Like it or not, we are living in the future--even if it isn't the one we thought it would be. Leading up to the turn of the century, most science fiction stories taking place the first decade of the 21st century
depicted it as an era of elegant space travel and scientific whimsy. Images imbibed in us by the potential wonders that science and invention could offer. However, the stories that take place in the coming decade are a different matter altogether. If the 00's were to be a time of discovery, the next decade, it seems, is when we go and blow it all up (you maniacs!). If you judge what's in store for us in the next ten years by the books, games, movies and television shows set in our near future, you'll find a laundry list of all the horrible ways we're going to kill ourselves. It may not all be nuclear holocausts and fascist dystopias, but the looming decade doesn't exactly look like smooth sailing for the people of Earth. We would advise erring on the side of caution until the smooth sailing of the 2020s… when "Soylent Green" takes place. PEEOOPLLEEE!
The world in Arthur C. Clarke's "2001: A Space Odyssey" sequel and its underappreciated movie adaptation wouldn't be so bad if the Cold War weren't still going on with US/Soviet relations about to bubble over into an all out nuclear showdown. The film depicts a joint Soviet and US mission to Jupiter that hopes to recover the abandoned Discovery space craft of the first film, and find out just what happened to insane supercomputer HAL 9000 and Dave Bowman, Discovery's lone survivor turned hyper-evolved space baby. The film ends well enough. Earth's nuclear stand off is halted and an era of world peace and interstellar discovery is brought on; but it's accomplished by Jupiter transforming into a star. One has to wonder what an event of that magnitude would do to planetary orbits. At worst we'd be sent spiraling off to some untold doom, and at best it would turn the planet into a desert wasteland like on Tatooine, where we will all be farming for drinking water and getting sold into slavery by giant, talking slugs.
This sci-fi adaptation of the 1606 Thomas Middleton revenge tragedy changes the original play's setting from a corrupt Italian court to a future dystopian Liverpool ruled by warring crime families. The movie postulates that by next year the bottom half of Great Britain will be wiped out by a great natural disaster, crippling the government and leaving the rest of the country to wallow in corruption. Alongside other visions of our near future, the dystopian society depicted in "Revengers Tragedy" feels tame by comparison; after all, only half of a country lay in utter ruin rather than the whole world and the only real set backs to half of England disappearing is a 400 year regression in the political landscape and everyone speaking an archaic dialect. We would take that over a nuclear holocaust or world wide vampire pandemic any day.
Because of the famed Mayan apocalypse slated for December 21, 2012, this unfortunate year is host to a number of bad apocalyptic media. The year is often used by metal bands with names like Anaal Nathrakh, Scar Symmetry and Burnt by the Sun as an excuse to sing the glories high of the Earth being swallowed by the sun, plagues of locusts swarming cities and all sorts of other images one might find airbrushed onto the side of a van.
Even Genesis wrote a song about 2012, 1972's "Get'em Out By Friday," which predicts that eugenics will limit peoples' size in order to sell more real estate. 2012 is also the year when Fry's dog dies in the single saddest episode of "Futurama" ever.
But by far the most famous 2012-centric film is Roland Emmerich's 2009 epic disaster movie "2012." According to Emmerich, the conclusion of the Mayan calendar means that the planet's poles will shift, causing everything in the world to collapse--the buildings, the streets, the mountains. Everything. You name it, it collapses. If that weren't bad enough, the US Government builds several massive ships and underground bunkers to weather the apocalypse, and, in a move straight from the end of "Dr. Strangelove," only allows the global elite on board. The sad part is that some people think this stuff will actually happen.
Conditions don't improve after Emmerich's 2012 apocalypse. A number of fictional events occur in 2013, and none of them are particularly cheery. The year is especially popular for hellish dystopian fiction. Failed "Escape from New York" sequel "Escape from LA," and bloated Kevin Costner flop "The Postman" both take place in 2013. In "Escape from LA," Los Angeles has become a penal colony after an earthquake separated the city from mainland America, which, in the wake of World War III, is under control of a fascist theocrat. "The Postman" offers a similar vision, if not much more dour, where Kevin Costner saves post-apocalyptic US by not shaving, reciting Shakespeare and sleeping with other people's wives.
2014 - "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots" (2008)
Until recently, not much media has taken place in 2014. "Desperate Housewives" character Edie Britt dies in 2014, and, according to dedicated "Mega Man" nerds, "Mega Man VI" and "VII" both take place sometime in 2014. But compared to the apocalypse, an obnoxious TV character dying and doing battle with killer robots designed to use things like clouds and garbage as weapons is a pretty sweet deal. For a while, it seemed that 2014 would be a gentle off year.
Then "Metal Gear Solid 4" came out.
The latest installment to the popular video game franchise, MGS4 depicts a futuristic society that has become utterly reliant on continuous warfare. The global economy hinges on battles between private military groups that together rival the size of the US military. Advances in weaponry become paramount, and consequently the world is teeming with all sorts of ass kicking gadgetry. There are nanomachines that increase reflexes and strength, Iron Man-like battle suits shaped like a wolves or spiders, and then there are all of the cyborg ninjas and giant mechs roaming around. Basically, outlandish weaponry of dubious practicality will be the next decade's Kindle, and iPhone.
Practically the lone bright spot of the next decade, the shiny Hill Valley of 2015 in "Back to the Future Part II" has been the benchmark retro-futurist utopia for years. Flying cars, hoverboards, self-drying coats--the future will have it all. It even accurately predicted a number of real innovations. "Avatar" already looks better than "Jaws 19," where the shark still looks fake despite leaping out of the screen and eating pedestrians, as well as motion controlled video games, flat panel televisions and rampant 80s nostalgia-fetishism. Still, the film also depicts a viable newspaper industry and the Cubs winning the World Series; some things are just never going to happen.
At the beginning of the hit and miss sequel "Ghostbusters II," Dr. Peter Venkman hosts a disreputable psychic-themed talk show after his career as a ghost buster falls flat. In the episode featured in the film, one of Peter's guests, a small mouse of a woman, relates how she learned the exact date of the end of the world from an alien while she drank alone at the bar in the Holiday Inn, Paramus. The date? February 14, 2016. ("Valentine's day, bummer.") Well, it seems that Peter's guest may be right, because according to "End of Evangelion," the anime movie finale of the giant robot TV series "Neon Genesis Evangelion," things are not looking too bright for everyone on the face of the planet in 2016.
Taking the place of the TV series' much maligned, and frankly terrible, final two episodes, "End of Evangelion" provides the apocalyptic pay off that the show promised but never delivered. And what an apocalypse it is. After defending the planet from a force of giant alien invaders dubbed Angels, competing Earth forces and their manmade organic Evangelion robots finally turn on each other in a ruthless power grab. The military coup sets off a wave of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo far, far too convoluted to retell here, but suffice to say, by the end a major character transforms into a planet sized deity, the entire population of Earth turns into goo and everyone's soul leaves their body and flies off into space. With only two people surviving the whole ordeal, Earth is left wrecked; as the giant's decapitated head gazes over the horizon to a world with a bleached white landscape, oceans made up people-goo and a ring of blood orbiting the small, ruined planet.
Immediately following the last two divisive presidential elections, talk of splitting the union between the more liberal Northeast and West Coast, and the traditionally conservative South and Midwest raged all over the internet. Thankfully, the conflict never escalated beyond Photoshopped images of a divided America (You know the one), and rallies where people in tri-corner hats throw bags of tea at elected officials. But if things ever got really out of hand in this country, all one would have to do to avoid catastrophe and cool tempers is host a nationwide screening of the 1996 Pamela Anderson film "Barb Wire," in which Anderson plays a leather clad, gun-toting club owner in a futuristic America that has been utterly demolished by a second civil war.
Now, it's not that "Barb Wire's" vision of post-apocalyptic dread would be enough to scare the public into getting along, but more because it's likely the only movie just about everyone can agree on being a giant turd. After all, who wants to see a post-apocalyptic version of "Casablanca" whose sole selling point Pamela Anderson swinging around topless while getting sprayed with a fire hose? Well, there's probably still an audience for that, but whatever. Consider it a warning, if political conflict escalates past the breaking point, our world may soon look like the one in "Barb Wire," and how stupid would that be?
There's a popular subgenre of science fiction that suggests that the kind of reality shows that currently clog the airwaves--weight loss competitions, scorpion eating contests, those Japanese ones where people put octopi on their faces and see who can suffocate the fastest--will eventually make way for a more violent fair. "Death Race 2000," "Battle Royale," "The Running Man," "Robot Jox;" all of these films depict a twisted futuristic society that joneses on bloodlust for their nightly entertainment. Unsurprisingly, most Game Show from Hell movies are all pretty much the same. In fact, no corporate-ruled oligarchic hellscape or fascist police state is complete without some sort of wildly popular hyper-violent sport that eventually gets brought down by a roguish contestant who reveals the insidious nature of the government to the public and spawns a revolution.
"Rollerball" is really no different. Taking place in 2018, the film depicts the world in the clutches of the global corporate elite, who use the sport of Rollerball--a cross between roller derby, ski ball and gleeful murder--to subvert the populace's notions of individual accomplishment (or something like that). The film's protagonist, Jonathon E (James Caan), is the best Rollerballer in the sport, and a popular celebrity worldwide. Of course, the film's Evil Government doesn't take kindly to sharing the spotlight, so they try to persuade Jonathon into an early retirement. Fed up, Jonathon unleashes a plan to undercut his bosses and tear the entire institution of Rollerball down--a climax that mirrors every single other movie that's used this premise ever. At least 2018 will be a predictable year.
It's strange that two definitive entries to the cyberpunk genre, Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" and the anime adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo's "Akira" happen to both take place in the same year. The films set the stage for a countless stream of successful sci-fi, from William Gibson's equally influential novel "Nueromancer" to late 90's super-hit "The Matrix," and thankfully only one of them ends with millions of people dying in some sort of Earth-shattering catastrophe (it's "Akira," if you're wondering).
At their cores, "Blade Runner" and "Akira" don't share too much in common. "Blade Runner" dwells on the existential doubt created as the line between human and machine disappears, while "Akira" deals more in telekinetic powers, roving biker clans and… well, existential doubt. Both films, however, predict the existence of mega-cities, seemingly endless sprawls that blur the borders of existing city limits. Unlike most suggestions made by futuristic movies and comics, the existence of megaoplises actually comes close to a possible outcome in our future. The term is used in urban studies and statistical research today, where, for example, New York City would also encompass areas of New Jersey and Connecticut, or the Baltimore/Washington DC/Northern Virginia area would form into one massive urban landscape. While a staggering skyline of massive pyramids* peppered with flying cars may not be upon us within the next ten years, the idea that we may begin to outgrow the confines our cities could be on the horizon.
*Plans for a massive urban pyramid over Tokyo Bay have existed for about a decade, but there's no immediate intention to go through with the project. The Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid would house 750,000 people and be 14 times taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza.