The future is now

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 5th January 2010.

The future has always fascinated cinema audiences. From the humble beginnings of the motion picture, fantastic depictions of life in the future have captivated moviegoers. Early sci-fi classics such as Le Voyage Dans La Lune (Voyage to the Moon) from 1902 and Metropolis from 1927 predicted, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, space travel, robots and skyscrapers.

Of course, the medium of film has been around long enough that many “future” movies are actually set in what is now our past. Let’s run through some films where the future is yesterday.

My first candidate is a bit of a cheat but the film, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was also made in 1984, was based on George Orwell’s 1949 novel. The book’s bleak depiction of a totalitarian society controlled by Big Brother hasn’t come to pass but some would argue that the development of technologies such as closed circuit television have increased the ability of governments to monitor their people. I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist but I’ve seen it on TV’s 24 so it must be true.

John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981) was set in 1998 and depicts New York City as a maximum security prison. Anyone who has visited the USA lately will note that it is actually harder to get into the country than leave, but for those who don’t like theatre, hot pretzels or Seinfeld, I suppose it can be considered a lockup.

1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes is set in 2001. This was the fifth and final of the sensational apes series and starred Roddy McDowell once again in a rubbery mask. I’m pretty sure that we haven’t yet been conquered by hairy creatures unless you count Movember.

Death Race 2000 is a Roger Corman cult classic from 1975. Starring Sylvester Stallone, it features a future where the American national pastime is watching the deadly Transcontinental Road Race. Criticised by critics for its gratuitous nudity and violence, the film accurately predicted the popularity of Wipeout and Japanese game shows.

The original X-men film from 2000 is actually set in this current year. Professor Charles Xavier leads his band of heroic mutants against Magneto’s evil crew in this Hollywood blockbuster. A quick look in the papers proves that mutants live amongst us today: Kevin Rudd with his inexplicable, unwavering popularity; Jennifer Hawkins with her freakish ability to convince people to buy Myer shares; and Britney with her special power to make sound without moving her lips.

2001: A Space Odyssey from 1968 was released simultaneously as a film directed by Stanley Kubrick and a novel by Arthur C. Clarke. Accurately depicting spacecraft moving through space silently, the movie also correctly predicted voice-print identification, flat screen monitors, chess playing computers and airline on-board entertainment units. Aspects of the film that did not eventuate by 2001 (or today) include suspended animation, space hotels, moon bases and artificial intelligence of computers, although I’m pretty sure HAL lives on in my troublesome iPhone. A similar vision of the “future” also appears in the 1984 sequel, 2010.

The film industry has been pretty hit or miss with its depiction of the future. However, some years to keep in mind, just in case they get it right, are 2012 (the tectonic plates will shift and life as we know it will end, unless you’re John Cusack) and 2015 (as depicted in Back To The Future II, we’ll all have flying cars and hover boards).