What a decade, huh guys? We entered into the new millenium convinced we were facing the end of the world as we knew it. We all thought Y2K would rain down fire, brimstone and ninjas down upon our heads, yet here we all are; a decade into the 21st century, no worse for wear. But the world has visibly changed from the year 2000 when no one had ever heard of American Idol, the term “9/11” meant you were calling the police, Michael Jackson was still alive (if a tad creepy), we thought we’d never have a black president, and a “high school musical” was where you were subjected to an amateurish attempt at entertainment, lacking any real talent or depth.
Okay, so maybe not everything has changed.
Even so, it was a decade of innovation, change, and upheaval, and it reached it’s crescendo in 2009. So let’s look back over the previous year…both the good, (with nostalgic fondness) and the bad (with the occasional uncontrollable wincing of pain and anger).
Lets start with the good stuff.
Scifi: Not just for geeks anymore.
2009 saw science fiction going mainstream in a big way. First out of the box, J.J. Abrams took the helm of the Enterprise, gathered a group of fresh faced actors and actresses, amped the action while still focusing on the characters and accomplished the impossible: He made a Star Trek movie that appealed to both the Star Trek niche audience as well as non-trek fans, successfully rebooting a franchise that was all but drifting dead in space, like so many remains of the U.S.S. Grissom.
Then summer arrived and while mainstream audiences were spending their hard-earned money on crap-fests (more on that later), a visually stunning, viscerally brutal and eye-opening parable of racism taking place in a ghetto for extraterrestrials snuck in under the radar and redefined what sci-fi was capable of. Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 not only amazed sci-fi geeks with space ships, high tech guns and rocket-firing mechs, but also offered a healthy dose of thoughtful commentary on racism, apartheid and mankind’s propensity for violation of human rights. The movie gets even more points for Sharlto Copley’s portrayal of Wikus van de Merwe, a weasel corporate stooge who you hate at first, but more and more come to pity (and even like) as he experiences life on the other side of a racist fence.
Then along came the Christmas season and James Cameron’s decision to quit messing around filming underwater plants in IMAX and actually make a freaking movie finally came to fruition…and damned if it wasn’t the prettiest bit of eye-candy ever to hit theaters. Avatar was a risk by all accounts, a three hour long cgi-filled rip-off of Dances With Wolves featuring giant blue cat-people, dubbed “Thundersmurfs” by the internet forumites? But all doubts were blown away opening night as critics began to talk about how this was a ‘game changer’, and while I won’t quite go that far, I will say that visually, this was the best movie ever made in my opinion. I’m including Lord of the Rings in that statement. While the story was all old stuff it was put together in a new way, and despite the blatantly environmentalist message which rubbed a lot of viewers the wrong way (including our fearless leader) as I write this, Avatar stands poised to beat the biggest money-maker of all time (Cameron’s last opus, the highly overrated Titanic), and this time it looks like he may even deserve it.
All things told scifi made a gigantic leap into the mainstream consciousness, and while the hopes are high that the trend will continue with well-written, visually stunning, action packed pieces will continue, the Scifi channel has changed it’s name to Syfy in an attempt to pander to well, stupid people apparently. I think intelligent science fiction with mainstream appeal as the norm might still be far off.
Disney returns to hand drawn animation. World cheers.
For going on seven years, Disney has been content to crap out horrible direct-to-DVD movies and focus on their never-ending crop of identical pop stars while letting Pixar do all the heavy lifting at the box office. The days of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King seemed a lifetime ago, and the world mourned the death of Disney’s creative renaissance…
Until Disney offered movie goers a Christmas present.
The Princess and the Frog was a breath of fresh air in a world where more and more children’s features are brainless CGI Shrek clones, and unlike some of their past attempts at animated features (Brother Bear and Home on the Range come to mind), this one is actually good! While some of the House of Mouse’s conventions remain intact, (Dead parent? Check. Awesome villain? Present. “believe in youself/love conquers all” moral? Need you even ask?) Disney tries a few new tricks with an African American cast of characters (the first time since 1947’s Song of the South), a contemporary setting (New Orleans in the 20’s), and a “princess” in the form of a working class girl with a dream, but more than that, an actual willingness to roll up her sleeves and do something about it. A proactive, empowered Disney princess? Oh, we’re down.
Our collective childhoods get the screen treatment.
In 2009, two different movies were based on well known and well loved children’s books, and this was good news for two reasons. One: They were all fun books, not morbid, sad or depressing like some other adaptations from years past, (I.E. Where the Red Fern Grows or Bridge to Terabithia). Two: the makers of said films actually did a pretty good job adapting the source material.
When word spread that a movie would be made out of Where the Wild Things Are, skepticism abounded. How could anyone make anything decent out of a kids book only ten sentences long? But when it got out that Spike Jonze was attached and the trailers were released all we could do was anticipate an imaginative fun-loving yet melancholy tale that anyone who was ever a child needs to see.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was a fun little yarn about a guy who creates a machine that makes food out of water…and then it rains hamburgers. Though it kind of came and went amidst a veritable deluge of CGI movies, it was actually a lot of fun. what other movie would you hope to see a hamburger tree, a spaghetti and meatball tornado or giant mountains of fudge, ice cream and pancakes?
Unfortunately, there’s a serious dark side to the recent wave of nostalgia, which brings me to… the Worst of 2009. Seriously, turn back now.
Our collective childhoods get flushed down the toilet.
We wanted to like Revenge of the Fallen, we really did. We had high hopes for The Rise of Cobra. Instead of the adrenaline fueled, state of the art, nostalia fest we expected though, we were forced to slog through racist characters, preposterous storylines, leg-humping robot dogs, ridiculous Cobra masks, “accelerator suits”…
…robots with testicles, Megan Fox’s attempts to emote, Sam Witwicky’s obnoxious parents, predictable plot twists, Ray Park painted black, Channing Tatum trying to convince us he’s not a complete lunkhead, horrible dialogue, a G.I. Joe team *not* based in America (A Real American Hero? remember?), weed jokes, and a Wayans brother. In short, G.I. Joe and Transformers, two of the most popular action cartoon franchises of the eighties were taken by Hollywood and reduced to two-hour toilet jokes. The single most depressing thing about these celluloid abominations? People came out in droves and spent millions of dollars to see them. That’s right, while brilliant movies like District 9 were in theaters, what were you spending your money on?
Rumours of an impending Thundercats movie in times past would have made us quiver in anticipation, but now, such talk only makes us angry and exasperated. The eight year old boy inside all of us who cried when Optimus Prime died in Transformers: The Movie, has been wiped out. Ladies, just be glad Michael Bay’s never gonna do My Little Pony: The Vengeance of the Scmooze.
Twilight: New Moon ruins werewolves, continues to ruin vampires.
(Zombies remain cool)
While I do maintain that the Twilight movies are watchable, even entertaining, (if for no other reason than because you don’t have to suffer through Stephanie Meyer’s horrendous prose like you would if you read the books), there’s kind of a disturbing trend developing which can be traced back directly to this series. In short, the best movie monsters are being reduced to whiny, harmless teenage girl fantasy fodder. When Twilight came out last year and teenage girls with no taste* started robbing their parents to see it multiple times en masse, those of us who actually like vampire movies felt a great disturbance in the force. A wishy washy heroine whose behavior resembles patterns set forth by long time abuse victims who never leave? We can deal. Vampires who stay hidden despite the fact that they’re apparently unkillable even by sunlight? fine, makes no sense, but we’ll give it to you. But SPARKLING VAMPIRES?!! Hell to the no.
Then along comes New Moon this year and we discover that not only are vampires whiny emo sissies (who freakin’ twinkle!!!), but werewolves are apparently all shirtless, muscle-bound jocks who are still sensitive enough to be emo, but not quite sensitive enough to not come off as douchebags.