As I look ahead to the year in movies, I'm struck by how thoroughly we geeks have inherited--some might say infested--the media. When I was a kid, we could count on less than half a dozen respectable genre entries per year. As for TV, Star Trek reruns were pretty much the best we ever got, though the Saturday morning cartoon spinoff of that series attracted surprisingly hardcore science fiction writers (Larry Niven and DC Fontana, to name just two). The pickin's were so slim many of us actually paid to see David Lynch's miscarriage of Dune (a classic novel Hollywood has yet to get right). Now, thanks to the Lucas-Spielberg era and its spiritual heirs, erstwhile B-movie space operas and sci-fi head-scratchers have been elevated to the status (and budgets!) formerly reserved for epics by Fleming and Lean.
Well, let's be honest: that's a mixed blessing. For every tech-friendly James Cameron epic, there are dozens of brain-dead genre reboots, remakes, refluxes, and regurgitations. This year will be no different. Though I have warm nostalgic feelings for their predecessors, it's hard to work up too much excitement for A Good Day to Die Hard (Feb. 14), Oz: The Great and Powerful (Mar. 8), The Wolverine (July 26), and so on. One senses these movies were made primarily for almost-guaranteed financial returns, not because anyone involved had a necessary story to tell.
Still, there's plenty of smart fare on the menu for discriminating nerds this year. Granted, I'm the guy who got his hopes up for Prometheus, so what do I know? Well, I know that wasn't an entirely unworthy effort, and I'm hoping for better from the next wave. I think Shane Black, now enjoying his career resurrection after self-imploding the most lucrative screenwriting résumé in Hollywood, has a lot to prove with Iron Man 3 (May 3), a franchise he inherited from Jon Favreau. Hopefully it'll feel more like the first Iron Man movie than its overstuffed sequel. My fondest hopes for 2013, however, are pinned on JJ Abrams, the TV wunderkind (Alias, Lost, Fringe) who graduated to big-budget wonderments (Mission Impossible 3, Star Trek (2009), Super 8). I saw eight minutes of his Star Trek Into Darkness (opening May 17) projected with the HFR release of The Hobbit, and I'm desperate to see the remaining 112 or so.
A further word about Abrams. As most of you know by now, Abrams has (after flatly denying this would happen a mere two months ago) accepted the reins of Star Wars, Episode VII, which Disney is producing to milk the Lucasfilm cash cow they bought for four billion dollars last fall. I'm all for this selection, and, back in November, so was every other Star Wars fan on Earth. Then, mere minutes after somebody leaked that Abrams was taking the job, the Interwebs exploded in outrage. "He's Mr. Lens Flare!" was the common refrain. "He has no original ideas! Just look at Super 8!" Yes, please do. It's a Spielberg pastiche, to be sure, and there are plenty of lens flares. Hey, you know who else used plenty of lens flares? Steven Spielberg! Go back and watch any of his 1978-1993 output. Until Schindler's List, it was kind of the Great One's stock in trade. And who cared? We geeks certainly didn't. So why the boohoo and brouhaha now?
It's because somewhere along the way, my fellow geeks decided it was cool to crap on entertainment we love, and frankly, I'm effing sick of it. Listen, hipsters, it's okay to simply enjoy things, even silly things, and the nerd gods won't hand you bonus health or extra lives for acting as if you're above it all. I love Star Wars. I just do. I know it's silly. So what? Is it any sillier than huge, aggressive dudes in tight pants and spherical helmets beating the snot out of each other to move a pigskin back and forth on a field? Is it sillier than telling your kids the presents you maxed out four credit cards to buy were delivered by an obese Scandinavian elf on a sled pulled by magic flying reindeer? Is it sillier than Heaven and Hell, or pretending every bride is a virgin and every groom is James Bond? Who are we fooling? The best stuff in life is ridiculous.
So yeah, I like superhero movies, which is why my birthday celebration will be seeing Man of Steel on June 14. I like promiscuous superspies and Eiffel-Tower-sized robots made of guns who still fight with karate. I like space opera--or, as a family member once memorably referred to it, "gay-ass rockets 'n' shit." (Sorry, gay friends. It was 2004, a much snarkier time.) I like all of that CG-splattered nonsense. And if somebody like Abrams or Cameron can make it look pretty and pretend there's some kind of microscopically-plausible scientific rationale for invisible aircraft carriers or faster-than-light travel or werewolves, then so much the better. I'm tired of defending what I love against charges that it's childish. Of course it's childish. That's exactly what I love about it. When I start chomping at the bit for Star Wars VII, what I'm really drooling for is that rush of exhilaration I used to feel behind a silo-sized bucket of popcorn at an epic sci-fi eyeball-exploder. I want that feeling again. I think most geeks do. Maybe that's why they try so hard to act superior now in their fat years; they've been chasing that dragon so long they're weary of pursuing it in vain.
Well, cheer up, fellow dorks. Against all odds, we grew up and married pretty girls in spite of our parents' predictions, and the jocks who gave us wedgies are now working at Jiffy Lube. Meanwhile, guys like Abrams and Cameron and Favreau and Guillermo del Toro and Peter Jackson and on and on and on, folks who grew up loving the same geeky spectacles that we do, invaded the movie business. Consequently, we can look forward to mecha vs. kaiju fisticuffs in del Toro's Pacific Rim (July 12--and if you know what either "mecha" or "kaiju" means, Gentle Reader, congratulations: you're one of us). I'm intrigued by Elysium (Aug. 9), the new film from Neill Blomkamp, the Kiwi who gave us District 9. Perhaps this summer we'll also get Alfonso Cuarón's slow-shooting Gravity, a hard (meaning scientifically accurate) SF epic which promises new verisimilitude in depicting a zero-G environment.
My admiration for Sin City knows no bounds, so I'm hoping Robert Rodriguez will recapture that sheen of graphic magic in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Oct. 4). Failing that, perhaps the long-awaited movie adaptation of Ender's Game, a certified classic and thematic precursor to The Hunger Games, will deliver (Nov. 1). If not, there's always the Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire, opening a mere three weeks later (Nov. 22). Closing out the year--almost--is the epic halfling-dragon confrontation of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Dec. 23). I say "almost" because, by Great Odin's beard, I'm downright turgid for the return of Ron Burgundy in Anchorman: The Legend Continues. Don't act like you're not impressed.
Writing sci-fi is tough in 2013, perhaps tougher than ever before. See, we caught up to the future. Granted, Marty McFly's hovering skateboard or time-skipping DeLorean failed to exist, but we did get email, cell phones, the Internet, home computers, pocket computers, dashboard computers, computer games, virtual identities, and Craigslist casual encounters. What cyberpunk authors like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson once called virtual reality, we're about to call the movies. The 3-D HFR (high frame rate, or 48FPS) release of The Hobbit had some problems, sure, but that was its debut attempt. In the next decade, movies and even TV will achieve a level of realism comparable to looking out a window, the only difference being that instead of my own parking lot, I'll see a sandworm or Coruscant or the Justice League of America. A generation from now, we might log onto the Web merely by thinking about it. Like Jason Bourne, we'll have multiple identities, but some of them will only "live" online. It's an exciting and, from a career standpoint, terrifying time to be alive, because the changes soon to come will be so bizarre and unpredictable that no sci-fi writer could anticipate or even describe them. That's why all this geeky bedazzlement is so important.
Genre entertainment, especially serious science fiction, prepares our minds to be boggled. It reminds us we live on a planet, not a color on a map. It gives us hope when that seems foolish. You say, wait, that's religion's job, and maybe you're right, but science gave us the iPhone. It yields results. The Bible, by contrast, hasn't developed a new app since 90 A.D. (I mean, come on, give us PowerPray, Angry Jews, something!) Sci-fi warns us away from looming dystopias and gene-altered nightmares. It keeps our brains young and agile and ready for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and the nanotech era to come. Sci-fi turns awkward adolescents into astronauts and nerds into billionaires. I can't wait for this year's fresh round of fictional futures...and I'm all done pretending I'm not rabid for more.