Science-Fiction Movies of 2002

Now that we’re firmly entrenched in the twenty-first century, past the 1999/2000/2001 transition years and equipped with brand-new social memes thanks to "the war on terror", what have we seen this year that may stand the test of time and come to define our common vision of the future? How were the SF movies in 2002? Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, the sublime and the rip-off, with much-appreciated assistance from the Internet Movie Database at www.imdb.com

The Good

After a lacklustre two years, 2002 saw the first big good SF movie in a while: MINORITY REPORT might have plenty of flaws (especially when considered from a purely science-fictional perspective), but it was bold, it was new, it was exceedingly well-realized and it was entertaining from start to, well, almost finish. Cool gadgets, some much-needed subtext about privacy, a relatively realistic approach to the material and some crunchy ideas all make this the top SF film of 2002. Entertaining and thoughtful, it doesn’t take much more than that to satisfy me.

In a wholly different register, closer to fable than thriller, S1M0NE delivered a slyly amusing tale of virtual realism run amok. It doesn’t have much relation to reality and doesn’t depend on many gadgets, but it’s comfortable that way and does explore a few philosophical themes quite well. Not many people saw it and even fewer were ready to go along with the joke. But it’s a lot of fun, and doesn’t totally pander to a moronic audience.

Finally, the best SF film you haven’t seen in 2002 was EQUILIBRIUM. This low-budget effort doesn’t have the polish or pacing of the two other films, but it’s actually an interesting take on those "totalitarian regimes" SF stories, with plenty of kick-ass action in the latter third to satisfy anyone looking for a temporary fix until THE MATRIX sequel comes up. Not distributed in Canada (don’t ask how this reviewer saw it) and scarcely publicized anywhere else, this one is worth tracking down.

The Flawed

Some movies had significant qualities and big problems. Here are three of those imperfect efforts:

STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES is better than the awful EPISODE I, but only if you take in account the fantastic combat sequences at the end of the film. Otherwise, you’ll grind your teeth to powder while listening to the wretched dialogue, and maybe even go to sleep during the middle third of the film. But, hey, it’s STAR WARS, so you just pay and shut up…

SIGNS is a frustrating film: As a hard-SF effort, it really sucks: The "alien invasion" aspects are dumb beyond belief, and the film’s more spiritual focus will displease those looking for more literal action. As literary fantasy, it works better. Replace "alien" by "demon" and everything already makes more sense, especially given the water motif. The out-of-focus quality of this story also gives it sort of an anti-spectacular respectability. Finally, as a suspense film, SIGNS really shines, whatever the identity and motivations of "the evil". Make of that what you will…

SOLARIS is another one of those "make up you own damn mind" type of film. Was it boring? To some, yes, very. Was it fascinating? Some will tell you so. Was it smart? Pretty much everyone agree it was cerebral, but opinion is divided as to whether it was intellectual or simply pretentious. One the other hand, it took place on a space station and didn’t feature huge laser-pistol shootouts. Whether this is good or bad, I’ll leave up to you.

The Disappointments

True to form, Hollywood once again showed an unusual talent for turning promising concepts into run-of-the-mill films. Let’s see:

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones wore their black suits again in MEN IN BLACK 2, but sadly enough, the audience was not amused. This lame follow-up wasn’t as funny, fresh or original as the first one.

REIGN OF FIRE took a promising premise and turned it into yet another "hunt the head vampire" film. Often ugly and failing to capitalize on some boffo potential, this film has come to represent everything that fans hate about Hollywood, and how it can make every single original idea in a one-size-fits-all script template. Oh well; at least Matthew McConaughey (of all actors) plays a decent action hero.

It’s probably unfair to call CLOCKSTOPPERS a "disappointment" given low expectations, but the truth is that it features a gadget (a time-slowing watch) and fancy special effects that are much better than the actual result. Yes, it’s for teens, but it doesn’t actually excuse the laziness of the script. Too bad…

The Bad

STAR TREK 10: NEMESIS: Dull and boring "adventure" that breaks the even-odd pattern of Star Trek movies. Even die-hard trekkies will be left unmoved by this lame entry in the Trek mythos. Not much to see here…

THE TIME MACHINE was, ironically enough, a throwback to a time where Hollywood could churn out great special effects on top of a lousy story that completely ignored the social commentary of the original, transforming it in a loud and incoherent mess… oh, yes, that would be right now.

THE TUXEDO, finally, is a complete waste of Jackie Chan, who’s actually less interesting than Jennifer Love Hewitt (!!!) in this awful "action" SF comedy that’s even less interesting than what you may imagine. This is medium-budget, low-imagination filmmaking at its worst.

The Unseen

It takes a lot of bad reviews to convince me to avoid a science-fiction film, but let’s just say that the critical consensus was very convincing when it came to ROLLERBALL, THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH and IMPOSTOR. I’ll let you know if ever I’m suckered into seeing them.

My Disney-boycott policies were enforced for LILO AND STITCH as well as TREASURE PLANET. I hear they’re not too bad.

I really would have liked to see 28 DAYS LATER, DOG SOLDIERS, BELOW, CQ and CUBE 2: HYPERCUBE, but those efforts weren’t theatrically distributed in Canada in 2002, and unlike EQUILIBRIUM (above), I wasn’t able to secure a copy by other means. Hopefully, they’ll be available shortly, in theaters or on DVD…

The Fringes

SF or not, there was good fun to be found in films such as SPIDER-MAN, EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS, RESIDENT EVIL and SPY KIDS 2. Who can go wrong with web-wielding superheroes, big spiders, zombie dogs and Robert Rodriguez? They’re worth a look for any genre fan, even though the SF connection can be tenuous.

For fantasy fans, 2002 also proved as good a year as 2001, for exactly the same reasons: LORD OF THE RINGS (part 2) and HARRY POTTER (part 2). In both cases, the adaptations were decent enough, the filmmaking machine well-oiled to deliver exactly what the public was waiting to see, and satisfaction was had by all. Well, except for the obsessive Tolkien freaks, who deserve pretty much everything they can get.

Horror fans weren’t left out in the cold either: THE RING marked a triumphant return of true horror in American cinemas (even if it took a remake of a Japanese film to do it), and that film alone compensates for a full year of trash like FEARDOTCOM, GHOST SHIP and the like…

Next!

It’s easy to get excited about 2003 and what it promises to deliver.

In sequels alone, we’re due for boffo material. THE MATRIX fans will get to see THE ANIMATRIX, THE MATRIX RELOADED and THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS. Then there’s also THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING. Oh, and TERMINATOR 3. Plus TOMB RAIDER 2 and X-MEN 2.

Add in the comic adaptations of THE HULK and THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, and you’ve got a whole lot of salivating fanboys out there. Plus, hey, let’s throw in the film adaptations of the sorta-SF novels TIMELINE and DREAMCATCHER, plus the Bradbury story A SOUND OF
THUNDER and the SF geeks will join the fanboys at the theater. It won’t be pretty, but at least it will ensure that the ticket prices will go up.

Unconfirmed sequels include SPY KIDS 3, RESIDENT EVIL: NEMESIS, RED DWARF: THE MOVIE and TRON KILLER APP. We’ll believe them when we’ll see them.

I’m sort of looking forward to THE CORE in a typical dumb-SF-catastrophe-movie kind of mood. I’m not too picky: I just want to see San Francisco get trashed real good.

Other intriguing titles listed in the IMDB’s "SciFi-2003" database include ABELCAIN, ALIEN AGENT, AQUANOIDS, BABERELLAS (porn?), THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT (any relation to A SOUND OF THUNDER?), THE CHILDREN OF MEN (adapted from P.D. James’ novel, maybe?), GOOD BOY!, THE I INSIDE, LEECHES, THE LOW BUDGET TIME MACHINE (can’t be worse than the big-budget version), MEGAPOLIS (probably won’t be made, PAYCHECK, PHOENIX POINT, RATS (maybe in a double feature with LEECHES), SEX LIES AND SUPERHEROES, SUMURU, THE UGLY ONE, UNDEAD, THE UNINVITED and YERBA CITY. But what do I know? I’m just reprinting those without any critical judgment whatsoever. That’ll come later. Like, when I’ll see them. Until then, all hopes are allowed. Maybe there will be one, just one, worthwhile film in the bunch.

As usual, come again next year as we survey the wreckage of the year that’ll be.