Sci-fi movies tend to be perceived - without too much thought given to the matter - as visionary representations of the future, and predictions of how technology might impact upon the world as we know it in the future. Often, the future landscapes portrayed bring us a glimpse into a world that is hugely different to the one we know in the present day. Take the critically panned (earning an 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) After Earth as an example. This movie is set 1,000 years in the future on a planet earth that has become uninhabitable and, as a result, it is fairly hard to relate to for most people.
However, this isn’t always the case in the sci-fi world. One of the more recent attempts to look into the future came with the release of the film Logan. While Logan was a commercial success, earning $616 million worldwide, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the movie was how it blended the world of sci-fi movies and superhero movies, doing so in a way that kept the relatability of the sci-fi aspects in connection to our modern lives realistic. Indeed, the movie proved that sci-fis can be set in the near future, or even the present, and still possess a compelling science fiction element.
Does The Future Need to Be Different? Casinos and Flying Cars
With positive reviews of Logan suggesting it was a return to the high point of sci-fi movies, the real question that this movie asks is how different the future, or near future, needs to be in this genre. Of course movie fans want to see a significant difference; after all, the fictional element needs to be borne out in the movie. However, proving that there is continuity between the world of tomorrow and today is important. Indeed, in a bizarre way, the world of Judge Dredd and its fears of a catastrophic global conflict shows that the really excellent science fiction worlds are ones that can have resonance with a widespread fear in the here and now.
Logan manages to bridge the gap by making sure that the world portrayed is not one that has been radically changed for the sake of it, by bringing in flying cars or strange inventions. Instead, the future is shown to have changed, but not dramatically so. The brilliance of the movie is based around the fact that while those who love and follow the X-Men series will of course be looking for consistencies from the other movies, those who had no knowledge outside watching Logan were still able to enjoy an alternative, but relatable, future in a world of mutants. This was done through various means, one of which is the casino scene. The use of this relatable location in the current day helped to ensure that the reality presented, while different, is not so different so as to prove distracting.
While watching people in the background of the scene enjoying playing on a range of familiar casino games worked wonderfully in this instance, it is interesting to note that this kind of attempt to normalize a scene despite other changes doesn’t always work. Casino games, including slots (also depicted in the film), roulette and blackjack are an element that connects with the present here. In fact, because online casinos are constantly adopting new technologies such as livestreaming - where players are connected to the floor of a real casino from the comfort of their PCs or smartphones, to play with real dealers - this connection between future tech and this entertainment style is even more plausible. Take the use of a casino scene during the recent Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie. Such scenes, despite deemed unnecessary by some, are what cinephiles call world-building - they help define the world which the characters inhabit, and make it richer.
Daring to Be Different
Clearly, the inclusion of casinos into science fiction plots can be helpful, or it can turn out to be a waste of time, but some movies find other ways to create a link to the real world in order to make themselves appear more feasible. Perhaps one of the very best movies at doing this was the 1979 movie Alien. Set 10 years after man had first landed on the moon and at a time when these problems weren't seen as a challenge or issues to stop us exploring space and enjoying interstellar travel, Alien managed to use the trending theme of space to play on our fears. This was also achieved by looking at some of the other impending challenges of the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as the growth of all-powerful corporations and the fear of being manipulated by faceless puppets. In fact, Ash in the movie exemplifies perfectly this approach; a heartless robot who is purely there to work for the company.
Alien retained a sense of realism by preying on fears that were and still are relevant to the modern world, but another good example of a movie that deals with the issues of today in a science fiction storyline is the recent Blade Runner 2049. Superficially, the movie is set on planet earth in the year 2049. Interestingly, the movie also features a casino, with the vintage casino scenes in Las Vegas actually filmed in the old Budapest Stock Exchange Palace in Liberty Square. On a broader level, though, what the movie does so well to help engage and make itself connect with audiences is by making enough of a link to a modern audience’s fears for the future.
This is in part played out by the way that the replicants in the film could be seen to be representing the fact that one of the biggest discussions in job creation nowadays is the impact that AI will have in reducing jobs for human workers. Newspaper stories talking about job losses already make headlines across the globe, such as this one that predicts AI could cause 4 million job losses in the UK alone within 10 years. The movie also presents fears over possible ecological issues, many of which are vividly in our public consciousness at the moment.
Speaking of public consciousness, we can also see an excellent example in the form of the original anime version of Ghost in the Shell, which managed to connect the world of science fiction to the real world in an intriguing way to engage and engross audiences. This was achieved due to an undeniably clever plot based on the moral dilemma about the ethical limits of the interaction between of human DNA and technology. Today, as we discuss the potential for human cloning after recent developments in China with the cloning of monkeys, and with all of the bioethical concerns this brings about, it seems clear that the original anime version is certainly one of the better, more enduring science fiction movies out there.
Finding the Right Balance
Successful movies are often perceived as such because of the commercial numbers they generate and the awards they win, but science fiction movies perhaps need to be judged on other criteria as well, including on their ability to find the right balance between a possible future or alternative timeline but one that feels connected to the real world in order for the audience to feel involved.
A truly excellent science fiction movie has a requirement for the plot to be at the very cutting edge of technology and possibility, but it cannot lose sight of the problems and the pressing issues of the modern day. Movies that can achieve this delicate balance and truly give us a glimpse into the future have the potential to make us think and consider in such a way so as to potentially impact upon how we treat our world and the issues which matter in the present as well.