This week’s happy hour is just a bit of fun, and more fiction than science. Sometimes the dividing line between science and fiction is pretty thin, and no one’s understood that better than the writers in Hollywood. There weren’t too many good science fiction movies last year, but there were a few surprisingly good ones there. Here’s my little list the best sci-fi efforts (from amidst very slim pickings) in 2005.
Serenity: This was certainly one of the surprise packages of the year, and my pick for the most satisfying sci-fi flick of the year. It came with no expectations. I almost thought it would turn out to be a B-grade sci-fi flick, or just a glorified serial that should never have left the SciFi channel, but it turned out to be a fairly entertaining flick with some interesting concepts (and a predictable but entertaining plot). This is an old fashioned science fiction movie, about a large Alliance ruling the galaxy, who want things their way, and every one placid but happy, and a bunch of rebels who want people to be thinking, different, human individuals. River Tam, now rescued from the Alliance mind washers by her brother, and is the link between the Alliance and the rebels, and holds the answer to their questions as well. Guess the rest, or better still, watch it if you haven’t.
Batman begins: OK, Batman’s not really science fiction, but most of his gadgets, and all the villains definitely belong in the realm of science fiction. The Batman movie series started off outstandingly, with Tim Burton’s efforts in the first movie, and Jack Nicholson superb as the Joker. But it went down hill from there, and Christopher Nolan did exceedingly well to redeem Batman’s image with this caper. Ra’s Al Gul was not scary enough, but the build-up of Bruce Wayne’s early life, and his transformation in to the bat was great. And Cillian Murphy did well as the crazy neurobiologist Jonathan Crane (the Scarecrow). Excellent stuff.
War of the worlds: This was one of H.G. Well’s most popular novels. It came with a reputation, and lots of expectations. It needed something special. Spielberg tried to make it special, and partly succeeded. The movie had fantastic special effects. The aliens and their spaceships were superb. The screenplay was tight and fast. Tom Cruise was, well, Tom Cruise. The Church of Scientology must have been delighted. Tim Robbins played the scary stranger he always plays. But Dakota Fanning continued to annoy (does any one remember “Baby” Shalini in some Indian movies), and remained such an over smart brat that you ended up leaving the movie hall wishing that the aliens had got her before they all died. Why Spielberg didn’t take some cinematic liberties with the book and get rid of her beats me.
The disappointment of the year? Undoubtedly Fantastic Four. It had great potential, and was one of the best Marvel comics ever. There was no shortage of material, or villains, or plot, or even characters to develop. DNA alteration leading to super powers. FOUR different heroes. A super villain. Space research. Jessica Alba. But it turned out to be an at best average caper that had decent special effects, some good action, but missed all chances of making it to the list of memorable comic book movies.
Postscript: King Kong and Sin City almost made this list, but they aren’t really science or science fiction, so I had to give them a miss. I also must be the only person who hasn’t seen March of the Penguins, which, if it was as good as people said it was, would have made the list, and it’s really natural science and not fiction! And X-men III must definitely be the most awaited comic/ Sci-Fi movie of 2006.