The future according to film - will Hollywood get it right?

There's one set of futurologists we haven't heard from on Future Week and that's those who tend to make the boldest claims of all. Why? Because they can always just claim it was only a story. Yes, Hollywood has a fantastic history of predicting the future in film and usually from the nice safe distance of a good 30 years. By the time the filmmakers can be proved wrong there's a good chance they'll be dead anyway.

In the last 10 years though, we're starting to catch up with the datelines attached to these so-called futures. 1984 has been and gone and the year was mercifully non-Orwellian as it turned out. So, then, what about 5 years' time, or thereabouts? We've already had a good look at 2015 according to Back To The Future II but here is what the rest of Hollywood has made of the future we'll be facing in a very short time.

We took a film from the 70s, two from the 80s, one from the 90s and one from the 00s to see who looks like they've got it right.

Rollerball

Year Made
1975
Year Set
2018
Imagination
2/10
Accuracy
1/10

To do it justice, Rollerball had by far and away the hardest task in predicting an accurate version of its time. Set in the year 2018, there was a full 43 years of forward thinking to do which largely director Norman Jewison and his team got around by getting people to wear jump suits and painting things white. In fact, it's more a case of the shocking technology the characters are still using rather than any new developments.

The scoreboards used in the game itself, which is used to control the people of the time, is a pretty basic big bulb LED system - which has been around probably since the 1950s and before. The motorbikes used in the game are just normal motorbikes, the helicopters are normal helicopters, the wireless microphones are just very thin and the computers are just bulky old 70s computers with probably just a few more lying around than you'd have found in 1975.

That said, there are a couple of touches of bang on accuracy that you have to wait pretty much the whole film to see. The first is video conferencing. Tick. Yep, there'll be plenty of that no doubt by 2018. The second is that everyone has big flatscreen TVs mounted on their walls. In the film, you can see that they achieve the effect by actually embedding enormous CRTs so that the tubes are flush with the plaster, but we get the point. The art department did take it a little too far though by placing three smaller screens above each 70-incher as standard, which they called Multivision. Apparently people in the future watch telly like it's CCTV - multiple angles on multiple screens.

Perhaps the best bit of future thinking of all though, is the idea of a world central computer called Zero that contains all the history of the world. There are no books anymore as all the books were digitalised onto it. Sounds rather like what Google's up to.

Sadly, not only is there no back up for Zero, but the giant machine, based in Geneva, is actually going senile as well, having been confounded by the futility of the new corporate-owned world. It turns out that he's lost the entire 13th century, which is a pity but no great loss given that there was only Dante and some evil-doing popes at the time.

One of the nice touches about Zero though, is that his interface is purely one of voice in both directions and that, rather than being made of chips and circuits, his structure is liquid - liquid memory, as it is described - and that has to be the most far out suggestion of the entire piece.

Aside that, Jewison throws in a hugely destructive but highly predictable ray pistol which, if it is in common household use in 8 years' time, will certainly not look like something from the Wild West.

Aside that lot, it's all just the dangling bits of glass and uncomfortable looking chairs you'd expect from 60s/70s futurism without any real technology to back it up. The major reason is that Rollerball is more a political film than anything else with a comment on life that just about manages to surface above the nonsense of a game on rollerskates and James Caan's incredible hairy and square shoulders. Still, it did inspire the Speedball series and for that we should all be grateful.

Blade Runner

Year Made
1982
Year Set
2019
Imagination
7/10
Accuracy
3/10

For a film about Androids with one of the most iconic flying cars ever in film history, there's actually not an awful lot of future technology in Blade Runner. The opening shots are, of course, nothing short of stunning and it gives the sense of one of the most complete future worlds that Hollywood has ever presented. Accuracy, though, is not one of its strongest suits.

It's unlikely we're going to get the flying car in 9 years' time and there's no chance of there being Androids as fantastically designed as the Nexus 6 models or even the owl for that matter. There's certainly the technology to make those absolutely mammoth advertising screens on the sides of buildings, but whether any city will actually want to install one is another thing.

Probably the most accurate feature of the film is the voice activated computer that Deckard uses to zoom in and out of the photographs to find the clues to catch the skin-jobs. It's unlikely it'll work quite as clunkily as it appears to in Blade Runner, but we're already seeing this kind of thing coming in courtesy of Google and the Nexus One funnily enough. One has to wonder whether it might be a feature of Chrome OS too.

The trouble with Philip K Dick's vision as interpreted by Ridley Scott is that it's a very dark time for the planet and the story runs that most people have actually already left because of the radiation that hit some years before. As a result we get a retrofitted, industrial-look vision of 2019 and not quite as many hi-tech gadgets and gizmos as we might like, but a few huge technological leaps like space ships, off-world colonies and flying cars. Maybe that was just their version of a really bad recession.

RoboCop

Year Made
1987
Year Set
2015
Imagination
5/10
Accuracy
4/10

If ever there was a future that screams 1980s, then it's the 2015 of RoboCop. On the one hand you get the cyborg with his titanium and bullet-proof kevlar outer, and green screen, BIOS-controlled CPU with rather familiar looking files such as a Command.com. So, are they saying he's a DOS/Windows machine?

It's unlikely we'll actually have agreed on the ethics of making cyborgs in 5 years' time although you can imagine a debate on the subject pretty soon. It's only a short distance from rebuilding soldiers to having better and better bionic replacement limbs to actually trying to reconstruct more complicated parts of their bodies. One nice touch is the universal interface RoboCop extends from his fist like a middle digit that you could even argue was the predictor of the USB. You'd have trouble convincing anyone though.

Interestingly, the cars used in the film are largely the same which is probably bang on. Yes, there will be future autos out there by 2015, but the majority of us will still be driving normal cars. What you have to call director Paul Verhoeven and team out on though, is that there are no mobile phones, CRT TVs and all the filing work done at the Western District of the Detroit Police Department looks remarkably like any city precinct in 1987 America - i.e. it's all typewriters and paperwork; no computers despite both this cyborg police officer and the entirely robotic Enforcement Droid 209 being in existence.

As usual with Verhoeven though, it's the adverts that tell the tale of the times and neither of the two we get could you either pull out as accurate of entire fantasy either. The first is a Battleships-type family board game with a holographic twist called Nukem, and the other is pitch for organ replacements which includes the Series 7 Sports Heart as made by Yamaha, Jenson and "all the usual brands". It's quite possible that people will be cloning replacement organs in 5 years but these things were made of mechanical parts rather like over-designed pacemakers. As with the game, we may have some kind of early holographic projections in 2015 but it won't be for games like Nukem, as amusing as it looks. "Get them before they get you."

Perhaps the best idea in the whole film is that of the computerised estate agents. How much simpler would it be just to walk up and have a look around a house for sale in your own time rather than having to make appointments? It's unlikely to happen what with the art of the sale and the fact that you need to make sure that the current owners aren't running around naked, but there are ways round most things.

Just before you think that the film was completely off its rocker in future accuracy, bad guy Dick Jones does have a GPS tracker device to monitor RoboCop's whereabouts and there's no reason why fellow evil-doer, the legendary Clarence Boddicker, shouldn't get to play with guns like the absurdly large Cobra Assault Cannon. State of the art bang-bang.

Demolition Man

Year Made
1993
Year Set
1996/2032
Imagination
8/10
Accuracy
8/10

Demolition Man is set much later than the others in the year 2032, but the future described by director Marco Brambilla is really quite well thought out. That said, the initial premise of Cryo prisons dating from 1996 on which the entire film is hinged is massively flawed. What we do get from this Brave New World-type society that's seemingly bang on are fibre optic networks, computer voice activation as well as typing still, auto-pilot in cars, complete CCTV surveillance, stun batons, connected tablet computers and the ever-popular video conferencing.

Some other things are a little more outlandish, but certainly within the realms of possibility. Self-cleaning walls may be a bit of a stretch but the idea of having automatically adjustable finances is likely to happen, although hopefully not from something as commonplace as profanity. Doubtless we'll see something like fingerprint locks or retinal eye scan ones, although it may encourage exactly what happens in the film - eye theft. I think we might rather a mugger took our keys instead. There's also no reason why criminals, or maybe even all of us, might be fitted with sub-cutaneous bio-chips.

Gull wing doors probably still won't have caught on in cars any time soon unless parking spaces suddenly get a lot bigger, but we're already seeing connected screens in our vehicles which the film quite accurately incorporates as used in conjunction with auto-pilot mode, of course. There are still laptops and netbooks of a sort, as there may or may not be but your guess is as good as ours when it comes to the existence of the magnetic neutron accelerator gun.

Interestingly, Demolition man is full of references to 2010. There are two significant events to look out for if you live in what becomes the San Angeles area. First, the last murder ever happens on the 25th September 2010 and, second, there is an enormous earthquake referred to as "The Big One", where "the" is pronounced "thee". One thing we're dying to find out though, is exactly how the three seashells work. PoopReport has done some investigating on the subject but the answer is hardly satisfactory in either sense.

The 6th Day

Year Made
2000
Year Set
2015
Imagination
9/10
Accuracy
7/10

This one is absolutely jam packed full of future tech and gadgetry and, with the luxury of just 15 years to think towards, it does pretty well. There are AR glasses for sportsmen with American football players getting a display full of information on which down it is, the yards, what the clock is saying and even instructions from the coach. The bathroom mirror is now a cloud connected screen in its own right with a voice activated calendar showing what you'll be up to each day you get up.

There's an intelligent fridge which orders items you're running low on, there are video calls from desktop frames, tablet computers and even touchscreens in the back of taxis where you can make calls as well as pay by registering your thumbprint. The cars themselves have got advanced GPS systems embedded in the dashboards and automatic drive modes, but it's the helicopters that really impress. Rather like the Nokia N900 April Fool, they can be remote controlled with the forearm mounted joysticks with enough micro-switches to have an old school gamer quivering for weeks, and the blades can retract to turn these transformer aircraft into jets as well.

If you found that last one a little far fetched, then this is where the film really goes off the deep end. Holographic projection is all the rage for both advertising and virtual people as well, whether it's a court appointed attorney at the police station or a girlfriend for your home. Wallets have suddenly gone LED backlit - possible but not really on anyone's agenda - guns are now energy beam weapons, bananas can come in nacho flavour and we hear of the existence of a scratch-free laser razor. Probably the most outlandish prediction though, is that in 2015 Microsoft will be trying to buy a state of the Union. Everyone knows that will be Google.

Of course, the real meat of the film is all about cloning technology. No one would say that it's not possible, either now or in 5 years' time, but the synchoding memory transfer they use is way, way too complicated for 2015. The scary AI doll might be something you could buy off the shelf in 2020 and sadly the 16-floor, 1200 outlet-strong Woodland Mall is probably not as far off as we'd hope.

In all, the 6th Day should probably have set itself in 2020 or 2025, but the technology they've dreamt up is sound.

If you enjoyed this article, then head over to our Future Week homepage where you'll find a collection of features on what gadgets will be like in the year 2015.



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