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All John Scalzi Wants for Xmas Is Original SciFi


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Hey, did you know it’s Christmas? I know! It’s like it happens every year or something. It’s also one of the days of Hanukkah as well, so today’s schedule is just plain packed. I don’t know how many of you will be reading this on December 25th, but if you are, I’m going to share with you my Christmas wish:

My Christmas wish is for to Hollywood start making more original, big-event science fiction movies.

Which is to say, enough with the franchises, remakes and reboots. Let’s get some new visions on the screen, okay?

Hollywood, if I may address you directly for a moment: Look, I understand. It’s a recession, you have to send your movies out globally, and despite the image of your industry as a liberal hotbed of sybaritic madness, the fact is that when it comes to movie production, you’re incredibly conservative with your money. You’re going to put it into a sequel to an already popular flick rather than try to remake the wheel (and build a new audience). The ultimate argument for this is the results: Anyone could point to The Dark Knight or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as examples of this wisdom, but I say when Brendan Fraser stars in two $100 million-grossing films, one the umpteenth remake of Journey to the Center of the Earth and the other a Mummy sequel no one wanted, there’s your proof.

So, yes, I get it. I’m not asking you to kill your golden goose. But, come on. Here’s what’s on tap for the major, big-budget science fiction movies of 2009:

X-Men: Wolverine (3rd sequel).
Star Trek (10th sequel/reboot)
Terminator Salvation (3rd sequel/reboot)
Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen
(sequel)

Original, major science fiction releases for 2009? Well, there’s the super hero deconstruction tale Watchmen in March and James Cameron’s whatever-the-hell-he’s-been-up-to-for-a-decade Avatar in December, plus the animated spoof Monsters vs Aliens. But while casting no aspersions on the potential quality of either Watchmen or MvA (I’m looking forward to both, actually), those movies are thematically “meta,” which is to say they rely on us having sucked down enough superhero and monster flicks in the past to get what they’re trying to do. Basically, we have to know the genre to get the story, and that means Avatar is the only big scifi movie next year that we’re walking into totally blind.

No offense to these other properties, but having only one movie next year that has a chance at surprising us — thereby planting a flag for the viability of science fiction as a cinema of ideas as well as a cash cow — sucks. No matter how good Terminator: Salvation is, it trades on themes and story lines we already know from the rest of the series. No matter how shiny J.J. Abrams makes the Star Trek reboot, the audience is going to spend as much time noting how it differs from the existing series as they’re going to spend simply enjoying it.

Compare all this assumption and distraction with the experience audiences had watching Star Wars for the first time, or Alien , or the first Terminator , or The Matrix, or even (going back a bit) 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes. Each of these was a new experience — or at the very least, an assembling of old tropes and ideas in new, unexpected packages. And we all got sucked in, making most of them huge successes that spawned multiple sequels.

I’m not advocating Hollywood get out of the sequel business, since then we wouldn’t have The Empire Strikes Back or Aliens or Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which were excellent movies in their own right. And yes, even movie studios deserve to make money. I am just saying it would be nice to have a better ratio of new scifi flicks to sequels and remakes and reboots.

Is that too much for this science fiction junkie to ask? Just give it some thought, Hollywood. I’ll be here waiting with my theater-going cash in hand (which yes, I still have, even during this recession). Think of it as a potential Christmas gift for you, later, if I get what I want.

Winner of the Hugo Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, John Scalzi is the author of The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies and the novels Old Man’s War and Zoe’s Tale. He’s also the editor of METAtropolis, an audiobook anthology on Audible.com. His column appears every Thursday.

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