Aliens has Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, a solid genre director (Jon Favreau), and an amazing trailer. The title might be the dumbest since Alien vs Predator but if they can pull this concept off—and the buzz says they have—it could be a geek classic in the making. Ford’s sheriff looks an absolute bastard. Craig plays the mysterious outsider who arrives just before you-know-what hits the western town. I’ll see you there opening day.

Andrew Niccol is a name I look out for. Sadly, he doesn’t make that many movies, but his high concept stories are among the most daring of recent years. After writing the screenplay for The Truman Show (wow!), he wrote and directed the deep, thoughtful eugenics drama Gattaca, a criminally underrated artificial intelligence comedy called SimOne (starring Al Pacino), and Lord of War, a brilliant expose of arms dealing around the world (starring Nicolas Cage). Niccol has a fiendishly clever SF brain. He doesn’t just ride on his high concepts, he drives them carefully, and he usually takes the road less travelled by.

His upcoming project Now posits a future in which everyone has been genetically engineered to live for twenty-five years. If you want to extend that, you have to pay—in effect, for time. And you guessed it, the rich court immortality while the poor have to scratch and scrape to buy a few precious extra days. The twist comes when a boy from the wrong side of the tracks is accused of murder, and is forced to take a beautiful hostage. Living minute to minute, their love becomes a powerful tool in their war against the system. Stars Amanda Seyfried and Justin Timberlake. Without doubt, my most-anticipated movie of 2011.

What about you?

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9 comments

  1. I can’t handle another Transformer movie but I do very much want to see Cowboys and Aliens. I saw the poster a couple of months ago and almost cried when I found out I had to wait until this summer to watch it.

    1. Agreed, Eleri–the wait is far too long for C & A. Indy and Bond together in an alien movie…and Olivia WIlde’s in it too. Roll on summer.

  2. I’m looking forward to many of these! But I hadn’t heard of Source Code. I still haven’t seen Moon!

    1. I think you’ll like it, Ella. It’s small and low-key, and it’s pretty much Sam Rockwell the whole time, but as a SF story it’s very poignant.

  3. Your thoughts on Battle: Los Angeles pretty much mirror what I said when I saw the trailer: “It probably won’t be good, but I’ll still watch it.”

    It looks like this could be an OK year for Sci-Fi, though. Here’s hoping.

    1. Yep, I think we could get a few pleasant surprises this time. Super 8 in particular has a lot of potential.

  4. LOL – I caught a glimpse of the Battle: Los Angeles trailer yesterday… I thought it was a commercial for a first-person shooter! Oops. I’m with Eleri – not another Transformers movie! The first one was okay, but for the second? When the best performance comes from the car that doesn’t talk… you’ve got problems.

    1. Hehe! Yeah, they have some major retooIing to do. I can’t remember huge chunks of Transformers 2–like what happens when you’re beaten about the head repeatedly.

      LOL at Battle: Los Angeles trailer. Free joypad handed to every cinemagoer as they enter the theatre.

  5. I can’t say I’m enthused about any of those. Sigh. You’d think I’d be excited about The Adjustment Bureau, but from the ads it looks like all the characters do is run around a lot — and Emily Blunt is being tugged around on Matt’s hand.

    Meh.

    Battle: Los Angeles has a tons of blowy up potential, which always sparks my interest, but the teaser trailers don’t show much about the characters.

    What I am excited about is Suckerpunch and Tempeste, the latter of which showcases Helen Mirren as a gender-swapped Prospera.

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