Sci-fi visions of the future
Even if you aren't the biggest sci-fi fan in the world, it really is fun to watch filmmakers' attempts to describe the future in this medium, and I think that is sometimes the only reason to watch many of the efforts in this genre.

Typically, the setting (and, hence, the production design) can be divided into three broad classes.  This article attempts to illustrate these classes by focusing on patterns in their most salient features.  Each category will be addressed with some elaboration and a number of film titles that exemplify the signature characteristics of the respective categories will be provided.




I. The Utopian Future

This vision of the future often imagines humanity as having achieved some higher level of advancement.  Sure, there are conflicts, but everyone works for a larger purpose than him/herself.

Example films:

Characteristics:


II. Post-apocalyptic future

The glass is now somehow half empty after what was apparently a more prosperous time.  The apocalypse need not be of biblical proportions; it may instead be due to the gradual decline of the economy, the environment, etc.  Interestingly, a dichotomy is established according to where this apocalypse occurred in history.  These will be explored separately under parts "A" and "B," because any taxonomy can only serve to complicate things.

A. Pre-techno apocalypse

This subcategory epitomizes the post-apocalyptic future that this genre conjures in most people's minds.  Here, the future paradoxically drives humanity backward into conditions reminiscent of a time prior to the viewer's present.

Example films:

Characteristics:



B. Post-techno apocalypse

"Two steps forward, one step back" might be the best description of this subcategory.  Here the future is depicted, but it was clearly a more advanced time (or at least might have been) before things fell into disrepair.
These films project the styles of the past into the future as though the future has little to draw from in its weakened state.  Or, more likely, the producers just turn the existing prop department into a buffet.

Example films:

Characteristics:


III. The "Out-There!" Future

This final category sidesteps convention by setting itself outside of the timestream in many ways.  The entire category exists in a separate, parallel dimension that ignores prior history or logical sequences of events (e.g., the invention of robots and lasers before the development of the internal combustion engine).  Often there is no clear basis in existing or past styles, at least in ones that have any direct lineage.  Anachronisms are almost a given.  For example, mythological costumes may present themselves while the action takes place in castles... with the aforementioned robots and laser guns among the participants.

Example films:

Characteristics:
Excuses, excuses!
Of course, in a genre that is this wild by its very nature, there are certainly many films that blur these distinctions as well as many, many more that represent a category of the near future.  Those typically look just like today with a Robocop or some Stepford Wives thrown in, so I'm not even going to address those here.  Ha!

A final word... before you ask!
Note that I hesitate to enter the Star Wars saga into this taxonomy as the entire series draws very effectively from a number of sources.  Also, the scope of that series is undeniably epic.  Thus it lacks the constraints of setting (both in space and, with the introduction of the prequels, time) that would normally confine a film to a particular category.

Copyright 2004-2006 Ale[x]tronaut.
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