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By Sue L Bell.
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Expert Author Sue L Bell.
Science Fiction movies are one of my cinematic favorites. I loved The Matrix and the idea of a machine – constructed human reality in some unknown future. I enjoyed Aliens because it had a kick ass heroine, hot soldiers and a bunch of toothy aliens on a planet in 2179. I admired Predator because he was a sophisticated, ruthless hunter from a technologically advanced civilization. Star ship Troopers featured alien bugs threatening the universe and the recent Star Trek film had grumpy time traveling Romulans stuck in the future after being sucked through a black hole.
All these films had something in common besides being the same genre. They are set far enough in the future to be credible (except Predator, but the alien was advanced so it doesn’t count). However, I have a real problem with science fiction films that are too close to our time. Far too often I’ve watched perfectly good films ruined because the technology is way too sophisticated for the era.
I therefore present the following list of science fiction films that got the timing wrong:
2001 A Space Odyssey: Arthur C Clarke may have predicted satellites but we are nowhere near close enough to send a manned mission to Jupiter. As for malfunctioning computers called Hal? The closest we have to that is the Siri software that Apple install on mobile devices. Siri can recognize your voice and send a text, but Hal talked to the astronauts, made decisions and ran the spaceship. I doubt whether Siri will become psychotic, turn off our life support and start singing Daisy any time soon.
Terminator – Set in 2018. By this stage, Earth has had judgement day and robots called Terminators are so advanced they are indistinguishable from humans. Sky net rules the world, discovers time travel and sends a terminator back to kill Sarah Connor in 1984. That’s only six years away. Someone better tell the robot specialists at MIT to call Stephen Hawkins.
Blade Runner – Ridley Scott got it so right in Alien but the timing is so wrong in Blade Runner. Set in 2019 in a LosAngeles that is crowded, rain swept and grim. Replicants have colonized other planets, airborne police units patrol the sky and the Tyre ll Corporation creates the valuable android merchandise that have gone rogue. Only seven years away. The guys at MIT better start cracking on that one too.
In Time – Set in 2161, the human genetic code has been altered so that nobody ages past 25. Embedded in our futuristic wrists are lifespan credit cards. Whenever you work, buy, or sell something, the time credit either adds or detracts from your life. People live on borrowed time and only the rich can reach immortality. The technology to perfect this feat seems rather pointless in any century, let alone the middle of the next.
The Island – starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johnansen. Set in 2019, human clones are bred in an underground facility. The clones are taught the world is contaminated and are monitored closely on diet, exercise and health. They are not allowed contact with the opposite sex and are given menial tasks to perform. A regular lottery gives them hope they will win a life on The Island, a place supposedly contamination free. However, the lottery is a ruse. The clones are harvested for organs to be purchased by wealthy clients in the real world.
A contaminated world by 2019 is plausible but fully functioning clones in six years time, especially ones that look like Scarlett Johannsen, is too much of a leap for me.
AI – Who cares what year it was set in. This one is a stinker and should have been buried alongside director Stanley Kubrick who died during pre-production. The plot involves a robot who wants to be a real boy – but wasn’t this covered already in Pinocchio? Child robots, negligent parents and an android prostitute – I think I’ve said enough already.
Real Steel – Whilst the human relationships are plausible, the robots fighting in boxing arenas are not. By 2020 I doubt whether robots could serve a cup of tea let alone fight each other in gladiator contests.
Who Got It Right?
Minority Report: Set in 2054 with interactive technology undoubtedly available by mid-century. Not sure about the freaky pre-cog siblings but anything is possible.
Galaxy Quest – contemporary setting but the sophisticated technology was alien. Funny send up of the science fiction genre that was more believable than many of the films mentioned above.
Repo Men – set in 2025 with a highly unlikely but still possible plot. Organ transplants and body parts are a common medical procedure with many people opting for higher purchase type payments to pay exorbitant medical bills. Most don’t manage to find the funds, so Repo men are dispatched to retrieve the organs. Repossessing arms and legs is not fatal but when they come for your heart then it’s time to run. Thirteen years away makes it an unlikely scenario but, like I said, given the rate of black market organ transfers in the world, it is not out of the question.
Star Wars: Long ago and far away. Doesn’t matter when it happened really, you can’t deny that setting a movie in another galaxy in another time is the best way of getting it right.