The new millennium wasn’t initially kind to science fiction. Fantasy came back with a vengeance with two big franchises; The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. The rest of The Matrix trilogy didn’t receive the praise or attention that the first one did. George Lucas brought back Star Wars with a new prequel trilogy showing the fall of the Jedi and Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader. While the prequel trilogy were huge box office successes but they were decisive with critics and fans alike. The films had an over reliance on CGI with the actors not even standing in sets half the time, wooden acting, and awkward and unfocused writing. A far cry from the medium defining masterpieces of the original trilogy.
Not to say that science fiction was completely dead. Hollywood were bringing comic book characters to life with adaptions of X-Men and Spiderman. The animation juggernaut Disney also deceived to dip their toes into the world of science fiction with three different animated science fiction movies. Atlantis: The Lost Empire follows a team of scientists and explorers looking for the lost continent of Atlantis at the turn of the 20th century, Lilo and Stitch was about an alien criminal posing as a pet, and Treasure Planet which was Treasure Island in space! While Lilo and Stitch was the only one that was good, but it was nice to see them trying new kind of stuff especially with how formulaic the fantasy musical became at the end of the nineties.
There were a few sci-fi films made around this period but it wasn’t until Michael Bay’s adaptation of the toy line and cartoon, Transformers that science fiction really became main stream again. No one saw this coming, even the film makers. Transformers followed alien robots that can disguise themselves as vehicles. Two factions are in a content war with Decepticons as conquers with Autobots try to stop them. The plot can be boiled down to Transformers, more than meets the eye. Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons. CGI allowed the robots to fight with unrestrained speed. But there was something off with the Transformers movie. Not just that it was poorly made but there was something off in how it was presented. It’s hard to describe but there was something about the film gave off a jock vibe for lack of a better term. It felt like science fiction made for people who hated science fiction. While other films had crossover appeal but Transformers felt like it was exclusively made for non-fans.
While this was going on, everyone was predicating the collapse of the super hero genre. 2007 say the release of Spiderman 3 and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Both were disappointing sequels. 2008 would have the release of The Dark Knight, another Batman where he fights the Joker, and Iron Man, about a nearly unknown c-list super hero staring the has been Robert Downey Jr. So naturally both of these movies were wildly successful and highly influential. Iron Man was also the first attempt by Marvel Studios. Tried over the lack of creative control they had with the movies with characters they licensed out, Marvel comics decided to make they own movie studio. This allowed them to have greater control of their characters but also allowed them to do crossovers without any red tape. This allowed them to create a shared universe much like their comics. This helped push the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a pop culture phenomenon.
There has been a major science fiction blockbuster released every year. But a lot of these blockbusters are large scale action movies instead of quiet thoughtful movies. Of course, in order to achieve those special effects to create science fiction worlds cost money. And when you invest a lot of money in something, you want to know that you’ll get your investment back. So, you with something you know will have broad appeal. But science fiction has always been about expanding the mind and seeing the human condition in unique ways. The Hollywood studio and blockbuster environment is not conducive of that. However, there has been a few great science fiction films being released. Gravity, Her, and Ex Machina are just of the few films staying try the ideas of science fiction. Even this year saw the release of Arrival. It was a series look at first contact with alien life and all the problems that would until. Unfortunately, it seems that the film was over shadowed by the fantasy films Dr. Strange and Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them. It did make its money back and receive critical praise.
Where will science fiction go from here? Hard to say. It’s easier to look back and see the pattern than it is to see when you’re in the thick of it and try to predict the future. Maybe science fiction will fall in favor of realist drama. Maybe hard science fiction will continue to make a comeback. I’m not a psych nor do I have a time machine. I’m just fan, looking toward the stars.