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2014: The year the ‘hard’ sci-fi film returned



Hollywood doesn’t make a lot of “hard” sci-fi movies these days. Sure, they make a lot of superhero movies, which are a type of sci-fi movie, and a lot of general sci-fi movies too but not too many “hard” ones. To me, I consider a “hard” sci-fi movie to be set in a believable time period, to be focused on realism, to not be afraid of including issues that challenge the viewer and to not cater to the lowest common denominator.

Aliens

Aliens

Movies like Aliens, The Matrix, Moon and Children of Men (to name a few) are “hard” sci-fi movies. Popular sci-fi movies that are what I consider “lite” are films like the recent Star Trek franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy and most recent Terminator movie. Not that these flicks are bad but they’re lite when it comes to the science fiction and don’t require much thought.

And it’s exactly “lite” sci-fi that’s taken over the cineplexes of late. In 2013 there were 10+ movies that I’d consider sci-fi “lite” from Pacific Rim to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Out of those I’d only consider three of them to be “hard;” Oblivion, Gravity and Riddick. And ’12 was even worse with just Dredd and Prometheus being “hard” sci-fi movies.

But it does seem like if ’12 was an okay year for “hard” sci-fi and ’13 was a good one then ’14 was a year that was showing definite signs of improvement with four “hard” sci-fi films that were released, three of which are some of my favorite flicks of the last few years.

RoboCop

RoboCop

Out in February was the RoboCop remake which was a movie that shouldn’t have worked but totally did. First it was a remake of a beloved and critically acclaimed movie that many sci-fi geeks, myself included, love. Second the movie was supposed to premiere the summer of ’13 then was pushed back to February, which the rule is this is NEVER a good sign of the quality of a movie.

Except RoboCop 2014 is the exception that proves the rule.

The 2014 RoboCop is an updated retelling of the original 1987 RoboCop. But where as the original was about out of control corporations, which seemed crazy in ’87 but is a reality today, and the idea of technology outpacing mankind the ’14 RoboCop is different in many respects. That movie changes things around a bit and instead of the character of Murphy/RoboCop turning from machine to man it has him turning from man to machine.

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow

RoboCop 2014 also examines the concept of living in a culture where we’re starting to place more and more of our security in the hands of drones. And that while now those drones might be controlled by people, it isn’t too much of a leap in logic to assume that those same drones might one day control themselves and have the authority to kill on command.

Then in June came Edge of Tomorrow, a film that had a terrible name but an amazing film none-the-less. I’ve written extensively about Edge of Tomorrow before so I won’t go into much detail on that movie here other than to reiterate that it’s wonderful!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes poster

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes poster

In July came Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, another movie that shouldn’t have worked but turned out to be one of the best of the year. If the previous Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) had to overcome a lot of hurdles, namely that it was competing against a beloved movie franchise that hadn’t had an interesting movie in more than 40 years, then Dawn had it’s own issues to overcome. Namely that both the writers and director who ushered Rise to the theaters and made it a smashing success had left/been fired from the sequel which like with the release date of RoboCop being changed is never a good sign.

Like with RoboCop and Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn deals with a lot of heady subjects. Here, it’s a decade after a virus has wiped out most of mankind and the smart apes of Rise have settled in the forests around San Francisco forming their own community. But when what’s left of mankind meets the apes when trying to restore power to their city via a hydroelectric dam things can go one of two ways.

First, mankind and the apes can come to an understanding and help one and other into an uncertain future. Or man and apekind’s baser instincts can come into play that has each species convinced of the ill intentions of the other leading to outright hostilities and war.

Dawn is an interesting examination of what happens when tiny events go one way or another and end up shaping history.

And this fall Interstellar launched. While I can’t personally attest to the quality of this film, because (cough) I’ve yet to see it, friends who’s opinions I trust said that it was a good movie if it gets a little lost in the end.

Four quality “hard” sci-fi films in one year is pretty good considering we can go years and years between any sci-fi movies, let alone “hard” ones.