The recent success of Science-Fiction films like Star Trek, District 9, Watchmen, Terminator: Salvation, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, to name the biggest Sci-Fi releases, seems to indicate that Hollywood is gravitating more toward this genre now that it is getting some serious consideration by Hollywood execs. True, there have been numerous science-fiction and space opera movies that have gained critical or commercial success, such as the Aliens movies that made Sigourney Weaver the standard in female on-screen bad-assery, or the original Star Wars trilogy, basically a Western in Space, that caught the popular imagination.
However, for the most part, when you look at Science Fiction movies, so many good films never really got the attention they deserved (although that can be said for movies of any genre), either because of test audiences who missed the point of the film, prompting studios to change the ending, often for the worse, (such as the 2007 remake, I Am Legend, and the theatrical release of Blade Runner), or because of studio power plays (does Superman II ring a bell? The campy one?). Lately Hollywood seems to be putting out more big-budget sci-fi films, and for this, I am glad.
Science Fiction is a genre that needs to be handled with care. It's not your summer buddy comedy where you can liberally pepper the script with dick-jokes and call it a day, nor is it a sappy Notebook-esque love-fest you go to when you've pissed off your girlfriend somehow. It's a genre that was almost made for the big screen. As much as there are famous Sci-Fi novels that have changed literature forever, Science Fiction is as much about the aesthetics and ethics of technology and advancement as it is about awesome metaphors. A good writer can tell you that the machines from The Matrix have enslaved humans for use as an energy source, but actually seeing that makes the world the story describes much more disturbing.
This sci-fi trend has been coming on slowly, from the release of The Matrix in 1999, and continuing onwards with big science fiction films that have the added bonus of having a point as well as being really cool to look at. Others in this vein include Children of Men and V for Vendetta, the latter of which was adapted from the eponymous graphic novel by acclaimed comics writer and whiner, Alan Moore. The problem, so far, is that as awesome a movie like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is to watch, due to the large amount of explosions and fighting robots contained in the movie, there is little appeal past that. No thematic exploration of things like ethics and freedom, the sorts of things that most science-fiction books and television shows make it their business to look into.
The good thing is if Hollywood decides to get even more buddy-buddy with the sci-fi genre then they've got a lot of material they can adapt to the big screen. Things that could be amazing visually and thematically, the latter being something that Hollywood desperately needs to add to its summer blockbusters. It's true there are things that animation can do that live-action and CGI just can't (as Japanese films Ghost in the Shell and Akira prove) but that doesn't mean the genre is limiting in any way. There are lots of material that would probably be awesome to see as a movie, things as diverse as video games (the Halo games, or Battletech, AKA Mechwarrior, both of which have excellent narratives), novels (A. E. Van Vogt's Slan, Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz), and television shows (possibly an adaptation of Japan's Gundam titles, which, like Battletech, explore the political and personal effects of war).
On the whole, if you like science-fiction, and you like movies, you should definitely be optimistic (I sure am), especially with movies like Surrogates and Avatar, both of which are to be released later this year, coming out. We can only hope that this trend of good sci-fi movies continues for a long time. Also, if you've heard of Battletech/Mechwarrior and have wanted to see it immortalised in film, a school of CGI artists have gotten together and created a trailer and a short film. The acting is a bit over the top, but they're onto something, those guys. Here's the trailer, and here's the short itself.