Oooh, a Blade Runner 2049 mini-prequel, from the Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe. In plot terms, the 15 minute Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 sit between the original and the new Blade Runner. As do the follow-on shorts 2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run. All are now on YouTube for free, courtesy of Warner Bros.
What’s coming in screen science fiction in 2017, and which might be worth watching? Here’s my survey.
Apparently it’s the year for “Movies set on the ISS”. Is our venerable orbiting space station available for film-makers to rent? First up is the movie God Particle (Feb 2017), which sounds like Contact meets Interstellar on the ISS. The second space station movie is Life (end May 2017) which also involves finding life on Mars and then (what could possibly go wrong?) sending back it to the ISS in a spaceship. Then there’s the much-delayed Geostorm (Autumn 2017?), in which some half-baked climate ‘science’ is meant to rectify ‘dangerous’ global warming — but it goes 404 and oops… it’s suddenly set to destroy the world. Who knew? One of those three movies has to be good, and I suspect it’ll be Life.
A live action Ghost in the Shell (March 2017), with a megabucks budget? Yup, but it’s Hollywood-does-anime… so it will probably end in tears. There’s just no way to do the anime classic’s many special effects and set pieces to today’s high screen-standards, unless the studio spends billions on a continuous stream of FX-heavy scenes. Not to mention also handling all the sexual aspects, which are OK in Tokyo but not in Tuscon. But at least we may get to understand the plot, this time around.
Back in good ol’ Japan, a major anime movie reboot of their beloved rubber-suited monster Godzilla (Nov 2017?) is well underway, which sounds like fun. It can’t be any worse than the dire Hollywood Godzilla movie of a few years ago.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 2017) rockets away into space-opera territory in late summer. It’ll probably be very outre and French, but it might be fun in a Fifth Element-meets-Barbarella sort of way. Hopefully it won’t be another total turkey like Jupiter Ascending.
Also looking rather fun is The Mummy (June 2017). Tom Cruise vs. mad mummies from Ancient Egypt, all wrapped up in a romping summer blockbuster… yup, I’ll happily see that!
Alien: Covenant hits in August 2017. A sequel to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (hint: Prometheus is better paced in the extended fan-edit). Apparently we get to visit David on the mecho-planet. It looks promisingly intellectual, or as ‘intellectual’ as Hollywood can get these days. At least it’s not “horror pretending to be sci-fi, big guns and a sweaty Sigourney Weaver”. (I’d totally forgotten that I wrote a pitch for the sequel in 2013. It’s still online, if you want a look at what might happen in the new movie).
The Three-Body Problem (Sept 2017?) is an unusual one, and is possibly set for the student indie cinema market in September? It’s a fairly major Chinese movie of the best novel from a writer called ‘the Chinese Arthur C. Clarke’. Originally set for 2016, but it’s slipped to 2017.
Blade Runner 2049 (Oct 2017). It’s the Blade Runner sequel, which is really all you need to know. Let’s hope this time we don’t have to wait 20 years for the Director’s Extended Really-Final-This-Time cut of the movie.
Star Wars: Episode VIII (Dec 2017). The next Star Wars movie.
Superhero films? Nope. I’m bored, bored, bored with superheroes, after far too many noisy and time-wasting flops. In 2017 only the third Thor film (Nov 2017) raises even a twitch of interest, and even that will fade if the Doctor Strange movie is forgettable.
The same is true of the latest Planet of the Apes reboot movie. Absolutely terrific first movie, but the second was a plodding ‘tired old western, disguised as sci-fi’. Now it looks like the third in the series is set to be ‘a tired old war movie, disguised as sci-fi’. I’ve no interest in any more Apes reboot movies. The same goes for more installments in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Pirates of the Caribbean series.
In terms of imaginative British movies Kingsman: The Golden Circle (June 2017) has some promise, as the first film was a very solid and stylish bit of entertainment.
The mid-budget British movie King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (March 2017) also intrigues, apparently being a ‘classic’ King Arthur told-straight by Guy Richie (Sherlock Holmes) with the help of several cart-loads of hunky Brits. Looks a bit too “big guys bash each other, get spattered with blood”, though, and not enough “Heathcote Williams does earth-magic as Merlin”.
In American space sci-fi on TV, the excellent The Expanse launches into its 2nd season soon. It should be well underway by 2017. I greatly enjoyed the first series, but I think it’s now going onto my “wait until they’ve finished, and then watch just the main story arc episodes” list. The same is true about The Man in the High Castle (season two coming soon) and Westworld (just started, ongoing), which I hear good things about.
The once-great tradition of low-budget British sci-fi series seems to be all-but dead these days. I’m not sure what killed it? Sniffy Guardianista producers, wanting to make stuff that’s more ‘socially relevant’ (code for: ‘relevant to socialists’)? The cost of VFX? But we can at least look forward to the 10th season of Doctor Who. Let’s hope we get a straight twelve-episode high-budget run of a connected storyline, rather than half of the series being filler ‘monster of the week’ episodes. That’s not going to happen, of course, but however choppy the show gets it’s always great fun and packed with wild and eccentric sci-fi ideas that you’ll find nowhere else.
Watch out for the December 2016 Christmas Special of Doctor Who, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” on Christmas Day. It looks set to introduce the Doctor’s new ‘young companion’.
“Cosmos Laundromat – First Cycle”, a 12 minute short made by the Blender Foundation to showcase their Blender software.
The production and final assets are, as usual, Creative Commons and are on Blender Cloud. Though they’re sadly not as open as Blender Foundation assets used to be. A “This content is only available to subscribers” paywall pops up everywhere. Not sure how that move squares with the “Made with the support of the MEDIA Programme of the European Union” credit (translation from EU-speak: “paid for by taxpayers”) on “Cosmos Laundromat”, let alone the old-school open source ethos.
Even the Foundation’s old Big Buck Bunny and Tears of Steel Creative Commons assets repositories are now locked down and ‘subscription only’. Something has gone badly wrong in Blenderland, by the looks of things. What was once accessible to the planet to access and remix now appears to cost 45 Euros for three months, and to be basically limited to hardcore Blender users. Is that even ethical? Given that those who worked on the likes of Elephant’s Dream and Big Buck Bunny and Tears of Steel worked under the assumption that they were making genuine open source movies — open as in “accessible to the whole world, forever, always, including all the assets, instantly, and for free”?
A group of artists explores the best ways to produce a photorealistic 3D human face. A face that doesn’t freak people out, by looking not-quite human. Their early work is now available as a free Maya file (non-commercial use only).
3D animation of the coming launch of the new private spacecraft the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, using the most powerful rocket in the world. It’s set to launch from the NASA’s Apollo Saturn V launchpad later in 2015.
Amazing Disney animation from the 1960s, showing his team’s wonderful visions of the sorts of creatures that might have lived on Mars. Great inspiration here for creature design in 3D…
The UK’s 3D Artist magazine has a short but very perceptive interview-ette with Ramsey Avery, art director on Disney’s Tomorrowland, on wrangling the interface between the 3D CG and the real.
At the risk of temporarily turning this blog into a Tomorrowland fan blog, I must say that I was fascinated to find that the Tomorrowland novelisation was quite different at certain points. It’s an easy read of a few hours, being 160 or so pages in plain English meant for young adults, and is skip-able in places where the action is the same as in the movie.
The novel has additional information about the back-story that’s unavailable in the prequel novels / ARG / comic-book / deleted scenes etc. Those interested in what deleted scenes might be on the Blu-ray, and also any Tomorrowland fan-fiction writers, may be interested in the changes and differences — along with the Plus Ultra timeline that’s been drawn from the above sources. So I’ve spent 30 minutes typing up my rough notes on the novel’s differences.
Warning! Spoilers, if you’ve not yet seen the movie or read the novelisation:
1. Young Frank’s aggressive farmer father tells Frank that his childish optimism won’t mow the cornfield. Frank invents a device to automatically steer his father’s combine harvester. Frank also sets fire to the corn when he uses his jet-pack, a scene that is known to have been filmed and was the original opening of the movie.
2. At the 1964 World’s Fair, Frank sees an exhibit that claims to use a computer to accurately predict the random fall of balls on a pinball-like table. This foreshadows the functioning of The Monitor. (It’s possible this was filmed, since it has been refered to — by ARG fans who saw early footage — as the “IBM pavilion ‘Probability Machine.'” and they were able to quote the dialogue spoken. They also noted a scene of a close call with a costumed The White Rabbit, and Frank looking admiringly at Father Progress on the Carousel of Progress. They also spotted that Michael Giacchino, the film’s composer, plays the Small World ride’s boat-loader).
3. Young Frank’s conversation with Nix at the World’s Fair reveals that he had learned, from reading of failures at Bell Labs, how not to build a jetpack.
4. In the novel, Casey also lives with her TV-slumped Uncle and dull cousins Mikey and Clarissa. They are unseen, but mentioned.
5. The scenes in Casey’s school classes omits her question of: “So, what are can we do to fix it?” (The movie also filmed a scene with Casey in detention at school, which might follow on from her question — the detention is not in the novel).
6. During the car ride home from the police cells, Casey’s dad tells her he’s been fired. The site demolition foreman had assumed that Casey’s father had asked her to do the sabotage to keep him in work.
7. The Blast From the Past shop staff tell Casey details of the augmented reality system connected to the pins, that Disney was “one of Plus Ultra”, that Disneyland was “just a cover” for Plus Ultra training, and that “they” (Plus Ultra) were planning to go public at the 1964 World’s Fair.
8. While driving to Frank’s house, Athena uses her robot eyes to project the video of a 3-year old Casey that is seen in the movie. Athena says that she found it on YouTube and that it had led her to Casey.
9. While driving to Frank’s house, across the empty spaces of the mid-west, the only radio Casey and Athena can pick up is hellfire evangelical preachers ranting about the end-of-days. Athena turns off the radio, with “strange black eyes” that Casey assumes is the equivalent of robot tears.
10. Athena reveals that she was built in 1957.
11. Frank still lives on the old family farm. He has been a total recluse, but has lately struggled with himself enough to at least go out once a week.
12. Nix hasn’t aged much since 1964, but he claims not to be a robot. He says there are “just enough” people in Tomorrowland to keep the city running, and talks of the need to gather massive power to feed The Monitor (named “The Oracle” in the novel).
13. There is a scene of robots returning through a portal “bridgeway” from Earth, carrying away great art, literature and memorabilia to save it from the coming destruction.
14. Casey doesn’t see a ‘Monitor prediction’ of Earth demonstrations and other moments / types of destruction, simply the devastated Earth as it is three months after the “Inevitability” (doomsday). The Monitor cannot see three months either side of the moment of destruction, “because of the radiation”. This implies nuclear destruction, but those in Tomorrowland are uncertain of the precise cause of what they call the “Inevitability”.
15. When The Monitor was first built, the chances of the “Inevitability” (doomsday) were 1 in 10. Gradually, the odds became slimmer and slimmer. Nix decided (secretly?) to change or boost the Monitor so as to subtly inculcate a feeling of pessimism in humanity, hoping it would shock them into action. Instead, his actions had an unexpected effect — Nix found that humanity took a perverse delight in its new-found pessimism. As he says, pessimism demands nothing of one today, and no thought for tomorrow. Presumably he then tried to increase the effect, vainly hoping that ever-higher levels of pessimism might shock humanity awake.
16. Casey’s realisation of the Monitor’s unintended pessimistic effect is developed a little more slowly in the novel, with a montage of flashbacks.
17. Frank talks of his ability to detect and pirate the Monitor’s signal on Earth being because Nix was turning the Monitor “on and off”. Nix later contradicts this by saying that Monitor cannot be turned off, since it now powers the city. The unspoken implication is that Nix is lying and that he has been secretly turning the Monitor off briefly, perhaps in order to siphon the vast power to some sort of machine that keeps him so young. Such an action might also grimly help explain the under-population of the city.
18. Nix accepts Frank’s handshake at the portal because he had been Frank’s old mentor and teacher. He has been the Governor since at least 1964.
19. Athena remembers and states the exact date of Frank’s exile: 24th April 1984, when he was presumably aged about 29. She says the date is forever burned into her memory.
20. The moment before Frank straps on a Tomorrowland jet-pack and takes off with Athena, he cracks a joke, and so finally makes her laugh. While living in Tomorrowland he had never managed to make her laugh like a human.
21. All the robots/androids stop working when the Monitor is destroyed. (In the film, in contrast, it appears that a few dusty androids emerge cautiously from the ruins to peer at their two liberators). In the novel, Frank and Casey survey the ruins of the city for a longer time.
22. There is a very different pre-credits ending. This is much more low-key and less glitzy / ‘Benetton ad’ than the movie’s ending. You’ll have to buy the book for that one 🙂 Or wait for the Blu-ray, as I’m assuming this is the alternate ending that the director says was filmed.
Also… (warning: more big spoilers)
Raffey Cassidy (Athena) said in a press interview with Marybeth Hamilton (“Exclusive: Raffey Cassidy on the Secret of Athena’s Blue Dress in Tomorrowland!”) that there was a scene where the camera was inside a monorail, the monorail car drew up to a stop, the doors opened and beyond the doors the camera looked straight at Athena and Frank (adult, played by Clooney) waiting on the platform, who were looking into the opened monorail doors at Casey. It’s not in the theatrical release. I wonder if that was one of the alternative endings? An interview with Lindelof seems to confirm something that sounds like this, he said there’s a portrayal of Casey in the deleted scenes for Tomorrowland that shows another Casey (growing into adulthood?) and “shows the evolution of where we ended up” after the movie.
For that monorail doors scene to work as an ending, the current pre-credits scenes would presumably have been cut after about the “glowing trees” scene in the movie. Instead we might have had a voiceover monologue from Casey with a montage of scenes showing: the novelization’s alternative ending on Earth (not in the movie); the “come and help us, Dad” scene from the movie; impressionistic scenes of getting the city back into working order again; Casey wistfully watching the new generation of recruiter robots depart through the portals, and being sorry that none of them look like Athena. Then the big recruitment/wheat-field climax. Fade to black. Then fade slowly up into a coda with Casey riding the monorail, maybe older, re-construction and new life all around, Dad off doing his thing at the spaceport, which he’s called her over to visit because he has a ‘surprise’. Her voiceover says that Frank is so busy these days, on some mysterious project, so that she hardly sees him. The future looks bright, of course, but she often feels the need of old friends and like minds to get her bearings in the whirl of the new world. The monorail doors open… the movie ends with a scene of Frank and Athena on the platform, looking at Casey, spaceport in the background. Frank smiles, Athena also smiles, and cocks her head to the side in a slightly robotic manner. Frank wears a spacesuit and carries a helmet. Athena tells Casey: “We’ve saved a seat, just for you…” and holds out a space helmet. Casey is going to stars, just like her 3-year old self had hoped. Fade to black.
The implication that the audience would be left with is that Frank has had Athena re-made… (the prequel novel talks of how robots are only partly ‘in’ their shell and have a sort of collective remote backup mind – so with that and Frank’s genius, it’s possible).
I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the new movie Tomorrowland during a rare trip to the local cinema. I even read the excellent prequel novel, Before Tomorrowland, which is rich in back-story about the Plus Ultra organisation, and has some very nice links into the movie. I also found a little more back-story in the deleted Pixar animated scene (on YouTube — it would have been in the movie as part of the “It’s A Small World” sequence at the 1964 World’s Fair).
Tomorrowland is still showing at the cinemas in the UK, for a day or two longer, and has big-screen CGI of the Tomorrowland city that must be some of the most beautiful and fresh ever put on screen. The movie is also interesting, technically, as one of the first serious attempts to improve the quality of cinema digital projection.
But, sad to say, it appears that the movie’s choppy marketing confused the mainstream U.S. audience, who expected another mindless kids’ roller-coaster ride to the future and instead got a thoughtful character-driven movie about the loss of our childhood dreams, and (if you know the back-story) the magical transmissive nature of inspiration. So now the movie’s lacklustre U.S. box-office, followed by a reportedly dismal $14m first-week box-office in China, appears to have effectively killed off any chances of a sequel telling the story of Frank and Athena (and also killed off Tron 3, which I’m less sad about). That’s a great shame for a movie with such big ideas and such a big heart. And also a flawless ensemble cast, I should add.
I did have qualms about the cliched action-movie part of Tomorrowland‘s ending, but according to the director they also shot an alternate ending. Let’s hope that ending is more intelligent and shows up on the coming Blu-ray disc. I suspect a Director’s Cut, though needed, is now sadly out of the question in terms of Disney funding and releasing it.
For now, for the fans, there’s the Disney’s Tomorrowland Facebook page, and for the longer-term fans there’s A World Beyond – for the recruits of Plus Ultra which is the unofficial fan Group on Facebook.
A film made in Unreal Engine 4 — all FX, lighting, plants, plus a boy and 100 square miles of landscape, rendered at at 30fps in real-time inside the Unreal Engine 4 videogame engine. An engine which is now free.
A beautiful new sci-fi short movie, Wanderers, from director Erik Wernquist of Sweden…
Trailer for the forthcoming Erasmus Brosdau film made with Cinebox, a genuine real-time WYSIWYG renderer that sits on top of the videogame engine CryEngine, and lets you make stills and movies with it in real-time interactive HD (like iClone, not like the slow grainy preview windows that pass for real-time in high-end 3D software). Cinebox has yet to be released, but it already looks pretty good…
Sci-Fi Lounge stage set. Comes with lights. Daz users should note that the materials only work in Poser.
As a background set the new AJ Expo-Cars Hall could probably be adapted for a Tron: Legacy style scene. Includes an .OBJ version, so Carrara and Vue users should be able to load it easily. Although note that there’s a complicated explanation of the textures, which suggests you may not get the same glow/shine results in other software.
As I’ve noted here before, getting authentic glow effects (with light spillover into the surrounding air) is not at all easy inside DAZ and Poser. See my DAZ Carrara tutorial on making authentic glows.