Over on new blog No Fear of the Future, Chris Nakashima-Brown uses Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia as springboard for a nearly-incomprehensible-in-its-hippitude essay which asks the question "Is the idea of Utopia rendered completely frivolous in a world that has made the cyberpunk dystopia so completely real? In a world where the pragmatic inevitability of market capitalism seems to have proven the inherent truths of its basic assumptions about the innate self-interest at the core of human nature?"
C N-B laments that Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy was the last compelling vision of utopian SF in relatively recent times, and that one has to look "back further for the rest: Aldiss, LeGuin, Van Vogt, Stapledon, Dick." (I can, I hope, be forgiven for pausing to add Zebrowski to that list, as his 1979 novel Macrolife is still unsurpassed in its unique take on viable utopias).
Meanwhile, my friend Paul Wargelin points me towards an article by Jason Silverman of Wired lamenting the lack of series SF cinema. "Hollywood Eats Sci-Fi's Brains," keys of the recent box office failure of Darren Aronofksy's The Fountain, which cost $35 milllion to make and earned a whopping $5million over the extended Thanksgiving weekend, to ask why Hollywood has stopped making series sf. Drawing on opinions of Hollywood insiders, Silverman diagnoses the problem as being a combination of the fact that SF films are always hit-or-miss, never a "slam-dunk" - with the fact that the budgets necessary create a barrier for entry. As Gordon Paddison, New Line Cinema's executive vice president of new media and marketing, says, "You have to put a certain level of budget into these films. You have to swing for the fences, otherwise you just aren't in the game at all."
This perspective seems to me one likely to date fast, as we see an increased democratization of the tools necessary to produce special effects. A more relevant question is found in Silverman's closing paragraph, where Paddison asks, ""The Gene Roddenberry form of sci-fi was the accepted template for years and years, the vision of what the future was to be for many, many people. Then it evolved into the horror sequences of Alien. So what is it now? What are we and our children fantasizing about?"
I don't know, but I suspect, as Silverman comes just short of hinting, that a good place to look for clues might be on YouTube.
Meanwhile, I wonder why no one ever thinks to suggest that the reason a film like The Fountain failed at the box office was not because of the subject matter, but because the trailer looked completely uninspiring and failed utterly to suggest a compelling reason to see the film. The other recent Hugh Jackman vehicle, The Prestige,which exited my local theaters to make room for The Fountain, while by no means a blockbuster, faired considerably better and was a very smart, very demanding film.
Hollywood has a very bad habit of blaming the genre or the setting when they should be blaming the script or the directing. I've just seen the trailer for Eragon, and am significantly underwhelmed. I imagine the legions of fans devoted to the book is enough for them to get their money's worth out of it anyway, but supposing that the film tanked at the box office, or, more realistically, simply underperformed. Then all those producers currently in development on adaptations of books by George R R Martin and Terry Brooks and whatever other fantasies were greenlit immediately following the success of The Lord of the Rings beware. The men in suites will look at Eragon's failure and proclaim that fantasy is dead, without ever once considering that maybe John Malkovich is a poor substitute for Ian McKellen and that cheaply CGI'd Dragons are no match for the decade plus of painstaking, loving, obsession that went into bringing Tolkien to the screen. But why should they when an easy excuse is close at hand?