The summer may be over, but there's still awesome science fiction to be seen.
The summer moviegoing season is finally winding to a close, with some unexpected victors (http://www.giantfreakinrobot.com/topic/world-war-z), some awesome surprises (Europa Report), and some big fat duds (R.I.P.D: Budget estimated at $130 million, worldwide gross of $59 million). Now it’s time to look forward to fall. For the movies, that mainly means Oscar bait and interesting smaller films; on the TV front it means new shows. Some will succeed, some will fail…and we hope at least one of them will actually be good. Here’s what to look forward to in the final months of 2013!
Riddick (September 6)
After Chronicles of Riddick bombed at the box office in 2004 — it took in $92 million worldwide, against a $105 million budget — it looked like the adventures of the anti-heroic Richard B. Riddick were done on the big screen. Instead, director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel have resurrected the franchise pretty much through sheer force of will (and the leveraging of Diesel’s house). Riddick looks to be a return to the formula that worked so well the first time: Riddick being a badass and killing things in the dark. Twohy and Diesel obviously still have big plans for the character, so here’s hoping if we get a fourth one, it finds a way to mix the best elements of Chronicles and Pitch Black.
The Colony (September 20)
As with a lot of recent and upcoming science fiction, The Colony opens after the Earth has become a serious mess. In this case, attempts at weather control to help diminish the effects of climate change have backfired, spurring a new ice age and forcing the few survivors underground. After receiving a distress signal from another nearby colony, the leaders of Colony 7, including Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) and Mason (Bill Paxton), organize a mission to investigate. Once they arrive, they discover a faint glimmer of hope overshadowed by a threat far more disturbing than the cold. Sadly, the early reviews of The Colony have not been kind. With a few strong cast members, The Colony might be worth a watch on Netflix or as a matinee, but from the sound of things, otherwise it’s probably best left out in the cold.
Person of Interest (September 24, CBS)
This is a show I bailed on early, in spite of a solid cast and intriguing concept — a genius billionaire and a former CIA agent use a Machine capable of predicting violent crimes before they happen to ensure that they don’t happen at all. I stuck around through half a season before becoming frustrated that PoI was basically just another middle-of-the-road CBS procedural with some neat sci-fi elements. However, I’ve heard numerous people praising the show this past season, suggesting that creator Jonathan Nolan (the Dark Knight trilogy) has elevated the show into a meditation on the nature and perils of artificial intelligence, and that’s intrigued me enough to give the show another chance. Certainly, in this age of NSA surveillance and ever-diminishing privacy, Person of Interest has never been more timely. (It will also be interesting to see how Nolan explores similar themes with the just-announced HBO Westworld series.)
Revolution (September 25, NBC)
Revolution was largely an exercise in frustration during its freshman season. Even though it’s part of my job to keep on top of TV science fiction, it was rough going when the entire first half of the season was a road trip in search of an annoying character that I wanted dead anyway. With its return from the hiatus, Revolution began to shift into a different beast, broadening the scope and raising the stakes as we learned more about the shape of society 15 years after a worldwide blackout that killed everything running on electricity. It was a definite improvement across the board, and the show began to show real potential as it wrapped up its first season. Creator Eric Kripke also earns bonus points for revealing the cause of the blackout before season one was done, thus demonstrating that he had learned the lessons of Lost and wasn’t going to string us along indefinitely with the questions the show raises. Both Farscape creator Rockne S. O’Bannon and former Supernatural writer/Tick creator Ben Edlund are joining the writing staff for season two, so that alone should be reason enough to tune in.
Gravity (October 4)
Director Alfonso Cuaron earned a lifetime slot on my “must-see” list after his brilliant, bleak Children of Men, and the early trailers for Gravity are literally breathtaking. I, like many, raised an eyebrow at the casting of George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as a pair of imperiled astronauts, but early reviews suggest the movie is a triumph. A few months ago Europa Report beautifully conjured the wonder and danger of outer space, and Gravity looks to be delivering more of that in spades. If nothing else, the sheer visual spectacle is already on full display in the trailers, masterfully recreating a zero-gravity environment is such a skillful way that I’m not entirely sure how they did some of it…and I don’t care to find out. I’d rather just grab some popcorn, settle into my theater chair, and let Cuaron take me on a ride.
The Tomorrow People (October 9, The CW)
The CW is banking heavily on genre content these days, with shows such as Arrow and Vampire Diaries doing good business for them. This fall they’re adding this reboot of the cult British series about X-Men-style teens gifted with amazing powers. They band together both to fight evil (sans spandex) and defeat the machinations of a “paramilitary group of scientists” (not a phrase I type often) called Ultra. The pilot was developed by Phil Klemmer, a veteran of noteworthy shows such as Chuck and Veronica Mars, based on the original 1973 British series. We’ve seen a ton of TV takes on superheroes in recent years, including Smallville, Syfy’s gone-too-soon Alphas, and another British show, Misfits, which is headed into its fifth and final season, so it’ll be interesting to see if The Tomorrow People can put a new spin on material that’s at the forefront of pop culture at the moment.
The Walking Dead (October 13, AMC)
It will be interesting to see how The Walking Dead unfolds this season. The previous finale left things in a state few expected, with the Woodbury storyline resolved (after a fashion) but with the villain of the season, the Governor, still at large and presumably hellbent on revenge. It also surprised many to see that the series wouldn’t be moving on from the prison, a choice that almost certainly involved financial considerations — the sets are already built, after all — but would still change the status quo somewhat. Now the small, tight-knit group of survivors we’ve been following for three seasons has swollen significantly with refugees from Woodbury, meaning things are going to be even more complicated than they have before. How long before one of them takes a run at Rick over leadership of the group? With yet another new showrunner in the form of Scott Gimple, who penned the standout episode “Clear” last season, here’s hoping The Walking Dead manages to avoid its earlier missteps and truly start firing on all cylinders this year.
Carrie (October 18)
In this age of reboots, a large majority of the returns to earlier wells wind up disappointing. Every once in awhile, however, somebody manages to honor the original material while putting their own spin on it. The new adaptation of Stephen King’s classic movie will be trying to one-up the 1976 version from Brian De Palma, but it’s locked in a serious asset in the form of the ridiculously talented Chloé Grace Moretz. She blew people away as Hit Girl in 2010’s Kick Ass, and then impressed again in another horror remake, 2010’s Let Me In. I’m stoked to see her play the tortured teenage outcast Carrie White, who develops telekinectic powers and serves up a prom her peers will never forget. Julianne Moore in the role of her crazy, abusive mother doesn’t hurt either.
About Time (November 1)
We don’t often find ourselves covering romantic comedies here at GFR, but when you throw time travel in with all the usual cliches, damn it, we just can’t help ourselves. That doesn’t mean About Time will be any good, mind you, but writer/director Richard Curtis has shown a talent for making rom-coms that rise above most of their forgettable ilk, such as Love Actually, and he’ll always have a bit of goodwill from me for having made Pirate Radio. About Time is the story of a young man who discovers that the men in his family all have the ability to travel through time. Rather than just picking up a future copy of Grays Sports Almanac and making a killing, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) decides to manipulate the time-space continuum to get himself a girlfriend (Rachel McAdams). What follows sounds to be very much in the vein of Groundhog Day, only without Bill Murray. And let’s face it, the phrase “without Bill Murray” has never been a good thing. There’s aren’t very many successful genre-tinted romantic comedies, but let’s hope About Time proves to be as sweet and surprising as, say, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
Ender’s Game (November 1)
Ender’s Game is easily one of the most talked-about science fiction movies of 2013. Unfortunately, a good chunk of that discussion has had little to do with whether the movie will be any good or not. Instead, Ender’s Game has become another small battlefield in the culture wars thanks to the virulently anti-gay rhetoric the author has trafficked in over the years. His feelings on the subject were never a secret among most genre fans, but they’ve been spotlighted like never before thanks to the upcoming film based on one of his most beloved books. Ultimately, everyone will have to make a choice whether they can justify supporting the film in spite of Card’s beliefs, or if they will refuse on moral grounds (and, I suppose, some will inevitably agree with him). Either way, the sad truth is that, however successful Ender’s Game may be, it won’t be as successful as it could have been if divorced from Card’s statements and actions. We’re hoping it’s a great movie, but there’s no question that many potential audience members — and many passionate and outspoken GFR readers — will refuse to see it on principle.
Almost Human (November 4, Fox)
This is easily my most anticipated new series of the year, and that’s primarily for two reasons: Bad Robot and J.H. Wyman. While the TV output of Abrams’ Bad Robot has been hit (Lost, Person of Interest) and miss (Alcatraz, the first half of Revolution’s first season), the last union of Bad Robot and Wyman resulted in Fringe, one of the best science fiction shows in ages. I’m hoping lightning will strike twice when it comes to Almost Human. Karl Urban will play the leads as a cop in the not-too-distant future where human officers are partnered with androids. Fringe mixed action, humor, trippy twists, and an elaborate, always entertaining mythology to take up the mantle of The X-Files in the very best way possible. Almost Human is must-see TV as far as I’m concerned.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (November 22)
I still haven’t seen the first Hunger Games, and the franchise is one of my pop-cultural blind spots. But there’s no overlooking that nearly $700 million worldwide box office. The second film has Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) traveling the districts on a Victory Tour. But this proves to be more than just a series of photo ops, and Katniss soon learns more about the simmering rebellion against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol. My bottom line? Jennifer Lawrence is awesome, so by all means go make a zillion dollars, Catching Fire.
Doctor Who (November 23, BBC America)
We won’t get season eight until next year, but we’ve still got two major Who events left to look forward to in 2013. First up, there’s the 50th anniversary special, which will team departing Doctor Matt Smith with the returning David Tennant and Billie Piper, all facing off against the legendary John Hurt as a previously unseen incarnation of the Doctor who was apparently not a very nice man. While some Whovians are irked by that concept, I think it’s a brilliant way to play with the mythology, and the idea that one of the Doctor’s selves did such bad things that all the following versions have never spoke of him is rich with storytelling potential. Just what exactly did he do? I’ve honestly got no idea, but I can’t wait to find out. And after the anniversary episode is wrapped up, we’ll only have a month to wait until the annual Christmas episode, during which we’ll get to meet the next Doctor, played by In the Loop’s Peter Capaldi. Jenna-Louise Coleman is returning as companion Clara, which is great news as far as I’m concerned, and it’ll be interesting to see how her chemistry changes once she’s dealing with a brand-new Doctor.
Her (December 13)
Another sci-fi romance to close out the list, Her looks to be a bit more high-minded than Richard Curtis’ About Time. Written and directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely writer whose life changes once he installs an advanced artificially intelligent operating system designed to cater to his every need. Rather than just getting a robot butler, he soon develops a friendship with “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) that develops into something more. Jonze’s flicks are always interesting, and Her is a look at technology and concepts that we could easily live to see. If you fall in love with a machine that seems human, is that love real? Can such a relationship actually be healthy and rewarding? How smart does an artificial intelligence have to become before we can consider it an equal? Those are all heady and looming questions, so Her should have a lot more going on than many cliched romance movies.