Blockbuster similarities

Those of you who have followed this project for a while may have noticed some interesting similarities with a few of this summer’s sci-fi blockbusters. Though part of me wants to simply ignore those films and focus on making Novos purely on its own terms, they offer a good opportunity to discuss originality and creativity in the context of independent sci-fi film making.

The films I refer to are Oblivion, Elysium, and After Earth. All three dramatize Earth in ruin — Elysium during the process, Oblivion immediately after, and After Earth long after. The first two seem to share visual and aesthetic elements with Novos. Oblivion even featured an awesome limited print release, associated with its soundtrack, through the wonderful people at Mondo (some of whom helped me get the Novos print series off the ground).

But it’s After Earth that looks most eerily similar to Novos proper, or at least the short film and feature version I originally envisioned back in 2010:

I remember my first time seeing that trailer in theaters — that roller coaster drop in my stomach. Since then, however, I’ve managed to develop some healthy perspective, both on Novos and the science fiction genre in general.

Post-apocalyptic Earth is a very common sci-fi film premise, going back to classic examples like Planet of the Apes. But it seems even more common now. Whereas blockbusters of the 1990’s and 2000’s focused on Earth facing the apocalypse — think Roland Emmerich’s disaster movies — Hollywood films now are more often premised on the assumption that some kind of apocalypse already happened. Wall-E, Avatar, The Book of Eli, Oblivion, Elysium, After Earth — there’s been a general turn towards pessimism for planet Earth, likely informed by the rapidly changing climate, the economic crash, and a shared lack of hope for sustained solutions to either. This same pessimism informed my creation and exploration of the Novos story world, so it’s not particularly surprising to see the premise shared in other projects. The ubiquity of the premise in pop-culture demonstrates its capacity for exploring a broad range of stories and our anxieties about the future.

As an independent filmmaker I’m faced with a dilemma: how much do I allow big-budget Hollywood films using a similar premise guide the project I’m trying to make? The answer I’ve settled on is “some”. I can’t (currently) bring my concept of post-apocalyptic Earth and humanity’s relationship with it to the big screen in feature form, but I can use other projects as sources informing just what kind of story I want to tell and how I want to tell it. This is separate, but related, issue to the major practical hurdles of bringing a rich, cohesive sci-fi story to life independently. After Earth and this summer’s other Novos-esque blockbusters prompted me to look much more critically at the characters and plot dynamics I created way back in 2010. I’ve also become more open to and enthusiastic about different ways to tell the story — a transmedia approach to the project (which I realized was already happening with the print series). The result is a better project, better characters, and a more interesting story.

And now I don’t get a feeling of dread every time the trailers start before a movie.

TL;DR: I’m not worried about big-budget Hollywood films that have similar premises and visual aesthetics as Novos, since its a premise that supports a broad range of interesting stories. Exposure to some of those other stories has helped me as a director expand and refine what I want to do with Novos.

-Jonathan Brebner, Director


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