Spotlight On Films In Which Technology Has Gone Awry: Our Grim Future Awaits
September 23rd, 2009 12:43pm EDT | By: Evan Crean
As we look forward to the future, we are hopeful that technology and the overall standard of living will continue to improve. Many films set in the distant or even in the more immediate future paint it as a grim place where our dependence on technology has blinded us to our own humanity.
We are reminded that technology yields great power and that great power can corrupt our souls. Films portraying this version of our future are meant to provoke commentary about the ethical dilemmas the characters face and to help steer humanity in a more thoughtful direction.
With the movie "Surrogates" coming to theaters on Sept. 25, audiences will get to see a new gloomy future, where people live their lives through robot personas called Surrogates, operating them from the safety and comfort of their homes. Trouble begins however, when operators and their Surrogates start mysteriously dying off.
Bruce Willis plays a detective bound by his own reliance on a Surrogate, who is forced to step outside into the real world again to track down the killer.
In anticipation of yet another futuristic tale that seeks to show the dark side of technology, I've assembled a list of films that depict our future in an equally unflattering light.
Welcome to a future where a sissy in flowing robes rules a land free of crime, swearing, sex, and worst of all: red meat. The benevolent leader Dr. Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne) presides over California like a pillar of morality, but uses his influence and power to unfreeze a violent 20th century criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) from cryo-stasis.
Phoenix's newfound freedom comes with a price. He is given the assignment to kill Cocteau's rival Edgar Friendly (Denis Leary), a man who leads an underground movement to preserve the freedoms Cocteau bans in his technologically advanced society.
A wimpy police force unsure of how to handle the violent criminal unfreezes the former lawman and nemesis of Simon Phoenix: John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), codename "The Demolition Man." It's up to Spartan to save the 21st century from Phoenix and from itself, by bringing back some 20th century bad-assery. With Spartan's brawn and Friendly's brains hopefully the future can find a happy medium between the two centuries.
The second movie on the list starring Sylvester Stallone, this story takes place in the year 2139. In this future, the Earth has become a virtually uninhabitable rock where the populous is crowded into cities across the planet called "Mega Cities." Crime in these overcrowded cities became so powerful, that the justice system collapsed completely.
Rising from the ashes, was a new set of law enforcement officers that became three justice systems in one: police, jury, and executioner. These officers of the law known as Judges, were given the authority to dispense their own brand of violent justice if the punishment fit the crime.
The strictest judge in Mega City 1 history, Judge Dredd (Sylvester Stallone) is framed for murder by the former Judge Rico (Armande Assante). Rico seeks to create a chaotic world, with an army of clones under his control. It's up to Dredd to recover his reputation, save Mega City 1 from Rico's tyranny, and reform the harsh justice system.
Humans become completely dependent on robots by the year 2035 to perform their daily bidding. They treat the machines like an inferior class of beings meant exclusively for service. People are lulled into a false sense of security that robots would never harm a human because they are bound to certain laws of behavior.
After the murder of Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the lead inventor at U.S. Robotics, in which a robot named Sonny is implicated, the robo-phobic Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) is called in to investigate the crime. The only one who believes it was a robot that killed Dr. Lanning, no one listens to Spooner as he warns them of an impending attack.
Detective Spooner must struggle to overcome his prejudices against robots while trying to save mankind from the impending threat. Aiding Spooner is the psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), who balances his distrust for the machines with her own trust and empathy.
Crime is virtually eradicated from Washington D.C. due a special police force with the ability to predict wrongdoings before they actually happen. The "Precrime" unit uses three genetically altered humans with special powers called "Pre-Cogs" to glimpse the future and see crimes beforehand. Citizens are arrested before they even have the chance to choose the path of right or wrong.
John Anderton (Tom Cruise), the head of the Precrime unit is steadfastly loyal to the system and its ability to administer justice, but he comes to learn that the system can be manipulated, when he is framed for a predicted murder he knows he won't commit.
Anderton goes on the run from the law trying to deduce who framed him by finding the "minority report," an alternate prediction of the future as seen by the female Pre-Cog Agatha. But by proving his innocence for the predicted murder, Anderton will shatter a system he once placed his faith in.
One of the most easily recognizable movies connecting technology to the downfall of man, the humans in this future exist as beings that are bred to serve machines. Humans spend their lives plugged into a gritty late 1990s era digital simulation of life called the Matrix, while they function like giant batteries; creating bio-energy is used to power the machine world.
A lucky few have escaped this computerized prison like Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). They live a meager existence, fighting back against the machines and searching for "The One" a man prophesized to defeat the machines and free humankind from its digital prison.
The pair finds Neo (Keanu Reeves), who they believe is the man the prophecy speaks of, and they help to set him free from the Matrix. Doubtful of his own abilities and slightly slow on the uptake, Neo grows into the role of leadership, learning that believing he is The One is equally as important to knowing that he is.
The role reversal of machines as the oppressors and man as the oppressed, while not new in this film, creates a very interesting dynamic in the human/machine interaction. Humans in the movie live in fear of the machines and their wrath.
Of the movies on this list, this is the second one featured that is based on a story by the author Philip K. Dick. Easily the darkest portrait of the future on this list, director Ridley Scott borrows elements based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, while incorporating ideas of his own about what the future would look like.
There's a strange duality in this world that mixes the bright lights of commercialism and looming temple-like edifices with low tech, filthy, poorly lit neighborhoods.
In this cyberpunk vision of the future, man possesses the technology to create replicants: humanoid machines with a fixed lifespan, meant entirely to serve in colonies outside Earth. Rick Deckard is a Blade Runner, a cop who specializes in terminating replicants.
Deckard comes out of retirement to track and kill six replicants that escape from an off-world colony to Earth. Over the course of the chase, Deckard must come to grips with what it means to be human, while he learns why life is so precious.
Are there any other great films you think we left off this list? Let us know in the comments!
Story by Starpulse contributing writer Evan Crean, a movie trivia guru and trailer addict with a practically photographic memory of actors and directors. Get a first look at the movies premiering each week, which which ones will be worth your $10, which ones you should wait to rent and which ones aren't worth your time.