When I was young, summer always heralded some of the best science fiction films. All year long, I would wait to see what to would come next to the local theaters: Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Alien — to name a few.
These were the films that made me glad to be a kid. I would walk out of a movie theater into the summer night, look up into the sky, and wonder what was out there among the stars… or what horrors awaited us here on Earth.
This year, the Summer of Smackdown includes some pretty original entries. Green Lantern could rightly be called science fiction. But we covered it — and other comic book heroes — in the spotlight we did on superhero movies. So I won’t repeat them here.
Super 8 (June 10)
From the dream team match-up of Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams, Super 8 looks to be part E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial and part Cloverfield. A small Ohio town encounters the unknown when a train derails on a warm summer night in 1979. When animals and people begin disappearing, the military steps in to control the situation. But the answers to what was on that train may be uncovered by a a young boy and his friends with their super 8 camera.
Directed by and based on an original screenplay by Abrams, this film evokes a strong feeling of nostalgia for me. I don’t know if it’s the small town 1970s setting, or the fact that the trailer seems like an homage to Spielberg’s work. All I know is that they have made a potential blockbuster that is based on an original screenplay, instead of a comic, book, or a previous film. That hasn’t happened in a long time.
Check out our Smackdown! of Super 8 -vs- E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Another Earth (July 22)
From the Sundance Film Festival comes an unassuming contender for summer sci-fi success. Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures, Another Earth combines the science fiction premise of a mirror planet of our own appearing in the universe. How would we react, knowing that another version of our world was just a short visit away?
The film stars Brit Marling as Rhoda, a young woman who is jailed after causing a fatal car accident when the second Earth appears in the sky. After serving her time, she seeks out the widower (William Mapother) of the family she killed, intending to apologize. But she ends up being hired as his assistant and slowly falls in love with him instead.
A contest to visit the newly found Earth prompts Rhoda to consider how things might have gone differently. She wants to discover what her life would have been like if she had not caused the fatal accident, and see if there’s a way to change the past.
While Another Earth is not as well-known as some of the mega-blockbusters out there, it does have some serious buzz around it. This film is likely to show up at art houses instead of multiplexes, but it may be worth seeking out. Don’t miss an opportunity to support a film that strives to be original in an age of endless sequels and adaptations.
Cowboys & Aliens (July 29)
From the director of Iron Man comes a Western with a twist. Filmmaker Jon Favreau gives us a film that crosses the classic Western with the alien-invasion movie in an adaptation of the comic book Cowboys & Aliens.
Set in the New Mexico Territory in 1875, Cowboys & Aliens stars Daniel Craig as a stranger with no memory of his past. The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. When he stumbles into the town of Absolution, he discovers they don’t welcome strangers. They live in fear of the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). It’s a town that lives in fear.
But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by an inexplicable threat from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters challenge everything the residents have ever known.
This film gives audiences a lot to be excited about. It’s one lone cowboy against a terror from beyond our world. Joined by an arsenal of top moviemakers — Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci — Favreau brings a new type of Western-hybrid action-thriller to the blockbuster race. I expect this one to be a big box-office success, despite arriving late in the summer.
Coming Up: Cowboys & Aliens (2011) -vs- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (August 5)
Forget about that awful Planet of the Apes “reimagining” that Tim Burton did in 2001. Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes the story back to its roots, where the madness all began…
Set in present day San Francisco, the film centers on James Franco as a scientist looking for a cure for Alzheimer’s. Experimenting on a chimpanzee named Caesar, he unlocks a way to rebuild the brain’s pathways, increasing intelligence. Unfortunately, intelligence doesn’t also breed compassion or kindness. Hanging in the balance are the destinies of man and primate.
The Oscar-winning visual effects team that brought to life the worlds of Avatar and The Lord of the Rings is breaking new ground, creating a CGI ape that delivers a dramatic performance of unprecedented emotion and intelligence.
Can we all just agree that this looks damn scary? I love apes, but when I see Caesar looking around with an intelligence that chimps shouldn’t have, it gives me the creeps. This is one of those movies that combines science fiction and horror in a cautionary tale for the ages. Move over Frankenstein. Science fiction just got a whole lot scarier.
Coming Soon: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) -vs- I, Robot (2004)
Apollo 18 (August 26)
And while we’re on the subject of scary science fiction… have you seen the trailer for Apollo 18?
Apollo 18 is a “found footage” film set in December 1973, about a post-Apollo 17 mission to the Moon that takes on a premise of why NASA discontinued its moon missions.
Directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and produced by Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Night Watch), the plot involves a government coverup of a previously unknown Apollo 18 mission during which parasitic lifeforms on the Moon were discovered. Think of this as Alien set in our own cosmic backyard. Here the threat to humanity isn’t on a planet light years away. It’s here, on our moon, and we just woke it up.
If you enjoy horror movies with an almost documentary style to them (e.g. The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield) this will be right up your alley. Once again, the line between science fiction and horror is blurred in a film that seems to be one part conspiracy theory and one part horror film. Personally, I was ready to see this film after seeing the initial trailer. I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers until the film comes out. But I think this is going to finish the summer with a bang.