Science fiction has been in good hands for the past 10 years. We've been gifted with plenty of quality films and television shows about the deep exploration of space, dystopian futures, superheroes, time travel, multiple dimensions, super spies, alien invasions, and monsters (mostly vampires), satisfying our deepest sci-fi desires.
Many of the past decade's well-written, edited, and executed science fiction features relied on the name brands of two men. In Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams we trust. Given their influence, it's worth taking a look at the two creators and their production companies (Joss Wheedon's Bad Robot, and J.J. Abrams' Mutant Enemy), and comparing their successes. Is one better than the other? Or is Wheedon simply the yin to Abram's yang — or vice versa?
Felicity versus Rosanne
Both Abrams and Whedon got their start in television; the former cocreated Felicity, a show about a West Coast girl attending an East Coast university, and the latter wrote for Rosanne, a sitcom about a blue-collar family that was probably largely dictated by comedian Roaseanne Barr. It is worth noting that Abrams was writing screenplays during Whedon’s Rosanne years. (Looking over Abrams' credits, I have newfound respect for both the VHS tape of Gone Fishin’ that's sitting in my grandmother’s living room, and my grandmother’s taste in movies. It’s funny how one name can do that.)
Alias versus Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Ah, yes. This is where the cult obsessions begin. In the late 1990s and early 2000s the two established themselves as sci-fi storytellers with Alias (Abrams) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Whedon's response to his dissatisfaction with a movie of the same name). Interestingly, both shows have very strong female leads, both had solid runs, and both established dedicated followings. However, neither really caught my attention, as I was still way-into The X-Files.
Bad Robot versus Mutant Enemy
Ever since Lost premiered in 2004, J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot has put out a string of quality shows. I stuck Lost out until the end, and it solidified my faith in any projects that J.J. Abrams took on. Following the initial success of Lost, and the kind of story it brought to television, Abrams got behind a string of successful shows including Fringe, Person of Interest, and Revolution.
While Abrams seemed to dominate science-fiction television, Whedon spent the early 2000s in the trenches, following the successes of Buffy and Angel with Firefly and Dollhouse, both of which were created through Mutant Enemy. Firefly and Dollhouse may have been short-lived, but they have been very successful on DVD, and have very loyal followings, as well as comic books that extended beyond their cancellations.
Cloverfield versus Cabin in the Woods
In addition to developing cult followings, Whedon and Abrams have both proved themselves capable of writing and producing solid, non-franchise science fiction films. Cabin in the Woods stands out as a great, low-budget departure from Whedon's big-budget work on Avengers. The film is a unique and great horror movie that seems like something Whedon created for himself, in the hope that people would eventually find it and get behind it. Similarly, Cloverfield is a straightforward monster movie told in the best possible way. Each film refreshed its respective genre, keeping things relevant for the millennial generation.
It goes without saying that Marvel is crafting their film universe around Whedon’s Avengers, and that we actually want to see the new Star Wars movie simply because J.J. Abrams is behind it. Since J.J. Abrams gave new life to the Star Trek and Mission Impossible franchises and Whedon sparked a new generation of superhero films by cowriting Avengers and Captain America (and contributing to just about every other Marvel title of the past 10 years), I have been sitting back and waiting to see what comes next. Abrams and Whedon's successes have ensured that science fiction is in a comfortable place, and that there's always a quality film on the way. Between the Avengers sequel, Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D., and Star Wars VII, the future looks bright.
We need not worry about our sci-fi needs being met in the short-term, but should we be nervous that these two names are carrying the genre? Are we draining our sci-fi creators?
Not at all. Abrams and Whedon have finally hit their stride, and found both solid successes and a broad spectrum of fans. They have our trust, and I think that we should enjoy their triumph while it lasts.
When the time is right, there will be another.