Science fiction movies should help illuminate our path forward - and lay bare the implications of present-day technologies, good and bad. All too often, however, sci-fi movies get the future all wrong. This includes some of our most cherished favorites.
Consider all the flicks featuring flying cars, poorly conceived time travel escapades, sex with aliens or heroes that are either willfully ignorant of present-day technology or savant-like in their ability to manipulate it into doing things it most certainly could never do. How then to select the 10 most worthy of this dubious honor?
Let me defer to popular cyber-punk author William Gibson, who famously stated: "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." This may be the single most misguided statement about the future ever made. Over and over again the future takes its sweet time arriving, but when it does come it changes everything in unanticipated ways.
Therefore, I'm zeroing in on movies that predicted our scary-glorious future would arrive soon fairly soon, but which instead got everything spectacularly confused. As these 10 glorious misses prove, that's easy enough to do.
On to the show:
1. Blade Runner
Please forgive me. I love Blade Runner. But it's comically wrong, pretty much about everything. Replicants? Androids on the cusp of being indistinguishable from humans? Memory implants? Colonies on Mars? A "city of 106 million people." A one-world culture that appears to be dominated by Japan but looks like Hong Kong. Crappy phones? Oh, and what's the deal with all that rain in California? Wrong, wrong, wrong.
2. Jurassic Park
If you can get past the cheesy acting and pap dialogue, Jurassic Park is good Spielbergian fun. But it's so off target. A rich man spends figures out how to recreate extinct species and the best application he can come up with a dinosaur theme park? Let's get this straight: this will never happen, not in any future.
Yes, I know... there's no Superman, either. Problem is, this film spends an inordinate amount of time trying to justify its science - and gets it wrong.
Terrorists. Excessive cosmetic surgery. Police state. Too many damn tubes and wires? The brilliant Brazil got much right - but was wrong on so many core elements. Ours is not a dystopian world where we are all faceless numbers, easily lost by an overarching, all-encompassing bureaucracy. Just the opposite, in fact. Increasingly, the world is an all-out competition for attention amongst billions of people striving to transcend anonymity. Everything about Brazil is backwards-looking. Worse, it completely missed how everything is going digital.
After watching Videodrome many times, I'm still not entirely sure what it's about. Here's my best guess: Cable television tells us what to watch, and as we watch we become changed - emotionally and physically. Um, perhaps. But it seems to me that the Internet is putting us more in control of what we watch, not the other way around.
With all our "second screens" - smartphones and tablets - plus YouTube, the Web and social media, there is never a shortage of personalized content. And most of it won't kill you, at least not right away. Ironically, television has become far less important to us than Videodrome would have ever thought possible.
5. Soylent Green
Spoiler alert: Soylent Green is people!
The world is so over-populated, resources so scarce, that what choice does poor Soylent Industries have but to make its foodstuff from humans? Except, that's not what happened. So far, the future has brought relative abundance - which has its own set of problems.
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
If you manage to stay awake through 2001 - no small feat in 2013 - you come to realize how wrong it is about everything. Alien contact, stately flights to the moon and a super-intelligence that is a... mainframe.
Sadly, 2001 spawned far too many copycat films with its silly singular view: Humans are not in charge of their past nor their future. The fact that the women are stewardesses and anyone who can do anything is a white male merely reveals just how clueless this film really was. On the plus side, it still looks and sounds awesome.
7. Fahrenheit 451
There is much good to say about Julie Christie and Francois Truffaut. But you cannot say this movie understood the future. In Fahrenheit 451, a firefighter burns books. This is his duty - because the "government" cannot allow books as they may foster an independent-minded populace.
Whenever this movie comes on, I download one of the thousands of free books that are instantly available to me via Kindle.
Infiltrating someone's unconscious mind. Stealing another's dreams. Controlling what others do by getting inside their head, all Bene Gesserit like? Inception may be cool, and it's certainly frustrating. But we are nowhere close to accomplishing what the film suggests. We can't even cure Alzheimer's.
9. Logan's Run
In Logan's Run, life is perfect. And then you die. At the ripe old age of 30.
It may not be fair to include this film on the list. After all, it's set 250 years from now. Who knows what will happen in that time? However, given the fact that humanity continues to live longer, spends billions of dollars on extending life, and brilliant scientists such as Ray Kurzweil are actively pursuing a sort-of human-technological immortality through the singularity, I am going to go out on a limb and predict that Logan's Run will always be wrong.
We can now keep people alive by putting inside them the organs of a dead person(s) - or an animal. Does that make the recipient a monster? Frankenstein warned what could happen when we attempt to bring the dead to life, or create a life from the dead. Whether or not we figure out how to do that - it isn't going to play out like Frankenstein.
Those are my choices, and I'll stand behind every one. But these 10 misfires are far from the only movies that completely whiffed on predicting the future. What films would you add to the list? Leave your comments below.