Science-Fiction Movies of 2006

Looking back at the SF movies of 2006, there really isn’t much to say: This wasn’t the year of the franchise blow out like 2005’s Star Wars/Serenity/Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy. The closest we came to known property adaptations were more-or-less faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, P.D.James’ Children of Men and Christopher Priest’s The Prestige.

And you know what? Those were the best three SF movies of 2006. Not in any robots-and-spaceship sense, but in sheer quirkiness, interest and film-making savvy. The hilarious thing, of course, is that I liked those films almost despite their unconvincing SF elements rather than because of their genre affiliation. Of those three, THE PRESTIGE is the only Great Film in the bunch: it’s a meticulously well-oiled machine with no clunking part: a gem of a film, worth seeing more than once. I’m only partially as enthusiastic about CHILDREN OF MEN, which kicks all sorts of neurones thanks to its breathtaking cinematography, but makes less sense on a practical level. A SCANNER DARKLY is more interesting as a surrealistic curiosity than the cursory plot jammed in its last ten minutes, but it’s certainly a trip and a deserving tribute to the late great Philip K. Dick.

Three more film can be slotted in the "almost, but not quite" category. I had great hopes for ULTRAVIOLET as an action film: it turned into a disappointing disaster where even the fantastic action scenes weren’t enough to save the rest of the film. THE FOUNTAIN is an entirely different kitten, but it’s no less disappointing: As a pretentious high-concept artistic experiment, it’s not uninteresting, but as an audience-friendly storytelling vehicle it’s a disaster. DEJA VU has occasional moments of sheer brilliance, including one of the best SF/action sequences of the past decade, but the film as a whole almost implodes upon itself.

The rest of the year really doesn’t have much more to study. Looking at the really short list of "2006 Sci-Fi" films at the Internet Movie Database, I’m more stuck by the number of foreign SF films that I still haven’t seen around here (Russia’s DAY WATCH, South Korea’s THE HOST, France’s RENAISSANCE and the USA’s own IDIOCRACY) than by the minuscule number (20) of films that make up the list. Hey, is anyone up for straight-to-video sequels BUTTERFLY EFFECT 2 and HOLLOW MAN II?

If you squint real hard, SLITHER has some schlocko sci-fi elements, but by this point we’re well into the horror/comedy genre anyway. (And it’s not bad when seen from that particular perspective.)

Farther away from the SF core and well into superhero films, X-MEN 3 was a potable "conclusion" in the trilogy, but it had none of the extra ooomph of the first two segments. I was bored stiff during SUPERMAN RETURNS and can barely remember any of it: it’s not going to end up on my DVD shelf. On the other hand, even bored indifference is preferable to the tight coil of hate that I experienced for the third quarter of MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND, one of the most repulsive piece of dull misogynistic tripe I’ve had the misfortune of seeing in a long while.

Fantasy fans had a somewhat comparable year: Aside from the good number of relatively good anthropomorphic animated features (CARS, OVER THE HEDGE, MONSTER HOUSE, HAPPY FEET), the best pure entertainment hit of last year was the very-fantastical PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN II. Granted, you first had to make your way through atrocities known as UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION, ERAGON and LADY IN THE WATER first, but what’s a little pain to better experience pleasure? I still haven’t seen PAN’S LABYRINTH, but director Guillermo del Toro’s films are usually worth the anticipation. [January 2007 update: It was worth the wait.]

So, if 2006 lacked in quantity, what’s up for 2007? As usual, a search for "2007 sci-fi" movies on the Internet Movie Database lists over a hundred projects, some of which are familiar, and most of which aren’t.

For someone of my particular generation and techno disposition, the most anticipated release of 2007 is the live-action, big-budget take on TRANSFORMERS. I’m still strangely taken with the Michael Bay / Jerry Bruckheimer style of film-making, and Transformers still count as my favourite childhood toys. Don’t look for me on 7/4/7: I’ll be at the movie theatre.

We keep hearing persistent rumours about movie adaptations of I AM LEGEND and FAHRENHEIT 451, but those projects have been kicking around for such a long time that it may be better to wait until we actually see the films. Neil Gaiman’s STARDUST looks to be both more likely and more interesting.

Some films have already started the hype machine. Everyone’s intrigued (yet worried) at Danny Boyle’s SUNSHINE, but Disney has already hyped their animated MEET THE ROBINSONS beyond any rational belief: It’ll be a wonder if we’re not completely exhausted by the time it comes out.

Other remakes/rethreads/adaptations and outright cash-grabs may include a SECONDS remake by Jonathan Mostow, LOGAN’S RUN, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, some STAR TREK franchise reboot, WESTWORLD, WONDER WOMAN and NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: REBUILD OF EVANGELION 01

But in terms of known media franchise, maybe sequels are more to your speed? If so, you’ll looove ALIEN VS PREDATOR 2 (oh, lucky you), 28 WEEKS LATER, FANTASTIC FOUR 2 (because apparently the first one wasn’t enough), HIGHLANDER: THE SOURCE or HIGHLANDER: VENGEANCE and RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION. I may be slightly more optimistic about SPIDER-MAN 3, but only slightly.

Details have emerged about some foreign films that may or may not ever make it to our shores : I’m giddy over Russia’s PARAGRAPH 78, but strictly in an action film geek fashion. (I’m also hopping with impatience to see the release of DUSK WATCH, but that’s so the DVD box set can be released.)

And then there’s the rest. Here’s a dump of the full list, without any comment whatsoever. Keep your eyes out for any of them: ADINA, ALIEN AGENT, ALIEN VS. ALIEN, AMSTEROID, ANTIGRAVITY, APPARATSPOTT 3, ARCHER PROJECT, BABURU E GO! TAIMU MASHIN WA DORAMU SHIKI, BABYLON A.D., BANE, BHARATHAN, CHILE PUEDE, CHRYSALIS, COUNTDOWN, CRONOCRIMENES, DAMN NATION, DANTE 01, DEAD UNDEAD, DISCOVERY, DOOMSDAY, ESP AFFAIR, FREEZER BURN, GB: 2525, GHOST WHO WALKS, GIVER, GLENN, GLUBINA, HAMLET A.D.D., HARVEST MOON, HORACE K48, IN THE COUNTRY OF THE LAST THINGS, INVASION, ISOBAR, IT CAME FROM ANOTHER WORLD!, KEEPER OF THE NECKLACE, KING ARTHUR & THE ORDER OF THE DRAGON, KINGZ, LEVEL SEVEN, LIKE MOLES, LIKE RATS, MARTIAN CHILD, MEN WHO FELL, MUTANT CHRONICLES, NEXT, NEXT RACE: THE REMOTE VIEWINGS, ONE DAY LIKE RAIN, OUTLANDER, PLAGUERS, PORTAL, RECON 2022: THE MEZZO INCIDENT, RIP CAGE, ROBODOC, ROCKFISH, SALVATION, SHEN XUAN ZHE, SHIVER, SOULMATES, STAR CHILD: THE BEGINNING, SUPERCROC, TELEPATHY, TENDER INTERFACE, THEY BITE, TRIPODS, UCHUUJIN FROM OUTER SPACE, WAR OF THE DEAD, WASTE OF SPACE, WAVE, WOW! (GENERATION P) and YESTERDAY WAS A LIE.

This is about the fourth year in a row I’ve seen THE GHASTLY LOVE OF JOHNNY X on this list. While I love the title, could this year be the year it finally comes out?

Whatever the new year begins, have some hope… and go see some movies!

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