8 movie predictions the directors weren't expecting
|LISTS - MOVIE LISTS|
Some things you just can't see coming...
Put flying cars, tablet-computers or laser-guns in a sci-fi movie and you can be fairly sure technology will catch up with (or even overtake) your film one of these days. But sometimes movies predict aspects of the future without any intention...
The Stepford Wives (1975) - Female 'androidiny'
Since Bryan Forbes' horror/thriller came out in 1975, the fictitious town of Stepford, Connecticut, has entered the language as a reference both to creepy and generic communities, and - more critically - regarding women who eschew decades of feminist struggle in their sublimation of self-image and individuality to the wishes of men.
When independent-minded photographer Katharine Ross moves to a sleepy community with her husband, she is initially amazed at the subservience of the Stepford wives to their husbands' wishes, appalled to see beautiful and talented women showing inordinate appreciation and servility to spouses that treat them as mere objects and with little respect. As the plot (based on Ira Levin's hit novel and written for the screen by William Goldman) progresses, Ross increasingly suspects that the unreconstructed females of Stepford are in fact Gynoids created in a secret men-only Stepford guild largely populated by scientists and engineers. Ultimately, as the above photo shows, her own husband is also persuaded to attempt to 'replace' his wife with a less troublesome and more accommodating, sexually exaggerated version of Ross.
The Stepford Wives deals with the backlash to the frequently-militant feminist movements of the 1970s, which had come to realise that the advent of The Pill and the 'sexual liberation' of the 1960s wasn't necessarily being accompanied by any increase in respect for the place of women either in society or the workplace, but rather might simply be making it easier for men to get laid than it had been in the 1950s and earlier.
The appearance of the Gynoid Ross at the film's conclusion is - apart from its subservient attitude - a literal embodiment of a 14 year-old boy's fantasy of an ideal woman, with large and gravity-defying breasts of a type that had previously only been seen in comic strips, and which not only defied all the rules of female anatomy (built-in cleavage), but didn't reflect the more realistic and discreet efforts of plastic surgeons to provide breast-enhancement in the 1970s. Plastic surgery was not easily affordable in that period, and women who did have implants typically received silicon augmentations, which ultimately proved dangerous enough in certain cases to now be largely substituted by the rather more rigid and less realistic saline implants that haunt the front-pages of gossip mags and skin mags alike.
Legendary prosthetic and make-up artist Dick Smith provided the larger breasts for Katharine Ross in The Stepford Wives (that is not a topless photo on the right - those are the Dick Smith enhancements), and it was perhaps a prediction of the shape of things to come that actress Ross was reported to be 'extremely pleased' with them.
In the context of the often bra-less 1970s, Gynoid Ross is truly a shocking (or at least remarkable) vision of adolescent male fantasy about women's bodies. But it seems unlikely that Forbes, Levin or Goldman could predict a time, such as our own, when breast enhancements would not only become so unusually common but also so completely unrealistic, to the point where the very falsity of the work seems a badge of honour for many of the women who have it done, as if patently false large breasts at least bespeak the means to afford the surgery.
Perhaps the biggest irony of the trend is how confused it has become with more politically-correct notions of 'female empowerment'.
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982) - Remote software licence deactivation
Though 1982 brought us the idea of the software 'back-door' in John Badham's War Games and Steven Lisberger's TRON, only Nicolas Meyer's excellent Star Trek outing predicted the advent of pirates having their software de-activated by the legitimate owners. In Wrath Of Khan, Captain Kirk ends a Mexican stand-off with his old nemesis by using the Federation's database of starship prefix codes to de-activate the shields on Khan's stolen Federation space-vessel. This is the kind of bitter experience that prompts novice internet uses to install a good firewall.
Of course, you don't have to be a pirate to get your software annoyingly turned off by The Powers That Be, as many users of Windows XP and Vista have found out over the last nine years.
Alien 3 (1992) - Shaved heads
Back in the early winter of 1991, the tranquil environs of England's Pinewood area, itself not unused to the strange phenomena that would occasionally emerge from the goings-on at nearby Pinewood Studios, was more than averagely alarmed by an unseasonal and unexpected invasion of skinheads in its pubs, cafes and locales. Several of the cast members of Alien 3 are quoted in the Charles De Lauzrika Anthology documentaries as having received a very cold welcome in the locality after David Fincher ordered that every cast member be shorn.
The baldness of the voluntary prisoners in Fincher's ill-fated sequel was originally a characteristic of Vincent Ward's highly-amended original script, wherein the Fiorina complex was a monastery rather than a semi-decommissioned prison, but ultimately Fincher retained the 'skinhead' aesthetic that he liked with the excuse of 'rampant lice' in the Fiorina base, necessitating the notorious 'No.1' haircut.
In Britain at this period, the golden age (or perhaps, the dark age) of the 'comb-over' was pretty much at an end after decades of references to trade union leader Arthur Scargill had shamed Britain's follically-challenged men into more discreet, short haircuts.
But little by little, a sea-change happened in gentlemen's grooming throughout the 1990s. Not content with the Willie Thorn six-inch centre-parting, Britain's baldies decided it was all or nothing, and the floors of barbers nationwide were covered in the last long hairs this stubborn and didactic new breed of customers would ever produce.
Nowadays you can walk into any pub in Essex and see a scene straight out of the canteen on Fiorina 161. The slightest millimetre of recession is now enough to casually send the average Brit male to the relentless embrace of the clippers without a second thought. And since David Fincher instituted this severe hairstyle for shock-value, and since the residents and barkeeps of Pinewood proved that it worked, no-one could have foreseen how unshocking the gleaming domes of Alien 3 would ultimately become.
As for Sigourney Weaver, she opted instead for the 'No.2' cut during her stint on Alien 3, leaving some residual stubble. 12 years earlier Persis Khambatta had made waves (or rather cut them off) as the totally bald Ilia in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and was widely admired for retaining her beauty in the absence of her lustrous locks. But it has never become a fashion in female coiffure beyond certain cult movements.
Village Of The Damned (1960) - Fear of children
Wolf Rilla's classic adaptation of John Wyndham's brilliant low-key SF thriller The Midwych Cuckoos keyed in on a number of underlying terrors for audiences of the age. Village Of The Damned tells the story of a sleepy English hamlet that is subject to a kind of day-long suspended animation; surrounded by impenetrable force fields, all the inhabitants fall unconscious for 24 hours. In the months that follow this mystery, all the women in the village discover that they are pregnant, and it slowly becomes clear that the fathers may not be of this world. The resulting brood of Borg-style children are all blond and blue-eyed, able to communicate telepathically with each other and devoid of the usual feelings of dependence on their parents. Or even of any basic respect for adults. They can cause cars to crash and planes to fall out of the sky. And, worst of all, they are only one community of a new and powerful breed of alien invader, and are determined to join their brethren in similarly blighted villages all over the world...
For American audiences, Village had a serviceable subtext about the perceived threat of communist infiltrators, and the immoral methods they might use to achieve unity with their host society. For the British, the generic, single-opinioned and utterly indoctrinated blue-eyed blond children were more akin to the Hitler youth, and arguably brought back memories of a war that the Brits were trying to put behind them.
But in 1960s Britain, the abolition of corporal punishment was still more than twenty years away, and children were treated in a far more pragmatic manner - not always fairly, and not always kindly, necessarily. But they were not the rulers of their parents or their teachers - the strap or the harsh hand descending saw to that, both at school and at home. Children could be naughty, as all children have been since there were any children, but Britain's populace was certainly more afraid for them than of them.
Wind forward to now, and witness a Britain terrified to interact with children in the wake of fifteen or so years of heightened awareness of the problem of predatory paedophilia, and the inexorable rise of children's rights. The inability of teachers to apply any form of discipline - even something as simple as berating - to unruly classes is one of the factors that has made becoming a teacher one of the highest-paid mid-level entry professions in the UK - and still, teacher places are hard to fill. The risks of anything but utter passivity in dealing with pupils are too terrible to contemplate. On the streets, the public's fear of children is not based on violence but on the consequences of interacting with them, should children decide to 'invent something'. Older children under 18 are very aware of how protected they are from rebuke of any kind, and the worst of them abuse this long fought-for shield.
A culture of good intentions towards the reform of how the British treat children has descended into paranoia and pediophobia. In order to look after your neighbour's children if the parents should want a night off at a restaurant, you'll need to go through a government screening procedure, and pay for the privilege. Parents who leave their children with anyone not thus certified, even if it's their neighbour of thirty years, risk harsh intervention from social services.
Not only can teachers not chastise, but neither can they comfort children. The UK's education secretary Michael Gove promised a 'New Deal' for UK teachers in October of this year that seeks to end this social quarantine; but such a proposal is likely to be fraught with side-issues from parents terrified by a scare-mongering media into seeing a planet of paedophiles beyond the safe confines of their homes (which is actually the reverse of the statistical actuality of the crime).
Modern kids may not be able to drag planes down from the sky, but they're still scarier than they've ever been - and this was no doubt an unthinkable proposition when Village Of The Damned was made in 1960.
The Thing (1982) - Sexual and social paranoia
It was only in late 1982 that a nasty 'buzz' began to emerge about a new and terrifying disease that was spreading out from its devastating sexual transmission through the gay community to a wider demographic, and which was apparently fatal and incurable. AIDS had apparently been making a rampant and clandestine route through the bath-houses of the vibrant and sexually omnivorous urban-American gay scene throughout its heyday in the late 1970s, but its long gestation period was coming to a close for those affected. By this time the transmission of the HIV virus was also being accomplished through heterosexual activity, needle-sharing among heroin addicts and - perhaps most tragically - through blood transfusions.
The swinging seventies were over, and an unexpected and shockingly high demand for payment had arrived. Ignorance about how easy (or not) it might be to contract HIV engendered an often misguided social paranoia, which at its most extreme feared that the virus might even be airborne, or that it could be easily transmitted by kissing or sipping from someone else's glass - or sitting on toilet seats! Governments worldwide embarked on educational campaigns which had the onerous duty of not only confirming that the situation was very serious (in order to encourage the new 'safe sex' - use of prophylactic contraception) but trying to educate and calm a fear-stricken public on a subject whose details were not yet entirely clear.
By this time, John Carpenter's now-revered adaptation of John W. Campbell, Jr's creepy tale of arctic terror 'Who Goes There?' (also adapted brilliantly by Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks in 1951's The Thing From Another World) had become a box-office disappointment in a year where people seemed to prefer the more optimistic vision of extra-terrestrial encounters as depicted in Steven Spielberg's ET.
The tone of Carpenter's The Thing is dark, fatalistic and utterly paranoid, a true 1970s movie in everything but date. Sticking closer to the original Campbell story than Hawks had done in 1951, the film plays on the paranoia of a group of arctic researchers who find themselves infiltrated by an alien who can imitate/replace any of them, and whose method of infection is unknown. How many of the group are infected? Is main protagonist McReady (Kurt Russell) not all he seems? Or is he perhaps the only human left among the increasingly twitchy group?
All this struck no particular chord in the more innocent summer of 1982, and the mood of The Thing seemed more dated than prescient. Though our attitude to AIDS and HIV has become more informed, awareness of the as-yet unsolved problem still pervades our lives in the form of mandatory and voluntary blood-tests.
Add to that the increasing paranoia about who your 'quiet' neighbour might be in the post-9/11 era, and The Thing is just about as relevant in our age as it could possibly be. The irony is that the film itself would probably not have been green-lit two years later - even if a 1984 release of The Thing might have been more relevant to the contemporary zeitgeist, it would probably not have been a catharsis that post-AIDS audiences were ready to face yet, considering how long it took Hollywood to deal with the cultural residue of the Vietnam war.
Brazil (1985) - The 'litigious society' / passive-aggressive corporate management
It's said sometimes that only a foreigner can really see your country for what it is. Coming to the UK from America in the late 1960s to end up as a mainstay of the Monty Python troupe, American-born Terry Gilliam may possibly have been fascinated by the culture of strikes, bureaucracy and red-tape that pervaded Britain throughout the 1970s and was in full force when he was working on his alternate take on Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. But the truth is that the zenith of the 'inflexible culture' (wherein nothing can be accomplished without filling in forms in triplicate) was actually still a decade or two away in the UK, and chiefly resulted from the advent of the 'No-Win-No-Fee' legal gold rush sparked off by changes in British law in the late 1990s.
Now British life is utterly pervaded with disclaimers designed to indemnify companies and corporations from specious law-suits; trains, buses and buildings talk to you endlessly about absurd safety procedures; robot voices on trams warn you when the vehicle is approaching a mild turn, just in case you slip; the ubiquity of free-standing CAUTION: SURFACE SLIPPERY placards (usually on totally dry areas of floor or pavement) ironically threaten to trip pedestrians up, so numerous are they; and any visit to a building site, most of which are as dangerous as they have ever been, must legally be preceded by an utterly redundant safety induction speech by a qualified 'inductor'.
The other prescient factor in Brazil is how well it predicts the advent of the passive-aggressive corporate culture so brilliantly portrayed in Mike Judge's Office Space (1999). When Brazil was made, corporate culture was just beginning to be depicted in movies as ruthless and uncompromising, a trend which Alien (1979) had arguably started by switching the 1970s' hatred of government over to hatred of 'The Company', as embodied in the 'Ash' character, the robot company spy portrayed by Ian Holm. Later works such as Trading Places, Aliens, Robocop, Wall Street, Total Recall and many others of the period featured hard-nosed companies that didn't worry about political correctness - or anything except the 'bottom line'. By contrast, Michael Palin's apologetic torture session with Jonathan Pryce at the end of Brazil is far nearer what a visit to the boss's office is like these days - on either side of the Atlantic.
As a 'capitalist Nineteen Eighty-Four', Gilliam switches Orwell's transparently totalitarian regime into one which is equally uncompromising, but characterised by passive-aggressive coercion rather than flimsy lies reinforced at the end of a machine gun. The director had probably seen 'ambulance-chasing' culture in his own country before heading to Blightey, but there wasn't that much evidence of it in Britain at the time, making both the endless disclaimer-signing and the velvet-coated corporate aggression of Brazil's dystopia less a 'fantasy' every year.
Escape From LA (1996) - 'Bush II'
Cult horror and sci-fi director John Carpenter moved to Kentucky from New York at an early age, and his self-confessed anti-authoritarian streak doubtlessly encompasses the church (albeit with a characteristic internal conflict), and organised religion, if one takes in the breadth of themes and motifs in his work over the last 35 years. So when Carpenter decided to make a sequel to his popular 1980 sci-fi thriller Escape From New York, it's possible that his vision of a buttoned-down, no-smoking, zealously religious and prohibitive America was an extension more of his older feelings towards the church than a reflection on the times that he was then living through.
Escape From L.A. finds returning protagonist anti-hero Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) once again being sent into an isolated dumping ground for society's unwanted, under threat of death from evangelically-crazed theocratic US President Cliff Robertson.
The sequel was made in one of the most pacific decades of the twentieth century, and at the height of Bill Clinton's popularity. 9/11 was five years away, radical reactionary right-wing security as US policy was at least six years away, and Clinton fostered not a fraction of the controversy that George W. Bush was to evoke regarding his personal beliefs and how his policies might interfere with the separation of church and state.
Escape From LA depicts a right-wing, paranoid America that was almost entirely science-fiction at the time that it came out. Whether it failed at the box office because it was arguably a poor sequel, or whether because it dealt with themes that weren't to hook into American consciousness for another five or six years is debatable. But it rang a lot more bells in the mid-noughties than it did in the mid-nineties.
Flash Gordon (1980) - Internet dependence
Who would have thought that Mike Hodges' colourful and tremendously enjoyable fantasy based on the classic Alex Raymond comic-strip could have anticipated the social result of a broadband outage nine years before Tim Berners-Lee even created the world-wide web...? In my opinion this applies double to iPod users whose batteries die on public transport...
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