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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Looking to the Future: 8 Science Fiction Movies to Watch for

Since this is a science fiction column, how about we do a little time traveling? After all, 2012 is just about over -- so what awaits us in the years ahead? Although smaller films are surely going to emerge at festivals, here are eight science fiction films coming out within the next year or so that may very well deserve your valuable time and money. Since we're using a time machine (and because this is the Internet), I will also prejudge each movie without having seen a frame from most of them.
Release Date: April 19, 2013
What Is It: That's an excellent question. For a big-budget sci-fi action movie due to arrive in theaters in about five months, we know surprisingly little about Oblivion. We know that Tom Cruise stars as a soldier sent to help wipe out an alien race on a distant planet, but has second thoughts (shades of Avatar). We also know that he'll be joined by Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj "Jaime Lannister" Coster-Waldau. We also know that this may be director Joseph Kosinski's last big chance to prove himself as a director of blockbusters after Tron: Legacy sorta fell on its face.
Best-Case Scenario: Kosinski's career is rejuvenated and we're gifted with a mainstream but perfectly enjoyable epic that continues Cruise's string of picking interesting (if not always smart) roles.
Worst-Case Scenario: Kosinski delivers a flat, muddled experience once again proving that, for all of his technical expertise, he can't tell a story to save his life.

Star Trek Into Darkness
Release Date: May 17, 2013
What Is It: It's the sequel to J.J. Abrams' hugely successful and incredibly fun Star Trek reboot! But that's all we know. Seriously. In typical Abrams fashion, the production has held all of its cards close to its chest, working at all costs to keep loose lips from sinking the ship. Chris Pine and the rest of the cast are returning, and Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch is playing a villain, but other than that the entire film remains a frustrating enigma.
Best-Case Scenario: The film is just as much fun as its predecessor (and has a more coherent script to boot!) and the joy of discovering every story twist and development while actually watching the movie makes everyone appreciate Abrams' super-secretive process.
Worst-Case Scenario: It's a typical sequel -- bigger and dumber and louder and less comprehensible -- and we all resent Abrams for treating such a lousy project like something that would surprise us.

After Earth
Release Date: June 7, 2013
What Is It: Will Smith is now using his immense power to transform his son into the second coming of himself, and After Earth is the next step in that grand plan, putting him at the forefront of a science fiction epic. Smith Senior plays a military hero with the hilarious name of Cypher Raige, and Jaden Smith plays his son, Kitai. The plot follows the two of them as they're stranded on a hostile planet and hunted by something nasty and nonhuman. It's a pretty typical setup and sounds like the perfect opportunity for the two Smiths to co-headline a film… but the ever-controversial M. Night Shyamalan in the director's chair makes this a riskier project then it seems at first glance.
Best-Case Scenario: Shyamalan redeems himself for the abysmal The Last Airbender and proves that he's not only capable of delivering an effects-heavy summer crowd-pleaser, but an effects-heavy summer crowd-pleaser starring one of the world's few remaining movie stars.
Worst-Case Scenario: Shyamalan does his Shyamalan thing, doesn't listen to anyone with worthy constructive criticism and tarnishes the Smith family legacy until their next effort with a better filmmaker.

Pacific Rim
Release Date: July 12, 2013
What Is It: Guillermo del Toro is making a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters for control of the planet. I'm already in line, thank you very much.
Best-Case Scenario: It's everything it sounds like it is.
Worst-Case Scenario: del Toro's curse/aversion to success strikes again and the film is a flop, killing all 37 projects the visionary director has in the pipeline.

Release Date: August 9, 2013
What Is It: Four years after his incredible District 9 earned critical praise, Oscar nods and $100 million at the box office, director Neill Blomkamp is back with another sci-fi film that attempts to blend Paul Verhoeven-inspired pitch-black social satire with Paul Verhoeven-inspired bloody action. Matt Damon stars as a dying man living with the poor classes on Earth who realizes that his salvation lies on the space station Elysium, which orbits the planet and houses the rich and the elite of the human race. He's joined by Jodie Foster, William Fichtner and District 9 star Sharlto Copley. If his previous work is any indication, some of this cast will get exploded and/or mince-meated reel good.
Best-Case Scenario: Blomkamp proves that he's the closest thing this generation has to a Paul Verhoeven.
Worst-Case Scenario: Blomkamp proves that he's no Paul Verhoeven.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Release Date: November 22, 2013
What Is It: The sequel to this year's blockbuster smash hit The Hunger Games, which exceeded both critical and commercial expectations in just about every way. This follow-up finds Katniss and Peeta once again dragged into the ruthless political games of the Capital, and since this is the middle chapter of a trilogy, nothing will end well for anyone. This one will follow in its predecessor's footsteps and will surely be a box office smash, but with I Am Legend director Francis Lawrence replacing Gary Ross in the director's chair, the quality of the finished film is now a big question mark.
Best-Case Scenario: Lawrence goes above and beyond the call of duty, capturing the human emotions that elevated the original and kept it from being a Twilight-ed Battle Royale.
Worst-Case Scenario: Lawrence misses the emotional mark that made the first film strike a chord with audiences and Lionsgate has to deal with the fallout of having hired him to make two more of these things.

All You Need Is Kill
Release Date: March 7, 2014
What Is It: Less than a year after Oblivion will succeed or fail, another Tom Cruise-starring sci-fi film will hit theaters, although this one sounds different in just about every way possible. Think of it as Groundhog Day meets Robert Heinlein: In a future war, a soldier dies in battle but finds himself caught in a time loop, forced to reliving his dying minutes over and over again, surviving longer and becoming a better warrior every time. In other words: Video Game: The Movie! It's an interesting premise and director Doug Liman has made his fair share of solid movies, but it's that recently released image of Cruise in a mech suit that has me sold.
Best-Case Scenario: "That's what you get when you let the man who directed The Bourne Identity make a sci-fi action movie!"
Worst-Case Scenario: "That's what you get when you let the man who directed Jumper make a sci-fi action movie!"

Release Date: April 25, 2014
What Is It: Steven Spielberg directing. Chris Hemsworth, Anne Hathaway and Ben Whishaw. Drew Goddard writing. Well-liked source material. Evil killer robots. What's not to like? Oh, that's right. It's called Robopocalypse.
Best-Case Scenario: Spielberg and company deliver an exciting (and, judging by the book, bloody) look at the story that The Terminator and The Matrix so artfully sidestepped: an all-out war story about the final battle between man and machine.
Worst-Case Scenario: It lives up to the stinky badness of that title. Whoo boy.
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