“Guardians of The Galaxy” Marvel Studios’ craziest risk factor that features a ragtag group of thieves in a pulpy science fiction adventure hit theaters a year ago and quickly became one of the most beloved movies of 2014. In light of this I’ve decided to focus on the science fiction genre for this piece. While personally I enjoy a lot of different styles, genres, and sub-genres, of movies science fiction is my absolute favorite kind of movie. I believe this to be so because its sense of imagination and wonder is boundless. What better playground to construct a story within than the universe itself. The possibilities are in fact, endless. Any type of story can exist with science fiction, romance, adventure, drama, horror, mystery and more!
Lets not beat around the bush here, I’ll dive in headfirst with the biggest nerd debate since Mac versus PC (The answer is Linux by the way), Star Wars, or Star Trek? Both franchises have earned their monumental fan bases at this point for their different perspectives on planet hopping, never ending, space/time adventures. I have to admit, I never paid much attention to Star Trek before JJ Abrams rebooted the characters back in 2009. Yup, I’m that guy. I will say that, however, that Abrams re-imagining of Trek is what hooked me to it though, I’d honestly just never sat down and watched any of the television series. After that movie I went back in time, courtesy of Netflix, and encountered a gigantic universe of space faring tales. From “Voyager” to “Deep Space Nine”, to the spectacular “Next Generation” I fully embraced the daring exploits of the Star Fleet crew in its different iterations. Star Trek is an excellent example of quality science fiction that embraced it’s serial expectations to its fullest extent by focusing on powerful ideas and themes such as authoritarianism, imperialism, loyalty, economics, racism, class warfare, religion, sexism, human rights, feminism, and the role of technology in the character’s lives. Merging the vast possibilities of imagination with real world conflicts and issues, Star Trek has successfully etched its own place in the history of science fiction.
Star Wars on the other hand has always been the big budget brother to Star Trek. Now that JJ Abrams has brought the Enterprize and her adventures into the limelight though the average moviegoer now has two major space faring sagas to consider. The Pepsi Starship to your Coca Cola X-Wing, so to say. Wars is about different ideas and structures than Trek though, it focuses more on the themes within political science with a favorable distinction towards democracy over the totalitarian order pushed by the Nazi-like regime of the Galactic Empire. In fact most of Star Wars is just an adaption of our own cultures and ideas, Jedi are simply Samurai in space with blades of light rather than steel, and Han Solo is the classic embodiment of a wandering western hero a la Clint Eastwood, granted with more of a verbal personality. It’s the edge-less boundaries of what Lucas did by making his saga a thing of its own that intrigues me most though. Star Wars is unique (in film) in that it truly stands on its own like a work of Fantasy. It has no connection to the Earth we all know and love, but rather exists within a galaxy all its own. It resembles the completely imagined setting of Middle Earth in its fully created environment, a true force of creativity.
Melding genres has always been exceptionally enticing to me, whereas Trek and Wars utilize human themes, issues, and ideals these next few entries mix science fiction with other genres to blend a unique take on both. Three series in particular have effectively morphed the horror, or monster subgenre, with the infinity of the cosmos. The Alien series is one literal hell of a time, cause who doesn’t enjoy the idea of something living inside you and then ripping through your abdomen? Apologies to all expecting mothers. The first Alien in particular is more horror than science fiction, but it reshaped both genres significantly and its set in space, can’t get much more sci-fi than that. Alien got a lot of recognition and critical response due to its sexual overtones and female empowerment. Plus how good was that pacing? I’ve only recently re-watched this classic and its tension still holds up quite well! The sequel continues the themes of female power in a masculine environment. Ripley is constantly being shut down by her male counterparts, but she is also partaking in misjudgment by exhibiting a sort of robo-racism against the android Bishop because of her previous betrayal by another robot named Ash during the events of the first film. This further continues the “android apartheid” seen throughout the entirety of the Alien series.
Predator, on the other hand, is akin to the alien series (lets forget the versus movies for the rest of… time) in that it shares monster brethren that hunt humans and mercilessly murder their faces. While the series might embrace more action than horror as far as sci-fi goes, it still offers a good time at the movies. Unfortunately while Alien and its sequels empower women, the Predator series hardly even gives them a voice to be heard. The focus here is more on the idea of a galactic hunt, the fear of being pursued, and the heart pounding thrill of hunting your hunter.
Vin Diesel’s Chronicles of Riddick series has had its fair share of tonal changes over the trilogy, but it’s most compelling entry, in my opinion, was the latest. Simply titled “Riddick”, the newest flick dropped the world building nature of the sequel in turn for a tighter, more character driven entry in the antihero’s planet hopping antics. Working as a spiritual successor to the first movie, “Pitch Black”, Riddick goes back to being a grimacing, shadow loving, murderer. The entire first act is essentially a slasher film as Riddick systematically toys with the bounty hunters that pursue him. Its sheer brilliance. Riddick is one of my favorite antiheroes because you can constantly see him calculating, manipulating people with his words and my god does he utilize his environments to his advantage. If you haven’t checked this series out yet, I highly suggest it, if anything else it’s just a fun way to spend a rainy day if that’s all it does for you.
Not all sci-fi has to be off planet though. My favorite original science fiction film of the last five years has to be “Looper”. This movie smartly utilizes one of my favorite storytelling devices, time travel. “Looper”, if you haven’t seen it (see it!) the film deals with the Mob of the future sending their marked victims back in time to be killed by specifically chosen executors known as loopers. These arbiters of death meet their victims at a certain time and place, kill their targets as soon as they have been sent back in time, get paid, and live the high life. That is until the future Mob sends the future versions of the loopers themselves back in time to the present looper who ends up killing his future self while getting a golden pay day. They then live out their days until the Mob comes for them. One looper in particular, dubiously named Joe, (who is excellently portrayed by both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis) gets into trouble when his future self comes back and subsequently escapes from his present self resulting in an extremely fun AND intelligent take on a man pursuing himself. The movie is about mistakes at its core, what we can do to correct them, or prevent them from even happening in the first place.
Lastly, if you enjoy this subject or material at all I can’t leave you without suggesting “FireFly”. I came incredibly late to the game here but this short lived space-faring series is truly a thing to behold. Joss Whedon’s intergalactic team of feisty underdogs is full of heart, superb writing, and a clear love of the genre. Imagine a western in space and you’d be close, it speaks for itself, but that’s a good way to approach it. It’s unique to itself and it was a tragedy that the series didn’t get more time for itself. If you’re only watching for fan favorite Nathan Fillion’s role as Captain Malcolm Reynolds, then that’s well enough, but I’d be doing the series a disservice- all of the characters consistently shine through! Do yourself a favor if you haven’t seen this gem and knock out the 13 episodes and the film “Serenity” in a weekend, it’s well worth your time!
So, yes, I love science fiction, and I’m quite glad that it seems to be sticking around and caught in the current attention span of the masses, which isn’t always guaranteed. Even if it drops back into obscurity, as it once was, I’ll still be there to watch starships, time travelers, space samurai, and even face murdering aliens do what they all do best, entertain.