Cinematic History of the Future
There lies our future, sprawled out before us. Ready for mindless ingestion. There are redundancies and plot holes, recurring characters and regurgitated plot lines. History, though, does repeat itself, they say. The future of man has already been told on magic celluloid strips. Our destiny, of course, begins with apes. It starts 43 years ago. Charlton Heston is there. Go.
In 1968, while people chomp their popcorn and gobble their jujubes, a planet earth destroyed by nuclear holocaust and dominated by talking apes will flicker in front of their hippie faces. In one year, man will walk on the moon, but none of that hullabaloo will matter to the motion picture storytellers who will proclaim that in 2,010 years Astronaut Charlton Heston will land on a planet to be caged and prodded and stripped naked in front of a monkey tribunal.
He’ll be captive to a race of apes that has created carbine rifles and the English language, but has yet to develop the internal combustion engine. When the fair-haired cosmonaut discovers the planet he’s landed on is his own, not even the sweet caress of his mute love interest will be able to contain his anger at those bastards who had blown up his beloved New York City.
But five years later those same talkie watchers will take solace in seeing Police Officer Charlton Heston uncover the mysteries of the Soylent Corporation. Sure, the 2022 NYC they will see will be a cesspool of poverty and smog and maybe their green M&Ms will carry a strangely iron taste, but it’ll still be standing. And inhabited by standard squalored men and women. Not criminal masterminds and a one-eyed Kurt Russell that the great John Carpenter will declare had taken over Manhattan 25 years prior.
And therein lies the question. How long until things start shaking? For a 1968 Franklin Schaffner (or Boulle or Serling, but let’s always stick with the directors, it’s easier), the island of Manhattan will take roughly 2,010 years to deteriorate into nothing but a wasteland ruled by apes and a rusting head of Lady Liberty, but the superb John Carpenter will see the island in its pre-Giuliani 1981 urban decay glory, shrug his shoulders, and say “Uhnff, I give it 16 years before it’s a prison.” Certainly we know that the genius John Carpenter was wrong, but Schaffner may still be right with his guess. In 3978. Throw your stone short and you run the danger of seeing your predictions fail. Too far out and men won’t care. The sun will one day burn down, but there is no dramatic tension in a billion years, even if that’s the correct number. Predictions, Doc Hollywood, are a fickle lot.
Take for instance Geoff Murphy’s 1992 Freejack, a film whose most notable prediction is that Mic Jagger will still be alive in 2009, albeit now controlling a corporate police force. Murphy will envision a country where people are plucked from the past so that other people’s consciousnesses can be transferred into their bodies. The year 2009 will come and pass and the world will not deliver on Murphy’s promises. Instead there will be Lady Gaga and iPod Touches and a 3-D movie about a planet ruled by giant blue men — where people’s consciousnesses are transferred into new bodies. But that film’s director will say the idea is still 145 years out.
Perhaps Murphy’s folly is tied to a larger problem for cinematic prognosticators — a physical need to keep things close, but a strong desire to make bold predictions. Murphy’s struggle is simple: How far into the future can he go so that time-travel and mind transfer are possible and yet not too far that Emilio Estevez won’t still want to bang future Renee Russo. Now, certainly anyone who has seen the present day Mrs. Russo realizes the director undershot himself, but one can’t really be blamed for the unpredictability of aging beauty.
Six years after Estevez has escaped the clutches of the evil Anthony Hopkins, the world will be flying cars and hoverboards and Jaws 19 playing at the Holomax Theater in Zemeckis’s Back to the Future 2015. Fusion-powered flying automobiles seem unlikely, but as long as Hollywood cranks out 15 more Jaws films in the next four years that prediction has a shot. He may have rightly predicted the rebirth of 3-D (Avatar, 2009), but he also likely missed its subsequent death (Jaws 3-D: The Remake Nobody Wanted, 2012). Zemeckis was limited in the same way as Murphy though. He could only go so far. Our noble hero Marty McFly had to be alive in the future. Doc Brown might have had more trouble convincing Marty to go back in time to save his great-great-great-grandson. Zemeckis did prophesy the return of the 80s, though hopefully by 2015 they’ll be gone again. Sadly, no hoverboards on the horizon. Not much firing down over fax machines either. Still hope for the double necktie though.
Two years later the world will be all about prisons again. This time though our jolly convicts will get the chance to battle their way to freedom on The Running Man, the greatest sporting event in the world. In 1987, Paul Michael Glaser will promise us a 2017 ruled by a totalitarian regime and a TV set dominated by crazed, adrenalin junkies chasing thrills dressed in ridiculous, sparkled outfits. Six years away and what have we got? Patriot act, cough cough, Jersey Shore, cough cough. Moving along, because the run of The Running Man as the world’s favorite sport will see a quick death when the real ultraviolence of Rollerball skates into American hearts a year later. Motorcycles, spiked gloves, and people dying in front of screaming spectators. Jimmy Caan defying the worlds leaders to take a victory lap around the field while you sit silently in your seat, not doing anything. Why is that? They’re just questions, Leon. In answer to your query, they’re written down for me. One year later and the replicants have arrived.
Of all the future dystopias, Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner will give the populace one of the most gorgeous. The rain-soaked Los Angeles that will flicker on 1982 big-screens will show an Asian-inspired neo-noir 2019 landscape of robots, spinners, and gorgeous architecture. Shame all the animals will be dead. Simultaneously on the other side of the planet, the Japanese will be dealing with their own 2019 dystopia, but instead of out-of-control robots they’ll be fighting clown-themed biker gangs, home-grown terrorism, and teenagers with unchecked mind powers. If you’ve seen Tokyo lately you’ll realize Otomo might be on the right track. Bring on the Capsules.
Three years later and we’ll have made it to Soylent Green. Say what you want about eating processed human remains, it surely beats searching the fallout Arizona desert for canned pears as the mustachioed L.Q. Jones will announce we’ll be doing in the 2024 world of A Boy and His Dog. At least we’ll have psychic talking dogs to aid in our quest to find sweet, non-mutated women to make soft love with. And in 2024 you’d best find sex where you can, and take if often gentleman and gentleladies, for eight years past an innocent Sandra Bullock will delight at our commercial jingles, but sternly rebuff any sexual advances for old Doc Cocteau will have banned all human fluid transfer. Good news on the 2032 food front though — all the restaurants will be Taco Bells. And there’ll be fresh rat burgers available from sewer vendors. Woo-hoo!
Jump three years and the replicants will be back, but now they will look like robots. Humans will have learned the lessons of the uncanny valley, but only Will Smith will seem to have really paid attention during Blade Runner. Universal spoiler: They’re going try to kill us. Chuck Taylors will be old-school. So will motorcycles in I, Robot‘s 2035. Good news for Chicagoans, the EL will look nice. Will Smith will have a robotic arm that will look just like a regular human’s. Thirty-six years later and we’ll be zooming through space, hauling in space bandits, but it seems we’ll have slipped on the robotic prosthetic front. Sorry, Jet, but that thing looks a little clunky. Cowboys will wear nicely tailored suits and cowgirls will wear barely breast-covering short overall outfits. Garbage will orbit the planet and sad decommissioned satellites will score the desert in nuevo figure drawings. Not a bad 2071, Cowboy Bebop.
Thirteen years later and we’ll all be taking vacations to Mars. Or at least we’ll think we’re taking a trip to Mars to fight corporate big-wigs alongside mutant warriors. We might just be plugged into a computer and dreaming all of that. This idea will be pitched to American audiences in 1990. Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall will be an action-flick starring the future Governator, a mutant growing out of Marshall Bell’s stomach, a la Basket Case, and the greatest three-boobed mutant bar scene the cinema will ever see. The movie will become a staple of basic cable and a veritable cult-classic. Yet, after being out for nine years one nerdy hacker named Neo will apparently never have seen it, “Whoa we’re all just living in a computer program.” He’ll find out it’s actually 145 years after Total Recall. The sun is blacked out. The earth is controlled by robots. Giant sperm-shaped robo-killers will hunt him in his hovership. People will really like black leather.
But we’ve skipped a couple. First there will be Danny Cannon’s Judge Dredd. Scorched earth. The start of human cloning. Gianni Versace-designed cop uniforms. Pass. Add 15 years and we’ll have made it to 2154, Avatar. We’ll be mining new planets and everything will be a helicopter. Sigourney will be there. Soldiers will fight aliens in robotic shells that look nearly exactly like the robo-suit she uses to toss the Queen alien out the airhatch in Aliens. James Cameron’s 2009 Avatar will reveal a world of lush vegetation, flying monsters, and Earth’s new colonial domination. Millions of viewers will see it in it’s hyper-real 3-D, look to their friends, and ask, “Well … would you?”
If you’ve been paying attention you know 45 years down the line, it will all turn out to be a computer program. That world will be permanently stuck in the 90s. Luckily a 64-year shuffle from there will unveil the greatest site the future could ever hold — Milla Jovovich wearing only white straps. The men in 1997 theaters won’t have to confer about human-alien intercourse watching The Fifth Element. There will also be tiny apartments where the shower hides under the bed, a system of quitting smoking that uses shorter and shorter cigarettes, and a bombastic Chris Tucker that screams into a microphone and whispers sexy words to airline stewardesses. Luc Besson can probably sit back and rest assured these inventions will be come to fruition by 2263. And in the end one religious order will lead a successful rebellion against a destructive alien force by showing us love is a really, really big deal.
Eleven years into the future and religion will have us all chanting and hollering while our friends float up into a bright light and explode like sparkly human firecrackers. Yay, Carrousel. Everyone will have a 70s haircut. And the uncanny valley will have now kicked into the point where our robots will look like children’s homemade box costumes wrapped in tin foil. And when this robot confronts us with the knowledge that he’s been freezing people to turn into food and tries to kill us we’ll run away scared and surprised because apparently we won’t have seen Blade Runner, I, Robot, or Soylent Green. Typical future generations. No respect for the classics. That’s OK because the top of that bubble society everyone lives in will be blown to smithereens in a noble effort to show people a man who has a beard and a bunch of cats. Now the logical among you probably realizes that people who have no survival skills and are stupid enough to routinely blow themselves up will not survive long in the wild. And for that I present to you The Goodchilds.
Or at least I present you the Goodchilds 141 years after the fall of Logan’s domed city. Same idea though. One city remains surrounded by untamed wilderness. If you’re the counting kind, you’ll notice this is at least the fourth time in our future history where we will live in a utopia, surrounded by a terrible wasteland dystopia, only to find out our utopia is actually a terrible dystopia. Twistopia. Aeon Flux‘s city of Bregna will be ruled by a family known as the Goodchilds who have saved humanity from the brink. The government is corrupt, but so are the rebels who fight the government. The weather seems nice. People will have finally crammed their cellphones into their heads so they can send each other telepathic messages. Some people will have hands for feet. Oh, and everyone will be a clone because a virus will have killed most of the world’s population. That will have happened 404 years ago. Checks watch. Which would be present day for you, kind reader. Which means for a 37-year-old Karyn Kusama who made her big budget film debut with 2005’s Aeon Flux, 2011 will seem like just the right year for a virus to wipe out 99 percent of the movie going public. Which begs the question, “If Charlize Theron won’t be fighting corruption for another 400 odd years, why kill most everyone in six?” Trigger happy.
But the most premature death in the future known Verse will surely come 103 years later. It will be a death sentence handed down to theatergoers in 2002, but it will be shown in the world of 2518. There will be epic space battles, rousing speeches, and mindless space monsters hellbent on destruction. The Wild West will be reborn on fresh planets. There will be a war against an oppressive regime destined to make everyone fit into the same mold, led by one Firefly-class spaceship captained by the most badass man since Snake Plisskin. He’ll win his fight against the government, but still his ship will fade out with the rolling credits of Serenity.
And now our longest jump yet. 1461 years after Serenity and we’ll be back on the beach with angry Charlton Heston on the good old planet of the apes. But perk up Heston, be a man. What did you expect? You launched your Planet of the Apes career in 1968 and now it’s been 2010 years. Maybe the world didn’t get blown up. Maybe everyone got plugged in. Maybe they’re living in their domed cities watching Running Man reruns. Maybe they’ve gone out to explore. New worlds. New galaxies. New species. Any second now a ship could rip through a time portal and land behind you and Captain Mal Reynolds could step off and ask you to come help fight the good fight.
Get on the ship. There’s a future out there waiting to be told. Remade. Sequelled. Revised and retconned. That future might be two decades out and it might be two millenia. It doesn’t matter. It’s about the story. And if you get on that ship and you ride into the future you can be guaranteed it will be a hell of a story. Plus, Jayne Cobb is on that ship. You’re going to like him.
Go cinema. Go.