Monday, March 12, 2007

The Future's So Bright I..... Oh Wait...

Is it me, or are we as people fairly pessimistic? The reason I ask is that while I was looking for movies that were set in the future I noticed that movie makers generally seem to assume we're heading for trouble. Avery had a post on his blog that mentioned the movie Logan's Run, which is what got me to thinking about this topic in the first place. I remember seeing this movie when I was a kid. I don't remember if it was particularly good, but I do remember it. If you haven't seen it, the basic idea is that the futuristic society in this movies kills off everyone once they reach the ripe old age of 30. If anyone attempts to escape this fate and become a "runner" then another character called a "sandman" will hunt you down. The main character, Logan-- a sandman in the beginning, becomes a runner, hence the name of the movie. What's interesting to me about futuristic movies is that there always seems to be assumptions that the planet will either be totally overpopulated, resulting in a need for extreme population control, or that we will be living in a totally post-apocalyptic society in which humanity will be struggling to survive. Well, either that or the machines will take over. But no matter the future depicted, it usually isn't one we would want to live in. Another movie that follows the overpopulation scenario is Soylent Green. This movie also uses euthanasia as a convenient form of population control, but also explores other problems associated with too many people. The name of the movie refers to a type of food that has been developed to feed a population that does not have the money, or access to regular food. Soylent green is a sort of cracker like wafer that is supposed to be a combination of soy and lentils which are cheap to produce. And though the main "scandal" of the movie is the fact that Soylent Green isn't solely made of soy and lentils, I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it. Like Logan's Run, Soylent Green is pretty dystopian in nature. The Government is run amok and the poor, pathetic populace at large doesn't really know a thing. Hmmm, maybe they're on to something here. Mad Max, the movie that brought us Mel Gibson (I'll let you make the judgement call on that) is sort of the flip side of dystopian stories like Logan's Run. Set in post apocalyptic Australia, Gibson is a member of the Main Force Patrol, who's job it is to protect the few surviving citizens from violent motorcycle gangs. To be honest, I don't remember this movie that well. It wasn't my taste at the time but I do remember it showed a bleak vision of the future. I also remember 12 Monkeys as a very bleak, and profoundly weird movie that assumed most of us probably won't survive very long. Like a lot of futuristic movies, 12 Monkeys assumes that time travel will be possible in the future and that it will be used to try to change the past. Unlike the Terminator movies, our fate isn't at the hands of machines who have decided to take over, but rather the result of a man made virus that wiped out most of the population. The virus is so virulent that the survivors are forced to live underground as it is still possible to be killed if one ventures above ground. The movie does end on an open-ended note, with the possibility that humanity will still be able to change the future. But it is one weird ride. Omega Man is a more old school version of the same theme in 12 Monkeys. I haven't seen this one, but it came up a lot when I was looking at post-apocalyptic movies to include in this post. Charlton Heston stars in this one as the Omega Man, "the last immune and uninfected person on Earth" according to Wikipedia. Those of you who have seen this will have to tell me if it's worth watching. But the thing that is really interesting to me is that most movies and books about viral/bacterial/chemical infections wiping out humanity were written prior to 9/11 and our current worries of chemical/biological weapons after the Anthrax attacks of several years ago. It could be argued that authors like Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain and Stephen King, The Stand were just a little bit prescient on the subject. I mentioned The Terminator movies previously, and they are kind of the go-to example of films about machines taking over the world with Battlestar Galactica as the television equivalent. Blade Runner examines the idea of sentient machines without the complete takeover of humanity, though the society depicted in this future isn't particularly rosy either. The Matrix assumes sentient machines will use us as batteries and I, Robot shows us where it all might begin. And I haven't even begun to talk about the aliens-take-over-the-world scenario. But like all my posts, I run the risk of going on and on and you get the idea. If we were to belive most authors/movie-makers/TV shows, we don't have a heck of a lot to look forward to. I don't know if this is the result of a basic study of human nature, or if simply put, it sells. Some of these movies do end on a hopeful note, though as often as not nothing is expected to change. And the funny thing is, we like it. I know I do anyway. I guess I do hope for a happy ending though. A humanity-will-triumph ending-- only time will tell though...


Alex said...

Futuristic fiction seems less often about the future than the present. It is the art of taking some aspect of contemporary society to its illogical conclusion, thereby making us laugh or cry (depending on the rhetorical intent). Some are blatantly political shockfests made to scare us into recycling our cans and bottles (Day after Tomorrow, anyone).

My favorite recent film like this is Idiocracy by Mike Judge (of Office Space and Beavis & Butthead fame). The premise is that only stupid people breed much, thus the gene pool isn't being properly chlorinated by the intelligentsia. What we end up with is a future full of morons who buy disposable clothes in giant tissue boxes, and have television chairs that double as toilets.

Not so far off, I'd say.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I agree with Alex, which is frightening, but I think the best scifi about the future is that scifi which attempts to say something about the present.

I would love to see someone take on a radical view of the future, something as radical as Matrix. I want to see something projecting not just fifty years ahead, but two or three hundred.

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

You have to have some kind of conflict in stories. It's natural to have problems in the future with these stories because then you can create conflict.

AS I recall, Omega Man was decent. It was a typical movie for its time and featured lantern-jawed Charlton Heston against the pale mutants. I'd say it's worth a rental.

SQT said...

Oh I agree that futuristic movies tend to say more about the times we live in than any potential future. I just wonder why they're always so doom-and-gloom.

Star Trek does a nice job of being futuristic but hopeful, and there really isn't much out there that tries to do the same thing.

I know human beings are flawed and yes, each movie has to have a conflict. But it seems as if ideas are mostly recycled when it comes to movies about the future. I agree with Stewart. I would like to see more originality when it comes to this theme.

Of course, Firefly was unique and hopeful (most of the time). :)

Hey there, Skippy said...

I agree with Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator - much of the dystopia in futuristic sci-fi does come from a narrative requirement for conflict.

Much of the 'hope' in series like Star Trek, or Firefly, is that human decency and love can hold out in the face of huge ammounts of unpleasentness. The focus tends to be on individuals - or groups of individuals - battling against a pervasive system. Even the Federation in Star Trek becomes a system against which a few 'maverick' captains and their crews frequently battle in order to protect basic principles.

The ultimate example of this, I think, might be Dr Who. The Doctor's race, the Timelords (who live so far in the future as to be outside time) are the most advanced, utpopian society in the Universe, but the Doctor runs away from them because society is 'too' perfect, too boring. The entire series is really about resiting totalising systems of government. Much of futuristic sci-fi assumes that human development will inevitably work towards this sort of grand, totalised system - be it world government or corporate hell. The stories will then come from resistance to that system and it's rules.

Hey there, Skippy said...

Uggh. Incorrect apostrophe alert. "its", not "it's". Sorry. Hate that.

Angela/SciFiChick said...

Hmm.. Maybe that's another reason why I like Star Trek so much. They give us a positive look at the future.

The Curmudgeon said...

I was trying to frame an argument that the pessimistic movies come from pessimistic times and if we look at more hopeful times we'd see more hopeful futures imagined... and I couldn't come up with enough examples to make a go of it. If I come up with anything, I'll get back to you.

SQT said...

Skippy, I couldn't have said it better. It does always end up being about the man doesn't it?

Hey there, Skippy said...

Dolly Parton said it best in "9 to 5"

'I swear sometimes the man is out to get me'

(second best use ever of a typewriter in pop music, that song)

Crunchy Carpets said...

Omega Man is only good if you love Chuck Heston films (like me) or if you have read 'I am Legend' which it is basically a take on. Also see Vincent Price in 'Last Man on Earth.'

That was actually a great movie.

Oh and yes Alex..Idiocracy....touched on a VERY pessimistic view of our future of stupidity.

I can see it.

I think dystopia's are easier to write about.....I don't know if it says something about human nature that the always seems to be a dark side to our Utopias (Brave New World) and even in history..mans attempt at creating Utopias has ultimately failed.

I think that is why I never bought the Star Trek TNG was too freaking perfect. People were too compliant. Too happy. I just couldn't see it ever happening.

At least Kirk was very 'human' in his flaws.

Asara said...

My personal favorites when it comes to futuristic fiction are the ones where we've returned to the sort of medievalist world we came from. Like, we evolved so far, we've practically destroyed ourselves, and had to start over almost from scratch. Unfortunately, not too many movies come to mind here, Planet of the Apes is about the only one that occurs to me at the moment. But I've seen it several times in books, and I love them all. Pern, of course, and to some extent the Dark Tower series. Then Melanie Rawn has a series that's been very long in the making called the Exiles that hints at this sort of thing as well. It's pretty political and involved, but I still find myself re-reading the two that are out right now, and am still anxiously awaiting the third.

It's disheartening to think that we must always paint such a bleak future in fiction. Have we become so cynical, or have we always been?

Professor Xavier said...

I think Jon's right. Two hours of sunshine and happiness can get a little boring. We want to see heroes over come adversity. We do like the happy endings though.

Old Knudsen said...

I cheered when Tom Cruise's stupid character in War of the worlds was about to get eaten by the big sphincter. I hate dumb films that has you screaming at the TV "why are you opening that door you idiot?" I don't have hope for mankind, since WWI weapons have been getting easier to use so by the time you get to Star Trek it will be so easy it'll be like deleting an e-mail and people will be more apt to do it. Poeple are getting dumber, morals matter less everyday. Utpopia? for Hollywood liberals that believe their own movies.
Look to the past as see is the world getting better?
I love what Battlestar Gallactica does with the current political themes in the stories like make the good guys into insurgents fighting the invaders, and showing what hard choices leaders have to make that aren't always popular.

Scotty said...

Yep, seen them all, and have them in my DVD collection. And yes, far too many are full of doom and gloom but having said that, who has seen Happy Accidents? It's a sci-fi comedy about long-distance relationships (really, really, long distance) and it stars that cutie, Marisa Tomei.

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

omg! i read this and all the comments and don't understand one bit of it, but honey i will die for your right to say it! ha ha

smiles, bee

Danny Tagalog said...

Unless you are productive in society and are in the midst of money making then you are fine.

When that stops you are a useless eater and you're essentially killed off.

Well, not in the last few decades, but it will come again! Lest we forget, cultures who didn't worship our money dominated society were consumed.

But I'm optimistic - but it's a good question as to why movie makers are pessimistic. After all, movies are Culture Creators - they affect consciousness at certain levels.

Crunchy Carpets said... slay me!

Jean-Luc Picard said...

The future never seems very bright, does it?

Alex said...

"Skippy, I couldn't have said it better. It does always end up being about the man doesn't it?"

Oh, no. SQT's going on about gender issues again. =)

SQT said...

Oh, no. SQT's going on about gender issues again. =)


Run Alex, run!

Morgen said...

Logan's Run was one of my favorites growing up.
I always thought I'd be a runner.
Maybe THAT's why my 30th birthday was harder for me than my 40th!!!
(that and my blogging friends got me through to the other side of 40!)

We just got through watching all of Firefly on DVD, and I was quite impressed by Joss Whedon's take on the future.
Every author and director brings their own bit into the sci-fi world, and I think Joss' vision is one of the better ones. Of course, I'd be on a ship like Firefly, and not an Alliance member!

Asara said...

Aww man, Mo, can I borrow that? :) I was looking at buying it for hubby 'cause we both loved Serenity, but I'd already bought Season 1 of Scrubs for him, and I just couldn't justify the second set of DVD's, lol!!

Avery said...

I'm glad Alex brought up Idiocracy. That movie disturbed me more than it amused. The beginning painted such a clear picture that I couldn't help but draw parallels to the present, and our potential future as a race. It was like I was watching footage of a runaway train on the news only to look out the window and see it barrel on by.

And, yes, futuristic tales are always about The Man (gotta capitalize both words to avoid conflict). We live in constant discomfort with laws and rules. We understand they're there to protect us, but at the same time we resent their presence. So, we watch carefully, hoping the rules don't get too strict, the leash doesn't become too short. Our biggest fear is that exact thing will happen -- hence, the futuristic tales of The Man sticking it to us all.

Sqt, I almost envy your optimism. My cynicism leads me to feel we can't have much hope (in fiction or otherwise) when humanity as a whole acts like retarded assholes 99% of the time.

Alex said...

Avery: I like to think that only the 99% of the population who don't count act like retarded assholes 99% of the time. You see, my one and only hope for the future is that this democracy propaganda that was convenient during the cold war doesn't get too popular. If America ever became a democracy, the world would come to a quick end.

No, our hope for the future rests on the shoulders of the educated elite. If we, as primarily an aristocratic republic (yes, democracy and monarchy are ideally present in equal parts, but in reality they are filtered through so many checks that they are rendered highly insignificant), can continue to allow enough of the middle class persons of merit to cycle into positions of power alongside ourselves, the illusions of representative government, government for the people, and personal political agency will hold, without the actual necessity of sharing power with the proles.

Like Orwell said, "Sanity is not statistical." When the masses take over, society will be slave and subject to the lowest common desires.

This, this is what scary futuristic movies should be about - the realization of democracy. The enslavement of the intelligentsia by the brutish proletariat.

Yeah. Idiocracy scared the hell out of me (although it was pretty funny in some parts).

SQT said...


I think I'm still optimistic because we've made it this far. I've met my share of jerks (who hasn't?) but I've also met a lot of amazingly giving people. So I figure it balances out. I have no idea if we'll make it beyond another few hundred years, but I know we'll try to hang on to the bitter end.