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Watching the Future
by Derek Johnson

[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other Watching the Future columns.]

Installment 22
What I Want... and What I Expect

Cowboys and Aliens
John Carter
The Hobbit
Attack the Block
As we begin 2012, I look at upcoming science fiction releases and, as usual, find myself indifferent to most of the proposed offerings. Granted, 2011 wasn't the complete disaster I anticipated -- despite the usual dogs (Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Sucker Punch; The Thing 2011) and high-profile disappointments (The Adjustment Bureau; Cowboys and Aliens; David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), a few modestly entertaining efforts (Drive Angry; Limitless; Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), surprise hits (Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol; Super 8; Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and one or two gems (Source Code; Attack the Block; Midnight in Paris) played at my local multiplex and the nearest arthouse -- but for the most part I viewed much of my film-going experience with a mixture of apprehension and dread... and, sadly, I feel the same way whenever I think of the genre movies opening next year.

I'm trying to keep an open mind. Really. I always greet an invitation to a press screening with a certain giddy anticipation. Then I open the invitation and my smile drops and the bile in my stomach rises. The audience for such cinematic fare as Devil Inside and The Divide must exist -- supply-side economics tells me this is so -- but the idea of dining on such offal, which, twenty-five years ago, studios would have dashed off with a five-figure budget and which I could play on my VHS with little fanfare and several mind-altering substances to help make it bearable, fills me with the kind of existential ennui reserved for calls from my family or, apt this year, election results.

The prevalence of online movie trailers hasn't helped matters. Many of the movies I saw in 2011 took place during press screenings or special engagements, so I miss many previews for new movies. Sometimes this works in my favor -- I didn't want to be in the theater for New Year's Eve any longer than I had to -- but it also means that I seldom catch a preview in the theater; often somebody on my Twitter feed or one of my friends (either real or virtual) has to let me know about the appearance of a trailer. Sometimes I'll come away suitably impressed. For all of my misgivings about The Dark Knight Rises, from the use of Anne Hathaway as Selena Kyle/Catwoman to the necessity of a third superhero effort from Christopher Nolan, it still caused the same flood of anticipation as the first online appearance of Christian Bale in the Batsuit. Similarly, I almost nodded off during the John Carter teaser, but subsequent trailers reignited my interest in Burroughs's title character and classic pulp venue. At other times I felt less predisposed. A number of science fiction fans, myself included, expressed their delight upon learning Ridley Scott would return to the genre with Prometheus, set in the same universe as Alien... a point which dampened my enthusiasm. As I've stated before, science fiction should explore new territory; what, really, would this return to an all-too-familiar landscape offer? For all of the buzz surrounding the trailer, it never sparks my own sense of wonder.

Even announcements of new projects and the few morsels of news fed to me find me wincing in distaste. Huge James Bond fan that I am, I felt no small relief when I heard the cast list for Skyfall: Daniel Craig and Judi Dench, sure, but also Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, with Sam Mendes directing... and then I hear of the casting of Ben Whishaw as Q, and I shake my head. We'd finally thrown off the tired baggage with the last two Bond movies; why on earth would we have to reinclude it? And maybe, just maybe, it's for the better that I've heard almost nothing about J.J. Abrams's Star Trek sequel. I was pleased enough with the previous effort; perhaps asking for more, in my opinion, would be tempting fate.

barf bag And some just leave me scratching my head. Tim Burton turning his first feature, Frankenweenie, into a feature-length movie? Really?

And yet I can't quite give in to despair. For all of my trepidation, I'll admit being reasonably optimistic about Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit, despite how badly The Lord of the Rings trilogy went off the rails into sentimentality in the third movie. I also hold some optimism for Chronicle; I may roll my eyes at yet another movie following the path of The Blair Witch Project, but focusing on superpowers might provide the same level of entertainment and even insight I found in M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable. And who knows what movie might spring from a crack in space onto a theater screen, some esoteric exercise (such as 2010's Monsters) that will once again give me hope?

As always, I'll keep my fingers crossed. And a barf bag on my knee.

Copyright © 2012 Derek Johnson

Derek Johnson's critical work has appeared on SF Site, SF Signal, and Revolution SF. His first novel, the erotic thriller, Murder, Most Likely, written in collaboration with SammyJo Hunt, is forthcoming from Rebel Ink Press. He lives in Central Texas with the Goddess.

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