Whatever Happened To Smart Sci-Fi?

Where have all of the great science fiction films of today? What was the last intellectually-challenging film released by Hollywood? It's been too damn long!!

altered_states2 Late the other night I watched ALTERED STATES for the very first time. The film, released late in December of 1980, stars William Hurt as Edward Jessup, a university professor of abnormal psychology interested in researching sensory deprivation. To achieve this, he takes psychoactive drugs and locks himself inside a box for extended periods of time. Eventually, he regresses back to primitive forms of man ... and beyond. Here is the trailer: While watching the film, I found myself asking, "Why don't we have more challenging science fiction films like this one anymore?" It was actually startling to see a film in which every character in it has a college degree, and is able to discuss intricate and complex scientific ideas with some amount of conviction. Nobody showed up in a fat suit and farted. The characters didn't need to make awkward pop culture references at any time. These are intelligent and thoughtful people tackling disturbing questions about the universe. I thought it was refreshing. Intelligent science fiction films are not made today partly because of the expense of films like this. Most science fiction films require larger budgets, which means they need to recoup those costs on the backend. With the costs of film production rising, Hollywood simply doesn't trust the average American moviegoer to support smarter films like this. And who can blame them? When you see the unwashed, mouth-breathing masses lining up to chortle at brainless fart-fare like NORBIT or WILD HOGS or WOLVERINE, Hollywood has little reason to go out on a financial limb for more intelligent fare. Just toss another scoop of slop in the trough, and they'll squeal every time!!!Seriously - when was the last time we had an exceptionally intelligent science fiction film? Some might argue TIMECRIMES, although that film is more of a gimmick than it is a serious film about time travel. Darren Aronofsky's THE FOUNTAIN is a possible contender, even though the film doesn't really work. Perhaps films like PI or PRIMER might be the best examples, although tellingly both were made outside of Hollywood. The last intellectually-stimulating science fiction film from Hollywood might be THE MATRIX a decade ago. Suffice it to say, films of that caliber are quite rare. metropolis1 When I look back on the history of film, it's shocking to see how few chances are being taken today in the area of science fiction. Where are bold risk takers like METROPOLIS ... THINGS TO COME ... THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL ... 2001: A SPACE ODDESSEY ... ALTERED STATES ... ALIEN ... TRON ... BLADE RUNNER ... and so on? We live in the most technologically advanced age in history, yet thought-provoking entertainment is rapidly becoming an endangered species. There are several possibilities behind why science fiction seems so rare today. Perhaps science fiction, unlike other genres of film, are more cyclical in nature; they rely on ideas that spring from invention, unlike comedies or dramas. Maybe science fiction films can only come around every few years to remind us of where we're going as a race. Hell, it might be as simple as a lack of imagination or wonder in a generation that has seen technological feats and devastating real-life events. Whatever the reason, intellectual science fiction is a dying art form in desperate need of a visionary and some risk takers in Hollywood.
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All you need to know is that I love movies and baseball. I write about both on a temporary medium known as the Internet. Twitter: @rayderousse or @unfilteredlens1 Go St. Louis Cardinals! www.stlcardinalbaseball.com