Sometimes a film writer pens something dumb enough it makes me wanna smack 'em. This article in EW is one of those.
I do agree, there are a lot of science fiction movies that seem to lack an original take on the future, that seem to dig up the same old ideas that have been fueling the genre since the '40s, that are re-makes and adaptations... of course, that is true for most of the movies being made today, regardless of genre. A lack of originality in this season's blockbusters is only evidence of the cowardice of studios and producers, of the general trend for big money to play things safe and forget that what made Movie X a hit wasn't that it had such and such special effect, or a particular concept - but that it was a great story with engaging characters told in a fresh yet engaging manner.
Of course, it's clear that Mark Harris is not a huge fan of the genre, or he never would have called it sci-fi, which is pronounced "skiffy" by the fans, and considered a sneering and marginalizing abbreviation. The correct term is "SF." At least, that's what my friends in the 90's said when I was in a writer's group with some serious aficionados and players in the field (including the then editor of F& SF.) I admit that my own leanings are more toward horror and fantasy, in particular magical realism along the lines of John Crowley - but I am familiar with Science Fiction enough to know the conventions of the genre.
The author points to 2001 as re-defining the genre, as if a movie of that caliber gets made more than once in a generation - but also ignoring the fact that there have been genre-definers made since then, in particular the Matrix Trilogy.
Yes, it's been a while since AI, ExistenZ, and Dark City. But what about V for Vendetta? Not good enough? Serenity and Children of Men are among the best SF films ever made. And before you dismiss those because one was based on a TV series (but a recent one) and the other on a book (though loosely) note that the author of the article lists 3:10 to Yuma and No Country as evidence of great and fresh things happening in the Western genre.
How about something completely original? Take a look at Paprika, a great piece of anime. If you want interesting and unique ideas about the future, anime is a good place to look. Then there's Jathia’s Wager, a fascinating concept that seems to be a sort of choose your own adventure for the digital age. I am sure there are also original ideas being made cheaply and shown online for free, as fans of SF tend to be drawn to new technologies.
Mr. Harris also makes the mistake of limiting SF to films depicting the future. Some consider Donnie Darko an SF film. Then there's Eternal Sunshine, which, since the plot relies on a new technology is indisputably science fiction... and how about The Prestige? Not ground-breaking, but a decent movie certainly, and despite being set in the past, again, the centrality if science to the plot makes it SF.
I do agree, that more originality is needed. That new ideas that derive from someplace besides old books, TV shows and movies are essential not only to science fiction, but to film in general. I just think that those things are out there - and as DVDs and the internet continue to erode the success of the 80's style blockbuster, film companies will seek them out - just as they had to when television threatened the movie business.