Deadly Movies takes a look at representing the future of space travel
Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson (along with Sylvia Anderson) wrote, produced, and of course created the miniatures for the 1969 Sci-fi film Journey to The Far Side of The Sun. Now for me this film has faults way beyond that of the realisation of the future, but it was this particular movie future that got me thinking; How best to represent the future on film? In Anderson’s film, for example, never has the future looked more like 1969. Complete with knee high boots, bob haircuts, mini skirts, egg chairs, and plenty of psychedelia. Now of course films should be watched in the historic, cultural, and social context of which they were made, and Journey to The Far Side of The Sun certainly isn’t the only culprit when it comes to pimping the present out as the future. Take the greatness of Arnie’s Total Recall; great film but set in a future that’s more Walkman than Ipod. That’s what I’m getting at, you could pull up multiple examples from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Don’t get me wrong outdated technology is often part of the charm, but what can really throw a phaser in the works is if the fashions of the day (or fifteen minute phase) are so sewn into the visual fabric of the film that it acts as a distraction rather than a compliment. And that was indeed the case with Journey to The Far Side of The Sun.
While it’s easy to point the finger at previous attempts at (re)creating the future, you have to remember that these films were once cutting edge and that our contemporary takes on what lies ahead may well one day seem laughable. But this doesn’t mean that filmic representations of the future are doomed to ridicule. There are shining beacons of visual hope, path blazers of concept and set design that achieved the almost impossible by creating a future that, to date at least, for the new viewer cant be dated by hair-do’s, fashions, furnishings, slang, or pop references. They are the sci-fi films who’s directors, cinematographers, set designers, costume designers, and conceptual artists have given us timeless settings by which we can bathe in a film that could be a glimpse of tomorrow. Look at Fritz Lang’s timeless Metropolis (1927), or the simple lines and neutral colours used in Alien (1979) likewise some of the amazing sets seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or the mixing of cultures, periods, and ethnic design in Blade Runner (1982). These visual wonders have kept things simple and not of the period. Yes characters may smoke and there may even be the odd perm or flattop, but the effort and understanding was there that to be of the future the film must have a healthy distance from the present.