From the Archives: Most Memorable Visions of the Future

Originally published 2014 | Written by Thomas Emmet, Eoin Moore, Louie Carroll, Luke O’Reilly and Sean Nolan



Pixar is a visionary studio, creating arguably the best animation for both children and adults, but it never mistakes itself for not pleasing the masses. Wall.E (close to being their best film) is their only film to come within the proximity of an indie vibe. In its near silent first twenty minutes the titular character tidies and cubes the waste element of earths wasteland entirely on his own. The predominant colour is sandy brown and the tone is post apocalyptic and smoggy. Desolation abounds. Aside from an insect and a seedling there is no obvious sign of life. There is something serene about the landscape, however isolated it may be, that sits in total contrast to the theory of a litter covered planet. The silence and emptiness is appealing for a while. And the debris from satellites having formed an ozone layer over the planet creates a night skyscape that is absolutely beautiful.

Above the earth humanity resides in spacecrafts equipped with modern and colourful technology that caters to their every need, an assault on the senses. They are carried around by floating armchairs with a drink holder and a television screen, oblivious to everything else outside their own bubble. As a result they have become morbidly obese, lazy and self obsessed. Around them billboards in loud neon announce drinks, fashion and other capitalist propaganda from the behemoth corporation “Buy ‘n’ Large” that spirited them away from their home planet due to their own carelessness. The colours are as false as the lifestyle the citizens, formerly of earth, seem to be living. This is Pixar’s attempt to lampoon our current culture, but it is never heavy handed. It serves the story of a humanity rediscovering how to be human again, while letting Wall.E have his own stab at human feeling.  

The burgeoning romance between Wall E’s rusted 700 year old waste disposal bot and his love interest Eve, a sleek white droid, forms the crux of the film but it is the deserted dustbowl earth and its floating substitute that steal the film and leave one pondering long after leaving the cinema.



The 80s were a time for massive, incredibly inaccurate speculations. With the arrival of arcade machines, breathtaking cinematic special effects, and the first not-that-shit computers, it seemed like the future had finally arrived. How exactly this future worked was still a bit vague. People were enamoured with the idea of a “digital world”. It was understood that so many mechanical parts, flashing lights, and complex wires on one end led into something entirely different within the computer screen, and people’s imaginations were left to fill in the blanks.

The world of Tron explained computers about as well as can be expected, for the era. Programs were sort of just people. Programming and playing video games were basically the same thing. The concept of using an “experimental laser” to “digitise” someone into a computer was totally within the bounds of poetic license. Disney turned the unknown world of computer software into The Land of Oz, and it was beautiful. As ludicrous as the neon-disco blue/red design combined with the uncanny human faces looks today, at the time it captured something about that magical, scary, digital world, bounding with potential. While the audience didn’t (necessarily) believe that inside of every computer system there was a despotic totalitarian society built on gladiatorial combat, Tron offered one of the first feasible allegories for the limitless computer world that was growing around them. A world of science fiction, even if it wasn’t necessarily populated by light cycles and Jeff Bridges, had finally arrived at society’s fingertips. What Tron captures, in its laughable inaccuracy, is the excitement of this growing revelation. Tron is an artifact; a cave-painting attempting to make sense of the unknowable. Its a perfectly crystallised vision of the future in the eyes of the past. 



This vision of the future is unique by virtue of the fact that it’s actually only a year out from our present. For director Robert Zemeckis, way back in 1989, October 2015 must have seemed distant enough that anything was possible. In terms of the futuristic landscape on show, the town of Hill Valley is a far cry from the typically dystopic visions of the future in the likes of Blade Runner and Terminator.

Back to the Future II’s…future is a more fun depiction then we are used to seeing. The most amusing element of this future is various gadgets on show. The most iconic of these gadgets is the pink hover board on which Marty Mcfly escapes his pursuers. Zemeckis and co may have been optimistic about the arrival date of hover boards, however most of what the film predicts has pretty much come to fruition, giant tv’s, video calls and even shoes that lace themselves (exact replicas are available). The greatest shame is that we have yet to witness the majesty of Jaws 19 in “Holofilm” (At least we have 3D now) directed by Max Spielberg, son of Steven.

Unsurprisingly, the “future” here has a distinctly 80s vibe. Apart from the fact that the clothes dry themselves, the style doesn’t appear to have progressed far past the decade in which the film was made. Most egregious of all the misjudgments about the future on show is the use of fax machines. Who knows, maybe these artifacts from the eighties will have a resurgence, we still have a year.



Gattaca is a movie about perfection, and although it is far from perfect itself, like the best sci fi films it reflects the neuroses of its time. A film set in a near-distant ‘utopia’ (they never are real utopias are they?) Gattaca is about the long reaching effects of eugenics on society. The world is divided between two social classes; valids, those born after genetic tampering, and invalids, those born naturally. Although discrimination is illegal, the best jobs are given to the biologically superior valids, while the inferior invalids do menial tasks. with improvements in our understanding of genetics seemingly occurring on a near weekly basis the idea of eugenically improving humans to be better has had a resurgence in the popular consciousness. Gattaca is an attack on the fallacy of meritocracy, all men are not born equally, we are born with distinct differences in ability. 

Preferencing those who are the most intelligent and physically able over those who are less so still creates class divisions. But what is there to love about this depiction of the future, if a whole class of people are disadvantaged from birth? Indeed, with such a social set up how does it differ from our own? It is precisely because I believe Gattaca is both an allegory for the social divisions of our present as well as an indictment against our dream of a scientifically improved future that I like it so much. This is best captured in the swimming competition between two brothers Anton, a valid, and Vincent, an invalid. Every time they compete Anton wins. Yet one day a surge of determination comes over Vincent. Through sheer will he beats Anton, and nearly saves him from drowning. This invigorates young Vincent to pursue his dream of becoming an astrophysicist against the norms of his society. As far as cinema goes, you don’t get a finer depiction of the indomitable human spirit than this.



Steven Spielberg’s A.I Artificial Intelligence is the Pinochio inspired story of David, a robotic young boy, and his search for the “blue fairy” whom he believes has the power to make him a “real boy.” The film’s production was led by Stanley Kubrick before being passed on to Spielberg and the depiction of the 21st century we are offered is an odd mesh of the two directors’ distinct visions. This might account for the incredibly broad spread of concerns about the future the film expresses. On the one hand there are references to global warming and the flooding of coastlines, on the other is probably the more obvious of the film’s concerns, the question of what it means to be human as machines become more sentient.

A.I is considerably more restrained than much science fiction fare when it comes to visualising the future. The film offers us very few establishing views of the cities, instead we tend to see only glimpses in the background, as the camera emphasises the characters. When we are given a slightly deeper look at the society in which the story takes place the results seem to focus on its banal and familiar nature. The interiors of the buildings of the late 21st century look eerily similar to those of the late 20th century. The “flesh circus” a traveling sideshow in which old, unregistered robots are destroyed for the entertainment of a crowd, looks particularly shoddy and unimpressive just as one would expect the current equivalent to be. More often than not we are simply told, not shown how the world of the film is unlike our own. A.I depicts a future which is familiar to us but something is slightly amiss, just as David has the appearance of a human boy but is not human. 

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