The Power of Foresight: Science Fiction Predicting Science Fact

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Science Fiction can be the most visually stimulating genre, allowing us to see metaphorical images to convey ideas in an understandable way. The greatest asset to sci-fi is that things don’t have to be literal, but can simply conveying a less fantastical idea through the medium of surrealist, sometimes unbelievable, concepts. In some cases, however, the great minds behind our favourite science fiction films have predicted the present day with shockingly close detail. It’s up for debate as to whether the films were influenced by up and coming technology, or whether inventors were inspired by the imaginative work within films. Either way, the fact remains that there are some glaringly impressive records of foresight in science fiction. Here are a few of the best.

Blade Runner: China as a Superpower

This is no mention of oriental influence in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the novella that was adapted into Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. However, in Scott’s adaptation, L.A. is a shanghai-Los Angeles hybrid.

A Chinese woman on a skyscraper billboard in Blade Runner

A Chinese woman on a skyscraper billboard in Blade Runner

Nowadays it is widely acknowledged that China is a world superpower that shows no decline of power and prosperity. However, back in 1982 this wasn’t so black and white. In fact, it wasn’t until 20 years after Blade Runner’s release when Barry Buzan, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, said that ‘China certainly presents the most promising all-round profile [of a potential superpower]… China is currently the most fashionable potential superpower and the one whose degree of alienation from the dominant international society makes it the most obvious political challenger’.

That isn’t to say that the idea wasn’t considered back in 1984, but to take the artistic direction of completely transforming an American city into an Asian surrounding shows forward-thinking, bold filmmaking from Scott and his creative team.

Le Voyage Dans La Lune: The Moon Landing

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Perhaps the similarities between Georges Méliès’ short film and the Apollo 11 moon landing was aided by man’s continuous fascination with the moon. However, a lot of credit is due for the strength of these similarities and for how far into the future Méliès was predicting. Le Voyage Dans La Lune, the first ever science fiction film, featured a moon landing in 1902, an incredible 67 years before man eventually set foot on the moon in 1969.

Le Voyage Dans La Lune features a team of men climb inside a giant-sized bullet before being shot at the moon as a crowd of people cheer and wave goodbye. With obvious scientific advancements, this is a simplified explanation of the moon landing actually occurred.

The similarities between the film and the real moon landing gets even more impressive as the men make their landing. Their first action isn’t to explore the moon, but to look back at the earth, now the same sizeable distance as the moon is to the rest of humanity. This rings true to many of NASA’s photographs from the Apollo 11 exploration, showing pictures of earth from a distance never seen before.

Okay, so maybe it’s not so hard to say which country will become a superpower in the future, or that once man had the technology, he would try to get to the moon. Both of those predictions are on a large scale and include things that may have been speculated in the widespread media of the time. However, due to their specificity, these next few moments of cinematic insights of the future will surely impress.

3D films in Back to the Future: Part II

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Notice the tagline ‘This time it’s really REALLY personal’ and the director ‘Max Spielberg’, Steven’s eldest son.

3D technology has actually been around since 1922, where a film named The Power of Love was shown, a coincidental name due to Back to the Future’s soundtrack featuring Huey Lewis and The News’ track of the same name. 3D films were even practiced by the Nazis in 1936. However, 3D films never seemed destined to become standard practice. That was until the modern practice of torrenting films gave Hollywood a scare into forcing more films to be released in 3D (and therefore untorrentable). The concept is that you may be able to torrent a film of your choosing, but you will never get the ‘full experience’.

“The shark still doesn’t look real” – Marty McFly

“The shark still doesn’t look real” – Marty McFly

Anyhow, Back to the Future Part 2 features a 10 second moment where a holographic Jaws bursts out from the cinema and attempts to eat him whole, acting as an overly elaborate trailer for ‘Jaws 19’. This short premonition of the film industry should be praised more for it’s accuracy than it’s ingenuity, namely because in 2012 ‘Piranha 3DD’ came out – a film that was somehow parodied in Back to the Future Part II, 23 years before it was ever released.

 

 

 

 

‘Skyping’ in 2001: A Space Odyssey

It’s no surprise that Kubrick prominently features in this article. His ambition and intellect meant he was always going to show some form of technology in use that hadn’t become normal practice in his sci-fi masterpiece. Kubrick would only use NASA equipment to film the exploration epic and reportedly created a melting-pot of ideas by asking everyone (yes, everyone!) on set each day to contribute their thoughts by writing them down. The result, in terms of an accurate prediction of modern technology, was a video call, now more commonly phrased to as ‘skyping’ or ‘Facetime’.*

We see a man call his daughter the day before her birthday on an oversized desktop computer. The man has a raised voice and what is really interesting is the way there is a clear disconnection between the man and his daughter – not in a sinister way, just in the sense that distance is obvious. The girl only shows a slight interest in her fathers conversation, despite being offered presents. This, whether accidental or purposeful, can be accurate to a lot of Skype calls nowadays, which involves jarred conversations and half-interested callers as they occupy themselves with other things.

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The videophone had been discussed as early as the 1800s, in works such as Le Vingtième siècle. La vie électrique by Albert Robida, and early cartoons of Thomas Edison fictionally creating a device known as a ‘Telephonoscope’. So why is this use of a video call in 2001: A Space Odyssey impressive? Because by 1968, the year of the film’s release, the ‘Picturephone’ had already been put into distribution, and had dramatically failed to succeed. At the time, it seemed as though mankind weren’t interested in the development, and preferred to talk via telephones or, I presume, in person. Kubrick’s creative team, however, saw past this early failure and decided that by 2001, videocalling would be a normal part of society. If anybody is to be awarded for the accurately predicted dates, Kubrick takes first prize, as Skype was released in 2003 and welcomed and ingrained into modern day society ever since.

*A little side note: Arthur C Clark, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the accompanying book to the film, also predicted the mobile phone way back in 1959. In one of his essays, he describes a “personal transceiver, so small and compact that every man carries one.”

Google Maps’ Street View in Blade Runner

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Those who have seen Star Trek into Darkness may remember a brief moment where Captain Kirk uses a form of Google Maps’ Street View to take a look at stills from a street faced by a terrorist attack. I remember seeing the scene and thinking how impressive it looked. Although the film is set in the future, the device practically shows a slightly more advanced version of Google maps. I can’t begin to imagine, then, how impressed audiences were when they saw the same technology used in Blade Runner.

The purpose of the device is different, in that it is used to navigate clues to hunt down unsuspecting replicants. It’s hard to believe that now we use that same technology to navigate the nearest McDonalds or your friend’s house. The fact remains, however, that the technology can be seen in a film released in 1989, 18 years prior to Google Map’s street view’s release in 2007.

Reality Television (Big Brother) in The Truman Show

The foresight of The Truman Show seems so accurate that it is sometimes hard to believe that at the time of it’s release, the massively successful Big Brother hadn’t started yet, and was yet to open the door for a huge array of reality television. The Truman show asked a lot of questions of the humanity and morality behind reality television, years before the genre boomed and became the most financially beneficial genre.

Satirical Product placement in The Truman show, next to real-life product placement in American Idol

Satirical Product placement in The Truman show, next to real-life product placement in American Idol. In 2010, product placement in UK television became legalised by Ofcom.

Nowadays, shows such as Keeping Up With the Kardashians and The Hills are common place. We watch them, knowing that there it is a skewed version of reality, but audiences watch it with suspended disbelief, allowing themselves to believe that everything on camera is a reality. This is important to The Truman Show, as many of it’s moral questions come back to the same concept: Are the audience selfishly gaining emotional connection by allowing Truman to live a lie?

The Truman Show was released in 1998, 2 years before the first Big Brother and audience’s obsession with reality television ever since.

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So what do audiences gain from these premonitions? Pleasure, mostly. It’s great to look back at a film and see how clued-up the filmmakers were. It’s even more enjoyable to think that filmmakers have been able to watch their fictional versions of the future become a reality. Most importantly, it allows us to look back and see a visual representation from the past of how incredible our technological present day has become, allowing us to appreciate and observe our own surroundings in a way that would be otherwise impossible.

 

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FilmGrab: A Homage to Great Cinematography

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Keir Dullea as Dr. Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of many beautiful screenshots found at FilmGrab

FilmGrab has possibly the best repertoire of cinematic screenshots available on the internet. The blog has been going for a long time now, meaning that the collection of beautiful cinematography has grown from a great way to waste time into a significant study into what cinematography means a film’s outcome.
Anybody interested in framing, lighting, mise en scène and the analysis of visual storytelling can spend hours on this fantastic blog. Here’s a personal favourite: Geoffrey Unsworth and John Alcott’s work for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

http://film-grab.com/2010/07/06/2001-a-space-odyssey/

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Implied, not endured – A study of neorealism from Sight & Sound

Here is a fantastic video made for Sight & Sound magazine, exploring neorealism. I think this video is worth sharing as it is visually informative, whilst also being entertaining to see two different edits of the same rushes.

If you find this video interesting, it’s worth watching Kogonada’s other videos. Enjoy!

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Her: A companion piece to Lost in Translation

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Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola, pior to their divorce in 2003

It’s been over ten years since Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation was released, but has Spike Jonze finally responded to his ex-wife’s masterpiece? Although Her has it’s unique, Jonzian style, it thematically still shares a bed with Lost in Translation, as both liberally discuss the complicated beauty of human relationships.

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Think back to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation – her second feature length script. They say ‘Write what you know’, and Sofia is someone who takes a lot from her own unusual life and puts it into her films. For example, Somewhere features an unfulfilled actor staying in the Chateau Marmont… not exactly something a lot of us can relate to, whereas Sofia is a Coppola, so probably spent many times bored and unfulfilled weekends in the Chateau Marmont, waiting for her father to finish a press conference of a shoot when she was younger. In terms of Lost in Translation, I believe that this script is her most personal screenplay. Who knows, maybe she went to Tokyo or some other hotel, experienced a profound connection with an ageing movie star whilst her husband, Spike Jonze, was busy shooting a music video. It may have even have been the Chateau Marmont! None of this is too far from a possibility when you consider that Spike has made advertisements and music videos all over the world, whilst Sofia was born into the most famous and influential Hollywood family in history.

It’s not that trivial and Coppola never even tried to disguise that the husband, John (played by Giovanni Ribisi) in Lost in Translation was meant to be Jonze. You only have to go as far as Wikipedia to see Sofia’s quote about the husband in Lost in Translation.

“There are elements of Spike there, elements of experiences.” – Sofia Coppola

As for Bill Murray’s character, we will never know, but I remember seeing an interview where Coppola expressed certainty that Bill Murray had to play Bob Harris. This could mean that he reminds her of someone specific, and also explains why there is never adultery committed in Lost in Translation.

Jonze (left) and Giovanni Ribisi as John in Lost in Translation (right)

So, the director in Lost in Translation is Spike Jonze, portrayed as an excitable and artistic man, who showed love but neglected his wife’s inner feelings (at least, for the length of that short trip). The character seems constantly plugged in and is tentative to his work but isn’t able to connect with his wife during the entire time we spend with them. Remind you of anybody from a contemporary film…?

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Juaquin Phoenix as Theodore in Spike Jonze’s Her

That’s right, Theodore from Her. I’m not saying Jonze wrote Her with himself as the main character, writers almost always draw a little of themselves into their own love stories as a means of escapism. Let’s look at three major similarities between Theodore (Juaquin Phoenix) and Spike Jonze’s situations:

  • Both men have are facing/have faced divorce
  • Both ex-wives are successful writers, who they undoubtedly have both helped creatively
  •  Both men write for other people’s love affairs rather than their own (Jonze has written for adverts and music videos, whilst Theodore writes other’s love letters)

If you find it too speculative that Jonze has drawn from his own experience of divorce, there is one moment in the script that should end any doubt.

“I used to read all of her writing, all through her PhD. She read every word I ever wrote, we were a big influence on each other. She came from a background where nothing was ever good enough. That was something that laid heavy on her. In our house together there was a sense of just trying stuff and allowing each other to fail and be excited about things. That was liberating for her. It was exciting to see her grow, both of us grow and change together. ” – Theodore (Her)

This sounds exactly as I would imagine being a young Coppola to be. You’re father directed The Godfather, a film that is considered as one of, if not the, greatest film of all time. Not only that, but you were cast as a main character in the trilogy’s final instalment, without any real credentials to do so. Furthermore, practically every member of the family has been successful in their own right, from Nicolas Cage, Jason Schwartzman to Talia and David Shire. No matter how loving they are as a family, pressure must have always come to Sofia in bucket loads from all angles; her family, the rest of the film industry and audiences alike.

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Sofia with her father, Francis Ford Coppola, director of The Godfather & Apocalypse Now

Also, the fact that this is the only detailed reference to Theodore’s failed marriage shows a lack of specificity that allows us to speculate, or perhaps stay respectful to, a world famous ex-wife in reality.

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Sofia Coppola (left) next to Rooney Mara (right) as Caroline in Spike Jonze’s Her

So, if we take these similarities to assume that Rooney Mara is, in fact, playing a fictionalised version of Sofia Coppola, a woman who had also fictionalised the director ten years before, does this make Her a response to Lost in Translation? Not solely, as I believe there are other artistic intentions from both directors, which is why these two characters take are infrequent, supporting roles in both films. The fact that writers draw from their own experiences shouldn’t shock anyone, but look closely at the final words Theodore writes to his ex-wife:

To Catherine, I’m sitting here thinking about all the things I want to apologise to you for; all the pain we caused each other, everything I put on you, everything I needed you to be, everything I needed you to say, I’m sorry for that. I’ll always love you because we grew up together and you made me who I am. I just wanted you to know there will be a piece of you in me always and I’m grateful for that. Whatever someone you become, wherever you are in the world, I’m sending you love. You’re my friend to the end. Love, Theodore

Let’s be clear, Her isn’t about the OS system, it’s about the ex-wife. To think of these words of love and appreciation of memories spent together as Spike Jonze’s real message to Sofia Coppola makes them all the more beautiful and powerfully compassionate. If this is true, Her is not only an inventive, heart-warming love story, but a swan-song love letter to a marriage that ended more than ten years ago.

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I would just like to add this, so that my intentions when discussing a celebrities marriage in this instance is clear. I hate gossip magazines and tabloid newspaper’s view that they have a right to involve themselves with celebrity’s personal lives. It’s important that this article isn’t seen as a Chinese whisper about a relationship. Looking at a writer’s life helps us understand their art and, therefore, helps us achieve a more fulfilling experience when trying to embrace their work. For example, it’s important when reading The Great Gatsby with knowledge of Zelda Fitzgerald and how she fuelled F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characterisation of Daisy. Famously, Zelda said the line ‘the best thing a girl can be in this world [is] a beautiful little fool’ to their daughter, which allows it to leave an even worst aftertaste of misogyny when you consider that it is a real statement. My point is, the real life story enriches the worth of the art. So, as much as I hate tabloid gossip, I saw something in Her and Lost in Translation that can’t be unseen, and I believe it adds further depth to the film’s meanings. These speculations, however plain and obvious, are intended as a comment of respectful interest in the two films.

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Steven Soderbergh’s Psycho

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Today Steven Soderbergh, the man behind the lens of films such as Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s Eleven and Behind the Candelabra, released a new version of Hitchcock’s Psycho, editing it alongside the 1998 shot-for-shot remake from Gus Van Sant.

The remake seemed like a needless addition to the film’s legacy at the time, but Soderbergh’s concept to then recut the two films together, gives the concept a new life. Even more so, considering that last year Soderbergh retired from directing. This was such a great loss to the industry, that it makes it all the more fantastic to see that he’s still creating.

Here’s the link to Soderbergh’s ‘Psychos':

http://extension765.com/sdr/15-psychos

The link was down for a day or two, perhaps whilst they sorted out copyright issues. However, it all seems to be working again now. Enjoy!

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The Academy Awards: A Shotgun Oscars Prediction

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Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Barkhad Adbi (Captain Phillips)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Lupita N’yongo
Best Animated Feature: Frozen (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Peter Del Vecho)
Best Cinematography: Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki)
Best Costume Design: American Hustle (Michael Wilkinson)
Best Directing: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
Best Documentary Feature: The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sorensen)
Best Film Editing: Gravity
Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty (Italy)
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club
Best Original Score: Her (William Butler, Owen Pallett)
Best Original Song: Let it Go (Frozen)
Best Production Design: Gravity (Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woollard)
Best Sound Editing: Gravity (Glenn Freemantle)
Best Sound Mixing: Gravity (Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro)
Best Visual Effects: Gravity (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, Neil Corbould)
Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley)
Best Original Screenplay: Her
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Awards Season Special: The struggle for Momentum

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Although there are members of the filmmaking community that like to make it known they couldn’t care less about awards season, statistics speak for themselves when proving that a big win can be a huge financial enhancement, as well as a considerable rise in recognition from the general public.

According to BusinessInsider.com (Source:IBISWorld), the best picture winners overs the past five years had an average production budget of $17 million and earned an average of $82.5 million at the box-office – generating a 485.6% margin. Winners earned…

  • $35.2 million in box office revenue, or 42.8%, before being nominated;
  • $29.4 million, or 35.6%, after they were nominated;
  • $17.9 million, or 21.7% after winning the Oscar.

Talent agents have also claimed that winning in your respected category will earn you a minimum of 20% added to your wage on following projects. So, although people such as the masterful Joaquin Phoenix have no interest in the matter, to many in the film industry these statistics can secure you a lifelong career. Joaquin is certainly one of Hollywood’s greatest actors, who has been in pursuit of projects of great artistic worth in the last few years, but it is impossible to deny that awards season is a huge deal to the masses. These statistics don’t apply if you win an award at Sundance or even Cannes, but most people already know all of this. What is truly interesting about the rat race of awards season is the very real notion of ‘momentum’.

The basic structure of a reviewed competition suggests that the winners will win ‘best so-and-so’ for being the best, so how can this realistically exist? Sometimes it is easy (and delightful) to forget that the Academy once awarded Driving Miss.Daisy for Best Picture. Instead of the obvious process of positive reinforcement, there is always talk of momentum. A contemporary example of this is 12 Years a Slave, which has supposedly lost momentum over the past few weeks, failing to claim many of the awards that it rightfully had one hand on since the film’s release. Most notably, BAFTA failed to award Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress and bizarrely gave Philomena Best Adapted Screenplay. This is even more surprising than, say, if 12 years fails to claim awards at the Academy Awards, because BAFTA have a healthy bias towards films that have British involvement.

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Does ‘momentum’ imply that award voters simply follow the trends of their fellow voters? Regardless of debate about whether Gravity really is a British film, and whether 12 Years is an American film, the fact that Lupita walked away from the BAFTAs without an awards suggests that momentum far more important than anybody would like to believe. Jennifer Lawrence, who triumphed over Nyong’o to win the award for her performance in American Hustle, is a constant talking point in todays press. This means that her chances of losing the limelight and, therefore, losing momentum is next to none. Would it be unfairly cynical to suggest that perhaps BAFTA awarded Lawrence in order to be mentioned by press every time Lawrence is mentioned for the next few weeks, boosting their own prestige along with Lawrence’s natural talents and charm? ‘BAFTA Award Winning actress Jennifer Lawrence said…’ sounds pretty good in print, doesn’t it? This doesn’t just occur for the short while that people remember the awards. Nowadays, articles are written about an actor’s previous wins and sites such as IMDB log them for all to see for the rest of time. I mentioned the concept of an ‘accumulative win’ in a previous article, where actors receive an award that is technically for one film, but is in actual fact for an accumulation of many good performances; This also applies to directors, such as Scorcese, and many other categories. This may also be something that sways the Academy towards awarding DiCaprio over McConaughey this year.

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Personally, I choose to have a little more faith in BAFTA by believing that they chose Lawrence due to poor judgement rather than any reason more cynical (plus, it never hurts to speculate). However, It doesn’t change the absolute fact that momentum exists during awards season. In the past week, Lawrence hasn’t been mentioned any more than she usually is, whilst N’yongo seems to be on most major film and fashion press’ coverage. This leads me to believe that Lupita will get her just dessert. Let’s go all out and be truly cynical in a world where phone tapping and celebrity stalking is outrageously common, by suggesting that a select few in the press already know the winner. Regardless to this, for the general public momentum is a mysterious, unknown authority that only reveals itself to us on the night. For the cynical, it’s influence is second only to political agenda and, whether you care on not, is more influential than anybody would like to believe.

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