Reeling in the future

The plot of many a movie has been reinforced by the use of futuristic tech. These are some of the most influential sci-fi movies of the last 50 years

In a departure from tradition, this is going to be a piece dedicated to science fiction cinema without references to light sabers, the Millennium Falcon, the USS Enterprise or the Terminator. While the movies featuring them are excellent in their own right, the focus of this piece is on the films that shaped the portrayal of technology in cinema, and yet might have slipped through the cracks of many people’s viewing lists.

2001: A Space Odyssey

In a list of films from a previous era that still hold up visually today, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey holds a lofty spot. The film, which released way back in 1968, grabbed eyeballs for the impressive rendering of a futuristic world where humanity is a space-faring civilisation, but presented this against the backdrop of man’s own evolution.

It relied heavily on real props, miniatures and innovative camera techniques to produce one of the best portrayals of outer space at that time, that is awe-inspiring even today, despite our over-exposure to computer-generated worlds. For a movie that is almost 50 years old, it also successfully predicted the rise of artificial intelligence, and how it would play an important role in the advancement of human technology. While some sequences can be borderline bewildering, this is a film worth watching for technical prowess and farsightedness.

Back to the Future

For a cult classic, Robert Zemeckis’Back to the Future films aren’t spoken of in the same breath as other technology-fuelled movies of the time. Unlike the intergalactic scope of Star Wars, this trilogy mostly deals with the upheaval that happens in a young boy’s life when an eccentric professor and a time-travelling Delorean are introduced into it. Where Space Odyssey is often ominous and philosophical, BTTF is a hilarious, light-hearted blast to the past — and the future — that teaches us the values of family, friendship and the perils of a broken flux capacitor, all set to an iconic soundtrack. The film paved the way for time travel to become mainstream. As a bonus, the film’s appeal was such that it inspired real-world technology — an experimental hoverboard from Lexus, and self-lacing sneakers by Nike — to be created as a homage to the films.

Blade Runner

Dipping back into dark, semi-dystopian futures for a minute, let’s consider Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. This Harrison Ford-starrer deals with the issues of genetic engineering and mankind’s proclivity to protect its spot at the top of the intelligence chain, while exploiting its own creations.

More than the plot, it was the futuristic setting of the film, compete with flying cars silhouetted against dark skylines lit by neon signs, near-constant rain, and architectural design that made it stand out for its time. This is one worth checking out, as its sequel comes out in October. Harrison Ford is set to reprise his role as Blade Runner Deckard, and this time, he’s joined by Ryan Gosling.

Ex Machina

Cinema in the new millennium is not to be written off completely either. Carrying on from Blade Runner’s meditation into how we use our own intelligent creations, we have Ex Machina, a modern interpretation of what the near future might hold. Once again based on the premise of artificial intelligence, this film delves deep into the psyche of the robot mind, as it tries to reason the purpose of its existence. The film reverses many of the perceptions we have about AI as a tool, and ponders the motivations of true artificial consciousness, a path Space Odyssey set us on, nearly half a century ago.

Cinema, much like life, does indeed come full circle.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 6:13:39 AM |

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