|Find out all about Lisa and Rinn's Sci Fi Month here.|
Star Trek Beyond: I'll try to keep this brief, as I still haven't got around to reviewing Star Trek Into Darkness, and I'd eventually like to have the set of full-length reviews. Star Trek Beyond coincided with the franchise's fiftieth anniversary, and in many ways the latest film went back to its roots. Into Darkness was, as suggested by the title, a rather gritty tale, with terrorism, revenge and moral ambiguities (mixed in with a lot of borrowing from The Wrath of Khan and the episode "Space Seed.) Beyond returns to the more hopeful Utopia that Gene Roddenberry conceived - even if all is not as it seems beneath the surface. The plot is fairly standard Star Trek fare; there are too many explosions and action sequences, but it is a wonderful celebration of the characters, who spend a decent chunk of the film separated and working in pairs. After a rather irritating start in the prequel films, Chris Pine has settled well into the role of Captain Kirk, away from the popular perception of the character as a cocky womaniser, and closer to how he actually was. Bones and Spock's bickering friendship is a thing of beauty; their scenes together were the highlight of the film. There was also a moving tribute to the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, who passed away last spring. And of course there was a double-whammy this time around with the death of Anton Yelchin this year; his Chekov played only a small part in the proceedings, but lit up the screen whenever he appeared, and we finally got to hear what was "inwented in Russia." A talented actor and an endearing character; he is irreplaceable and will be sadly missed.
Ghostbusters (2016 reboot): To be quite honest I wasn't sure whether to include this as science fiction, or whether it would be more strictly classified as supernatural horror. Ghosts aren't usually a feature of sci-fi, but, like the 1980s original, the team use science and technology instead of excorcism and magic in order to defeat the forces of darkness, so I'll include it anyway.
The new film attracted a lot of criticism when it was release, particularly from die-hard fans of the original cult classic. Remaking something so beloved is always a risky move. Although I've enjoyed the original, I must confess that I don't have a particular attachment to it (it is dryly amusing but I really don't see it as a comedy) and so I was happy enough to see what the new cast had to offer. It is more overtly comedic than the original, with varying levels of humour - some jokes were not to my taste, while others made me giggle like a schoolgirl in the cinema. On a repeat viewing, I wasn't sure it held up to my memory of it; perhaps being in a room full of laughing people made it seem funnier than watching alone at home. But the ghostbusting quartet (Kirsten Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and the amazing Kate McKinnon) form a formidable team. The film does not make a point of the team being remarkable despite or because of being women, they just get on with the job in hand without a mention of their gender - just like their male predecessors do! It's a rare movie not to have even a whiff of romance, unless you include Kirsten Wiig's character finding Chris Hemsworth to be pretty, or Kate McKinnon's Holtzmann finding her pretty. It's all about strong friendships and fighting the apocolypse.
Perhaps there is a pointed lack of subtlety in the villain being a marginalised geek who has been bullied and sneered at all his life, and has taken to sneering at the rest of the world. I can see why he might upset Ghostbusters fanboys. But he has his foil in the Ghostbusters themselves. They too have lived with being the outsiders, the geeks, the "ghost girl" and the freak. It's no excuse, the movie says. You get to choose how your experiences shape you. Use your weirdness for good or for ill.
I suspect the new Ghostbusters will not join its predecessor in the cinematic history books as a classic; there are no plans for a sequel, but that's okay. The last thing we need is another never-ending franchise outstaying its welcome. As a stand-alone, it is fun and enjoyable, and a good example to little girls who want representation in the world beyond princesses and fairies.
Arrival: Most of the films I've seen in cinemas in recent years have either been based upon books I've read, or part of an ongoing franchise. Arrival is the exception; it was originally a short story, but not one I've read, so I went in knowing hardly anything about it. This is the best way to experience Arrtival, and I can't say very much without spoilers. It is the tale of a linguist (Amy Adams) who is tasked with communicating with aliens whose vessels appear above twelve spots around the world. Arrival is a quiet, gently paced film with a small main cast, balancing a deeply personal, bittersweet story with the big implications of extraterrestrial life, the links between language and understanding the universe. It is an intelligent movie, thought-provoking and hushing, combining sadness and hope, and it was very satisfying to my geeky heart and mind.
I've found it interesting to notice that the stand-out sci-fi of this year has been rather more optimistic than of late. How many dystopian futures have we seen in the twentieth century? How many darker and edgier remakes? (Battlestar Galactica, I'm looking at you!) Arrival is bittersweet but ultimately optimistic about humanity. Star Trek turned its back on the "grimdark" and returned to its hopeful vision of teamwork. And I've absolutely fallen in love with Becky Chambers' novels, with their vision of a far-distant future with good intergalactic relationships and alliances.
But science fiction inevitably is influenced by the time it was written, and 2016 has been a time of great change - and not for the better. The dark spectres of humanity have crept out of the shadows; people begin to forget the lessons learned from history's shames. The new year will bring with it a very different understanding of the world than many people held as we entered 2016. So I wonder how science fiction creators are going to respond to this changing world. Will we be deluged once more with dystopian warnings? There is a valuable place for this, but also for hope. Remember that Star Trek first aired in the 1960s, during the Cold War, in a time and place of great racial and gender inequality, and the show helped pave the way for social change. And I think we need that now as much as ever.
What were your science fiction highlights of 2016? Where do you think the genre will take us in the next few years? I'd love to hear your thoughts below.