2001, thanks to Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, used to represent the ultimate in science-fiction. People used to expect aircars, trips to Jupiter and insane AIs by that year. Instead, we got Segway, cloning research bans and fundamentalist morons smashing hijacked planes in large buildings.
Overall, it was such a bad year that it seems almost offensive to complain that it also wasn’t a good year for SF movies. But that’s what you get when you do this feature year after year. So let’s check what was offered to us in 2001.
Well, here’s a short list: The only SF-flavored film of 2001 I can recall enjoying without too many reservations is JIMMY NEUTRON: BOY GENIUS, an animated SF-themed children’s comedy that packed more cool ideas in 90 minutes than the rest of the year’s movies combined. Fast clean fun, JIMMY NEUTRON can also boast of some of the best writing of the year, and a dynamic direction.
I’ll mention VANILLA SKY as another good SF film and leave it at that, having spoiled too much of the movie already.
Honorable mention goes to JURASSIC PARK III, though it should be said that I did so by considering it solely as a B-series monster movie adventure. It wasn’t as polished as the first two films, didn’t contain a single original SF idea, but it was fun. If I recall correctly.
And that’s it for 2001. As a point of comparison let’s just point out that the best SF films of 2000 were FREQUENCY, X-MEN and SPACE COWBOYS. 1999 saw THE MATRIX, THE IRON GIANT and EXISTENZ. Oh, the decline!
Some films promised much and delivered oh-so-little.
In SF-ideas terms and overall artistic ambition, the Spielberg/Kubrick collaboration ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (A.I.) was clearly the best SF film of the year. Unfortunately, the end result poured a ton of Spielberg’ cloying saccharine over the cold concrete slab of Kubrick’s intellectualism to produce a movie that was annoying through both sentimental manipulation and sheer boredom. Some visuals are superb, some sequences really make you happy to see the film, but overall you can doze though most of the film without missing anything. A shame!
The computer-generated FINAL FANTASY should have been a fantastic SF story unburdened by SFX concerns or practical limits. Granted, some of the sequences were quite amazing and some of the visuals, again, were wonderful to behold. Unfortunately, the anime-influenced story delved a bit too much in science-fantasy, the pace often sputtered and the end result fell though. Add to that the definite creep-factor of watching almost-photo-realistic characters and you end up with a movie that should have been much, much better but whose ambition might have exceeded the current state-of-the-art. It’s still the only so-so film of the year that I recommend, if only as an educational experience. The DVD is worth owning.
Finally, THE ONE started from a cool alternate-universe premise, featured interesting effects and starred the charismatic Jet Li. Unfortunately, the pacing wasn’t adequate, Li disappointed and, perhaps more offensively, the potential of the premise was badly mishandled. I started poking holes in the plot not even fifteen minutes in. Hollywood can usually turn out one good B-series SF/action film by year, but that wasn’t it.
EVOLUTION isn’t totally bad -you’ll laugh-, but it feels so lazy that you might not want to acknowledge it. The alien-invasion premise has been done to death already, and this comic treatment of the subject is so easy, so obvious that it’s clear that no one save the SFX guys worked hard on that film. The direction is strictly pedestrian, and even if there’s some inherent interest in seeing David Duchovny and Julianne Moore in a comedy, their charms wear off quickly.
K-PAX is another one of those cheap dramatic movies that try to pass pretentious nonsense as profound philosophy. Oh, the movie coasts a long time on Kevin Spacey’s sensitive-alien shtick, but once that’s dropped for a ridiculous hypnosis-induced psychological disillusion, there isn’t much to like. Even worse; this film takes delight in providing no coherent answer, feeling that it’s quite all right to simply "make up our minds". Refund!!
But as disappointing as EVOLUTION and K-PAX were, they’re paragons of movie goodness compared to GHOSTS OF MARS, a ridiculous Z-grade film that shouldn’t have been allowed in theaters. Stupid story (ghosts… of… Mars!), flat directing, muddy cinematography and atrocious villains make this one of the worst films of the year. I do feel sorry for the likeable actors (all of whom deserve much better), but don’t be fooled and avoid!
- Couldn’t be interested in seeing the useless remake of PLANET OF THE APES.
- Should probably see DONNIE DARKO soon.
- Won’t be caught dead with a copy of Jean Claude van Damme’s straight-to-video REPLICANT.
However poor 2001 was for Science-Fiction, it was a fabulous year for fantasy on the big-screen. Yes, I’m talking about the amazing adaptation of THE LORD OF THE RINGS’ first volume. Yes, I’m talking about the first HARRY POTTER. Yes, I’m also talking about SHREK and MONSTERS, INC. Yes, I’m also trying to forget about MONKEYBONE.
In horror, same-old-same-old mixture of good and bad: There was THE OTHERS and then there was THE FORSAKEN. There was THE MUMMY RETURNS and then a bunch of atrociously-reviewed film I dutifully avoided, like JEEPERS CREEPERS, VALENTINE, SOUL SURVIVORS and 13 GHOSTS…
And that, alas, was the year that was. Naturally, 2002 promises marvels… but we’ll wait and see.
I don’t think that IMPOSTOR will be any good, having been pushed back more than eighteen months from its first mid-2000 release date. It would be highly surprising if the also-delayed ROLLERBALL ended up being anything but tripe. Nor do I believe that the equally-delayed Eddie Murphy vehicle PLUTO NASH has any hopes of being good.
On the other hand, I have hopes for David Twohy’s follow-up to PITCH BLACK, a WW2-horror/SF submarine thriller called BELOW. I’m also curious about M. Night Shyamalan’s SIGNS and Andrew Nichols’ S1M0NE. I’m not so sure about Paul (SOLDIER) Anderson and the videogame adaptation RESIDENT EVIL. CLOCKSTOPPERS has a fun trailer, and so does EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS, though we can’t say the same for THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES. What’s happening with LIBRIUM and PLANET ICE? Can we expect anything from Spielberg’s MINORITY REPORT? Maybe.
Otherwise, well, we have a year of remakes and sequels to look forward to: MEN IN BLACK II (high suck-potential), THE TIME MACHINE (hoping that the troubled-production rumors are false), STAR TREK 10: NEMESIS (hey, it’s an even number!), TRON 2.0 (if it gets made), THE PRISONER (ditto), RED DWARF (uh-huh) and SPIDER-MAN (fan-boys unite!) Oh, and some movie called STAR WARS II: ATTACK OF THE CLOWNS?
After that, well, bets are open: The IMDb mentions ABELCAIN, ABOMINABLE, ANTIBODY, ASCENSION, AVATAR, THE CORE, DREAMCATCHER, GHOST SHIP, IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE, MEGALOPOLIS, PULSE POUNDERS, REIGN OF FIRE, SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS, SGT. KABUKIMAN LAPD, SUBTERANO, THROUGH THE MOEBIUS STRIP, TIME CHANGER, TREASURE PLANET and UNDER THE MOUNTAIN. Which ones are mere outdated rumor? Which ones will be released straight to video? Which ones will be delayed until 2003 or later? Which ones will you see? And, most importantly, which ones will be any good?
34 possibilities, according to the IMDB. According to the shotgun theory, at least a few should hit the target. But then again…