As you may have heard, Tom Cruise is a Scientologist, a religion founded by 1940s science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, legendarily on the advice of the dean of sci-fi writers, Robert Heinlein. As time goes by, Cruise’s movies are turning into solid Golden Age sci-fi. Last year’s Oblivion was good, and this year’s Edge of Tomorrow is at least as well-done. It’s not great, but it’s worth your $9.50. More than any other leading man, Cruise makes sure to give decent value for money.
The new Cruise movie is the most Heinleinish movie since Avatar. The obvious influence is Starship Troopers, but there is also a bit of Puppet Masters and Heinlein’s time travel stories like By His Bootstraps and “All You Zombies.”
Hollywood was long interested in Heinlein (Fritz Lang, director of 1927′s Metropolis, was a friend), but the industry tended to string him along and borrow from him off rather than put his name on movies he inspired. For example, Heinlein was the technical adviser on 1950′s Destination Moon and it included a lot of his 1947 juvenile novel Rocket Ship Galileo. Don Siegel’s 1956 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers sure seems like it was inspired by Pu ppet Masters.
But you can see why Hollywood shied away from giving Heinlein a contract. Body Snatchers is brilliant at condensing the key creepy idea in Puppet Masters down to something that could be produced on a drive-in budget without all the flying cars, nudism, and recreational drugs that were part of Heinlein’s more fully imagined future. But now movie budgets and technology have caught up with Heinlein.
Nobody’s going to see Edge of Tomorrow, which noncoincidentally debuted on June 6th, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, because it’s so 1940s-ish, and kids these days are into comic book 1940s (e.g., Captain America: The Winter Soldier) rather than sci-fi 1940s. I don’t really grasp the difference, but it sure is important at the 2014 box office.