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[GUEST POST] Zack Mandell on Prophets of Tech

Zack Mandell is a movie enthusiast and owner of and writer of movie reviews about movies such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He writes extensively about the movie industry for sites such as Gossip Center, Yahoo, NowPublic, and Helium.

I remember the days of the late 1990s.  I would return home from class so I could get to doing work straightaway on my behemoth desktop that sometimes would make more noise than a 747.  I would play my favorite music on the CD player that occupied its own little nest on my desk (Radiohead’s “OK Computer” was the music for a large part of those days).  The first song would play as I was connecting with my dialup internet, and the words “You’ve got mail” would typically be announced in concurrence with the beginning notes of “Paranoid Android.”  In 1998, the idea of having this music as a computer file akin to any of my WordPerfect documents was sheer lunacy.  The same goes for internet that didn’t require me listening to the placing of a call before I could see my AOL home page.  Now that high speed internet and Steve Jobs and his slew of convenient music devices have taken over the world, we take these technologies for granted, even though they were inconceivable some 15 years ago.  It’s hard to predict the future; some have gone to jail for it (I’m looking at you Miss Cleo).  Some film directors have tried their hand at it, and they’ve got actually gotten some things right.  Here is a look at five classic science-fiction films, and how well they predicted the years they were portraying.

Blade Runner

Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi cop drama is generally regarded as one of the genre’s masterpieces, despite the beleaguered road it took to merit such a title.  Using innovative techniques, Scott looked ahead in the filmmaking future.  But he also predicted a dystopian Los Angeles in the year 2019, and while we have still have seven years to see just how accurate he was, there are a few things Scott and his writers seem to have correctly foreseen.  For instance, the Replicants that are central to the story only have a lifespan of four years, which is frankly better than most Apple products.  Planned obsolescence has been around since the dawn of capitalism, but never has it been in such full effect.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

There’s no evidence to suggest this 2004 sci-fi/romantic comedy masterpiece from French director Michel Gondry is set in the future technically.  There are no flying cars abound, no robots at home that have dinner ready made.  “Eternal Sunshine” merits its sci-fi label strictly due to the technology featured in the film that allows the film’s premise: Memory erasure to wipe the memories of a bad relationship.  In Gondry’s film, the service is provided by a hole-in-the-wall company Lacuna Inc., and they use an assortment of wires and screens.  In 2009, however, a Dutch pharmaceutical company claimed to have made a pill that would erase bad memories, such as the loss of a loved one.

Minority Report

No science fiction film of the 2000s was more lofty in its ambitions than this 2002 Steven Spielberg gem, about a cop on the run for a murder he has yet to commit, but he has been predicted to.  Just like many of Spielberg’s best, this film can be enjoyed on so many different levels, including as a political allegory and simply as a rocking summer blockbuster.  But of course, this is a feast for sci-fi geeks.  Spielberg incorporates a lot of technology in the film that seemed silly to me in 2002, like cars that drive themselves and billboards that target individuals for personal advertising.  But now that I live ten years later, and see ads for cars that can use GPS to park themselves and ads on my Facebook page that were tailor made for my profile, it all doesn’t seem so silly anymore.

2001: A Space Odyssey

The granddaddy of them all.  The film that installed the standards of what a sci-fi film could and should do, even 40+ years removed.  This 1969 Stanley Kubrick space exploration film, which frequently finds itself atop lists of the greatest films ever made, is acclaimed for several reasons, most notably for its ambition.  Kubrick orchestrates several wordless set pieces and throws plot out the window to create a mesmerizing mood epic.  His ambition also comes in the form of the technology he, along with writer Arthur C. Clarke, envisions.  While we actually have seen the year 2001, and know that most of what was in the film has not been fully realized even in 2012, some of it looks familiar.  The iPhone’s Siri is essentially a feminine, handheld and thankfully less sinister version of the HAL 9000, and the tablets in the film eerily resemble the tablets seen today, like the iPad.  It’s almost as if “2001” was an Apple production.

The Truman Show

This 1998 Peter Weir marvel couldn’t even be made today.  Well it could, but no one would care, because the main storyline, about a man whose entire life is filmed for public consumption, is actually so commonplace in modern mainstream culture that the idea wouldn’t have been as radical as initially posed.  “Reality” shows now represent a majority of the programming for many a network.  The only difference between the shows we see now and “The Truman Show” is that the subjects of the shows we see now know they are being filmed.

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