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John Scalzi – Random Thoughts on Predators, Inception, and Buzz Lightyear

I’m having random thoughts about movies this week. And now I’m going to share them with you. Because that’s how this gig works. Says so right here on my contract.

1. Here’s what I was thinking as I was watching Toy Story 3: you know what would be cool? A Buzz Lightyear movie. Not starring the toy Buzz Lightyear — I’m talking about the character the toy represents, the one the toy thinks he is in the first Toy Story. That guy. Yes, I know there was an animated TV show on the Disney Channel. (I am a nerd, thank you very much.) But you know what? That show stunk, in no small part because it wasn’t actually made by Pixar. Now imagine a real Buzz Lightyear movie, made by Pixar, on a big screen. It would be funny, it would be thrilling, it would probably be in 3-D (because that’s just the way it is these days) — and it would be awesome. Come on, Pixar, make daddy happy here.

2. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Predators. It was the first Predator sequel that didn’t plain suck right out of the gate — I’m including the Alien vs. Predator films in here, obviously — and the reason was that it was clear that the filmmakers (including producer Robert Rodriguez) actually understood what made the first film in the series work. Despite its classic status at this point, the first Predator flick was not a brilliant piece of filmmaking. Instead, it was extremely competent entertainment: it moved fast, it gave you action on a regular basis, and it killed off cast members at a standard clip, so that the hero could thump on the Predator alone at the end. Seems simple, but it’s apparently harder than it looks, since three separate sequels failed to pull it off.

Predators, on the other hand, hit the formula smack on because, I think, Rodriguez and crew weren’t too proud to just plain entertain the crowd. I’d
hesitate to say it was a good film — I started ticking off all
the ridiculous plot holes as soon as the credits started to roll — but
it was a good time in the theater and had me shoveling popcorn into my
maw just like it was supposed to. As I said, seems easy, but it’s not.

3. Inception raked in $62 million in its opening weekend, filling film observers with joy (finally proof that you don’t have to be a sequel or a comic-book movie to rake in tons of money) and making
them speculate on whether its success signaled a turning away from the
tired formula of sequels, series, and remakes, which seems to be
sputtering this season.

My thought on this: whoa there, kiddies.
As nice as it would be to think sequels and remakes would get a rest, a
quick look at the current top five films of the year — Toy Story 3,
Alice in Wonderland, Iron Man 2, Eclipse, and Shrek Forever After (four sequels and a remake) — suggests that the formula may not be
as tired as some might hope. Inception‘s clearly going to do
well, but, if it cracks the top ten for the year, as an original film
it’ll be in the minority.

It’s also worth noting that as much as
Christopher Nolan is a seriously talented director who would be
successful one way or another (one hopes), it wasn’t just his talent
that made it possible for him to make Inception. It was also the
fact that his last film — a sequel, based on a comic-book character —
made a billion dollars worldwide. In other words, Inception is the $160
million hard-to-describe science-fiction head trip that The Dark
built. This doesn’t justify all the sequels and remakes
flooding the market, to be sure. But it does kind of take the edge off.

4. Right now, the number-one science-fiction movie of the year is Iron Man 2. Number two? Despicable Me. (Hey, when a dude plans to
shrink the moon, that qualifies as science fiction.) Inception will
probably be number three by this time next week. But for now, you know
what the third most successful science-fiction film of the year is? The
Book of Eli
. And you’re all, like, what? And I’m, like, dude, I know. But it’s true: this postapocalyptic Denzel Washington
flick grossed just shy of $100 million when apparently no one was paying
attention — which is to say in January, usually one of the deader
times of the year for films and, this year, also when Avatar was
rampaging through theaters. It just goes to show that not every film
that does well does so loudly.

And now I’m done with my random
thoughts. So I’ll stop writing. That, too, is part of the gig.

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