I was going to rant about this on Twitter, but bleh. Quick blog post is easier: The Sad State of Modern Sci-fi
Short summary: They do not make amazing scifi movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey any more. CGI is ruining everything. There hasn’t been a good (in this case defined as thoughtful and intelligent) scifi movie since Moon in 2009.
Mr. Forward: I am extremely sorry to hear that last year, you were held captive in a windowless basement by evil, scifi-hating orcs and thus not allowed to go to the theater and see Her or Gravity (which relied heavily upon cgi). The former, I’ll note, won a richly-deserved Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The latter won several Oscars, including taking home Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón. (Now, to be fair, Mr. Forward’s post is from February 14, 2014, so he couldn’t have known this would happen.) I am also saddened to hear your subterranean prison did not have pay-per-view, and thus you were incapable of accessing Europa Report–a movie that was not without its problems, but was still an extremely solid offering for the genre if your requirements are thoughtful and intelligent.
And you’ll note here, I’m just sticking with the hardest scifi I can find. Go into softer scifi and you get Under the Skin. If you want to expand out toward fantasy, I can offer quite a few more movies that definitely deserve to be called thoughtful and intelligent in 2013, including Byzantium and Only Lovers Left Alive.
2013 was an incredible year for genre film, any way you slice it. While most of what I named were smaller, independent films, Gravity had a lifetime domestic gross of ~$274 million, not too far behind 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s inflation adjusted lifetime domestic gross of ~$297 million. Those numbers ain’t anything to sneeze at.
I guess you could dismiss the films I’ve named as not good enough in relation to the examples you hold up. It’s probably true that they’re never going to make another film like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that’s okay. That film already exists, and has held up through time. Let the filmmakers of today make different films and seek the answers for different questions. If Her and Gravity are insufficient in your eyes, I’d question if you’re defining good scifi cinema as thoughtful explorations of big questions on film, or as thoughtful explorations of big questions on film that precisely fit your personal taste. At which point you lose my sympathy if your taste is so narrow as all that.