Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.
Editor

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Fiction

Joy Ride
by Jude-Marie Green

Barnegat Inn
by Brian Biswas

Captain Quasar and the Kolarii Kidnappers
by Milo James Fowler

Geiter
by Michael Hodges

Discord in Paradise
by Leslie Lupien

(225-50) Agnes
by Mark Ayling

It’s a Long Road to the Sky Train
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Not Her Kind
by Peter Wood

Down Courthouse Wash
by Steven L. Peck

Blink Twice
by Rebecca Birch

Salazar
by Sean Monaghan

Articles

Mad Max, R2-D2 Return
by Adam Paul

Sixteen Shades of Ice
by John McCormick


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Mad Max, R2-D2 Return

By Adam Paul

A NEW YEAR OPENS UP BEFORE US; and with it, fifty-two weekends’ worth of new science fiction films. As a filmgoer, it can seem a little daunting. What will 2015 offer to the world of science fiction cinema? Will it resemble 2014 and its string of above-average summer science fiction blockbusters? “Godzilla,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Big Hero 6” and “Interstellar”— 2014 was a banner year for popcorn stuff.

A.I. gone rogue seems to be a popular trend in the next twelve months (whether it’s going rogue for the purposes of good or evil)—and only two weeks in, it’s blindingly apparent that the two biggest water cooler films of the year are in the science fiction camp. But to keep anyone from wandering into 2015 unassisted, the following is a map of what the year has in store for cinematic science fiction. Peruse at your leisure.

“Jupiter Ascending”
Release Date: February 6

Evolution as you know it is a fraud; various extraterrestrial royal families have been using planets as petri dishes (Earth being one of many) to try and cultivate a serum for everlasting life. There’s just one problem: an average, ordinary Earthgoer (Mila Kunis) who may actually be an ancient heir to the most ancient throne in the galaxy, ruining the plans of so many outer space Ponce de Leons. Cue an intergalactijupiterc game of cat-and-mouse between Kunis, an alien hybrid sent to protect her (Channing Tatum) and all the forces of evil that ancient space money can buy.

Back in 1999, a sprawling space opera from the Wachowskis (of “The Matrix” fame) would have been the most welcome thing in the world. After fifteen-plus years of the Wachowskis trying and failing to live up to that original genre-defining classic, calling the anticipation around “Jupiter Ascending” lukewarm would be extremely generous.

There’s some potential here. The scope of what the Wachowskis are building is admirable—“Jupiter Ascending” will contain more than 2,000 effects shots and an extensive chase sequence that took six months to film. But a bump in release dates, from last July to this February (rarely, if ever, do studios release their best efforts in the year’s early months; normally that’s where the duds are left to do as little damage as possible) is an ill omen. And some story details threaten to heave the film into silly (or even worse, stupid) territory. Tatum’s character is half-wolf, half-human. Another, played by Sean Bean, is half-bee. It may be time to call this a lost cause.

“Chappie”
Release Date: March 6

Chappie (Sharlto Copley) is a state-of-the-art android. He processes information just like we do. He learns. He’s even got emotions. But this LED-eyed, antennae-eared bot baby is stolen away by gangsters (played by South African rap group Die Antwoord) and ends up a part of their oddball surrogate family. Which would be just fine (robots that can feel love certainly deserve it), only a steel-eyed, mulleted Hugh Jackman is intent on hunting Chappie down and decommissioning him.

By far, the best thing to come from Neill Blomkamp’s work is his relationship with Sharlto Copley, the South African actor who comes alive with manic energy as soon as he enters one of Blomkamp’s science fiction worlds. In “Chappie,” Copley’s voicing the titular robot, a challenge that should certainly coax the best out of him.

Blomkamp’s last film, “Elysium,” was a step down from 2009’s “District 9” (Matt Damon’s quest for outer space healthcare reform lacked the narrative drive of “District 9’s” alien apartheid), but Blomkamp’s two for two so far. Expect this to be a very strong number three for one of science fiction’s most inventive up-and-comers.

“Ex Machina”
Release Date: April 10

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) has won the opportunity of a lifetime: he’ll be spending a week at the palatial home of the Steve Jobs-ish tech pioneer Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Caleb’s job is to help Bateman test a new secret project: Ava, an android boasting an unbelievably powerful artificial intelligence. Naturally, things go awry, and Ava manipulates the two men into a dangerous love triangle.

Science-fiction romances are a rare breed (although 2013 did bring “Her,” the startlingly genuine meet-cute of man and OS). That alone makes “Ex Machina” a profoundly large ping on our science-fiction radar. But there’s pedigree behind this tale of man, man and machine, and it comes from director Alex Garland. “Ex Machina” will be Garland’s first time behind the camera, but he’s already got a number of stellar genre screenplays to his name (“Dredd,” “Sunshine,” and “Never Let Me Go”). In a year overstuffed with megabudget releases, this one’s likely to sneak past most filmgoers—make sure to seek it out.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron”
Release Date: May 1

“The Avengers” already saved the Earth, destroyed the better part of Manhattan, and smashed the box office to smithereens (with over $200 million in one weekend, they still hold the current record). For the sequel, Marvel faces a daunting task: going even bigger. Thus, they’ve given us Ultron (James Spader), an A.I. program designed by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) to act as a kind of international peacekeeper. Sadly, Stark’s programming skills aren’t up to snuff— Ultron comes to the conclusion that the most peaceful Earth is an Earth without the petty, warlike human race. Cue the Avengers, assembling once more to stop the coming extinction.

That “Avengers: Age of Ultron” will break the billion-dollar mark is the safest bet you’ll make all year (likely to be the number one film of 2015 ... barring one winter contender). Just as certain is “Age of Ultron’s” entertainment factor. The cast is battle-ready, thanks to past sequels, and the studio’s on a roll right now—the two most recent Marvel outings (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”) have been the strongest yet by a significant margin.

Two things to watch for this one—if director Joss Whedon can lift the cinematic scope above the kitschy, broadcast TV cinematography of the first film, and Spader as the gravel-voiced computer program gone rogue.

“Mad Max: Fury Road”
Release Date: May 15

Set in the same apocalyptic desert as previous “Mad Maxes,” “Fury Road” finds Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy rather than Mel Gibson) reeling over the loss of his wife and child. He crosses paths with Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a cyborg warrior trying to make it across the wastelands to reach her former homeland.

In any other reality, a “Mad Max” sequel shot thirty years after the last one would be an instant write-off. But we’re not in those realities; instead, we exist in one where “Fury Road” looks to be a top contender for the best science-fiction film of 2015.

Written and directed by George Miller (who did the same for all previous “Max Max” films), the glimpses seen in early “Fury Road” trailers are absolutely phenomenal. Visual panache, a hardline insistence on practical effects (no CGI demolition derbies here—just real cars careening into real cars) and a statement from Miller that the film will be, in essence, one long car chase (and light on dialogue, too). “Fury Road” absolutely deserves to be awarded with that old cliché: a “must-see.”

“Tomorrowland”
Release Date: May 22

A teenager (Britt Robertson) and a former boy genius (George Clooney) venture into “Tomorrowland,” an alternate universe with the potential to change our own.

Disney’s keeping their lips zipped about this one—all the “Tomorrowland” information readily available amounts to a few vague sentences about the titular alternate universe, and a trailer where Robertson touches a little “T” pin and warps into a cornfield.

The presence of writer/director Brad Bird should be calming, though. Bird’s previous family-oriented films have ranged from “really very good” to “certified classic”—“Ratatouille,” “The Incredibles,” and “The Iron Giant.” Less so for co-writer Damon Lindelof—“Lost,” “Prometheus,” and “Star Trek into Darkness” have all crumbled apart under scrutiny, suffering from near-obscene amounts of plot holes. Disney’s secrecy on this one could be a way to build some hype ... or cover for another “Prometheus.”

“Jurassic World”
Release Date: June 12

Twenty-two years after the original “Jurassic Park” dinos ran amok, someone’s finally gotten it right—Jurassic World is now a fully-functioning, live dinosaur theme park. But ticket sales are down and consumer interest is low. Kids these jurassicdays are tired of old T-Rex, it seems. So the geneticists splice a few new genomes together and create a new beast; an edgy, 21st century monster with surprising, un-dinosaur-like powers. Naturally, it escapes and begins chomping into unaware parkgoers.

Like “Ex Machina” and its robot love story, “Jurassic World” wins points on premise alone. Dinosaurs are some of the most fascinating creatures to ever walk the Earth, yet are woefully underserved onscreen. “Jurassic World” can rectify that for at least one summer (especially if it sticks to its predecessors’ landmark use of puppets and animatronic dinos).

But this one also walks a dangerous line. With its super-dino and Chris Pratt’s lead character (a velociraptor behaviorist who—according to the trailer, it seems—has trained the creatures to fight on his side), “Jurassic World” could end up a piece of silly action figure fluff. Pray it leans more towards the 1993 original.

“Terminator Genisys”
Release Date: July 1

Future messiah John Connor learns of a plan to assassinate him in utero, by sending a Schwarzenegger-model cyborg back to 1984. So Connor sends back his own human envoy, to protect his mother and also his unborn self. You may recognize this as the plot of 1984’s “The Terminator.” It is also the plot of “Terminator Genisys,” which plays things just like the franchise-birthing original. At least until the original timeline changes and a T-1000 (a la “Terminator 2”) storms into the setting of the reprised first film. Also, in this timeline, Sarah Connor (now played by Emilia Clarke) isn’t so naïve—she’s grown up under the tutelage of her own good guy Terminator.

2015 seems to be the summer of “not just another sequel”—fourth or fifth (the case for “Terminator”) franchise installments trying to pull some kind of reinvention scheme. It’s worked before, when “X-Men: Days of Future Past” erased the least-liked “X-Men” films from the official canon. If “Terminator Genisys” can manage to pump up an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger (and wipe everything since “T2” off the official record), we can call that a win. Given the lackluster trailer, though (and director Alan Taylor, who didn’t exactly work wonders with “Thor: The Dark World”), that might not be a sure thing.

“Ant-Man”
Release Date: July 17

“Ant-Man” is a tale of two Ant-Men: Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Henry Pym (Michael Douglas). The former is a petty crook, the latter a brilliant inventor who’s seen better days. Together, they’ll use one of Pym’s inventions—the incredible shrinking Ant-Man suit—to steal a newer and much more dangerous weapon from Pym’s former protégée (Corey Stoll).

The premise, which unites two separate incarnations of Marvel Comics’ Ant-Man, is ingenious. As is the casting, which transforms the always likable Rudd into a bona fide action star (it worked for “Parks and Recreation’s” Chris Pratt in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” after all). But the production was crippled by a major setback—the loss of its director, modern auteur Edgar Wright. Wright left citing creative differences this past May, and was replaced by “Yes Man” helmer Peyton Reed.

There’s also the trailer, which was just released to little fanfare (although a surprisingly high hit count), given its oddly serious, dour tone. Especially for a film that stars Rudd, and was co-written by the comedy team of Rudd and “Anchorman” director Adam McKay. But the cast is strong and the film still lingers with the scent of Wright. It’s safe to get excited over this one.

“Pixels”
Release Date: July 24

The aliens of “Pixels” are not too bright. In fact, it’s safe to say that they’re downright stupid. This particular band of extraterrestrials intercepted footage from Earth—videos of old arcade games—and have interpreted “Space Invaders,” “Donkey Kong,” and the like as a declaration of war. So now they’re invading—and using those same games as the basis for their various assaults. Cue a team of former arcade gamers (Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, and Peter Dinklage), whose joystick skills may be the Earth’s only hope.

This, you can at least say about “Pixels”—the premise is certainly new (well, at least as far as films go—this exact situation once played out in an episode of “Futurama”). And the short film that inspired the feature (also called “Pixels,” by Patrick Jean) is a wonder. Of course, the short is only two and a half minutes long, and contains no dialogue. That’s no assurance of feature film success.

That aside, the involvement of Adam Sandler and Happy Madison is a death knell, six long months before “Pixels” ever graces a theater screen. Sandler’s track record is beyond abysmal, so poor it taints any future films with the all-too-assured knowledge that they, too, will be unfunny, grossly immature and stupefylingy swollen in budget. “Pixels” will feature Peter Dinklage playing a fictionalized version of the real-life arcade whiz Billy Mitchell (forever preserved in infamy, thanks to the documentary “King of Kong”). That, in itself, is an astounding thing. It’s just too bad the rest of “Pixels” is doomed from the start.

“Fantastic Four”
Release Date: August 15

The origins of the Fantastic Four are reasonably common knowledge—four ordinary, non-superpowered humans are exposed to cosmic radiation, gain superpowers, and use those superpowers to fight evil in all its science-related forms.

One could guess that the upcoming “Fantastic Four” reboot will follow a similar path. And one will have to guess, for now, because Fox is being deathly secretive about this one (“Tomorrowland’s” marketing is a tell-all exposé by comparison). No trailers. No production photos. Nothing but a vague synopsis that confirms the Fantastic Four, indeed, will be four people given fantastic powers and battling a supervillain. Instead, what Fantastic Four aficionados have had to suffice on are various semi-plausible rumors culled from those (actors, Fox execs) close to “Fantastic Four.” Specifically: that it will be a found-footage film that plays up the group’s powers as though they were horrifying physical disabilities, and that group nemesis Dr. Doom is a now a blogger who goes by the handle of “Doom.”

Frankly, a revisionist superhero movie is something we desperately need. The genre is rapidly reaching a point of oversaturation (2015 is a little light on the costumed set, but 2016 has nine major superhero films primed for release). Breaths of fresh air are now a requirement. But Fox’s inability to reveal any info whatsoever about the film can’t help but paint “Fantastic Four” as the problem child they’re not ready to reveal to the world.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 2”
Release Date: November 20

The fourth and final film in the “Hunger Games” franchise, “Mockingjay-Part 2” finds stalwart heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as the figurehead of a revolutionary group, intent on bringing down The Capitol, the one percenters currently controlling the Earth’s population.

Two months ago, excitement over the farewell “Hunger Games” film would have been at a modest high. Fans of Suzanne Collins’ teen-lit novels salivate over each installment; for the rest of us, they’re perfectly fine (if not outstanding) science fiction actioners. But the last two months saw the release of “Mockingjay-Part 1,” and the hype levels are currently several miles below the Earth’s crust.

“Mockingjay-Part 1” suffered painfully at the hands of cinema’s newest trend—instead of making a film and then a sequel, bloat that first film out to four hours, then bisect it into two features. As such, “Mockingjay-Part 1” had no semblance of story, was maddeningly slow, and closed without any sense of actual conclusion. Just from the benefit of containing the novel’s climax, “Mockingjay-Part 2” is bound to be more exciting than the first. But the very existence of that dreadful “Mockingjay-Part 1” can’t help but sour the next one.

“The Martian”
Release Date: November 25

Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) was a part of a manned mission to Mars, one of the first human beings to ever walk on the planet’s surface. And “was” is the operative word, because Watney’s crewmembers are leaving the red planet and he’s still stranded there, having been wounded in a dust storm and presumed dead.

“The Martian” is the latest film from director Ridley Scott, and it’s no secret that his recent body of work has been a little lacking—overlong (“Exodus: Gods and Kings”), over-generic (“Robin Hood”) or riddled with plot holes like termite-eaten furniture (“Prometheus”). “The Martian,” however, has all the makings of a return to form.

Being based on a novel (which it is—the similarly-titled, self-published 2012 novel from author Andy Weir) affords Scott a story that comes pre-loaded with all the right notes, avoiding the pitfalls of original scripts like “Prometheus.” The cast is a cornucopia of solid performers—along with Damon comes Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara and Donald Glover. And the one complaint no one ever levels at Scott’s films is “poor visuals,” so the film’s Martian plains should be suitably awe-inspiring.

In a year’s time, we can happily compare “The Martian” to its 2014 equivalent: “Interstellar”—both containing Chastain and a stranded-in-space Damon.

“Midnight Special”
Release Date: November 25

“Midnight Special” is not slated until the very end of the year, and because of that, details on the film are scarce. But this much we know—the film will star Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver and Joel Edgerton, and follow a father who realizes his eight-year-old son has supernatural abilities, and goes on the run with the boy in tow. Jeff Nichols will direct.

It’s Nichols’ name that makes this one to keep an eye on. The filmmaker’s two previous efforts, “Mud” and “Take Shelter,” were expertly crafted, small-scale indie thrillers. It’s exceedingly likely that “Midnight Special” will be the same, with an added science-fiction booster shot.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Release Date: December 18

Alongside “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” say hello to the other 2015 science fiction film that’s guaranteed a billion dollar payout. Set roughly thirty yestarwarsars after “Return of the Jedi,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” reunites Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, C-3PO, and R2-D2 with a cast of new characters, including a Stormtrooper (John Boyega) and a mysterious cloaked figure with a fancy new lightsaber.

This is a tricky one. The prospect of a new “Star Wars” is enough to give anyone dizzy spells—especially with George Lucas no longer at the helm (after “Episodes I-III,” it’s time for Lucas to leave this galaxy far, far away). But Abrams’ track record isn’t as stellar as it might appear. Aside from an entertaining “Star Trek” reboot, his other films—“Mission: Impossible III,” “Super 8” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” meander into the “so-so” category.

If we’re lucky, the unfathomable pressure of helming the next “Star Wars” film will push Abrams up to his absolute highest “A” game. Although the level of fan love being poured into “The Force Awakens” surely improves the film’s outlook—so long as he can bring it up to the level of that 2009 “Star Trek,” it’s bound to be a fun ride.

There’s a bounty of goodness (or, potential goodness, anyway) on 2015’s plate. Most of it coming in the form of 3XL blockbusters, but that’s to be expected. 2015 has long been speculated to be a danger zone for the film industry; a year so overstuffed with big-budget fare that studios are bound to end in the red. Maybe those predictions come true; maybe they end up the film industry’s version of Y2K (that’ll disappoint the conspiracy theorists stocking their basements with microwave movie theater popcorn). It could go either way—but with the slate of science fiction films we see before us, it’ll be a journey to remember. END

Adam Paul is the movie critic for “Perihelion.” He is a graduate in World Cinema from Virginia Commonwealth University. He currently resides in Los Angeles where he writes movie and video game reviews for several Internet websites.