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A quality vacuum in sci-fi films?

Recipient profile picture Denis Villeneuve
5 May
Dear Denis Villeneuve,
I am a science fiction junkie, and a big fan of your movies. Thank you for giving Blade Runner, Arrival, and Dune the attention and care it deserves. I’m glad these stories get to reach a mass audience. I’m not so sure if they'd fare as well in another pair of hands. I am also excited that you will be directing Arthur Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. Rama is probably my favourite fictional work of all time, along with Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. (Please feel free, by the way, to remake Solaris should the mood strike you. I for one am curious to see how your brand of filmmaking might bring it to life.) Anyway, I’m writing to you because I feel that there remains to this day a dearth in high quality science fiction films. Would you agree? Despite all the content on Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime, amazing science fiction movies and television series are few and far between. And there are only so many times one can watch Alien, 2001: Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and The Matrix on our streaming services before craving something new and spectacular. I am wondering why this problem might be the case. For one, there is no shortage of high quality source material. Dune’s Arrakis, for example, is only one of the many fantastic worlds that authors have conjured over the last century. Surely there are other fictional universes that filmmakers might like to explore. Perhaps there are simply not enough directors, producers, and screenplay writers with a deep love for the genre. Maybe it is an issue of quantity. If we get thirty duds for every masterpiece, perhaps we’re just not making enough science fiction movies. If true, then perhaps it is simultaneously a demand and supply side problem. Or maybe the problem is Hollywood itself. Chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov talks about the “inertia of success” — that when you’ve been successful for such a long time, you lose the drive to innovate. Inertia rears its head not only in commerce and sports, but in artistic endeavours too. Might the forces of profit making be so strong that the capitalists in Hollywood are happy to rehash tropes and release subpar products to generate a quick buck? I’ve been told that good enough is profitable while perfect is loss making. Fair enough. The quality vacuum is equally true of horror films too. I believe there is a lot of untapped storytelling and cinematic potential in that genre. Horror, like science fiction, offers so many ways for filmmakers to get creative, strange, and bewildering. Yet many new releases are clones in a rushed coat of paint. Or maybe I am severely underestimating just how hard it is to make something new and different. I’m no filmmaker, after all. But with so many great books and source materials out there, I find this hard to believe. Denis, perhaps you’ll have some opinions on the matter? What is it about your craft that brings about success where other movies and directors fail? How might Hollywood improve the average quality of science fiction filmmaking as a whole? What advice might you give to young wannabe science fiction filmmakers? Thanks for hearing me out! Warm regards, Tobias

Tobias Lim

Author profile picture Tobias Lim

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