Films of 2010 - Part One: Science Fiction

By Bernice Watson

2010 was another bumper year at the movies and as we nurse our New Year's Eve hangovers and begin to regret our over ambitious resolutions it's a perfect time to reflect on the year that was in science fiction...

In hot competition for the biggest sci-fi flick of 2010 are Christopher Nolan's reality bending dream scape romp Inception and the recently released nerd-gasm film of the year Tron: Legacy. Nolan's twisting, turning, dream within a dream within a dream tale of one man's final mission into the slippery world of dream espionage packed a heavy punch with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role and an impressive score of 87% positive reviews from international film critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Inception was the fifth highest grossing film of the year in the United States and the third highest grossing internationally (behind Toy Story 3 and Alice in Wonderland) and it is currently the twenty-fourth highest grossing film of all time. With a deliberately ambiguous ending designed to fill viewers with scowl-inducing uncertainty and spark post-cinema debates that go on for hours Inception immediately took its place among sci-fi’s heavy hitters.

Tron: Legacy, the long awaited sequel to the 1982 sleeper hit Tron, had geeks and sci-fi enthusiasts practically wetting themselves in excitement when special preview footage was screened at San Diego Comic-Con in 2008. Unfortunately, despite the hype and eager anticipation of Tron fans the world over, the latest installment has received a lukewarm critical reception. While visually dazzling and undeniably an impressive feat of visual effects the film tends to ring disappointingly hollow. Accused of being all style and no substance by critics Tron: Legacy received a very mediocre 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. Also, was it just me or did the age-defying computer effects used on Jeff Bridges make him look like a cartoon? I suspect history may see Tron: Legacy cast swiftly onto the scrap heap of Christmas blockbusters that burned brightly but briefly.

Keeping Tron: Legacy company on this year's list of sci-fi sequels are Iron Man 2 and Resident Evil: Afterlife. The fourth in the seemingly inexhaustible series of Resident Evil film adaptations, Resident Evil: Afterlife leapt eagerly on the 3D bandwagon. However its enthusiastic acceptance of the third dimension cannot save Afterlife from its B grade roots or its rather disappointing 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. On the upside though it is the highest grossing in the series and on November 23rd it became the most successful production in Canadian feature film history. So there you go, it's not all bad.

In April the much-awaited sequel to 2008's blockbuster smash hit Iron Man hit big screens in the UK. Expectations were running understandably high and the latest film in the series had big shoes to fill. In the main Iron Man 2 didn't disappoint either. Robert Downey Jr. returned to fill the title role with his lighting fast dialogue and keen sense of comic timing. Some new additions included Mickey Rourke as the film's vodka drinking Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (the film's 'Big Bad') and Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman / Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow. The addition of Scarlett Johansson to any film can only ever be a good thing and she will be reprising the role for Joss Whedon's upcoming Avengers film due for release in 2012 not to mention rumours of a Black Widow movie of her very own. Iron Man 2 scored a respectable 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Second opinion Iron Man 2 (DC):
Biggest disappointment of the year for me. Iron Man promised an awesome sequel, this wasn’t it. Bloated with two many characters/sub plots and off the pace for most of the picture. This superhero film draws uncomfortable parallels with Spiderman 3 and Xmen 3 yet seems to have got there a film early! Having said that, there is plenty of positives in the film just not enough to justify the hype. No turkey but a definite whiff of Cranberry Sauce none the less.

In January the Hughes brothers' proto-religious, post-apocalyptic, western The Book of Eli took a stab at the dystopian nuclear fall out vibe a la The Road that has been so popular in recent years but somehow fell a little short. Despite a solid cast including Denzel Washington in the lead role with Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis in support the story seems to lose its way and drift into irrelevancy. Rumour has it that a butchering in post-production is responsible for the less than stellar final product and that the original screenplay was actually far better. Nevertheless the fight scenes are good fun and the art direction makes it at least nice to look at. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a fairly average 48% but one particularly cranky critic condemned it as "a ponderous dystopian bummer." Ouch!

Other notable ventures in sci-fi in 2010 include Miguel Sapochnik's Repo Men starring Jude Law and Forrest Whitaker, Daybreakers starring Sam Neill, Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, and the latest in the Alien/Predators franchise, Predators, starring Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishborne and Topher Grace. Repo Men takes the idea of western society's over-reliance on credit and extrapolates the theme out to gruesome new lengths. Jude Law plays a repo man working for The Union, a multinational corporation who provides life saving organ replacements at exorbitant prices. Watching Law remove an artificial liver from one unfortunate individual who has defaulted on his payments is not for the faint hearted but effectively sets the scene for this capitalism vs humanism David and Goliath tale. Repo Men received fairly negative reviews and scored a weak 22% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Predators directed by Nimrod Antal (Armored, Vacancy, Kontroll) continues the franchise started by 1987's Predator this time following a group of humans who find themselves dumped on an alien world to be used as training targets for the predator aliens. The twist is that each of the humans has been selected for their killer instincts or ability to take life without remorse. So the title is actually ambiguous because the humans themselves are also predators, get it? I know, that's deep, right? Seriously though Predators actually scored an unexpectedly respectable 64% on Rotten Tomatoes and opened to generally favourable reviews.

Daybreakers is another nice little jaunt through Vampire-ville, this time with a sci-fi noir feel. You could be forgiven for never wanting to see another vampire film ever again having just lived through the squealing, crying, panty-throwing nightmare that is Twilight but I can assure you that the vampires in Daybreakers never sparkle, there is no teen angst and very little self-pity. Daybreakers is set in 2019 when almost everyone has been turned into a vampire. With the human population dwindling rapidly vampire kind faces a global food shortage of epic proportions. Enter Lionel "Elvis" Cormac (Defoe) who reveals his cure for vampirism to our protagonist Edward Dalton (Hawke). Various shenanigans ensue. Daybreakers received mixed reviews and scored 67% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Second opinion Daybreakers (DC):
I loved Daybreakers, it may not win awards for originality but as old school action/sci-fi films go – it really delivers its blood soaked payload.

Fans of a good, old fashioned alien invasion got lucky this year with the release of Skyline, directed and produced by the Brothers Strause, and Monsters, directed by Gareth Edwards. Skyline is the more straightforward of the two, big alien ships arrive and hover over the world's major population centres, our small group of characters try to evade capture, some die horribly while others survive. You know the drill. Its supposed to be the first in a series of films that will continue the story so watch this space. Skyline received an absolutely dismal 14% on Rotten Tomatoes - nuff said. Monsters, on the other hand, is a bit of a different animal. Edwards not only directed the film but also wrote and cinematographed it, doing all the visual effects himself. The film's budget came in under $500, 000 and the whole thing was shot entirely on location (often without asking permission) and features real people who just happened to be wandering past as 'extras'. The film follows photojournalist Andrew (Scoot McNairy) and rich girl Samantha (Whitney Able) as they try to make their way home through post-alien invasion Mexico. However Monsters is not your classic 'them vs us' invasion flick instead choosing to also tackle political themes and the fledgling relationship developing between the two main characters. Monsters received a favourable 72% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Second opinion Monsters (DC):

I wanted to like this film I really did but ultimately it bored me rigid (that's what happens when you watch films in coffins). I can’t deny that the idea and the aesthetics were genius, I just don’t think the plot was compelling enough. But for a low budget debut it was pretty decent and has earnt Edwards the right to direct the official Godzilla reboot! So more monsters ahoy!

Finally, saving the most unsettling for last, Vincenzo Natali's science run amok sci-fi thriller Splice starring Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley and Delphine Chaneac opened in UK theatres to generally positive reviews (74% on Rotten Tomatoes). Tackling the increasingly pertinent question of how far is too far in genetics Splice follows brilliant young researchers Clive and Elsa as they push the boundaries of gene splicing for medical research. When the pharmaceutical company funding their research bans them from including human DNA in their experiments Elsa defies the prohibition (to Clive's dismay and horror) and creates Dren. As Dren's rapid development sees her change from something akin to a bald bunny rabbit to more human (and disturbing) realms in a matter of weeks Elsa and Clive begin to feel their control of the situation slipping away from them. Needless to say the film's overall message seems to be 'just because you can, doesn't mean you should'. Splice will leave you pondering but also a little queasy.

Second opinion Splice (DC):
The concept was pretty sound and for large parts of the film - the script and acting deliver great promise. Sadly there are a handful of calamitous scenes that pull the fabric and credibility of this film apart.  When cheap shocks replace suspense with school boy titters you know you may as well give up!

So there you have it, 2010 is almost over and it's time to start looking forward to what 2011 has in store for us all. Among others I'll be looking forward to Battle Los Angeles due out on 11th March. Hopefully it will be just one of many quality science fiction films hitting theatres in the new year!


Read Part 02

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