While science-fiction has, for a long time, been something of a secondary genre, the current age of effects-heavy summer blockbusters has turned sci-fi cinema into big business, with movies about aliens, robots, and men in spaceships having exciting space adventures among the most hyped and publicized films of the year, with trailers, billboards, Comic-Con panels, TV spots, and every form of advertising imaginable, creating anticipation months or more in advance. Indeed, most lists of highly anticipated films one can find on the Internet seem to be made up largely of sci-fi blockbusters.
But what are we really anticipating? What movies are we eagerly awaiting with baited breath? Before we answer that, it pays to think for a moment about why we anticipate films at all. For many people, anticipation means to look forward to something, but that’s only half of it. One can anticipate a grade, or a Christmas gift, eager not just in the hopes that it will be good, but in the fear that it will be bad. Anticipation, in many cases, is two parts excitement to one part anxiety. And for every film this year we look forward to with true enthusiasm, it seems there are two we just really hope won’t suck, and the wait is killing us.
Big Hero 6
Since it was announced that Disney had acquired Marvel Studios, the inevitability of an animated Marvel film was clear to see. Fans have waited long for an announcement, and finally, Disney/Marvel announced their intention to bring us an animated film starring……Big Hero 6? What, that Japanese team that hasn’t had a series since like 2008? Well…okay. It’s easy to poke fun, but really, there’s a lot to be excited about. This is, after all, a team that features robots, monsters, Samurai, and at least one chef, because why not.
But what makes it so interesting is that, aside from a few production stills, a brief trailer featuring just about nothing that exciting and a description, there’s nothing to go on about this film. What will it look like, which characters will be features, who will be in it? Considering it’s less than a year away, either Disney is flying by the seat of their pants in an unheard of way, or are playing this very close to the vest.
Everybody loves a mystery, and so far, Big Hero 6 is about as mysterious as the briefcase from Pulp Fiction. And if they don’t reveal something about it soon, it will likely result in just as many murders from excited fans.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a prequel no one asked for by a director no one had heard of, was better than anyone expected, and better than it had a right to be. But largely on the shoulders of Andy Serkis’ and, to a lesser extent, John Lithgow’s performances, the movie was a surprising success, and a sequel seemed inevitable.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, out this summer, continues the story of hyper-intelligent ape insurrectionist Caesar, as well as the tradition of needlessly cumbersome titles, apparently. Lithgow, James Franco and Draco Malfoy are out, and Gary Oldman and Kitty from Arrested Development are in, with the setting going all post-apocalypse, with the last survivors of the plague set up at the end of Rise fighting a losing war against Caesar’s apes.
Dawn is lower in the list, however, because unlike some other entries, there’s not much riding on it. There’s no apparent risk involved, no gamble that could pay off of blow up in our collective faces, just some good actors, good effects, an interesting set-up, and a solid predecessor to give us hope.
Wally Pfister is a rising name in Hollywood, and with good reason. After mostly working on TV and direct-to-video projects, the Chicago-born cinematographer started making waves after teaming with Christopher Nolan starting with Memento, a partnership that has netted Pfister awards and accolades. But now, the bird is leaving the nest and striking out on its own to soar like an eagle or meet certain doom on the pavement below, as Pfister is finally directing his own project, the sci-fi thriller Transcendence. The film looks interesting enough, a modern-day Frankenstein where Johnny Depp’s consciousness is converted into AI after an attack by anti-technology radicals leaves him dying of radiation poisoning. From the trailer, it’s plain to see that Transcendence will be pretty to look at, and Pfiser’s years of experience working on high-profile films does instill confidence.
The X factor however, is Depp, who, for all his talent, has still been having a rocky time of it, with the public growing increasingly weary of performances driven by funny affectations and white makeup. Once upon a time, Depp was a force to be reckoned with, but in recent years,his star has been declining and it’s gotten increasingly harder to point out his merits as an actor in the face of more collaborations with Tim Burton and more and more Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. Transcendence could be a turning point for Depp, a hail-mary pass that earns him back some respect after a rough patch. But it could just as easily be too little too late. Either way, it will be interesting to see which.
Many North American Godzilla fans (this writer included) are currently regarding Gareth Edwards’ high-profile second stab at an American-made version of Godzilla with the same trepidation with which one regards a brightly wrapped package gift in the shape of a timebomb. Oh sure, the cast is excellent, featuring such talents as Bryan Cranston. Juliette Binoche, and Ken Watanabe. The trailer sets the right mood, with a solid atmosphere of dread and the famous “I am become death” Oppenheimer quote to lend austerity and reinforce the nuclear allegory that the 1998 Roland Emmerich film mostly glossed over. The design of the creature seems much more in line with the radioactive lizard we all know and love, and less like the overgrown salamander that menaced Matthew Broderick and was handily defeated by a few sidewinder missiles, something the “real” Godzilla would laugh off. So far, fans have every reason to look forward to this second attempt.
But memories are short. We all remember how it turned out last time. We all remember the baby ‘zillas slipping on gumballs like a horde of sabertoothed Stooges. We all remember Hank Azaria’s insufferable comic relief cameraman. We all remember how Godzilla 2000 was given a publicized North American theatrical release seemingly as an apology to legions of howling fans shortly after. While sci-fi fans in general are looking forward to Godzilla, dedicated fans of the series are waiting even more eagerly, as much in the hopes that they’ll get it right as in the fear that we’ll be burned a second time.
Guardians of the Galaxy
It would be easy to say that Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is the most anticipated sci-fi movie of 2014 just because it has an weird and interesting setup and a promising director. Those familiar with James Gunn (an unfortunately small demographic) know him to be a quirky and more than slightly demented auteur of the crass, the crude, and the unusual, but not devoid of a certain amount of heart, unsurprising for someone who got his start as a writer for Troma studios. From the looks of things, Guardians seems a perfect fit for a director of his sensibilities, an offbeat space opera featuring, among other things, a gun-toting space raccoon and his angry tree friend. Guardians is doubtless Marvel’s riskiest project to date, introducing elements to their cinematic universe that many would say stray too far into wacky comic-book territory. Mostly the raccoon. People just can’t seem to wrap their heads around the raccoon.
But what makes the anticipation around Guardians so palpable is not so much that it could be good, but that it could just as easily be terrible. Granted, this is true of any film on this list, but anyone who stayed after the credits for Thor: The Dark World and saw Benicio del Toro’s scenery-chewing, bleach-blonde Collector knows that the spectre of camp is already looming over the proceedings like a hot-pink Sword of Damocles, and if Gunn strays too far in the wrong direction, the result could be a gaudy, ridiculous mess the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Joel Schumacher’s Batman films.
Guardians could be a great film, a quirky sci-fi adventure that shirks conventions of sanity and realism in the same way as the Hellboy movies or a Terry Gilliam film. One that takes the Marvel movie universe, and maybe even comic book films in a fun and exciting new direction, away from the grim and realistic tone of many comic films and into someplace more fun. It could also be a disaster for Marvel studios, one that fails to sell the public on its more “out there” concepts and aesthetics and crumples under over-the-top performances and campy tone. More than any other science-fiction film coming this year, nobody knows what to expect from Guardians, and the odds of it being a catastrophe are more likely than any comic film in recent memory, and fans of the genre the world over are sweating bullets to see which it will be.
Cowboys vs Dinosaurs
Well, it’s called Cowboys vs Dinosaurs. And Eric Roberts is starring. SOLD.
— Thomas O’Connor