Credit where it’s due, this week’s Roundtable topic was inspired by science fiction author John Scalzi (‘Old Man’s War’). Scalzi has recently blogged about directors who’ve had unexpected success in the sci-fi genre (such as Jean-Luc Godard with ‘Alphaville’ or Woody Allen with ‘Sleeper’) and great directors who’ve flopped in sci-fi. (You know Tim Burton’s ‘Planet of the Apes‘ remake is tops on that list.) It seems to me that the next most logical extension of this discussion is to pick directors we’d like to see make sci-fi movies, who haven’t yet. So I thought I’d beat him to the punch.
The rules are simple. Pick a director who’s never made a science fiction film, and explain why you think he or she should.
All of our friends are here to participate this week. (Literally, all of them. We have no other friends.) I’ll start things off myself this time.
- Wes Anderson – The director of such quirky character pieces as ‘Rushmore’ and ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ is obsessed with clutter and with the ways that the environment a character lives in reflects on that character’s personality. His eye for elaborate art direction would be perfectly suited to a dystopian sci-fi picture along the lines of ‘Blade Runner‘ or ‘Escape from New York‘. And his incredibly droll sense of humor would no doubt spin it into a delicious black comedy. Think ‘Brazil’ by way of… well, of any Wes Anderson movie. I’d definitely pay to see that.
- Baz Luhrmann – Most of my favorite directors have already done science fiction or something incredibly close to it. Sure, Spielberg hasn’t made a true sci-fi movie in years, and Guillermo del Toro hangs out more in the horror and fantasy camps, but he’s not far off. So I went through my Netflix queue and my roommate’s DVD collection looking for a director I like who hasn’t yet gone down the sci-fi path. When I think of directors with unique takes on movies, Baz Luhrmann comes right to mind. His version of ‘Romeo + Juliet’ slowly grew on me, and both ‘Moulin Rouge!‘ and ‘Australia‘ sit firmly as some of my favorites. Just what Baz could bring to the table when it comes to science fiction I have no idea, but I think the fact that he’d mix things up is good enough. Sci-fi has been getting really bad in the last few years thanks to lame mainstream television shows and movies incorporating science fiction elements. Someone’s got to shake it up, and I think Baz could do that. I don’t know if he’d necessarily make a good science fiction film, but he’d do something different, which is what we could use right now.
- Quentin Tarantino – It’s pretty obvious that Quentin Tarantino is a huge sci-fi geek. Not only did he name ‘Avatar‘ his favorite film of last year – saying that it was the “ride” he had tried to achieve with his extended ‘Kill Bill‘ opus – but most of the dialogue he wrote for ‘Crimson Tide‘ had to do with either ‘Star Trek‘ or various incarnations of the Silver Surfer. (Because, you know, Denzel really strikes you as a comic book fan.) He also claims to have written a nearly 30-page critical analysis of Bryan Singer’s ‘Superman Returns,’ a movie Tarantino thinks is balls-out brilliant. It seems that it’ll only be a matter of time before QT puts his distinctive stamp on the sci-fi genre, as he’s already made his gangster movie, Blaxploitation picture, World War II epic and slasher flick. What’s more, his continued focus on prolonged, suspense-oriented set pieces would be perfect for a movie set in space, or one in which technology has run amok. And his emphasis on character and dialogue would do a lot to thaw the chilly, inhuman void associated with science fiction. I’ve already got the tagline for Quentin Tarantino’s laser-riddled would-be masterpiece: “In space, no one can hear you say ‘motherfucker’.”
- Martin Scorsese – As a realist who specializes in gritty depictions of life and the emotions that fuel and torture us, it’s probably a safe bet that Martin Scorsese has little interest in diving into the fantastical realm of science fiction. But it sure would be fun to see what he could do with the genre. Without question, his sci-fi flick would be a visual dazzler. Scorsese’s meticulous artistic sense and creative use of the camera perfectly suits the form, and would plunge viewers into whatever foreign atmosphere he chose to create. Like a thrill ride at a theme park, it would be impossible not to surrender to the barrage of stimuli he would undoubtedly unleash. His biggest challenge, however, would be finding an appropriate story, something that would get his creative juices flowing and inspire him to leave his earthly comfort zone and thrust himself into an alien world. Potent themes and conflicted three-dimensional characters would be a must, and would contribute to a more grounded feel than most sci-fi films provide. Another priority would be merging imagination with realism and relatability. If all the pieces fell into place, there’s no doubt a Scorsese sci-fi picture would be a memorable, fascinating experience. Bring it on, Marty!
- Alexander Payne – I was going to say Christopher Guest, but then I saw that Guest had directed the 1993 TV remake of ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.’ Who knew?! Not me somehow. So now, I’m going to go with another filmmaker of oddball, deadpan comedy – ‘Sideways‘ director Alexander Payne. I’d love to see this guy tackle a sci-fi picture with a comedy twist. In fact, I’d not only like to see him do it, I’d like to see him re-team will Paul “Miles” Giamatti and work from a script custom tailored to both of them. Fortunately, my friend Jack Lilburn and I have just such a screenplay wrapped up and ready to go. ‘Ben Munson and the Eyes of the Jaguar’ works from a simple premise: “Don’t the countries from which Indiana Jones stole all of his artifacts have any means to reclaim their rightful property?” (I’ve always felt the ‘Indiana Jones’ series had a strong sci-fi vibe mixed into its action serial formula, even before the universally adored fourth installment brought the series much more clearly into the sci-fi genre.) In this case, what if a character in the mold of Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. retired and was replaced by a lazy tenured professor (Giamatti) who just planned to run the university museum and coast on Jones’ stash of artifacts, only to face a serious challenge when word of his predecessor’s departure sends a flood of diplomatic representatives his way to gut the museum of its wrongfully absconded riches? Faced with an empty museum, this decidedly un-heroic protagonist has no choice but to head out in pursuit of another mystical find in order to keep the university in the news. Personally, I’d love to see Payne’s take on this, and I know he’d have a field day using a sci-fi/action adventure script as a way to further tear down just the type of pretentious, ridiculous academic blowhards Giamatti was born to play. I’m telling you, Alexander, call me. This has your name all over it.
- Spike Lee – At first I thought picking a director for this week’s roundtable was going to be an impossible task. Every name that came to mind (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Christopher Nolan, Robert Rodriguez, Ang Lee) had already tackled sci-fi. Then it came to me: I would love to see Spike Lee’s take on the genre. A quick IMDb search revealed that he has never ventured into this territory – Whew! He’s currently attached to an upcoming film called ‘Time Traveler,’ but that’s based on the memoir of very real physicist Dr. Ronald Mallett. Sci-fi has historically been a genre that’s embraced diversity. (I’m looking at you, ‘Star Trek.’) That’s a subject Lee addresses in all his films. It also affords the filmmaker an opportunity to create a world we have never seen before. Lee clearly has a strong visual sense and was able to create a signature style in his early work on a very limited budget. I’d be interesting to see what he’d envision given the freedom of the sci-fi genre and a hefty special effects budget. Finally, since the strongest sci-fi films reflect a distorted and sometimes uncomfortable vision of the world, who better to challenge us than Lee? Whether or not you like his films, they always leave you with something to talk about when the lights come up in the theater. And while we’re waiting for Mr. Lee to get working on his sci-fi opus, be sure to check out ‘If God is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise,’ his sequel to the powerful and heartbreaking account of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath, ‘When the Levees Broke.’ It premieres this week on HBO.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
- Edgar Wright – As a card-carrying Edgar Wright fanboy, I’d be up for seeing him tackle any genre, but I think he’d do particularly well with sci-fi. He ribbed horror and chest-thumping action flicks in ‘Shaun of the Dead‘ and ‘Hot Fuzz,’ but they’re also the work of someone who clearly loves those very different genres. They’re comedies, sure, but when the climaxes roll around, ‘Shaun’ and ‘Fuzz’ work brilliantly as genuine genre pieces in their own rights too. ‘Spaced’ made it pretty clear that this is a guy who’s more than a little bit savvy about science fiction. Wright has an immense talent for capturing the best of a genre while still putting his own distinctive stamp on it. ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World‘ is incredibly visually inventive, and sports some of the most skillfully choreographed and best photographed action in just about anything I’ve come across in ages. So, if he put together some kind of action/comedy sci-fi flick…? I’m in.
Jason Bovberg (Connected Home Media)
- Joel and Ethan Coen – Can you imagine the kind of novel demise the Coen brothers would concoct for Steve Buscemi in outer space? I’m thinking of those fabulous explosive-decompression shots in ‘Outland,’ in which interstellar miners get helmets full of splatterskull. But I relish the notion of a Coen sci-fi flick for many more reasons than just Buscemi’s death. Now that the siblings are conquering the western with their ‘True Grit’ remake, and have seemingly abandoned their efforts to make a musical, a science fiction tale seems a perfect choice. After all, they handled the retro-UFO thing with admirable aplomb at the end of the masterful noir ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There.’ Recently, the extreme zoom-in and zoom-out bookends in their darkly wacky ‘Burn After Reading‘ suggest a certain directorial comfort with the idea of jetting off Earth – if only to distance themselves from the human stupidity the brothers are so fond of lampooning. Heck, look at the final shots of ‘A Serious Man‘: dark, apocalyptic, otherworldly … It’s almost as if the Coen filmography is careening toward an outer-space destiny. I would be first in line to see these filmmakers’ stylish, exacting, off-center, black-humor take on the genre. ‘Raising Alpha Centauri,’ anyone?
Now it’s your turn. Tell us in the comments which director you’d most like to see try his or her hand at the science fiction genre.