No science fiction has depicted such a cold, dark, vision of the future as the 1982 neo-noir film Bladerunner. It is a mixture of an old time detective story combined with the twist of a not too distant future filled with flying cars, digital billboards, and androids that run amok, and can think and act like humans.
Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie stars Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hanna, and Edward James Almos. It is loosely based on a story by Phillip K. Dick called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It takes place in a dystopian Los Angeles in Nov. 2019, when genetically engineered replicants who refuse to conform to the government regulations are hunted and killed by police operatives, called Bladerunners. Ford is one of these, and ordered to kill three replicants who fail to report in.
I have to confess, that this is not one of my favorite films. Like so many films, it doesn’t do the written story justice. Although there is a lot of action, and a bigger than life villain in Rutger Hauer, the movies drags in parts, and shows the seedier and darker side of life. But it does set the mood of a melancholy world, where life is taken at face value, and it is a mere struggle to survive, and blends present, past, and future into one melting pot.
The predictions in this movie are simple, but very important. One is the digital billboard, which at the time didn’t exist. The idea was created, but nothing had been implemented yet. Now they are commonplace, and everywhere. Then there are flying cars, which haven’t yet been in mass production yet, but there already prototypes in use. I won’t go on about androids anymore, because the majority of our series has been about them or robots.
What sets this movie apart from others is the way the characters are portrayed and the questions that the viewer might ask. Are androids really capable of feelings, do they really know when they’re about to be terminated, and what does it mean to be human? There is even some speculation that Ridley intended for Ford’s character to be an android himself, but it the final version, this idea was trashed.
What will future movies predict about mankind and his direction in the universe? The upcoming sequel to Prometheus, also directed by Ridley Scott answers the questions of the origin of mankind, and how a xenophobe(Alien series) is allowed to run rampant across the galaxy. It should be interesting to see how he ties it in with the other films of the series. The Martian is out now, and probably the most realistic and accurate of all science fiction films that are predicting the future. 3001 is expected out soon as well.
Well, that concludes our series on back to the futuristic series. Tomorrow, I’ll be at a book signing at the East Syracuse Free Library in East Syracuse, NY from 12-2pm. Next week, I’ll be back with an entirely new series. Until then, have a great weekend.
MOVIES THAT PREDICT THE FUTURE
This week, in honor of the recent 30th anniversary of Back To The Future and all the hype about gadgets being similar now as they were in the movie, we’ll discuss movies that share that same theme.
Today, we’ll discuss a long time favorite of mine, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Its stunning visualization and prediction of the future makes it a science fiction masterpiece. Directed by Stanley Kubric and written by Arthur C. Clarke, it tells the tale of an ancient alien monolith that comes to Earth, and later another is found on the moon, to change the evolution of mankind. Clarke and Kubric worked close with NASA to develop the film in a realistic manner. Man didn’t reach the actual moon until a year later.
In the opening sequence, there is a scene where an executive briefcase is used, which has a phone set and television screen, as well as what looks to be a keyboard pad. Does this sound familiar? It should, because it is what we have come to know as a laptop computer and cell phone combined. There are websites which allow for video conferencing, similar to how they communicate in the film.
Many of the inferences to our future are subtle in the film, but there are many scientific breakthroughs which sound like problems our own current day astronauts must deal with. One is the problem of lack of gravity. Although we haven’t quite licked this issue, the solution in the film is spot on. There must be some sort of gravitational control in order to have artificial gravity. Clarke addresses this issue by creating orbital mechanics or a rotating structure in which the astronauts live and work, and even adds a zero gravity toilet, which is now a reality on the ISS.
The moon base, is of course, completely fiction, but there is talk of returning there to mine the resources. It will be doubtful that we ever populate the moon without precious resources, such as water, and proper soil to grow food in. The ISS is working on this problem, and may one day improve it enough to at least create a permanent Martian base.
HAL, the artificially intelligent computer, is still a fantasy at this point, but may soon be reality in the rapidly changing world of quantum physics. Voice activated computers already exist, and automation is now a way of life. Computers and robots have already replaced several jobs that humans should not and cannot do.
Trips to far away worlds are still a long way off, but our probes are already exiting our galaxy. With the new Orion rocket, we’ll be able to reach Mars in just three months. It is still propelled by the old liquid propellants, as fusion power is not yet stable enough to be used in space travel, but my prediction is we will solve this problem by the end of the century; if Earth survives that long.
Another factor that they get dead on as well is suspended animation. With this process, space travel would be like a walk in the park, going to sleep, and waking up billions of miles from home. Although this process is still science fiction, we have had some success in this area in the field of medicine, reducing temperatures in humans just enough to keep them alive. There is danger, however, that this cannot be maintained for any length of time without disastrous effects, but like other things, I’m convinced this area will be mastered as well.
In the movie and book, shuttles are used to reach the station and the moon base. This, of course, has become a reality, as the ISS space station has docking ports for up to four separate space crafts. Another interesting aspect mentioned in the book is how the fear of nuclear war exists, even in the future. This, of course, is still true, as our nuclear arsenal grows old, and new countries are working with nuclear energy as well.
The most important aspect of the book and movie is the evolution of mankind. It follows it from the beginning, in prehistoric times, until present day, and displays how man has changed since then. The movie suggests an outside alien race is responsible, and not God, which mirrors the belief of ancient alien theorists and Clarke himself. He was not an overly religious man, and believed in the explanations of science. In the end, man “merges” with this race, creating a “star child,” and the next stage of man’s evolution.
Although this movie predicts things that may or may not be in 2001, we have to remember when it was made. In 1968, this film was light years ahead of anything that anyone produced ahead of it. Even though the theories are sound, most of them won’t be developed in my lifetime. Even though I was only 7 years old, I remember when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon in 1969. I hoped to see a man on Mars before I’m gone, and by golly, it just might happen!
Tomorrow, we’ll look at another futuristic movie that predicts events and gadgets. It is also one of my favorite films, and warrants recognition-Silent Running. Only one link today:
TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOUR BABY(PLANET)
Silent Running is one of those films that makes a strong statement, and finds a solution, even when none is available. Released in 1972, most of it still rings true today. It was a time of turmoil, in the form of war, hunger, possible self extermination, and the beginning of what we now call “climate change.”
In this ionic film, we look at what happens when man neglects his environment. Life on Earth has become extinct, and man’s only hope for survival are giant freighters which carry greenhouse geodesic domes with forest-like environments in them. The Valley Forge is a ship that carries seven of these, outside the orbit of Saturn. Freeman Lowell, (Bruce Dern), is an ecological scientist who vows to preserve life.
When the crew is ordered to jettison and destroy the pods, he kills one crew member, and traps the other two inside one of the pods to be jettison and exploded. During his altercation with the crew member he is injured. He teaches three service robots, Huey, Dewy, and Luey how to perform surgery on his leg, as well as poker.
In the end, he must send the only surviving droid, Dewey into the last dome, and jettisons it into space. He places artificial lighting throughout the dome because as it moves farther from the sun, the plants begin to die. He explodes the ship with himself on it, as the dome drifts into the darkness of space.
Directed by Douglas Trumbil, this film isn’t too far into the future. Filmed 43 years ago, one watching would assume they are envisioning the year 2000 or later. Most of the technology in the film is used today. Service robots are more or less a way of life these days, from the automatic vacuum cleaners to flying drones, bionics, and robotics. Probes and rovers to other planets already perform many of the same functions that the droids did in the film. The Davinci robot performs surgery with the precision of the most skilled surgeon in the world.
The environment is still a major issue on this planet, and extinction of several species has already began at an alarming rate. The melting of the ice caps is raising the world’s oceans, and killing thousands of salt water creatures that depend on them. Before too long we could end up like the movie if we don’t act on our indiscretions. Bio-domes like the one in the movie will indeed one day be useful in space survival. The ISS has already begun a smaller version on board, that grows in a zero gravity environment.
The one factor that doesn’t mesh again is the whole space travel thing. Although it never states how they achieved such a far out distance in space, fusion is the implied form of fuel, which makes sense. This, however, is still years in development, and most likely won’t be achieved for at least another 50 years.
Next time on the blog, we’ll be looking at another classic prediction movie, this time set in the near future, where robots help achieve your wildest fantasies. Until then, here is today’s link:
HAVE GOT A VACATION FOR YOU!
Shortly after Silent Running there was a writer soon to be director Michael Crichton, who later went on to direct or co-produce several movies based on his scifi, medical, and thriller novels, and the television series ER. In 1973, he directed the movie Westworld, the story of an adult playground in the not too distant future, where your wildest fantasies can come true, with the aid of several androids.
Richard Benjamin and James Brolin play two wealthy tourists who comes to the tourist attraction, which is run by the Delos corporation. Alen Operheimer, the man who played Rudy Wells in The Six Million Dollar Man, plays the chief scientist and technician. While staying there, there is a malfunction in the androids, and they begin to run amok, killing their human counterparts. The guns there are supposed to only kill androids because they couldn’t work at a certain warmer temperature, but this malfunctions as well.
When the gunslinging Yul Brynner begins has a gun fight, and shoots Richard Benjamin in the leg, the human must run for his life. He squares off with the android in the end, throwing acid on his face, and setting him on fire.
One important fact about this movie is that it was the first to actually use digital image processing, which would later be come to know as CGI, which was later used in Crichton’s Jurassic Park series. In August 2013, HBO announced production of a television series based on the film. There was a sequel called Futureworld, starring Peter Fonda, but it was a disastrous flop at the box office.
The biggest lesson in this movie is be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. This was one of the first movies to feature robots that were actually human. Androids were featured in science fiction television for years, but few movies tapped this market until later years, when Walt Disney created the world of animatronics. This field allowed the first designs of robots that industries and the government use in everyday life today. Westworld paved the way for The Terminator series, Alien, Bladerunner, and others.
In real life, bionics has helped thousands to lead normal productive lives. And to think, 45 years ago, it was merely science fiction. The guns in the story are real now, reacting to the biochemistry of the owner, allowing only him to fire it. We’ve seen this technology in the Bond films as well, and the military does in fact possess such guns.
A working, living android is just around the corner. A company in Japan is already producing male and female androids that can perform a variety of functions. They can speak, see, and hear, and through sensors, and move their upper extremities. Walking is just around the corner, however, as we already see active military robots similar to those in The Terminator. We now have marriage ceremonies that include men and women, women and women, and men and men. Is the android-human relationship just around the corner? And if it is, what rights do an android have?
These are questions that will have to wait for the next stage of our future. There is some resistance to military robots having the power to make life or death decisions, and the same will probably apply to androids. There is the question of uploading one’s entire memories and brain activity into an android or robot, and what that would mean for the evolution of our race. I know that this is not something I would be interested in pursuing, and I would certainly prefer not to have an android as a wife.
Next time we’ll continue our futuristic series, with another newer classic. Until then, have a great weekend, and we’ll see you Monday!
I’LL BE BACK!
Who could forget Arnold Swartzenegger’s line which made him famous, and the series that sent him into superstar status? The movie that started it all The Terminator was released in 1984, and directed by James Cameron, who later filmed classics such as The Titanic, and two of the other Terminator movies.
In the movie, Arnold is the series 800 model 101 infiltration unit, a cybernetic organism, or cyborg, sent back in time to ensure that a resistance leader, John Conner, is not born. Linda Hamilton of Beauty and The Beast fame is John’s pregnant mother who must be killed to prevent his birth. And if that’s not confusing enough, John’s father, Kyle Reese, played by Michael Biehn, is sent from the future to stop the terminator. The movie sets place in the present, but the opening sequence is in 2029.
The premise behind the film is that machines become so advanced, they are able to determine that man is a threat, and needs to be eliminated. They turn the nuclear arsenal man has created against himself, and almost destroy Earth. What’s left is a world where machines try to finish the job by attacking whatever is left.
You gotta love this one just for the great one liners Arnold delivers alone, not to mention the great action sequences with chase scenes. When I incorporated an android into my second book, it was The Terminator that came to mind.
So let’s take a look at the technical aspects of the film. Robots have indeed came a long way since then. But are they really capable of controlling us? Well, the answer to that one is-not yet. Artificial intelligence is predicted to occur around 2029, but it will be nothing like Skynet. It involves quantum computing, which is much different than a traditional computer. Maybe one day, quantum computing can be incorporated into robots, but that day is a long way off.
The part of the movie that is very real and frightening, is the production of drones and robotic killing devices, which are already in use or under development in the military. We’ve already seen that drone attacks can make mistakes, and kill civilians in the process. Once they allow robots to make a life or death situation without the guide of human direction, it could spell disaster.
Skynet was a reference to the ARPAnet, which was the first internet protocol that the military used at the time. There wasn’t a real internet until a short time later. There are several fail safes that would prevent an incident such as the one in the movie from happening, but who knows what the future holds, as they say in the movie, the future is still unwritten.
Tomorrow, we’ll conclude our Back To The futuristic movie series, with a extra special one. Until then, here is today’s link: