Science fiction seems to be the genre of choice in Hollywood these days, but it mainly comes in the forms of superheroes or action based sci-fi. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy both types of movies when I’m in the right mood, but I’m starting to wonder if Hollywood just isn’t capble of making a good hard science fiction movie.
What is Hard SF?
Well now there’s a question. I’m not a fan of genre definitions. I think that on the whole they’re just limiting allow people to exclude more often than included. However, it’s hard to have a discussion about this without setting up some sort of baseline. So how about using Wikipedia’s definition of Hard science fiction:
Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both
There’s still a lot of room for interpretation in that of course, but it gives us a starting point.
A Long Time Ago In a Galaxy Far Far Away
The majority of Hollywood’s sci-fi output falls in line with the movie I just referenced, but in the past there have been instances of Hollywood making hard SF and doing a good job of it.
Somewhat more recently there’s Blade Runner from 1982. It’s a classic all right and while hardly a faithful adaptation of the book I think it is successful in its own right as a hard SF movie.
Moving closer to the present there’s Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys which was released in 1996. It’s a little quirky of course, but its handling of time travel paradoxes puts it firmly in the hard SF field and it’s certainly popular with reviewers.
1997’s Gattaca, directed by Andrew Niccol is often held up as modern serious science fiction, but that is 11 years old now.
Spielberg has made a couple of good stabs at hard SF this decade with A.I Artificial Intelligence in 2001 and Minority Report in 2002 but I’m not sure if either of those fully qualify.
But What Have You Done For Me Lately?
So if I’m being generous we’ve had a decent hard SF movie as recently as 6 years ago and that’s despite the fact that the number of sci-fi movies being produced is clearly on the increase. Why is that? I think it’s almost fundamental to the nature of Hollywood. Success in Hollywood is not defined by critical acclaim, it’s defined by money. And in order to achieve big box office the movie has to open huge.
Hard SF doesn’t particularly lend itself to that format. There big bangs are few and far between; there’s a lack of snappy dialogue for the trailers and the plots are hard to boil down into a couple of sentences. In short, they’re not “high concept”.
There are very few directors who have the name power to even pitch these sort of projects successfully.
To The Future and Beyond
But perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic. Have I missed out on some recent movies that are good hard SF? And of course there’s always Ridley Scott’s upcoming project…eoghann.com..