The 1902 movie, A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès is commonly acknowledged as one of the grounding productions in the development of the narrative of film; its image of the capsule landing in the Moon’s eye remains as one of the most iconic in the history of cinema. The fact that one of the most influential movies was also a science fiction film could suggest that science fiction and cinema have always been closely intertwined. However, if this is true, could our current technological environment – which has exceeded our wildest fictional dreams, still find a solid ground for science fiction films and television?
Simply put, science fiction is fiction based on imagined scientific or technological futures. However, some prominent science fiction writers, such as Isaac Asimov (writer of the short-story collection that inspired the film I, Robot) have suggested that the genre of science fiction is also mainly concerned with the human reactions towards changes in science and technology . Our current social environment is more connected to technology than ever before; from daily social interactions, to bank transactions, a lot of the things we do are done through phone screens. Therefore, it is no wonder that TV shows, such as Black Mirror, that deal with the uncertainty of where those technological advancements will take us, have had so much success. This, added up to the fact that nine out of the top ten movies with the biggest opening weekends in cinema history have been science fiction films, would make us think that we are currently living in the ideal time-frame for original science fiction movies; however, the repetitiveness of plots, and ‘formulaic’ story-lines in recent sci-fi franchises, such as The Avengers and Star Wars movies, prove otherwise. The problem with the entertainment conglomerates reusing the same ideas, is that it creates the assumption that all science fiction movies are the same, and this is absolutely not the case.
In the history of cinema, sci -fi has proved to be a dynamic genre. Starting with time-travel plots, we have from the classic series, Doctor Who, to Back to The Future; to more abstract movies such as the cult film Donnie Darko, which implements the idea of alternate universes into its plot, and The Butterfly Effect, which plays with the idea of a character that can travel back in time to rewrite his own story and solve the obscure mistakes he did on the past. There are couple of great films that have also implemented the idea of romance, such as Mr. Nobody; which plays with the different romantic possibilities of one character, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which portrays a recently broken up couple that lives in a world where erasing the memories of your ex is possible; to “Her” which looks into the complications that falling in love with an intelligent operative system can cause.
There are many other space movies which do not limit their narrative to the magnitude of space itself but, rather, propose ways in which space-traveling could affect the human psyche – a great example of this is Moon, which follows the trajectory of a man as he prepares to go back to Earth after a three-year shift at a lunar mine. Another recently released movie is Arrival which depicts an alien visit, however, instead of portraying the classic scenario of an alien invasion, the movie mainly focuses in the human reactions to it and the different difficulties when trying to communicate with the aliens. Finally, the wide success of Interstellar and The Martian were due to the fact that the script writers worked alongside scientists to create stories that were based in real life technologies; and Ex-Machina also had huge critical success because it dealt with the concerns surrounding artificial intelligence, which is steadily becoming a reality in our lives (right, Alexa?).
A couple of months ago, James Cameron argued that one of the biggest challenges with science fiction creators is that reality is transcending the fiction of science fiction. His theory is not far-fetched, actually a recent MIT article showed that technology companies increasingly employ futurists who use science fiction as a medium for exploring potential new technologies and their social impact . All of this shows that even though superhero movies are great -and evidently popular, because of the exciting scenarios that we now face in terms of technology and science advancements, it is of utmost importance that the creative mediums do not limit themselves to the formulas that have proven to be successful, but that they also use their narratives to explore the underlying social, moral and ethical concerns that will come with the evolution of our reality.
By Luisa De la Concha Montes