Culture Crash 18-07: The New Era of Science Fiction
Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.
Stand-alone science fiction stories are having a moment. In the past few years, smart sci-fi has gone from something of a forgotten genre to at the forefront of the streaming wars and the cineplex.
Netflix’s Black Mirror pumps out unique, interesting stand-alone episodes imagining the future of technology. Amazon’s recently released Electric Dreams is trying something similar with a twist: they’re modernizing some of the great stories written by Philip K. Dick, as an anthology show of their own.
Even at the movies, stand-alone science fiction is making a comeback in an unlikely place: The Cloverfield franchise. Movie franchises these days are almost entirely serialized: Each Marvel movie builds on everything that came before it. But Cloverfield may be JJ Abram’s most clever trick, because the movies are hardly related. Cloverfield was released in 2008 to high marks from critics and made its budget back over 6 times. Then, in 2016, a mysterious sequel was announced. Except…it wasn’t really a sequel at all. It was a previously written script that they tweaked a few things here and there to make into a “Cloverfield” movie called 10 Cloverfield Lane. Essentially, it’s an entirely stand-alone movie shoe-horned into a franchise so it could be made. The Super Bowl-surprise movie The Cloverfield Paradox was a similar story . As is Overlord, the franchise’s next entry coming to theaters later this year. All 4 of the Cloverfield movies that have been announced or released so far come from different writers and starring entirely new casts, making this a franchise unlike any other.
In a time when big budget tentpoles have to be part of a larger universe, Abrams has found a way to disguise interesting projects he’s producing into name brand, helping these movies get seen and helping original sci-fi find its seat at the table again.