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We’ve been banging the drum loudly for Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which is a box-office hit and a possible Oscar contender. But we found a handful of people (outside of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson) who might not be that thrilled with Cuaron’s eye-popping film, which both raised the bar and threw down the gauntlet. Why are they so disgruntled?

Well, because they have science-fiction movies on the horizon, and now they are going to have to contend with Gravity comparisons. No matter what happens, at least in the short term, movies set in or around outer space are going to be compared to Gravity. “Sure, it looks OK, but it’s not Gravity.” Unfair? Maybe. But it’s reality. So what are the five upcoming sci-fi projects that should be a little bit concerned by the success of Cuaron’s Gravity? Let’s discuss.

Star Wars: Episode VII
J.J. Abrams has more than enough to worry about when it comes to Episode VII. He’s attempting to please a disgruntled fan base that has been griping (loudly) since The Phantom Menace landed in theaters with a digital thud. He’s shepherding the most scrutinized film in pre-production at the moment. And he’s trying to rescue a lost franchise with what he’s promising to be practical effects and a sense of “reality.” Now he’s looking at the reality Cuaron’s creating on screen, the seamless recreation of outer space, which doesn’t look like Lucas’ shiny digital worlds. It looks like Gravity was actually filmed in the stratosphere. If I’m Abrams, I’m calling Cuaron’s technical team and asking for assistance … immediately.
Guardians of the Galaxy
As quickly as next month, with Thor: The Dark World, Marvel is going to attempt to take its stories farther away from the recognizability of Earth’s environments. Yes, Kenneth Branagh’s original Thor introduced us to Asgard, but it anchored huge chunks of its action in New Mexico (on a very small set). The Dark World plans to expand the studio’s scope, and movies like Guardians are expected to take that baton and run with it. James Gunn’s movie bands together a team of alien warriors on a series of adventures. But the promise of future stories involving Thanos, Doctor Strange and The Avengers means more action will be set in space … and Marvel’s going to want to compete with the big dogs when it comes to galaxy building. The tone of the Guardians footage screened at Comic-Con suggested a wicked sense of humor. But if Guardians looks like Serenity when compared to Gravity, Marvel fans will have a reason to complain.
Ender’s Game
This one isn’t fair. Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s seminal sci-fi novel is in the can and simply awaiting release while Gravity gobbles up all the metaphorical oxygen at area theaters. And Ender’s just has the unfortunate distinction of being the next sci-fi movie to land in theaters immediately after Cuarons’ masterpiece. Comparisons will be inevitable. Will Hood’s film be able to distance itself in other ways? The good news for Ender’s is that the special effects shown in the trailers do look special, and actors like Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley have the ability to put a movie on their shoulders and elevate it.
We don’t know enough about Christopher Nolan’s next picture to decide yet whether it will be challenged by Cuaron … or the next obvious challenger to the status Gravity recently set. But Nolan’s technical proficiency in movies outside of this Batman trilogy suggest intricate, elaborate storytelling that’s sure to have imaginations spinning. Early word on the 2014 release suggests Interstellar will explore worm holes, time travel, unproven theories regarding gravity fields and rivieting scientific concepts in those realms. Nolan and his team will have to create an environment for his cast, which includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain. I’m going out on a limb to say Interstellar will be the next movie we praise as highly as we’re currently raving about Gravity.
We’re already paying close attention to Transcendence because it’s the directorial debut of Nolan disciple (and Oscar-winning cinematographer) Wally Pfister. And similar to Interstellar, the specifics of the project are being kept under wraps. (Nolan taught Pfister well.) This one might be more of a tech-driven thriller, as the official synopsis teases “two leading computer scientists [who] work toward their goal of Technological Singularity, as a radical anti-technology organization fights to prevent them from creating a world where computers can transcend the abilities of the human brain.” Might be more Matrix than Gravity, but if anyone has the ability to push the visual envelope in ways similar to Cuaron, Pfister would be the guy.

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