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MOVIE PREVIEWS: Remaining Science Fiction Films of 2011

Sci-fi films look to bring in the green (in ticket sales and alien goo) for the rest of 2011

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Every year, lots of science fiction films arrive at the box office. Science fiction doesn’t just mean stories about aliens. Any fictional story that deals in any way with science – take the recently releasedThe Adjustment Bureauand Limitless – would be classified as sci-fi. Groff Conkin, a science fiction anthologist and writer, had a great description of what constitutes sci-fi. "The best definition of science fiction is that it consists of stories in which one or more definitely scientific notion or theory or actual discovery is extrapolated, played with, embroidered on, in a non-logical, or fictional sense, and thus carried beyond the realm of the immediately possible in an effort to see how much fun the author and reader can have exploring the imaginary outer reaches of a given idea's potentialities." A scientist friend who usually hates 90% of them, is always anxious about seeing each and every one. When we saw Moon together, I liked it; he was disappointed. Sure, it was a little too much like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it was a decent debut from director Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie), and I was surprised an Oscar nomination didn’t come for Sam Rockwell.

Here are rest of the sci-fi films coming out in 2011 [left out the sequels, such as Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Twilight: Breaking the Dawn, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II and Underworld 4, as well as super hero movies, which would include Captain America: The First Avenger and Green Lantern]

Apollo 18 This is based on the real story of a NASA mission that was abandoned due to budget cuts. The ‘70s movie Capricorn One starring O.J. Simpson and James Brolin had a similar premise; NASA had budget problems and technical difficulties, which resulted in a fake trip to Mars. The astronauts overhear their bosses say that the best thing to do is have the ship incinerate upon re-entry into the atmosophere to assure the astronauts don’t talk about the fake mission. They escape into the desert and are systematically hunted down and killed, with reporter Elliot Gould suspecting something. Apollo 18 is like a mix of that movie and Moon – with a little Blair Witch Project in terms of the shaky camera realistic approach. In this, the government keeps the close encounter quiet.

Attack The Block Having been a tad disappointed with Battle: Los Angeles, I don’t have the highest hopes for this, which kind of looks like that and Independence Day. Aliens invade London. And how do the humans fight back? With brooms and baseball bats. Hey – a baseball bat was used to stop the aliens in the M. Night Shyamalan movie (underrated) Signs. I don’t have much hope for Attack the Block.

The Darkest Hour Here’s another one along the lines of Battle: Los Angeles, War of the Worlds, and the rest. Only instead of the United States, it’s Russia under attack. This is the story of kids that try to survive after the aliens invade. It had a budget of over $44 million, and stars Emile Hirsch, Rachael Taylor, Max Minghella, Olivia Thirlby, and was directed by Chris Gorak. He was the art director on Tombstone and Fight Club, as well as the underrated sci-fi film Minority Report. The only other movie he’s directed, he also wrote: Right at Your Door, which takes place in Los Angeles, and had a town dealing with dirt bombs that go off.

Cowboys & Aliens They’ve been promoting this movie at the last few Comic Con’s, and everyone thinks the premise sounds horrible – aliens invading Earth – but not in the year 2025, or even 2011, but back in the old west, with cowboys trying to fight them off. Here’s why I think this might be good. The cast includes current James Bond Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell (Moon) and Olivia Wilde, who did well in Tron. Steven Spielberg produced it, which would be promising if it was 1982, but he totally killed a great story that Stanley Kubrick was giving us with A.I. That was about a robot boy who parents have to give up when he becomes “dangerous.” It’s directed by Jon Favreau, who was so great in Swingers and Made, before he became a talented director (Iron Man). The writers did theStar Trek and Transformer films, so who knows. You’ll have to go into this with an open mind. We can all name movies this reminds us of that we love and hate; remember that Will Smith / Kevin Kline turkey Wild Wild West?

Immortals Director Tarsem Signh, who gave us The Cell and The Fall, drops the “The” and gives us Immortals. It’s the latest in Mickey Rourke’s continued strong comeback run. It’s the story of Theseus, a mythic warrior, battling Titans and demons. Let’s hope it’s not like Clash of the Titans from last year.

Super 8 Don’t confuse this with 8mm, the Nicolas Cage / Joaquin Phoenix film (which wasn’t half bad). Writer/director J.J. Abrams tells the story of six kids witnessing a train crash in their small town, while shooting their own movie. When kids discover a dead body in Stand by Me, it’s a great story for a completely different reason. In this film, the kids discover the train was carrying something that…might not be from this planet. I’m guessing this will be a huge blockbuster.

Real SteelHugh Jackman, known to sci-fi fans as Wolverine, stars in this adaptation of an old Twilight Zone. The episode is based on a short story written by sci-fi author Richard Matheson. It has a washed-up boxer training gigantic robots (if memory serves, the Twilight Zone had robots that looked human). With The Fighter being so popular last year, perhaps boxing stories should all be remade (Twilight Zone guru Rod Serling also wrote the screenplay for the great film Requiem of a Heavyweight). The poor man’s Will Smith appears in this (actor Anthony Mackie, who was good in the underwhelming The Adjustment Bureau earlier this year).

Contagion How can you not be jazzed by a sci-fi movie done by Steven Soderbergh with his friends Matt Damon (The Adjustment Bureau), Gwyneth Paltrow (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Iron Man), Marion Cotillard (Inception), Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Jude Law (A.I.), Laurence Fishburne (who has done many interesting sci-fi pics), and Elliot Gould, who was one of the biggest stars of the ‘70s. These guys are dealing with a virus; deadly viruses are a somewhat common theme (Outbreak, Andromeda Strain).

The Thing One of my big beefs with Hollywood is the constant remake of films. And The Thing, along with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, have been done at least three times. Do we really need another version? This is a prequel to the 1982 classic by John Carpenter, a guy that liked to do sci-fi films (Ghosts of Mars, Vampires, Village of the Damned, The Fog, Starman, Christine, Memoirs of an Invisible Man). The story involves folks fighting an alien that shape-shifts in the Antarctic. This Thing has Joel Edgerton, an interesting actor (Animal Kingdom), whose brother is a former stuntman who did one of my favorite movies of last year (The Square). The fact that Ronald D. Moore, a Battlestar Galactica writer, did this screenplay means nothing, as TV script-writers can be so hit-and-miss when tackling big screen projects.

Now When Gattaca came out, I was nuts over it and surprised it didn’t do better at the box office. Well Andrew Niccol, the man behind that (and the Truman Show script), is giving us this sci fi film. Alex Pettyfer (who has been in two bad sci-fi movies this year; I Am Number Four and Beastly) is in this, along with the gorgeous Olivia Wilde (Tron), and singer Justin Timberlake, who has actually proved to be a decent actor (not just in Social Network, but check out his performance in the underrated Black Snake Moan, with Samuel Jackson). This is a story about scientists that have found a way to stop the aging process. And what is the problem with this fountain of youth premise? Well, if people aren’t dying, the planet gets rather populated, dontcha think? We then delve into Logan’s Run territory, when people over 25 are forced to buy an extended lease on life, which creates this two-tier society.

Rise Of The Apes Tim Burton’s movies are always visually stunning, with weak scripts. This is another stab at the premise, with Tim Roth. James Franco has his arm back, and is playing a scientist that is involved in research that brings forth a new variety of apes.

The Divide Science fiction films love the post-apocalyptic scenarios. I remember recommending the movie The Book of Eli (Mila Kunis / Denzel Washington). Some liked it, some didn’t. I loved it. Rosanna Arquette, who was huge in the ‘80s (don’t recall seeing since her quick scene in Pulp Fiction) is in this. The Big Apple suffered a big demolition of some kind, and a handful of survivors battle armed men in decontamination suits (which always look scary in movies, don’t they?). And when people are fighting to survive, they quickly turn on each other.