They just don't get it.
When novelist (and later filmmaker) Michael Crichton broke through with his 1969 best-seller "The Andromeda Strain," he bridled at the novel being characterized as "science fiction," which, of course, is precisely what it was. An update of the old-fashioned "Hard SF" variety, perhaps, the style popularized by Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, but a riveting read and eventually (1971) a fine movie. Crichton rightly feared being consigned to a literary ghetto of scant sales and besmirched reputation.
Many others have followed suit, with far less excuse.
After a brief flirtation with thoughtful SF in "2001: A Space Odyssey," George Lucas and "Star Wars" came along to seduce mass audiences with a throwback to SF's earliest hack-dominated days: broadly entertaining, pulp-style space opera. Its astounding box office success set in motion a wave of "sci-fi" movies and books with all the intelligence and depth of a sleeping Wookie - and set "real" science fiction back 1,000 years. All but forgotten was that extraordinarily fertile New Wave period of genuine literary merit that ran from the early 1960s through the first few years of the '70s. It was dominated by brilliant speculative fiction, penned by gifted artists who cared far more about ideas and character development than gizmos, galactic empires and space battles.
Great SF has always been about ideas - cultural, scientific, social, political -and how they affect people. Real, identifiable people, not cardboard cut-outs. The ones who disparage it most loudly tend to be those who've never read - and seldom seen - the good stuff.
Steven Spielberg notwithstanding, the last time a first-rate filmmaker did not shrink from being identified with science fiction was Michel Gondry, who directed the best pure SF movie of the 21st century (so far) in 2004's excellent "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."
Yet now we have Alfonso Cuaron, director of "Children of Men" (which opens here Friday) loudly disclaiming the obvious SF underpinnings of his new movie. "We didn't want to do a science-fiction movie," says the director of "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." "We wanted to do a movie about the state of things." Well, duh, what do you think the best SF does but comment on the present by projecting to the future?
Adapted from her own 1992 book by British novelist P.D. James, this near-future dystopian tale deals with a global infertility crisis that threatens the human race. The setup may be a well-worn SF cliche - it is - but that doesn't prevent it from having the potential for considerable cinematic power.
We understand the risks, especially when many millions of dollars are invested, but we just wish these people cared a little less about marketing and more being honest with themselves.
Goodbye to the film-world entertainers who passed away in 2006, most memorably Don Knotts, Robert Altman, Shelly Winters, Jack Palance and Al Lewis, with a special place for playwright Wendy Wasserstein.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez's great tale of magical realism, "Love in the Time of Cholera," is coming to the screen courtesy of English director Mike Newell, currently shooting the picture amid the stifling tropical heat of Marquez's native Colombia. Surprisingly, it's the first time an English-language adaptation of a novel by the Nobel Prize-winning author has been attempted.
Then again, maybe not so surprising, given how Latin America's chief literary godling, a staunch defender of Castro and the Cuban revolution, has protected his work from Hollywood's clutches. Never mind that his son, Rodrigo Garcia, is a Hollywood-based director (2005's "Nine Lives").
The excellent Spanish character actor Javier Bardem ("The Sea Inside") and Italian actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno play the lead roles of Fermina and Florentino, whose difficult courtship in turn-of-the-century South America was inspired by the experiences of Marquez's own parents. The script was written by Ronald Harwood, who won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for "The Pianist" (2003).
Newell, best known for sprightly comedies made on both sides of the Atlantic - "Enchanted April" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral," among them - reinvented himself to an extent with the tough, convincing mob drama "Donnie Brasco" (1997), and was last seen tackling the Harry Potter franchise in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2005).
It took some persuading on the filmmakers' part to get the 78-year-old Marquez, long a resident of Mexico City, to relent. A $3 million check was some inducement. Yet Marquez, once a film critic and aspiring filmmaker, also recently ceded the rights - for free - to another of his highly cinematic novels, "Of Love and Other Demons," this time to debut feature film director Hilda Hidalgo, a Costa Rican whom he met in Cuba.
Newell promised Marquez that the film, slated for a Christmas 2007 release, would be true to the spirit of the book. But apparently the maestro isn't entirely convinced; he's yet to visit the set.
What's your sign?
Adapted by James Vanderbilt from the book by Robert Graysmith, director David Fincher's "Zodiac" is based on the case files of one of the most disturbing unsolved crimes in the U.S. history: a serial killer who terrified the San Francisco Bay Area, taunting police with his ciphers and letters and looking on as investigators in four jurisdictions searched vainly for the culprit.
Fincher, director of "Seven," "The Game" and "Fight Club," among others (try to forgive him for "Alien 3"), was the ideal filmmaker to take on the project, which is due out in March. Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., and Anthony Edwards star in a story of the case, an obsession of four men as their lives and careers are built and sundered by the endless trail of clues.
Bits and pieces
The news that local cable TV packager Knology is dropping The Sundance Channel and the I Independent Channel from its lineup may speak volumes about Charleston area interest, or lack of same, in the "art house" cinema. ... David Mamet's nastiest play, "Edmond," has been made into a movie (starring a miscast William H. Macy). The question, asks a chorus of reviewers, is why? ... It was an extraordinary crime, still unsolved. The documentary "Stolen" chronicles the piecing together of the puzzle surrounding who took 13 priceless paintings from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in a daring St. Patrick's Night robbery in 1990. Where is that art today? Find clues (when the video comes out) in what is being called one of the past year's most fascinating films. ... Two decades after director Wim Wenders and writer Sam Shepard set off on "Paris, Texas," their moody, meandering cinematic road trip, they're back in a lighter vein with "Don't Come Knocking," showcasing a patchwork plot, disparate characters and Shepard in the lead.