It seems like all Hollywood can do at the moment is look skywards, eyes tracking the stars. The interest in sci-fi has never been higher than in the past few months, and the titles coming out keep proving it. Reboot, adaptation or sequel, you name it.
For example, these days you are guaranteed to catch Ryan Gosling’s broody-but-determined face plastered on every Dublin bus, the title Blade Runner 2049 shining orange. Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the 1982 Ridley Scott cult film stars Gosling as Agent K and Harrison Ford reprising his iconic role of Rick Deckard. The movie opened worldwide on October 5th, but it’s just one of the many love letters to the sci-fi genre currently available.
Star Trek has made its grand comeback as well, returning to the tv with Discovery, created by Bryan Fuller and a prequel to The Original Series. Discovery stars Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnam, a human girl raised on Vulcan by Sarek and his wife, Amanda. Fans are still speculating whether some version of Spock will make an appearance, but they seem to be enjoying the show so far and reviews are overall excellent.
And what about Star Wars, preparing to take cinemas by storm in December with The Last Jedi? Luke Skywalker will finally be back in action, and the hype is very much real. But that’s just the franchises; Nolan’s Interstellar came out in 2014 and Cuarón’s Gravity in 2013, while last year Arrival (Villeneuve’s previous cinematic work before replicants) received a Best Picture nomination.
What, then, is so compelling about sci-fi? Is it that “you get to wear socks all the time,” which is what Rotten Tomatoes asked Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal during their Life press tour? Maybe, but the appeal of the genre probably goes a bit beyond that. It is not just escapism or visual entertainment either, although they are both great and everyone should let their mind wander away in deep space while wondering at digital effects every once in a while.
Deep down, the core of the question is this— sci-fi calls to our innate desire for knowledge and exploration by making us face the great “final frontier”. Sci-fi makes us think, always, even when it’s not particularly accurate and has fiery explosions in the vacuum of space. Every sci-fi story prompts its audience to imagine and push their limits, to question our worldview and where we’re headed with it, to create— maybe something like cell phones, inspired by Star Trek’s communicators. That is why the genre is still so popular, and why it always be.
Sure, we are talking about Hollywood— money is always in the picture. Genre and franchise movies tend to be blockbusters, generating buzz and merchandise. We remain idealistic, though, and believe that we love sci-fi because it reminds us of what Neil deGrasse Tyson, genre commentator extraordinaire, said: “We are in this universe, but the universe is also in us.”