Every year it’s the same story: We look at the upcoming films and go "hmm" and "huh?" Then the trailers come out and we go "ooh" and "aah." Then the actual movies come out and we go "er" and "whaa?" Then we get together and we go "eek" and "eew". Pretty much the same thing happened in 2003 as far as science-fiction movies were concerned, except for the fact that it was a weaker year than average. Let’s see, with a little bit of help from the Internet Movie Database, the good, the bad, the ugly and the rest.
For a year that was supposed to be the year of THE MATRIX, well, lets just say that it is… by default. In a land of sucky SF films, even a lame MATRIX heralds the return of the king. Yes, THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS was a huge disappointment. But who can seriously argue that, oh, THE CORE was better? Uh-huh. At least THE MATRIX RELOADED offered a pair of truly impressive action sequences, and quite a number of fun ideas. That none of them were developed, let alone resolved in the third film is beyond the point. At least THE ANIMATRIX offered a little bit more content and style, though even there the lack of coherency was a problem. 2003: Year of THE MATRIX spinoffs (but only because everything else was worse.)
TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES didn’t fare much better in our quest for the best SF movie of the year. Action scenes: Yes! Special effects: Most awesome. But new ideas: zilch. This live-action fan-fiction was pretty enjoyable at times, but as far as a continuation of James Cameron’s universe went, well, this is not it. I still like it a bit, but more as an action film than a true science-fiction piece of work.
While we’re at it, just let me say that I quite enjoyed the goofy SPY KIDS 3D even despite all of its problems and distinct lessening of interest as compared to the first two volumes of the series.
Now that we’ve conveniently stacked our "best" category with threequels and spinoffs (the horror!), let us move to…
Ah yes, THE CORE. A somewhat better film than the tepid critical reaction may have led you to believe (at least science is here portrayed as a force for good, not evil, and the scientists are quite sympathetic), but the film’s many problems are just too big to make it anything more than a pleasant diversion. A lot of missed potential here, but a few spectacular visuals.
SCARY MOVIE 3 is another one for the "missed opportunities" file. As a re-creation of THE RING, SIGNS and others, it can often be quite good… but the jokes just don’t seem to be there. You’ll grin a lot, but seldom laugh. Leslie Nielsen is just annoying. And so’s the slapstick and the rapper jokes after a while.
PAYCHECK once again shows John Woo’s continued slide in utter adequacy. His weak direction is matched by the rather ordinary scenario that can’t be bothered to side-step cliché. It’s all right but it’s not really all that. Big shrugs to everyone involved.
The rather bad
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN could have been a contender. But it wasn’t, given how it was sloppily transformed into a proto-superhero film with more plot holes than lines of dialogue. Pretty bad, even despite the ideas and the visuals.
But as far as bad is concerned, DREAMCATCHER pretty much blows open the doors of silliness. It looks good and, for a short moment, even feels all right, but as the film’s obsession with bowel movements overpowers the atmospheric direction, well, show’s over: go home.
Once again, Fantasy and Comic-book fans were better served by Hollywood this year, though one can trace back this evaluation to exactly three films: The concluding segment of THE LORD OF THE RING trilogy, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and the rather enjoyable X-MEN 2. Yes, the follow-up to 2000’s X-MEN had more action, more jokes and even more characters than the first one. It was also overlong by twenty minutes, but let’s not spend too much time dwelling on that. After all, THE RETURN OF THE KING was also overlong by twenty minutes and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN also dragged by a similar amount of time in the third quarter, and it’s not as if anyone complained, right? All three films showed what can be done when comic-books, park rides (!) and epic fantasies are brought to the screen the right way.
On the other hand, stuff like DAREDEVIL and THE HULK showed what happens when the treatment is wildly inappropriate. While not complete disasters, both films showed investors and studio executives that comic-book films aren’t the sure-fire hits they’ve been hyped lately, and for that we can only be grateful. It means we won’t be swamped by endless rethreads over the next few years.
Gore fans had a pretty good year in 2003: Even though I only saw FINAL DESTINATION 2 (splattery!), stuff like FREDDY VS JASON, HOUSE of 1000 CORPSES, HOUSE OF THE DEAD, JEEPERS CREEPERS II and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE brought some life back in a genre that seeks to extinguish it as quickly as possible. Alas, tripe like DARKNESS FALLS also continues to show up on theatre screens, but I just don’t want to talk about it any longer.
Other fringe misfires of the year include the very tepid UNDERWORLD, BULLETPROOF MONK and THE MEDALLION. Film doesn’t deserve to be wasted of material like that.
Next: 2004 in preview
No one knows anything about a film until it’s screened. But that won’t stop me from browsing the IMDB’s for any movie matching both "2004" and "science-fiction". If nothing else, it’ll be good for giggles in twelve months. So here goes:
To be fair, there are a few intriguing prospects in the bunch, mostly sequels, adaptations or films whose trailers have already started making the rounds. What self-respecting SF fan doesn’t already salivate at the thought of INNOCENCE: GHOST IN THE SHELL 2? And what about the fabulous alternate reality of SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW? Or the return of director Brad Bird in THE INVINCIBLES? Vin Diesel and David Twohy once again working together in THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK? The doom, gloom and planet-wide destruction in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW?
Other prospects are chancier. The "starring Will Smith!" line has a number of people nervous about I, ROBOT, the big-screen adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s beloved short stories. (On the other hand, I’m happy to say that the clever teaser had me giggling for a full minute.) Can Ashton Kuchner pull off the drama hinted at in the trailer for THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT? We’ll see. Does the long-awaited ALIEN VERSUS PREDATOR mean that we’ll be stuck with "versus" stories forever and ever more? And how about RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE? Are we even allowed dreams of a decent movie? Will Kurt Wimmer be done with ULTRAVIOLET in time for a 2004 release? Can Nicole Kidman not pull off a pouting sex toy in the remake of THE STEPFORD WIVES? And what about MGM’s CODE 46? Why isn’t it on anyone’s radar yet?
Comic book geeks at least have a few films in the pipeline before the whole thing dies down: HELLBOY even has me interested, what with the incomparable Guillermo del Toro at the helm. I’m not too sure what to think about THE PUNISHER; I guess we’ll see when it comes out. At the very least, everyone and their kid brother will rush to see SPIDER-MAN 2 when it comes out, guaranteeing many happy quarterly results. The IMDB also lists LOBO and THE PHANTOM; are those projects actually going to happen? Heck, do we need another THE PHANTOM?
But then again, the IMDB always lists the weirdest remakes / sequels / adaptations. Can we seriously expect such films as BABYLON BABIES (from Maurice Dantec’s novel?), THE CROW: WICKED PRAYER, CUBE ZERO, DEUS EX, FIREFLY, THE FLY, JOURNE
Y TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, MEGALODON (from Steve Alten’s book?), MEGAPOLIS (Coppola’s long-rumoured project?), RED DWARF: THE MOVIE, A SOUND OF THUNDER, STARSHIP TROOPERS 2, THUNDERBIRDS and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS to be be released, let alone be any good? Past years’ experience with the IMDB suggests caution.
Then there is the other stuff listed on the IMDB. I know absolutely nothing about 2046, CHROME, DARK QUEEN, DECOYS, DREAMLAND, THE FINAL CUT, THE FORGOTTEN, FROM OTHER WORLDS, GALACTIC RAIDERS, THE GHASTLY LOVE OF JOHNNY X, GINGERBREED, THE GIRL FROM MONDAY, GUARDIAN OF THE REALM, JOHN DOE, KNOWING, LEVEL SEVEN, LIGHT AND THE SUFFERER, MAN-THING, MESSENGERS, MILLIONS, RAD BRAD: MODERN WARRIOR, RAM, REPLICA, RETROGRADE, SAY YES QUICKLY, SCI-FIGHTER, SLIPSTREAM, SPECTRES, TALES FROM BEYOND, THE TRAP, THE VILLAGE and WATCHFUL EYES save for their titles. No idea of a plot, director, star or even release date. But I just keep hoping for the best. After all, it’s the only thing I can do.
Meanwhile, let’s agree to meet again in twelve months, to study the wreckage of the year that’ll be.