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Then vs. Now: Films

Type: All  |  Category: Then vs. Now  |  Date: 16th October 2017

We all love that moment when you get in from a rainy day, cuddle up on the sofa with some buttery popcorn and they replay the old classics on TV (it doesn’t matter that you have it on DVD, it’s just ‘better’ when it’s on TV)… But now we’re in 2017, just how wrong did Hollywood films predict the future? Leavers’ Books takes a ganders.


What decade really rocked? To help celebrate our new ‘Retro’ yearbook theme, Leavers’ Books are taking a look at the eras that influenced its design – the 80s and 90s. Each month, we humorously discuss what was great (and not so great!) about the good ol’ days and if they still stand the test of time!

There’s nothing more iconic or trendsetting that a spectacular blockbuster on the silver screen. It gives us the chance to detach ourselves from reality for two hours and submerge ourselves in worlds unknown, in crazy, fantastical stories, and fall in love all over again.

When I was younger, my brother and I would stare aimlessly at a bookcase at the top of the stairs that cased a plethora of VHS tapes. We’d pick ones out at random, and look at the beautiful covers; read the running time on the back and try to work out how many hours were in ‘187 minutes’; look at the promotional pictures to try to work out the plot; and get excited when we saw a film say it contained ‘moderate violence’ and ‘partial nudity’.

Little did we know how much these films shaped modern society at the time, and influenced the way the public dressed, spoke, and even acted.

The big screen directors and producers seemed to have this kindling love for predicting the future, and firing off their wild ideas to an audience - who would gleefully lap up the idea of a wondering what life in thirty to fifty years time could be. What new inventions there would be and most importantly if there was a way for our pets to speak.

Just How Wrong Did Hollywood Get It?

Let’s take a look at several popular films from the last few decades that are set around the start of the 21st century. How wild were these ideas? Did that man looking into his magic crystal ball actually get anything right? Did they predict Leicester City winning the Premier League (or the Cubs winning the World Series if you’re American)? Or did they literally get everything completely wrong in an embarrassing hot mess?

Film: Back to the Future (Part II)

Released/Set: 1989/2015 (26 years in the future)

What’s it About: As you can tell from the name, it’s a sequel, so some zany stuff happened already. But it’s about to get a whole lot zanier. Marty McFly teams up with his old friend Dr. Emmett Brown and travels to the future to save his son from being thrown in jail for theft. Kids, eh? Whilst in the future, wily Marty comes across a book of sports scores and results from 1950 to 2000. ‘Hey’, he thinks to himself, ‘I could take this back to the present day with me and make some moolah’.

Somehow, Marty’s enemy Biff got his hands on the book and uses it to make bets galore and amass a fortune. So when they return to 1985, the duo discover that Biff has only gone and turned their pleasant neighbourhood into a nightmarish empire... Cause he’s all right and powerful now. He also killed Mary’s dad and married his mum… Wow. Their only chance to restore order and fix this timeline is to return to 1955 (where it all began in the first film) to retrieve the book and set things right. Nuts.

How Wrong Did They Get It: Oh boy, did they get it wrong. For a start, we’re treated to a display of hovering cars and no roads; just floating lights to guide you. I mean, there were still roads in the film, and they were used by streamline cars that resembled an Apple mouse and or ergonomic keyboard, but the film was set in California, and there was a distinct lack of traffic. Doc mentioned that the majority of these cars were taxis cabs – as if he’s not heard of Uber.

Everything seems to float or hover in their 2015 – it’s as if they didn’t care about the power source or how damaging it could be for the ecosystem! Signs, billboards, rubbish bins, and speaking of transport, probably the most remembered feature of that version’s future was a hoverboard. Like a skateboard, but no wheels. They were pretty cool, and whilst we don’t have them, we do have something slightly similar: a hoverboard with wheels - so we’re met in the middle. It just moves forward when you stand on it, and that’s pretty fun.

The film also featured floating news cameras, which nowadays resemble drones – there’s talk about having your post and takeaways delivered by such means, but it seems a more viable option at present to have news station utilising drones to record action and not be shut out. A drone is a lot harder to ‘shoo’ away than a person.

Back to the Future (Part II) depicted fashion to be a shambles of 80s and 90s gear – a degenerate mix of Baywatch themed exercise video and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, all with ‘self-fitting’ clothes. Well, you could look like that or a grunge cyborg; sporting metal shin pads or helmets with spikes on. The choice is yours. Saying that, the infamous self-lacing Nike trainers that resembled space boots did become a reality on a limited run thanks to Nike; so if anything, this film inflected the future.

So maybe, just maybe, they were on to something.

Worst of All: They still think we use fax machines.

Film: Blade Runner

Released/Set: 1982/2019 (37 years in the future)

About: Tyrell Corporation has created Replicants; human-looking robots to be used as slaves in colonies outside the Earth, to perform labour and exploration of other planets. These human clones became so smart and self-aware, they began to rebel, and having gone rogue, it’s illegal for them to set foot on Earth. Think Peggy Mitchell barring you from her pub.

It’s 2019 and Los Angeles is hardly the city of angels anymore. There situates our hero, Rick Deckard, an ex-cop who once was a blade runner. Blade runners are people assigned to assassinate replicants if they do manage to sneak their way back here. So when four replicants commit a bloody mutiny, escape from an off-world colony, and come to Earth to find their creator, he is called to come out of retirement.

As he tracks the replicants, eliminating them one by one, he comes across Rachel, a replicant who evokes human emotion. As Deckard closes in on the leader of the vigilante group, his true hatred toward artificial intelligence makes him question his own identity in this (future) world, including what it is to be human, and why life is so precious.

How Wrong Did They Get It: What a bleak vision of the future. Let’s start off with the premise of the film, we’re not quite there yet when it comes to exploration of other planets – we struggle to get a little robot up there, let alone human-sized cyborgs that can bench 400kg. They overestimated our abilities just a tad.

To focus on what’s currently down on Earth too, it’s not pretty. Cut us some slack. Neon flashing lights decorate mammoth buildings that soar in the sky. These tall buildings showcase hologram adverts in a convoluted metropolis complex environment and block out the sun.

As we take a look inside the buildings, their vision is just as depressing. Everything seems to be grim, dusty and resemble an abandoned haunted house or a student flat in London with clutter, sheets and cobwebs everywhere. They also don’t have a constant Egyptian theme running throughout – thanks to Pinterest, we’ve adopted more of an IKEA approach: Swedish minimalist vibes, heavy on whites, with shades of grey and black thrown in for good measure.

The streets seem more like an alien world from Star Wars than anything like the old marketplace in Dudley; there’s no hoarding of junk and wires like many films predict. This cyberpunk version of our economy hasn’t come to fruition – we thankfully care about our environment and are somewhat eco-friendly still.

Blade Runner also thinks we’ve mastered flying cars and freely use them... Wrong! But they were spot on with the traffic and congestion problems, so kudos. Whilst some cars fly, some stay on the ground in this film, and there appears to be no road order, which sounds about right if you’re familiar with the M62. As for the cars themselves, the dashboards aren’t quite as techy or advanced, but the shape of the vehicle is a little bit nicer and not as blocky. Swings and roundabouts, really.

Finally, the classic source of entertainment remains the same:  television (which crop up just about everywhere in this film). Today’s TVs are a lot nicer than what they thought. Mate, we have widescreen now, and the rich lot even have 3D curve tellies.

Worst of All: The biggest faux pas I noticed whilst watching was that no one working for Tyrell Corporation wore a name tag or ID badges on a lanyard. No one! Everyone has that nowadays, even Bob who works in the local Shell garage. We’re all about security nowadays.

Film: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Released/Set: 1968/2001 (33 years in the future)

About: That iconic music... After that, we’re dealing with a film that sees a bunch of apes go crazy around a big, black structure stuck in the ground – known as a monolith, which seems to have this bizarre effect on humans. As a result of discovering this monolith, it gave humankind the evolutionary kick it needed to survive the Dawn of Time.

In 1999, humankind discovered a second monolith in space. So finally in 2001, spacecraft Discovery One and its crew, along with their onboard computer, HAL 9000, set off to see what it’s all about. Hal has an artificial voice and intelligence, often having conversations with the astronauts, and claims a 9000 series model is incapable of error. As the journey progresses however, astronauts Bowman and Poole believe that Hal is malfunctioning, but they’re actually unaware of the classified information it has about events eighteen months earlier at a lunar outpost. The issue between the astronauts and Hal becomes a fight for survival, and if they’ll ever be able to complete their mission. I think. It’s very complex.

How Wrong Did They Get It: This is the film most detached from current society, so I will cut them some slack. It’s also set more in space than on Earth, but we can look at what was said or the way life was predicted to be. Nonetheless, it was a very broad attempt at being ‘futuristic’: everything is blocky, white, uncomfortable and cramp – think Buck Rogers or the Death Star.

Do we give them man landing on the moon? This was one of the first major films to depict the scene, and it did become a reality a year later in 1969.

Whilst mobile phones are more prevalent than toothbrushes today, 2001: A Space Odyssey seemed to think that no one would carry around either in their front pocket. Instead, we have a videophone booth – so it’s 50/50. Sadly, he has to remember the number he wants to dial (the horror) and pays for the call using a credit card of sorts. Nonetheless, it does remind you of using Skype or FaceTime once again. It is just a shame however, that despite Dr. Floyd carefully asked his 6 year old daughter to tell her mother that he called, you know deep down that she won’t and she’ll forget; because it’s her birthday, and that’s just what happens.

And if you called your 6 year old daughter right now, she wouldn't pass on a message either.

We were also treated to voice recognition technology which is in full effect now. If you think to how you interact with your smartphone, or even when you call your bank account to access your account online. Not only that, but to go one step further, Hal did a pretty good job at lip-reading. In 2009 it was announced that not only can this software read lips, but it can read them in several languages. Which is why you now see footballers converse whilst covering their mouths.

This computer can even play chess, and is programmed sometimes to lose like a human; whilst that is nothing new, I’d like to see it play a game of Mario Kart 64. Just try and beat me.

One thing that probably goes under the radar these days is that Kubrick envisaged plane-shaped spacecrafts before they were actually a thing (and is actually on its way out again), but at the time, we were simply accustomed to big ol’ missiles and attaching whatever we could do them.

As a result of this theory, the film featured space food, which was depicted as a couple of flavoured boxes which you would poke with a straw and suck up. Whilst this isn’t the case, it is worth pointing out that plane food does taste similar to how I imagine that space food would taste, and the food was supplied by America airline Pam Am who went bankrupt in 1991.

Still, 2001: A Space Odyssey evocatively captures the back of the head-rests in the shuttle holstering small TV screens, something that wouldn't actually be introduced to aeroplanes until the 1980s.

But what do they show on the TVs and iPads (because yep, there’s a tablet in this film too)? Apparently, the BBC, and lots of it. Shown on a tablet was BBC 12. Not only were the BBC able to commission that many channels, but they all weren’t just airing re-runs of old Top Gear episodes.

Worst of All: Dr. Floyd was sent to Clavius Base is to deliver a speech to a crew bemused by what they have unearthed on the moon. Frankly, there is no way that this would have been done in the real 2001 without the mundane use of a PowerPoint presentation.

Film: Demolition Man

Released/Set: 1993/1996-2032 (3-39 years in the future)

About: John Spartan is a risk-taking cop (they love a man in uniform, don’t they?) who is known as the ‘Demolition Man’, as he commonly demolishes property to get to his man. This time, he’s after crime lord Simon Phoenix, who has only gone and taken a bus load of people hostage during this post-apocalyptic gang-warfare-ridden land. I mean, the Hollywood sign is on fire, for goodness sake!

Spartan is falsely accused of manslaughter for the deaths of the hostages, and both he and Phoenix are sent to a ‘cryo prison’. So, basically being frozen and that. Fast-forward 36 years where society has changed and crime is seemingly eradicated, Phoenix is released for his parole hearing but he escapes as the police are less aggressive, and are not prepared to deal with his level of violence. They turn to Spartan to defrost and take down Phoenix one last time. Lots of fights, lots of explosions, lots of 90s nonsense, and we love it.

How Wrong Did They Get It: Surprisingly, not very wrong at all! There was a lot that Demolition Man seemed to predict rather well despite not taking itself very seriously!

To start with, their forward thinking minds concocted tablets. You know, those things that every household seem to have; bigger than a smartphone, smaller than a laptop, but does everything you need? With them, came video calling – and thanks to our smart phones, tablets and even computers, things such as FaceTime and Skype are considered normal and everyday means of communication.

With this ‘let’s see your face and chat’ approach, they also flirted with the idea of teleconferences – something very commonplace with an office set-up. By 2032 it seems we’ve gone one step further, and given each attendee their own chair (for their... screen) which spin around and follow whoever is talking, and a generous amount of table space!

There was also a lot of voice activated appliances that you could converse with. Several years ago, this may have seemed crazy, but now we have Siri, Alexa and Cortana, and there’s also Google Assistant, which doesn’t have a fun name. There’s always one to spoil the party, but hey. We now have the ability to interact with technology and have them react to our words.

In possibly the most recognised scene, the police of tomorrow resort to their tablet for instructions on how to handle and arrest Phoenix. It seems no different to a How-To video up on YouTube. It’s where I went when I had to bleed my radiator and it’s probably where I’ll go also if I’m ever instructed with the task to apprehend a maniac.

Touch screen computers pop up everywhere in Demolition Man’s 2032 Los Angeles, granting the public access to a stream of information and news. This is uncommon by today’s standard, but you will come across helpful units amongst bigger cities around the world. Saying that, we do have slicker graphics than what they assumed.

Car dashboards have TVs built-in, which rings true if you can splash the cash on a latest model, and with thanks to Google for leading the way, we are being introduced to self-driving cars. Driverless cars were a thing of the norm in the film; could that be the case for us in 15 years time?

Probably most interestingly of all, Demolition Man predicted the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political career. In 1993, we would’ve laughed at the idea of Arnie being the Numero Uno of the country, but in 2017, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched after two terms as the governor of California. America just needs to make an amendment and allow foreigners to run for presidency...

They also predicted that Wesley Snipes would be a hardened criminal. Okay, maybe not to the extremity of running a gang and murdering a school bus full of people, but he did commit some pretty serious tax evasion. He had a prison sentence and everything.

Worst of All: Caffeine is illegal. Not quite sure how some teachers may cope before the school bell rings in this scenario.

Some additional notes and observations on other films include:

  • Highlander 2 thought the ozone could just repair itself by now. The fools.
  • Timecop felt time-travel by 2004 was possible. The fools.
  • We don’t quite have reality TV like they did in the Running Man. The fools.
  • We don’t quite have the manipulation and disguise technology that A Scanner Darkly displays. The fools.
  • The 6th Day overestimated our ability to clone. The fools.
  • Thankfully the world hasn’t been wiped out and isn’t some post-apocalyptic mess as thought to be in Mad Max, and the Road, and I Am Legend.
  • Regarding Waterworld predicting life in 2500: Well, it seems to rain more now than ever, and I haven’t got a tan, so this prediction is likely.

So what did they get right? Not much. Not much at all. There were hints of the future, but rather the films themselves influenced us and our decisions – rather than predicted what mankind would invent down the line. But ultimately, we’re just not as smart or as advanced as we thought we would be.

Fashion and interior design was way off the mark when you think about it. The clothes often appeared very dark and drab for the most part, or silly little uniforms that don’t seem to make sense. Furniture looked like it was still set in the 90s, living rooms sill cluttered with a penthouse-vibe that screamed 1970; am I watched Scarface? Goodfellas? It felt that way.

Near enough every film could not predict the advancement we attained in graphics and displays (perhaps perfectly demonstrated by our ‘clean’ and mature looking new Leavers’ Books theme). Every graphic contained a grid, blocky, or weird 8-bit lettering in a vibrant green. You name it, cameras, surveillance equipment, computer programmes, they all showcased this. There is a reigning theme in films that look at the future that seem to think we don’t care about aesthetics. This isn’t Tetris country anymore, boy.

Technology is being created to better humanity; not hinder it. No one has the intention to put ourselves at risk, or aim for a barren wasteland of circuits and keyboards. We very well may be ‘slaves to our phones’ and social media, but that’s with the aim to be social, and stay in touch with our friends when we can’t physically see them: to share the birth of a new born with many in an instant, to celebrate good news, and to make others laugh.

So whilst we don’t have rejuvenation clinics, we do have Photoshop. It’s all about baby steps to these wider goals. A credo we can apply to everyday life and the goals we are slowly finding ourselves work towards – be it in the gym, in our careers, in building relations, to the overall development of a child’s education.

Why not ask your students what they think the future will hold – make a class lesson out of it? If not, pray that the sleep-induced brain-zapper (as seen in Back to the Future (Part II)) gets invented, as I’m sure many teachers would enjoy using that on the one that always has ‘just one more’ question.

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