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Future Imperfect

November 1, 2008

Recently I was discussing the new big-budget sci-fi flick, Babylon A.D. with a friend of mine. He had seen it here in Korea and found it as bitterly disappointing and poor as almost everyone else that had the misfortune of sitting through it. You might think that Vin Diesel’s presence alone practically guaranteed that the film in question would be an irredeemable piece of shit but this movie had the intriguing feature of being directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, the French filmmaker who gave the amazing La Haine to the world.

I was initially interested in seeing Babylon A.D. also. It looked somewhat derivative of the excellent Children Of Men but potentially enjoyable nonetheless. I quickly changed my mind when I read a quote from Kassovitz himself declaring that he was “very unhappy with the film” and that, due to massive studio interference, it was little more than “violence and stupidity“. Yikes. I didn’t need to be told twice.

Amongst the many complaints my friend had about the movie was the rather more personal objection that it was yet another sci-fi film that was massively pessimistic with regard to humanity in the future. It’s set in a dystopian future where everything is much shittier than it is now. Problems with the environment, the world economy, global population, armed conflict, totalitarian government, etc. have all massively worsened. In other words, quite a typical sci-fi action movie and this was the crux of my friend’s complaint. Why, he asked, are optimistic, positive, Utopian sci-fi movies so rarely (if ever) seen? Why do you never get to see a movie set in a future that is pretty damn good, where an increasingly enlightened humanity has managed to make some progress politically, technologically, socially, etc.?

The Future........its going to be shite

The Future........it's going to be shite

Having considered this, I think there may be some perfectly understandable reasons, grounded in the genre of science fiction itself, as to why so many of these films and novels are so bleak and foreboding. A very good deal of science fiction, especially in recent decades, has taken the form of being a cautionary comment on the present. The message is often “this is what will happen then because of how X, Y, and Z are now”. Babylon A.D. itself was adapted from the novel Babylon Babies by French-Canadian cyberpunk writer Maurice Dantec and I defy anyone to think of a single example of cyberpunk writing that is remotely positive or uplifting. Cyberpunk is neon-lit nihilism through and through and, frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

That said, I have been struggling to think of examples of science fiction movies to the contrary. Almost all of them seem to be grim warnings about the direction in which humanity is heading that depict various, hugely undesirable, future realities. After some consideration, the only widely popular science fiction I can cite that could be described as legitimately Utopian is Star Trek. Of course, Star Trek is a substantial franchise that spans four decades of television, film, novelizations, etc. but the central depiction of mankind since the very inception of the show has been overwhelmingly optimistic.

Star Trek. The future perfect?

Star Trek. The future perfect?

Series creator, Gene Roddenberry, came up with a future in which the human race had progressed beyond petty materialism and had reached an almost perfect Aristotelian state of pursuing knowledge and discovery for its own sake. In the Star Trek universe, mankind had triumphed technologically to the extent that space exploration was the main concern of the human species. The starship Enterprise, although ostensibly a military vessel, had a continuing mission just to kind of go out into space and see what was there. There were still threats, dangers and problems to overcome but they resided exclusively in the wider gulfs of outer space and invariably involved other alien species often depicted as being less enlightened than the human protagonists and far more disposed to aggression, avarice and general malevolence. Mankind was depicted as broadly altruistic but the vast scope afforded by Star Trek meant that a great deal of the social commentary typical of the genre could be delivered without undermining the quasi-Utopian depiction of humanity in the far future.

That’s all I can manage for now, though. For the one example of a science fiction utopia as realised by Star Trek, I recount just about every other sci-fi flick as being quite doom-laden and nightmarish in it’s own particular way. This leads me to my appeal. If anyone can point me in the direction of other science fiction films/TV that could broadly be described as positive and uplifting then please do so. I have been puzzling over this question and I’m sure there must be at least a few legitimate examples.

(Interestingly, not everyone agrees on the idea that Star Trek depicted an ideal future. In this rather amusing essay, the argument is presented that Star Trek actually presents a future human race subjugated by a vast and pervasive global communism.)

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One comment

  1. i’ve never had an opportunity to point this out before, but the poster from Babylon A.D., discussed here, has always had an uncanny resemblance to the “Old Boy” poster to me.

    Funny that I have a chance to point it out, whilst appearing pertinent, since this is a blog with the unusual themes of cinema and Korean culture.

    Discuss among yourselves… here’s a link to the Korean film poster: http://s52.photobucket.com/albums/g39/the-anniechrist/?action=view&current=OldBoy-Poster.jpg



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