It’s possibly the end of original sci-fi filmmaking at Warner Bros. At least it’s easy to imagine it might be. With the lackluster box office showing for Edge of Tomorrow, the even more lackluster box office showing for Transcendence and now the likely belly flop of Jupiter Ascending, it will probably take a brave soul at the studio to speak up on behalf of an untested (read: not adapted) piece of sci-fi filmmaking, especially if it’s an entire universe that demands more than a hundred million dollars to be built.
For their part, even the Wachowskis realize that their run of taking massive budgets and converting them into great and not-so-great weirdo movies is over. That is until Warners asks them to make a fourth Matrix movie (and don’t think that idea hasn’t crossed at least someone’s mind over there).
It’s important to applaud Warners for their part in making original sci-fi films. For as much as science fiction has taken off in the past decade, it’s mostly been a byproduct of the reboot/comic book/novel adaptation explosion. Depending on the year, you’re likely to find 5 to 10 adaptations for every original sci-fi concept, but Warners is the studio of Interstellar and Gravity and Pacific Rim as well as the Wachowski’s latest inline skating space werewolf freak out.
Other studios toss their hats into the ring occasionally, too. TriStar with Looper and Elysium, for example. Universal with Oblivion and Lucy, for another. Columbia with After Earth, for a third.
Yet the lifeline for original science fiction filmmaking isn’t a healthy one, and the numbers point to what studios have been trying to tell us for years: that originality comes with risks that adaptation and rebooting don’t. Having a smash hit or a depressed failure is essentially a coin flip unless your project comes stamped with the word Nolan on it.
That’s bad news for fans of original science fiction. As much as seeing Ant-Man come to life should be fun, I love exploring new worlds, and right now creators aren’t being encouraged to make them. So the question is whether we should support movies that we’ve heard are bad (I enjoyed Jupiter, but it’s been getting hammered everywhere, including on FSR), because of our love for the genre.
To the Wonder edged close to self-parody for me, but I'm grateful to be writing when there's so much new Malick, even if it's not all great.
I love this comment from Sam because it highlights an understanding about the cost of supporting particular genres and particular filmmakers. You take the good with the bad, you appreciate when a filmmaker you like steps up his prolificity game, you recognize that in order for it to continue someone will need to give them money for the next project. That means first giving them your money.
In that sense, we fans take on a parallel risk to the studios’. We’re not spending millions of dollars, but we are spending our own cash to see a movie on the chance that it will be entertaining. That the new characters we meet and the new worlds we get to explore are engaging and memorable.
Whenever studios shy away from certain genres, we can rest easy knowing that the indie world will pick up the slack, but there’s a caveat when it comes to sci-fi ‐ specifically the kind of sci-fi that requires large amounts of money to take us into space or to a version of Paris where the streets fold in on themselves. It’s an expensive genre that we’ve already established is risky, which leaves big sci-fi adventures out in the cold. Sci-fi glazed character pieces, robotic tech movies and earthbound futurism are thriving, which is excellent, but we’re currently in an environment where it’s prohibitive for someone to make the next Star Wars.
This isn’t a great tragedy or anything. Genre cycles come and go, and originality at the studio level is taking a hit across the board, but I do find the question of whether people will support films for extrinsic reasons interesting. Consider it a “Potential Tax.” If we want more of any kind of movie, and we can only vote with our wallets, will we support the idea of a movie purely because it might open the door for more great movies down the line?
Related Topics: Science Fiction