MostlyFilm’s Preview of 2014 – Part 3

We wrap up our look ahead to the next twelve months with Indy Datta’s most anticipated science fiction films of the year.

ScarJo

Her and Under the Skin

Two Scarlett Johansson movies.

In Spike Jonze’s Her, a sad-sack divorcé, played by Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with a sentient operating system, voiced by Johansson as HAL’s sexy sister. In Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, freely adapted from Michael Faber’s novel, she reappears as an extra-terrestrial visitor who drives around Scotland in a van, luring sexually awestruck men to their gruesome deaths. Jonze’s film has received almost unanimous critical acclaim and awards attention, whereas festival screenings of Glazer’s confrontationally unconventional film have generated extreme reactions from both ends of the spectrum.

Both will surely be more worthy of your time than ScarJo’s other genre outing of the year, in a fucking Luc Besson flick.

Hard to be a God and Snowpiercer

Two films of impeccable pedigree that you might have to put in a bit of work to see.

Hard to be a God, the cult novel  – about the elite of future humanity meddling in the affairs of less advanced civilisations – by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (who also wrote Roadside Picnic, adapted by Andrei Tarkovsky as Stalker) has been filmed before, starring Werner Herzog, apparently with mediocre results. The new adaptation by the late Aleksei German (whose Khrustalyov, My Car! Is considered a masterpiece by many critics) was completed after his death and premiered at last year’s Rome film festival, but may be too challenging for even the most adventurous UK distributors.

The story of Snowpiercer is a bit different. Korean genre genius Bong Joon-Ho’s latest – the story of an underclass rebellion in a post-apocalyptic future where the last remnants of humanity live on a planet-circling train powered by a perpetual motion engine (!)  –  is the biggest-budget film in the history of Korea (while still modestly budgeted by Hollywood studio standards),  is already a hit in its home market, is mostly in English and features the recognisable faces of the likes of Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton and Chris Evans (as well as, for fans of Bong’s previous films, the recognisable face of Song Kang-Ho). But it’s stuck in distribution hell in English-speaking territories while Bong wrangles with US distributor The Weinstein Company over changes that they have demanded. In the meantime, the French DVD and Bluray of the film will be available soon, but it’s not clear if the discs will feature English subtitles (some of the dialogue is in Korean).

Guardians of the Galaxy and Jupiter Ascending

JA

Two megabudget studio space operas that have “Gigantic Box Office Disaster” written all over them.

Nobody is more bored than me of the way Disney has spent the last few years tearing the arse out if its Marvel IP, culminating in the moment, during the extravagantly meaningless and impossible to give the tiniest shit about climax of last year’s Iron Man 3, when I momentarily wondered if I had actually died and was having some kind of out-of-body experience. But if James Gunn can bring the low-rent vitality of his best work to this Avengers-unrelated property (about which I know nothing at all, something about blaster-toting space raccoons?), it could be fun.

I’ll confess that, even having watched the trailer that purportedly explains it, I also know nothing about the plot of Jupiter Ascending, the latest Wachowski extravaganza. But since the overthought drab disappointments of the Matrix sequels, the Wachowskis have twice swung for the fences with two films (Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas) so vivid, silly and unafraid of ridicule that I’d be there sight unseen anyway. Imagine how insane their version of Ender’s Game could have been, instead of the dutiful mediocrity of the film we actually got.

Interstellar and Transcendence

Two films from the Nolan stable that I’m trying to keep an open mind about.

The most intriguing thing about Interstellar is that everybody’s keeping their mouth shut.  That trailer gives away little more than the title already did, and after scouring the internet for hours for other information (googling for two minutes), the only other material I’ve been able to find is some on set photographs that are scarcely any more informative. So, at the moment, the mental calculus that determines how much I am looking forward to this movie goes a bit like this. On the one hand, it’s another Nolan brothers film, so it will be over-engineered, dour and pompous, lousy with tedious exposition yet still riddled with illogic, and Christopher Nolan probably still can’t tell his left from his right. On the other hand, woo! Giant spaceships!

Interstellar is the first feature film directed by Christopher Nolan and not shot by Wally Pfister since Following. That’s because Pfister has been working on his directorial debut, Transcendence  – from a script by first-timer Jack Paglen about a woman who tries to create a sentient copy of her dead husband inside a computer. The themes of Transcendence, echoing those of Her, and also of last year’s best science fiction film, Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess, couldn’t be more in vogue at the moment (as opposed to the SF golden-age classicism promised by the trailer and premise of Interstellar). But the trailer does make it look a bit like The Lawnmower Man.

(Postscript: I can’t wait for the BFI’s science fiction season this autumn.)

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