The 1961 film, “The Phantom Planet” begins with a narrator telling us that since the splitting of the atom, Mankind has triumphed in breaking through the atmosphere and is now exploring the vastness of space. It depicts rocket launches occurring from the moon and artificial gravity inside the oddly Hobbit-sized rocket ship. It’s a vision of a future we know little about, but we should. After all, the story is set in 1980. 19-fucking-80! None of that shit happened. What a load of bollocks. (See for yourself. The whole movie, which is pretty hysterical, can be watched on Hulu) Ever since people started writing fiction with science in front of it, we’ve been given hypothetical potentialities for futures that, at the time, seemed so far away and yet, we’ve more or less passed all of them. It’s to the point where thinking about it is laughable for having missed the mark so badly. Here are the 6 most egregious errors committed by science fiction.
VI – THE FLYING CAR
Back to the Future Part II
To say nothing of time travel, which is excluded for not being commonplace, Back to the Future part II shows us all the really unnecessary bits of technology we have to look forward to in five years (the movie takes place in 2015). For example, food hydrators preparing Pizza Hut in seconds, a weather service that can accurately predict a rainstorm to the second, and holographic movie ads that pretend to bite you in half. But the most glaring lie is the fact that cars can fly, or “hover” as they say in the movie. Now, hovercrafts we have; they’re big pillows that go about two inches off the ground. These things fly, through the air, and have traffic lights and taxi cabs up there. Doc Brown mentions that he got the Delorean hover-converted in the early 21st Century, which would seem to allude to sometime within the first decade and unless we’re gonna hover-convert the shit out of our cars this year, BTTF2’s claim in just plain phony.
V – MANHATTAN IS A MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON
Escape from New York
The conceit of this 1981 movie is that the crime rate in the United States gets so bad in the future that there wasn’t any more room in the prisons. The solutions was to move every criminal in the entire country to a fenced off and patrolled Manhattan where they could roam freely and do whatever they wanted to each other. The trouble is, this was all supposed to happen in 1997. I’m damn skippy that didn’t happen. In 1997, Bill Clinton began his second term, arguably the most prosperous time in America for a long-ass while, the crime rate was the lowest it had been in 20 years, and the New York Yankees had just won the World Series. I feel like Rudy Giuliani saw this movie and said, “Aw shit, people think we’re a penal colony. All right, no more whores!” As much as I love this movie, it could not have been more wrong. Though the Duke of New York is still A-Number 1.
IV – ALIENS LIVE AMONG US IN RELATIVE PEACE
In one of the more audacious examples of counting your chickens before they hatch, the film Alien Nation was released in 1988 about a world coping three years after aliens land…in 1988. Yes, the filmmakers so wanted to date their film, they made the initial landing of alien Newcomers just a few months after its release. That’s about as “near” as the “near-future” can possibly be. The bulk of the action takes place in 1991 where the Newcomers have become part of the society and are discriminated against in a thinly-veiled allegory to racism, a veil thinner than the one worn by Princess Di on her wedding day. (80s reference!) People watching this movie during its initial video release were already in a world where this couldn’t possibly be real, since aliens did not indeed land and gentrify the nation in 1988. Couldn’t they have even waited until 1990 for the fictional landing? At least give people a little time to pretend. We all know it’s fictional, but that seemed destined to fail from day one. Keep a look out for the short story I’ll post tomorrow about a swarm of robotic Nazi ferrets that invade next Thursday.
III – NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST CAUSED BY SENTIENT COMPUTER
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
This is something I feared for a long time, and in many ways still continue to fear. Ever since I saw the ’80s TV movie “The Day After,” I have been scared to death of the end of the world via nuclear annihilation. Then I saw Terminator 2 when I was 14 and it actually gave a date to this horrible event, 29 August 1997. I was petrified. Until I remembered that it was six months earlier. Yes, James Cameron’s best film is still considered among the top ten sci-fi and action movies ever made, and in 1991 when it was released, it could still be seen as visionary. Skynet, the insanely smart computer thing, is going to become self-aware in 1997, and it’s up to the Connor clan and a re-programmed T-800 to see that it doesn’t happen. Or, they could just not do anything, cuz it fucking didn’t become self-aware at all. We were not vaporized by atomic explosions, nor have huge mechanoids started marching up and down the streets with machine guns set to merc. I needn’t have worried. Of course, I never understood why computers becoming self-aware was such a bad thing. I bet they’d just act like anyone who has a menial 9-5 job. They might even perform better knowing they’re being judged mercilessly. I know a fair amount of humans who could benefit from being a little more self-aware.
II – WE HAVE COLONIZED MARS
Blade Runner, Total Recall, etc.
According to these movies, and some others too, we took off from Earth, terraformed our nearest celestial neighbor, and began building a population. Blade Runner takes place in 2019, and although the action is entirely on Earth, there’s much talk of replicants being used for labor on Mars. Total Recall takes place in 2084, but we’ve already had a colony on Mars for some time in that film. Gonna get a little scientific on your asses now; here’s why we can’t do that. 1) GRAVITY: The surface gravity of Mars is just a little over 1/3 that of Earth’s. 2) COLD-ASS: The average surface temperature of Mars is -63 degrees Celsius (-81.4 degrees Fahrenheit). The coldest it’s ever been on Earth was in Antarctica where it bottomed out at -84 degrees C, whereas Mars routinely falls to -140 degrees C. 3) WATER: There’s no fucking water on Mars. 4) PRESSURE: The atmospheric pressure on Mars is ~6 mbar, and in its current condition, is well below the Armstrong Limit, 61.8 mbar for people to survive without pressure suits. Since terraforming cannot be expected as a near-term solution, habitable structures on Mars would need to be constructed with pressure vessels similar to spacecraft, capable of containing a pressure between a third and a whole bar. 5) MONEY: No one on Earth is going to give money for colonization of Mars when they could easily spend it on the new Miley Cyrus album or the Shake Weight. In short, we’re never going to Mars, apologies to Philip K. Dick.
I – SPACE ODYSSEY?
2001: A Space Odyssey
I was really looking forward to this and here we are nearly a decade later and we’ve not had a single space odyssey. There is no regular transportation from the Earth to the moon, there is no artificial gravity, super computers have not reached sentience (see number III) and we’ve found no enormous slabs of black granite anywhere that inexplicably turn us into giant, glowing, omniscient babies. This is probably one of my top ten favorite movies and yet I still can’t get past the sheer wrongitude it displayed. Granted, it was made in 1968, a full year before Man set foot on the moon, so it had very little to work with, but come on! In the aftermath of Kennedy’s great “New Frontier” speech, the world seemed to be bursting at the seams to go live in space, but we just never got there. Too many worldly concerns got in our way, technology didn’t advance as fast as films had promised, and the world lost interest. This might also be the first example of a film AND its sequel being proved wrong. Part two of this saga, 2010: The Year We Make Contact is happening right now. Again, we’re not living in space, and we haven’t made contact with any alien life forms, save Lady Gaga.
So to sum up: Nothing cool will ever happen. The space race is over and we won, I guess. People nowadays are far too jaded to actually believe in the hope of ever breaching the stratosphere, and with the economy in trouble, NASA has just taken a huge budget cut, effectively putting the kibosh on even the smallest celestial glimmer. It seems that we as a people are too self-centered and small-minded, myself included, to realistically go into space, or even develop “space-age” gadgetry without an app being involved. Unfortunately, it seems, even our visions of the future are behind the times.
That ended on a downer. Boobs.
Images: American International Pictures, Universal, Avco Embassy, 20th Century Fox, TriStar, MGM,