It seems it’s the new age of realistic-looking science-fiction movies. And it’s not before time; the big-budget blockbuster cgi-driven monstrosities have finally ground takings to a halt. Screenrant (http://screenrant.com/summer-movie-blockbuster-box-office-bombs/) has a great list of the reasons why, and it’s ultimately due to overdoing effects and underdoing story.
The last realistic-looking sci-fi movie was Duncan Jones’s Moon with Sam Rockwell; made on a shoestring (as compared to sci-fi movies of a similar screen-time), this was a survival mystery, with nods to movies like 2001 and Outland (among others). It placed story-first and the effects were, interestingly, mainly old-school models.
The only prior movie I can remember that came close in story was Sunshine (2007), but the issues with Sunshine’s story are manifest in the seemingly sudden slide on a narrative banana peel from drama to slasher-flick. Moon didn’t suffer this jarring transition and stuck with the storyline. The cloning storyline was a suspension of disbelief, but it wasn’t an ongoing expectation to leave my brain by the door.
Having seen the trailer for Europa Report, we have an intriguing mix of near-future technology, a space-shot to the Jovian moon Europa, followed by a sudden, shocking story twist which will drive the characters into unknown territory. Gravity is an (arguably) near-past drama of a space-shuttle being hit by debris, and one of the astronauts (Sandra Bullock) left spinning, untethered and unpowered in Earth orbit.
The similarities: recognisable technology, developed from what’s in production right-now. The plots have sudden danger and the potential for death in the void of space, where not-only can no-one hear you scream, but if you get into trouble, you are really, really screwed.
I think this man-made danger is what will set these movies apart from the standard fare of alien-invasion blockbusters (which one Wikipedia article has equated to nazis from space http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Nazis; not to be confused with the low-budget, yet pretty satisfying Iron Sky). There has only really been a single event in human history – Apollo 13 – where astronauts were put into a position where they would not return to Earth; indeed Nixon, president at the time, had two speeches written: one for if Astronauts Lovell, Sweigert and Haise returned and one if they did not.
Europa Report and Gravity are not science-fiction movies where the fate of the world is at stake, with the resulting disconnection from reality this causes; these are movies where a couple of human lives hang in the balance, real people who have taken risks and who are in very real trouble.
To that end, I’m really looking forward to seeing them.