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
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
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
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
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.
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
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. 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.
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.