Thursday, August 28, 2008

The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades

TCM is airing Soylent Green overnight tonight, at 1:30 AM ET. You probably know the story; the setting of this 1973 movie is the New York City of the year 2013, when the population is 40 million, all living cheek by jowl in dreadful circumstances (except, of course, for the super-rich). It got me to thinking about how the future is all too often presented as dystopic.

This goes back to at least Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and I could name a whole host of movies both from Hollywood and from other countries. The ironic thing is that most of these movies get it horribly wrong: even if you include the entire metropolitan area of New York City, you don't get anywhere near the 40 million people the movie posits for the population of the area. (In fact, you'd need almost the entire populations of New York state, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut to get to 40 million. As one who lives in the Catskills, I can tell you there's quite a bit of open space here.) The 1960 version of The Time Machine claims Earth will be destroyed by nuclear war in 1966, while HG Wells' 1936 movie Things To Come posits a thirty-year-long war beginning in 1940.

Not only that, but it's depressingly predictable. The future's bad, and it's because of those wicked industrialists. The politicians in Soylent Green are allegedly bought and paid for by the Soylent Corp.; and in Things to Come, it's the rich who have pushed Britain into the war. I can't help but think this is an offshoot of the movies' (and especially Hollywood's) aversion to business in general. I cringed every time I saw the commercials for the remake of The Manchurian Candidate, when Denzel Washington made his comment that "This is what happens when you have rich people doing bad science".

Still, Soylent Green is a fun movie, in part because of how wrong they got things. Heston is fine, although the acting honors really go to Edward G. Robinson in his final movie performance. (He died before the movie was released.)

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