A look at science fiction in 2012

The trailer for Ridley Scott”s “Prometheus” was released last week and, as many have noted, it bears a striking resemblance to the original teaser for the film that acts as its foundation: Scott”s 1979 sci-fi classic “Alien.” For science-fiction appreciators, the trailer served as a reminder that 2012 has the potential to be one of the strongest years for smart sci-fi in recent memory.

Certainly, there have been intelligent science-fiction films released in the past decade: “Moon,” “District 9,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Children of Men” and “Primer” among them. But 2012″s landscape is distinct in that each of the offerings under discussion are fairly high-concept and have notable directors at the helm.

“Prometheus” marks Scott”s first endeavor in the genre since the release of “Blade Runner” in 1982. He created what was to become one of sci-fi”s most well known and defining franchise and now returns to revisit the universe (if not the story and characters) he designed.

The visual link between the “Alien” and “Prometheus” trailers indicates that the film will simultaneously link with its history and offer the viewer a fresh take on well-established themes. The scale of the project is visually and conceptually immense. To attempt to present a mythology that addresses the origins of mankind to today”s often cynically minded “it”s all been done before” audience denotes an impressive confidence – to say nothing of massive cojones.

The title may be a bit spot on, but it is also inviting. We imagine there is a lesson to be learned, that hubris will be in play (the opening voice over of the trailer has what I assume is Noomi Rapace lamenting, “I was so wrong. I”m so sorry”) and that someone (or ones) will be savior of man, betrayer of Gods, or both. There are detractors who will point to some of Scott”s recent work as an indication that “Prometheus” will not live up to its promise. But I have faith.

“Looper” represents genre-bending director Rian Johnson”s first foray into science-fiction. With his directorial debut “Brick,”Johnson drew from the detective novels of the 1940s, particularly those of Dashiell Hammett, to blend the tone, dialogue and characters of noir with a modernized high-school drama. His sophomore film, “The Brothers Bloom,” was not as well-received as his debut (which won the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival). But I happen to love the film: a fast-paced, unique, stylized con-man caper that offers a lighthearted and skilled exploration of the genre. Many criticize the seeming lack of surprises; for me, the nature of the cons themselves are less relevant than that of the relationships and the overarching theme of the pursuit of the “unwritten life.”

“Looper” is a sci-fi crime thriller that reunites Johnson with his “Brick” lead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In the film, the mob has discovered that they can commit the perfect murder by sending the body back in time, thereby eradicating any physical evidence. I enjoy Johnston and the way he toys with the rules of genre. He has passion and a sense of reverence, which is tempered by a sense of play. It is impossible to predict its merits, but if we are to judge by his previous efforts, “Looper” will at the very least be one to talk about.

Alfonso Cuarón is responsible for one of the stronger science-fiction undertakings of the last decade: 2006’s “Children of Men.” After a series of casting struggles, his latest, “Gravity,” went into production with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in the leading roles. I will confess that Bullock is the one drawback for me as far as this project is concerned. I like her just fine in “Sandra Bullock” films, but fear I will be thrown out of the tone (I believe) Cuarón will create by her presence. If the small tidbits that have been released are any indication, however, the ingenuity of the filmmaking (think the car sequence in “Children of Men” in space) will keep me engaged with this film. My hope is that Bullock will surprise me and/or I will be able to release my preconceived notions when the lights go down.

I don”t necessarily count “The Dark Knight Rises” as sci-fi as it is a comic book movie. For those who do, there”s that to look forward to as well. Of course, 2012 may shake out quite differently than we are currently imagining, but we’ll see. With that in mind, In Contention will be releasing our 10 most anticipated films of the new year next week. Be sure to check back for that, and here’s hoping sci-fi is well-represented.

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