Sci-Fi Cinema Stimulation, Deep in Oblivion…

Following up from last week’s excitement about The Hieroglyph Project and awe-inspiring possibilities of implementing science fiction ideas in actual reality, I want to write briefly about sci-fi film. I’ll keep it concise, ’cause your attention span probably can’t take it and I should save my longer, lyrical waxings about movies for proper film columns that haven’t been dashed off like spontaneous blog posts.

This weekend I went and saw Oblivion and I really liked it and got a lot out of it. Ryan Lambie of Den of Geek also really liked it and got a lot out of it, consequently exploring some of it in this spoiler-packed investigatory piece. It’s a compelling picture that touches upon a lot of resonant themes and, holding back so I don’t spoil it for people (it’s best off seen as cold as possible), it got me grappling with questions about existential purpose, memory, humanity and its relationship to both itself and technology. Big themes, my brethren. It appealed to me because I find this stuff stimulating and enjoy it when my pop culture stirs my soulstuff and massages my grey matter.

Sci-fi is my cup of tea and I dig the genre’s aesthetic trappings anyway. Oblivion reminded me of so many classic science fiction features and a few other things like the Portal videogames so it appealed to me. It didn’t just feel like a flagrant rip-off, however, and I recommend it as an intelligent and subtle big-budget film. Marketing and potential audience misconceptions may have it saddled as a brainless Tom Cruise action blockbuster but that’s not what it actually is at all. Another Den of Geek link here: this interview with director Joseph Kosinski discusses the original drive and vision behind the project and highlights the problems of pitching a film like this to both studios and marketplaces.

It’s been pretty disappointing to come away from Oblivion to read reviews that, for the most part, have been very dismissive of the movie. Aside from the outright unimpressed reviews (2 stars and total disdain) there are a great many that damn Oblivion with faint praise and admire its visuals and special effects but critique it as lacking intelligence or human interest.

Once again, I’m reluctant to delve deep into it for fear of spoiling what’s potential a very rewarding surprise cinema experience for someone. Still, I will say “Fuck you, Sally!” and state that, in my humble opinion, there’s a lot of intellectual depth and humanity embedded in the story and eking from between the frames. I’m a human being with some intelligence and I got it and I’d encourage others to watch it to see if they share my experience and not those who found it lacking on various levels.

Of course, experience of film or any artwork is subjective and maybe I’m very sensitive to the sci-fi genre in particular. I’ve found in recent years that the most resonant and affecting movies – on both an emotional and intellectual level – have been what you might categorise as sci-fi. Mind-expansion, extraordinary interest and masses of ideas are always in these stories if you care to engage with them. Even if they’re impressing themselves as a straight-forward action flicks, there’s always depth beneath the surface as this philosophical analysis of Dredd shows.

I’m not convinced when works of the genre are dismissed as ‘all style and no substance and/or no soul’ and honestly believe that, in terms of cinema, we’re currently experiencing something of a Platinum Age of Sci-Fi. There are so many excellent films being made and exciting proposals being greenlit that it’s glorious to be a genre fan. These are ambitious pictures of great intelligence – both emotional and cerebral intelligence – and they’re all accessible as both entertainment, brainfood or android-chickensoup for the soul. A few sci-fi films – films that have made me think and feel – from the past few years that I personally recommend and feel back up my conviction: Moon; The Adjustment Bureau; Source Code; Rise of the Planet of the ApesIn Time; District 9; Safety Not Guaranteed; Never Let Me Go.

There are more but most of all I’ve got to celebrate Rian Johnson’s Looper as the perfect illustration of how an original sci-fi story can touch your heart and mind. Such is my emotional connection to that film that I can’t articulate it eloquently and tend to just burst into tears as I meditate on its bittersweet beauty.

Ultimately, just watch and appreciate the rich and resonant sci-fi cinema that’s out there and happening right now. Oblivion is added to the list and in years to come we’ll look back and say “Hey, they were making pretty potent and profound films back then. What’s more, they’re awesome movies!” I’ve seen the future and know that this will come to pass…

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