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Days of future past

I never promised you an orgasmatron

Current sci-fi films seem endlessly obsessed with special effects one-upmanship, so the best parts about them--the provocative glimpses of future life--are subsumed under stylish accoutrements. Older sci-fi films, though less technically sophisticated, often present more intriguing depictions of what lies around the corner, particularly the everyday details of future existence. Comforts of home alternate with flights of fancy; coffee cups are as plentiful as little gray men, space travel, and fancy gadgets. The following films, which span almost 50 years pre-Star Wars, yield prophetic projections of a future Earth that sometimes correspond with current scientific advances. And their usually earnest presentation tugs at anyone who's ever imagined "what if."

Metropolis (1927)



The Plot
Fritz Lang's glimpse into an industrialized society starkly divided between the haves and have-nots. To lead the masses astray, a business mogul commissions the building of a sexpot robot designed to look like Maria, the leader of the workers' movement.


Predicted
Aside from its prescient depiction of a divided society, it's perhaps the first instance of a mad scientist who bares a mechanical hand, his real one given up in his pursuit of science. Rotwang's cyborg arm, detached and operating independently, is used in the auto industry and some medical applications.


Not holding our breath
Instead of sexpot robots, now we've got only robot pets: a dog, Sony's Aibo, that nuzzles and plays with a ball but still can't fetch. But last year sales in robotics—programmed mechanical apparatuses that are used primarily in auto assembly and medical application—exceeded $1 billion.

Things To Come (1936)



The Plot
Based on an H. G. Wells story, this film predicted WW II (although this version lasted decades longer), followed by tribalism in the 1970s. By 2035, a utopian society run by technocrats emerges, coinciding with man's first flight to the moon.


Predicted
We've recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The film also provided a comforting vision of a transition from a world of strife to one controlled by a benevolent group of men.


Not holding our breath
A plague wipes out most of the world's population.

Fantastic Voyage (1965)



The Plot
Shrunken down inside a mini atomic-powered submarine, scientists race against time to save the life of a Russian informer, dodging antibodies and crazed double agents.


Predicted
Heightened awareness of invaders within the body, every bit as insidious as those we imagine coming from the depths of the galaxy. Predicted minimally invasive techniques, such as endoscopies, and other ways of turning the human body inside out, such as ultrasound technology, X rays, MRIs, and CAT scans.


Not holding our breath
Though miniaturization has affected every aspect of technology, humans are not likely to shrink via science.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)



The Plot
In Stanley Kubrick's exquisite vision, a huge circular space station orbits Earth and accepts rocket bus flights from Earth. Flight attendants in grip shoes serve liquid meals to the business traveler. Telephone calls have video interfaces used in conjunction with phone cards.


Predicted
Some of 2001's innovations have already been implemented here on Earth: individual video consoles on several major airlines, video conference calls (both on PCs and through specialized phones), and biometric identification, including voiceprint recognition, iris scans, and fingerprints.


Not holding our breath
One of the most menacing inanimate objects ever, HAL 9000, has yet to be replicated. And the world's only active space station, Russia's 13-year-old Mir, is no model of modern efficiency. Plagued by technical difficulties, it will reenter the atmosphere next year and burn up.

Sleeper (1973)



The Plot
Woody Allen's romp into A.D. 2173 and its police state future mixes and matches bad '70s decor and familiar sights (escalators, cigarettes, beanbag chairs) with high-tech innovations like computerized Yiddish-accented tailors, thumbprint IDs, cloning, and cryogenics.


Predicted
Allen was on the right track with the notion of identification as a commodity. Last October, the FBI unveiled the National DNA Index System, and recently Florida law enforcement nailed the nation's first ‘‘cold hit'' using the system—a serial rapist. We're less than five years away from the completion of the Human Genome Project.


Not holding our breath
Orgasmatron chambers. Sure, we've got more than enough sex toys, but this was instant gratification still unsurpassed in the virtual reality sci-fi experience.

Soylent Green (1973)



The Plot
There's no superclean perfect world in this vision of New York circa 2022. Overcrowding and starvation have ravaged a city of 40 million. The air is smoggy and sooty, with a daily average temp of 90 degrees.


Predicted
A realistic view of an imperfect future, where the clothes, cars, and technology have remained stagnant. This movie comes closest to depicting the New York we now live in, especially in the wake of some record heat waves.


Not holding our breath
A world where everyone lives on the pseudo-food substance manufactured by the Soylent corporation: enemies of the state in paste form.
 
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