This weekend I was at the movies with my lovely significant other watching The Proposal (verdict: about what you’d expect). Unusually for a by-the-numbers romcom, the pre-film previews showed no fewer than two promising science fiction films.
Science fiction is difficult to cleanly describe – it’s almost more of a flavor than a formula. The best I can do at the moment is to say that science fiction speculates on the consequences of some fundamental but scientifically plausible difference(s) between now and some other time. That time doesn’t necessarily have to be the future, by the way. Being set in the future does not science fiction make – The Prestige is much more pure SF than Star Trek. Star Wars isn’t really part of the genre at all.
The first advertised was The Time Traveller’s Wife. The science content is probably minimal; it’s not hard science fiction. This isn’t a bad thing. The Prestige wasn’t hard SF either but it’s still probably the best SF film I’ve seen in a very long time. The Time Traveller’s Wife seems to involve a man who time travels at random, leaving his romantic life tragically but movingly fragmented. The similarities to the not-SF film The Notebook are probably not coincidental, and if this one ends up doing as well among the same demographic I’m going to love the incongruity with the “traditional” science fiction audience stereotype.
The other is a Bruce Willis vehicle called Surrogates. It’s a more traditional piece of SF fare, sort of a blending of The Matrix and Minority Report. Robotic technology has advanced to the point where robots are indistinguishable from humans, and actual humans remotely control them via virtual reality from the safety of Matrix-style pods. Murders start happening, and Bruce Willis must solve them without getting his real body killed.
(Incidentally, this is why I don’t accept the “They’ve Matrixed themselves” as an explanation for the Fermi Paradox. Plugging yourself into a more agreeable virtual world does not at all exclude continuing to explore and affect the rest of the universe via surrogates or fully autonomous probes.)
I have to say I’m fairly pleased with this. Two genuine and possibly high-quality science fiction films being advertised in front of a Bullock/Reynolds chick flick is a good sign for the mainstream acceptance of SF into the public consciousness. Hey, if it can happen for superhero flicks and comic book adaptations anything can happen.