The Fountain, Excellent Science Fiction in the Age of Transformers

by Mike Shea on 9 August 2007

It's easy to look at Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and Underdog and pronounce the death of American film. There never really has been a golden age, though. There have always been a torrent of bad movies. And, even though the typical American wouldn't know it, there are some excellent movies coming out.

The Fountain is one of these movies. According to a very interesting Wired article on the topic, The Fountain, like many other excellent movies including The Godfather and Citizen Kane, almost didn't happen. If it weren't for some strange special effects powered by a high powered microscope and dropping strange stuff in water, this movie wouldn't have happened.

The Fountain isn't a science fiction movie built on effects or technology. It's about a man who doesn't want his wife to die. It's about how far someone will go to to be with the one they love. It's mostly a quiet movie with amazing characters, acting, cinematography, and writing. It cost a tenth of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Fountain uses one of my favorite storytelling tricks. It uses the mind of the viewer to fill in the blanks. The best stories make the reader or viewer an active participant in the building of the story. Don't show or tell someone everything, give them enough of a guide to let them build your own story. This is why the original Star Wars was so great and why the later Star Wars movies sucked so badly. "I used to fly with your father in the Clone Wars," said Ben Kenobi. What are the clone wars? Who knows! In my mind I see armies of cloned Jedi racing across a battlefield with light sabers high. What was the crappy story in Lucas's head? Hey look! The clones are all cloned from Boba Fett's father! Give me a break.

There are three stories in The Fountain, two of them seem to be more connected than the third. The quest of the Spanish conquistador to find the Tree of Life is very well done and very interesting but it has less to do with the modern day story of the man experimenting with surgical longevity and the man racing across space in a bubble.

It bothers me that The Fountain almost never came to be. It bothers me that even with a modest budget of 30 million that it still didn't make a profit. It bothers me that any sequel to a Bruckheimer movie gets automatically green lighted while good movies with good stories have to fight their asses off to get made. They do get made, however. Movies like The Fountain still happen and will continue to happen and there will always be that sliver of chance that we might actually get to see a good movie once in a while.