The Wizeguy: Dumb Ways To Sci-Fi

We all know that there’s going to be a new Alien movie, and this is good news. However, now the word is that Ridley Scott’s Prometheus 2 could be holding up the production of Alien 5. This is fine with me. I enjoyed Prometheus, and hope the sequel fills in some of the gaps left by the first film. Blomkamp is an excellent director, visual thinker and ideas man. He is not a great writer. As long as he gets help with the Alien 5 script we should get a great Alien movie. 20th Century Fox…PLEASE take your time with both of these.

IMO, here’s the more pressing issue: in this era of mega budgets and limitless effects possibilities, why has science fiction fallen so specifically prey to the endless sequel-remake-reboot machine? Where are the new sci-fi franchises?

To be clear, there’s no shortage of good sci-fi franchises. Two films in, the rebooted ‘Planet of the Apes’ movies have proven worthy successors to the original series, replicating those pictures’ ability to mix character drama, social commentary, action, and adventure. Though its follow-up was something of a botch job, J.J. Abrams admirably managed to reignite the seemingly comatose Star Trek series back in 2009 with a reboot that worked simultaneously as science fiction, glossy 21st-century blockbuster, and (most importantly) ensemble comedy. And for his trouble, Abrams was handed the keys to the Star Wars kingdom, which will continue under the capable hands of filmmakers like Rian Johnson (Looper) and Gareth Edwards (Godzilla).

Which is not to say that a franchise has to be good to keep cranking through the assembly line. Case in point, ‘Terminator’, a fairly comparable franchise to ‘Alien’: one unquestionably great (perhaps even better than the original) sequel, followed by now three far inferior entries and an already-forgotten television spin-off. The franchise has been watered down and cut with baking soda to the point where ‘Terminator: Genisys’ is less like canon than fan-fiction. Still, the name recognition alone will bring the die hards out to the theatre.

Why? Because genre fans are reliably brand-loyal. Even if you watched that Terminator TV show and hated it, even if you sat through that one Terminator movie with Christian Bale and the guy from ‘Avatar’, And say what you want, Arnold was NOT the worst thing about ‘Genisys’. Fans still have to see what comes next. Even if you loathed all of the Star Wars prequels, you can’t resist seeing what a fan like Abrams brings to the series, nor the idea of watching Ford, Hamill, and Fisher back in action. And even if you’re totally clear on how much difficulty anyone but Cameron — including Ridley Scott himself — has had recapturing the magic of Alien, well, Blomkamp’s concept art was pretty neat, so maybe he’ll figure it out, right?

Blomkamp knows how forgiving/hopeful sci-fi fans are, and in an odd (and somewhat unprecedented) way, he used that loyalty to land the gig. His Alien had, by all accounts (including his own) stalled out before he started putting up images on Instagram, with a subtext of, “Man, I sure do wish I could make this, HEAVY SIGH.” And then, next thing you know he’s directing an Alien movie. Maybe the whole thing was a setup, creating buzz for a deal that was already made; maybe it really was a dormant project that got a shot of life via the clamoring of fans.

Look, you can blame the studios for this endless cycle of sequels and reboots and remakes. But in the specific area of science fiction, the fans bear at least some of the responsibility. It’s tempting to lump sci-fi boosters with horror fans, the most carnivorous of genre moviegoers, but to their credit (if not their personal detriment), horror fans go see everything: Michael Bay-produced remakes, yet another found-footage ghost story, one more damned ‘Insidious’, sure, but also original stories from up and comers. Science fiction fans passed on duds like ‘After Earth’ — but also, to a great extent, on strikingly original stuff like ‘Edge of Tomorrow’, ‘In Time’, and ‘Ex Machina’, and even problematic but ultimately ambitious efforts like ‘Jupiter Ascending’, ‘John Carter’, and the MEH ‘Elysium’. And as long as they continue to endorse established but unreliable brands rather than taking risks on new voices, they can’t expect the people who bankroll those movies to do anything but follow suit. That being said, The crew of the Nostromo, who were essentially blue collar space-trucker types, were clearly many IQ points smarter than the Prometheus gang.


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