Science-Fiction Movies of 2000

[The assistance of the Internet Movie Database at http://www.imdb.com/ was invaluable in the making of this essay.]

After the dizzying SF heights of 1999, 2000 proved to be more like business as usual for Hollywood as it continued to turn out both good and atrocious SF films in comparable numbers.

The good

The best SF film of 2000 is probably FREQUENCY, a rather smart SF "time-travel" thriller that deftly mixed two time periods, a serial killer, baseball and a heartfelt homage to fatherhood in a film that should please everybody. Though the SF devices are a bit wonky (don’t think causality), the overall result is good enough to highlight.

The big surprise, and relief, of the year is undoubtedly X-MEN, which broke from tradition and actually turned out to be not only a good comic book adaptation, but also a good SF film! See what superficial symbolism and allegories can do? Good action scenes, excellent acting, good direction and okay special effects… can’t ask for much more.

Finally, halfway between SF and technothrillers, SPACE COWBOYS delivered solid entertainment late this summer. Though it might appear to be straight comedy at first ("Old guys in space, ho-ho!"), the film becomes increasingly SFish until a final shot that could have been reprinted straight from the cover of Analog. Not perfect, but rather good.

The average

We awaited much from the two Mars movies of 2000, but even if RED PLANET turned out to be the best of the two, it still wasn’t very good. It tries to be hard-SF, but it fails so miserably at it that it’s surprising to even see them try. Bad dramatic development, huge logic holes and a waste of several good actors…

At least PITCH BLACK has the merit of being honest and not pass itself as anything more than a classical B-movie about human-eating aliens. It works fine as such, despite an ultimately unsatisfying script and some seriously flawed scientific details.

THE SIXTH DAY was a return to… er… adequacy for Arnold Schwarzenegger. While one can appreciate the willingness to create a different future and explore a few issues while delivering an action film, the end result turned out a bit too bland to be remarkable.

The disappointing

While animation should be a natural medium for SF, it takes more than pretty pictures to be good, and if TITAN A.E. delivers some pictures, it can’t be bothered to tell a good story, and the result is a let-down.

It’s still better than THE HOLLOW MAN, which used the best special effects of the year with one of the worst script of the year to produce a film that’s, in a word, hollow.

And THE HOLLOW MAN was still more satisfying than THE CELL, which promised so much in terms of visual invention and yet went in production with what was probably the weakest script of the year. Boo!

The awful

At least masochist SF fans had a good year. Things started looking pretty good for them in January, when SUPERNOVA crashed onscreen, though leaving many viewers disappointed that it wasn’t as bad as predicted.

But no masochist went disappointed by BATTLEFIELD EARTH, which is, by a significant margin, the worst film to be widely released in theaters in a looong time. Stinking up megaplexes across North America, BATTLEFIELD EARTH will remain in memory as a singularly perfect example of overall mediocrity in cinema: All aspects of the production, from directing to set design to editing to special effects all suck at the same tremendous degree. Don’t miss it, but don’t pay for it; it’s a supremely unpleasant film.

After that, even the hilariously awful MISSION TO MARS was almost an improvement, as even the nauseating conclusion, limp directing and terrible score couldn’t be any worse than BATTLEFIELD EARTH.

In related genres

Horror and fantasy had a fair year, with UNBREAKABLE (an unexpected gift to comic-book fans), THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS (well, maybe more remarkable for its comedy that its fantasy elements), CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON (exceptional Chinese heroic fantasy) and FINAL DESTINATION (a teen horror film far more unnerving that the norm).

Middle-of-the-road B-releases included BLAIR WITCH 2 (sort of a meta-horror film), BLESS THE CHILD (entertaining fluff about Satanism and all that good stuff), and BEDAZZLED (Satan in a whole other set of outfits).

Then you had the pretty bad stuff such as DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (eek!), SCREAM 3 (zzzz) and WHAT LIES BENEATH (grrr!).

Next Year?

Hope for 2001 springs eternal, as we’re promised films such as AI, FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRIT WITHIN, JURASSIC PARK 3, THE GHOSTS OF MARS, PLANET OF THE APES and PLUTO NASH (well, okay, these last two have a high suck-potential)

Less certain, and certainly as chancy, are ARAC ATTACK, EVOLUTION and JASON X. As ever, wilder rumors surround such vapourware titles as BARBARELLA, BEER MONEY, COLONY 12, COSM, DONNIE DARKO, EQUILIBRIUM, GREATEST INTERGALACTIC HERO, HAPPINESS IS A WARM GUN, HARDSHELL, PLANET ICE, K-PAX, MARTIAN CHRONICLES, MEFISTO IN ONYX, MEN IN BLACK 2, METAL, MINDSTORM, MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, NEVER DIE TWICE, OTHERS, PHAROAH PROJECT, RESIDENT EVIL, THRASHER, TIME MACHINE, TOTAL RECALL 2, TRON 2.0 and X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES. Whew! How many of those will actually make it all the way to theaters? Your guess is a good as mine, and seeing how IMPOSTOR’s been delayed all the way through summer 2000 to sometime later than spring 2001, don’t hold your breath…

In any case, see you in twelve months, as we’ll survey the wreckage of the year that’ll be.

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