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Sci-fi Culture: There’s Life Here on Planet Covid!

But you have to look hard. Here’s some help

Although there is always something happening here in Genre World, the current pandemic has put quite a damper on new releases and anticipated series. With major releases postponed, we sci-fi fans tirelessly check our email and bookmarked sci-fi news sites for any good news. If you’re one of those, have no fear! I’ve compiled a short list of what’s been going on in the community over the past few weeks. Expect to see more updates like these as long as needed.

Production and Release Delays

Navigating the COVID-19 crazy, I found IGN’s comprehensive list, “Coronavirus Movie Delays: Every Film and Show Affected by COVID-19,” not only for which upcoming films and tv releases are postponed, but also which productions are halted. Some pretty good upcoming sci-fi makes this list, including titles like Matrix 4, Infinite, and Stranger Things, Season 4. I’m especially bummed about the setback in the production of Amazon’s Lord of the Rings (which I have been looking forward to with much anticipation). If you’re prepared to wait, wait.

A First Look at Dune

Vanity Fair recently released a first look at the upcoming adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 novel Dune. With heavy hitters like Jason Mamoa, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgård, Zendaya, and Timothée Chalamet, I’ve no doubt this film will have the talent it needs to succeed. In addition, Denis Villeneuve (Arrival and Blade Runner 2049) will be taking on the role of director; an addition that I am particularly curious and hopeful about.

When it comes to adapting the 1965 novel, VF has this to say about its somewhat difficult filmability:

Still, for decades, the novel itself has defied adaptation. In the ’70s, the wild man experimental filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky mounted a quest to film it, but Hollywood considered the project too risky. David Lynch brought Dune to the big screen in a 1984 feature, but it was derided as an incomprehensible mess and a blight on his filmography. In 2000, a Dune miniseries on what’s now the SyFy channel became a hit for the cable network, but it is now only dimly remembered.

Anthony Breznican, “Behold Dune: An Exclusive Look at Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, and More” at Vanity Fair

Maybe I’m the only one, but I definitely remember the 2000 miniseries release of Dune and I was a kid so it certainly must have been more memorable than VF’s Anthony Breznican thinks—for sci-fi fans at least.

Still, Breznican has a point. Adapting Herbert’s novel to the big screen is no easy task.. I, for one, am excited to see if Villeneuve succeeds.

The Mandalorian: The “making-of” docuseries on Disney+

I’m a fan of both Star Wars and Star Trek. Sure, I’ve heard the arguments against taking either side before. So have you, probably. But here’s the reality: As productions and releases continue to get delayed, our pool of bingeworthy sci-fi will get smaller. Breaking past the barrier of rejecting one in favor of the other might open up a whole new world. If you have been allegiant to Star Trek, like me, and are thinking of giving Star Wars a shot, I would highly recommend binging through The Mandalorian.

For those who have already worked their way through the first season, however, there is good news. While Disney isn’t releasing new episodes or a premiere of season 2 (unfortunately) just yet, they are releasing an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette titled “Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian.” For a more in-depth look, check out Jax Motes’ article over at sciencefiction.com. Expect it to be released May the 4th (nope, not gonna say it)…. be with you (darn it, I did!).


Meanwhile, here are some recent “wait out COVID-19″ binges, courtesy Sci-Fi Saturday at Mind Matters News. If you didn’t get around to them before, this is your chance to try them. Many of the shorts are free.

Shelter in Place? Your Sci-Fi Video Game Binge List: You’ll never know where the long hours went. Has your ISP lifted bandwidth limits in your area due to thousands more Americans working from home? Great news for gamers too! Here’s my list of top-notch sci-fi apocalypse games.

and

How sci-fi treats pandemics Five sci-fi apocalypses to help you wait out COVID-19
One thing for sure, all those doomsday preppers, at whom we silently rolled our eyes years ago, are now crackin’ a secret smile. Never mind, us sci-fi buffs are going to need more than fizzy water and disinfectant. We need food for the mind! Here’s a sci-fi binge list, to keep our minds occupied.

Still stuck indoors and viewing the world through the silver screen? Here are some of Adam Nieri’s other recommendations and reflections:

2019’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV: 2019 featured many sci-fi television and movies that were less sci-fi than political narrative. In 2019, I fell out with Netflix. I felt bombarded by more and more edgy content, as though Netflix wanted me to know how “adult” it is. Rather than producing a few amazing originals, Netflix started vomiting up a ton of terrible originals.

Ad Astra: The Great Silence becomes personal. The film images the fate of those who seek significance in the stars and may well wait indefinitely. In a world where the divine touch of extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t elevate human existence to any level of significance, we are left with Ad Astra: a slow, methodical decay of human significance.

Alita, Battle Angel A Mind Matters Review: If you love anime and felt betrayed by the flop of Ghost, I would highly recommend Alita.

Another Life All fun and games till an AI falls in love. Then it descends into a convoluted drift of uncertain storytelling. And the victim is not primarily the viewer, who has other options. The victim is the art itself.

Dirty Machines: Short time travel flick exceeds expectations
A Mind Matters Short Film Review: A tense soundtrack, intriguing ending, and thoughtful stylistic choices make Dirty Machines: The End of History a thoughtful exploration of a logically tricky subject. Now, if the director can just resist the temptation to get woke…

The Expanse: A Mind Matters TV Series ReviewThe attention to detail and the realistic portrayal of space set it apart from run-of-the-mill sci-fi. I love the deep mystery surrounding the show’s central narrative device, the proto-molecule. It is somewhat sentient and is desperately trying to figure out what happened to the civilization that created it and was then wiped out while it lay dormant in our solar system for millions of years.

The Expanse, Season 4: The Best So Far? A Mind Matters Perspective: Unlike critic Zac Giaimo, I preferred Season 3 but it really depends on what you are looking for. Season 4 is, as critic Zac Giaimo notes, integral to character building and plot development for the overall series. I gave it 9/10 in an earlier review. However, I don’t know if I completely agree with Giaimo’s Amazonian optimism. Season 3 set up urgent questions that should be answered by the end of the show, preferably beginning in Season 5.

The Feed—A Mind Matters TV Series Review: I started out thinking that the show was just the usual ho-hum tyrant-AI-takes-over flick and it is so good to be wrong! Imagine a world where your mind is stored on social media. Now, what happens if someone steals, then abandons it? What will you do?

Her (2013): If you created her, is it real love? In this retrospective Mind Matters movie review, Adam Nieri ponders the questions raised by a thoughtful AI film. Unlike Catherine, Samantha is exactly what Theodore was looking for. No surprise there; Samantha is, literally, adjusted and updated according to Theodore’s preferences from when he initially began speaking to her. She exists only to be Theodore’s soulmate. Is that enough?

How To Become Human—A Mind Matters Short Film Review. This new film turns a conventional sci-fi storytelling premise upside down. Rather than an AI struggling to become human in a human-dominated world, we watch a human struggling to be more like an artificial intelligence in an AI-dominated world.

Lost in Space, A Mind Matters TV series review. I was skeptical at first, based on Netflix’s track record, but was pleasantly surprised. If I could rewind time a week and add a piece of 2019 sci-fi to my list of the year’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV, I would add Netflix’s Lost in Space, Season 2—which came out just after I had published. Let’s fix that now.

Love, death, & robots Despite the trash and ruined expectations, several shorts were enjoyable and downright fun to watch

Nightflyers: A Mind Matters TV Series Review Despite its flaws, Nightflyers does not deserve all the criticism it received. It’s the saga of a ship of scientists making their way through the cosmos to unlock the secrets of a mysterious entity known as Volcryn. It turns out that Volcryn is not the only mystery; the good ship Nightflyer holds many of its own secrets.

The Outer Worlds—A Mind Matters Game Review: You must discover the dark secret of the Halcyon space colony, despite the greed and corruption of a handful of powerful corporations. After the raging dumpster fire that Fallout 76 (2018) turned out to be, I hesitated to invest my time and money in another role-playing game (RPG) epic. But I am glad I did.

Picard (2020): Episode 1 Is an AI-Themed Mystery. The mystery is related to another familiar Star Trek character. Seeing the Star Trek universe from a different perspective—that is, not from the interior of a starship—was super refreshing and rewarding. It gives viewers a unique look at what day-to-day life is like for other people (much as The Mandalorian did for the Star Wars universe).

Star Trek: Picard — On second thought, some serious quibbles. Now that I’m four episodes in, I’ve gotta say, the “haters” might be onto something. Not everything but something. Why does Picard seem to be obsessed with Commander Data? And what happened to The Federation? Star Trek fans are quick to point out that Star Trek: Picard takes an unnecessary malevolent tone towards The Federation. Why do the Romulans look different? I’m still watching but I’d like some answers.

Simulation: Would a simulated universe even make sense? A well-crafted short sci-fi film suggests, intentionally or otherwise, maybe not. I’ve seen quite a few sci-fi short films over the years and Simulation is certainly one of the better ones. However, beyond that, I’m not sure this film knows what it is; it’s an identity crisis.

Sprites: Will plausible robots replace movie stars? A short film prepares us to think about it.

Tales of the Loop: Pushing the boundaries of the possible. Simon Stålenhag’s captivating post-apocalyptic landscapes remind us that the world could, at any time, be different from what we think it is. Science fiction, as an art, has always meant to inspire. It’s meant to push the boundaries of the possible. And Stålenhag’s world isn’t just different, it’s unique.

Terminator: Dark Fate—A Mind Matters Movie Review. Aside from the fact that it felt like a retextured version of Terminator 2, I was constantly being reminded of the film’s obvious political agenda. Movies like Terminator: Dark Fate  don’t seem to be made by people who care about the narrative. They seem to think that they need only make something that looks like a movie but acts as a medium for broadcasting their message to the masses.

War of the Worlds: Epix’s new War of the Worlds gets personal. And it works! Wells’s alien invasion (state of emergency, lockdowns) feels familiar in the world of COVID-19. Although the new series is set in Europe, the dialogue is mostly in English. We follow the paths of several apocalypse survivors who seek refuge from the alien robots that are killing any remaining humans. I love the tension that the show conveys and the characters it seeks to develop.

Also, a defense of science fiction fans: Does science fiction encourage narcissism? As a sci-fi critic, I think most fans are just looking for a genre where they can understand and be understood. It’s true that many people who are attracted to science fiction feel like outcasts or disconnected from mainstream popular culture. And many of them feel welcome, loved, accepted, and validated in the sci-fi community. Does that really make them narcissists?


Adam Nieri

Adam Nieri has interests in philosophy of science and philosophy of mind and he holds an MA in Science and Religion from Biola University. He has background in social media and marketing, photography/graphic design, IT, and teaching.

Sci-fi Culture: There’s Life Here on Planet Covid!