Many have said that one of the best features of movies is their ability to visually realize one’s imagination. While they can capture reality, they also have the unique ability to present an alternate and fantastical reality in fluid motion. Ever since innovative and prankish directors such as Georges Melies got their hands on cameras at the turn of the 20th century, fantasy films have seemed to intermittently push cinema into new bounds, be it in “The Wizard of Oz” or “Star Wars.” It is odd then that notable science fiction and fantasy films seem so few and far between.
When we look back at 2009 however, many of the most memorable films will belong to these genres that are so often regarded as inferior.
According to industry analysts, 2009 has been the most profitable box office year in the history of movies, and it’s not hard to see why —— James Cameron’s sci-fi effects extravaganza “Avatar” has already grossed $1.34 billion worldwide in just four weekends to become the second highest-grossing movie ever made.
The reboot of “Star Trek” amassed $257.7 million and alien film “District 9” took in $115.5 million on their respective U.S. box office grosses.
Aside from the financial success of these and other entries to the genre, these films have also gotten considerable awards attention and critical recognition from organizations that usually prefer drama to action. The Producers Guild of America, for instance, nominated all three of the aforementioned films for its prestigious award.
It’s not hard to imagine any of them could land on Oscar’s best picture lineup — the first time a sci-fi or fantasy film would be included in that list since “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
For a country struggling through a massive economic recession, it may seem strange that this has been such a financially successful year for Hollywood, but movies have often made the most money at times of economic strife, such as the Great Depression.
Their success is only a reaffirmation of the public’s desire for an escape, for an immersive experience filled with jaw-dropping sights.
Unlike most throwaway science fiction films though, the past year’s offerings have also been thought provoking and socially relevant. “District 9” director Neill Blomkamp used South Africa’s struggle against apartheid as the basis for the racial undertones of his humans vs. aliens conflict.
“Avatar,” recognized most for its stunning motion-capture technology, also incorporates a storyline about colonialism and settlement. Other films like the small feature “Moon” are more contained and cerebral, posing moral and existential questions about humanity.
Looking at our world through a heightened sense of imagination was importantly not limited to science fiction in 2009. It even extended to war films, where Quentin Tarantino provided a delirious alternative history for World War II in “Inglourious Basterds.”
For the first time in years, sci-fi and fantasy have been elevated back to prime status thanks largely to a diverse group of visionary filmmakers who delivered unique visions both thrilling and reflective.
If one of the cinema’s best pleasures is in experiencing the world as it could be or as it may be, 2009 was an incredible year to get lost in someone else’s vision of the world. That’s Entertainment.