Dystopias in cinema: our sci-fi future

Futuristic Rendering - Creative Commons, 11/10/2013

Futuristic Rendering – Creative Commons, 11/10/2013

In movies that depict the future, the urban image seems rarely positive. For whatever reason, our society loves a good dystopian future over potential utopian providence. Hollywood in return capitalizes on the sentiment, and churns out blockbusters that are visually stunning, even if they are enormously depressing. Maybe we just like to play with the ideas of massive planning failures so we can avoid actually making them in the future – or maybe we just love tragedy. Either way, isn’t it interesting that we spend our hard earned dollars at the theaters to see a version of our future selves fall flat on our faces?

The relatively new fan favorite Hunger Games saga presents a horrible example of our potential society. Here we see fractional cities dividing the poor from the rich, with the latter being serviced by the former in every way – class segregation or covert slavery. The rich reside in the most luxurious of cities, efficient and technologically advanced, while the poor farm and mine in shanty towns for the benefit of the greater good. If that wasn’t enough, the poor regions cough up volunteers from time to time who are forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of other, and perhaps some sustenance benefits to their hometown. It’s a really horrible future.

Elysium follows suit, on a global scale. The surface of Earth is inhabited by the left-overs of society, the poor and sick, perpetually forced to work in order to serve the citizens of Elysium, an orbital city comprised of the rich and privileged. The inhabitants of this floating Four Seasons are pampered with every creature-comfort, to include a bed that can cure disease and keeps people healthy. The inhabitants of Earth don’t seem to get so much as a flu shot, but since the surface is heavily overpopulated the work force stays saturated.

Blade Runner, Downtown - Creative Commons, 11/10/2013

Blade Runner, Downtown – Creative Commons, 11/10/2013

Stabbing back a few decades, we find Blade Runner – a true cult classic of the sci-fi genre. Complete with its hyper-density and alleys of despair, the future of Los Angeles is pretty grim. While once again the future versions of ourselves are technologically advanced, we see the seedy underbelly of society on the urban streets instead of green-space and economic marvels. At least the progressed medical and biological field still serves the general population, in that if you are ever short an eyeball you can pick one up retail in the downtown area. Here’s an interesting planning read regarding Blade Runner.

There’s no forgetting WALL-E. It’s the epitome of failure, truly. We let the Earth go so completely that we left it entirely. All that’s left is a singular trash-compacting robot with a cockroach for a best pal. Our future selves now live on a monstrous space ship that, once again, caters to our every desire. Although the technology involved is fantastic, we don’t even walk anymore, we just float around sipping slur-pees, watching television, and existing in an indulgent lifestyle that is simply unsustainable. However, in this cinematic future there doesn’t appear to be a poor or rich class (there’s no economy whatsoever); everyone is equally entitled to this new existence that is inevitably doomed.

And even when it’s good, it’s still bad. Demolition Man gives us a vignette of Southern California, where a mega-quake has created a union of two cities (Los Angeles and San Diego): San Angeles. Everything is practically perfect in every way – until you notice Taco Bell is now the only restaurant in existence and zero competition exists in this new economy. Technology once again advances in the right direction alleviating traffic congestion and accidents with cars that operate themselves, but these advances follow alongside a repressed human existence that appears as artificial as it is depressing.

To be fair, I love these movies as much as the next person. And they certainly aren’t (in my opinion) bad movies. But it really does beg the question: why are we so infatuated with society’s failure? It could simply be the packaging. I’d have to see a few utopian futuristic blockbusters to decide. We may, at some point want to ask ourselves: how much does Hollywood affect our planning designs, and vice-verse?

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