Where are the desert mutants and flying cars? It's 2010!

By Daniel Dunkle | Dec 31, 2009

By the time you read this, it will probably be the year 2010.

I grew up during the Cold War, and we were pretty certain that by 2010 we would either be survivors in a desert of atomic mutants as portrayed by the Mad Max movies or living in a land of technology where flying cars and extended space travel were commonplace.

So, I thought it would be interesting to point out some of the predictions from science fiction movies that have not come true. In looking up information for this column (most of it from IMDB.com), I noticed several recurring themes: dystopia (meaning wicked bad times, man), killer computers, killer robots, nuclear war, ease of space travel and flying cars, so be on the lookout for that stuff.

It seems logical to start with the movie named for the year — "2010," which had the tagline "The year we make contact." Although I have read the book and watched the film, I'm still not clear on the question, "Contact with what?" But I digress.

"2010" was released in 1984 as a sequel to the more popular "2001: A Space Odyssey" from 1968. Taken together those movies made the following predictions:

  • Travel to the moon would be as routine as catching a flight to Paris by around 1999.
  • People would be working on the moon and digging up alien objects. I'm not sure why they were digging there in the first place. Perhaps it was some sort of cheese extraction operation.
  • We would also be capable of manned (personned?) trips to Jupiter and beyond.
  • There would be self-aware computers with personalities that would try to kill people.

In reality, it's almost 2010 and NASA still hasn't gotten any farther than the moon in terms of transporting actual people. They are trying to keep us excited about things like water deposits and Martian robot rovers, but I think it's safe to say most of us scifi geeks are pretty disappointed with the lack of progress in space since the 1960s.

I guess that guy from Virgin airlines is going to launch passenger service to the almost-space upper atmosphere for rich people who feel like risking their lives, but still. My computer doesn't seem to be aware of much, though it does automatically update itself every 10 minutes.

"2010" the movie also assumed the Cold War would still be going when the actual 2010 rolled around.

One of my favorite TV shows as a kid was "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," which ran from 1979 to 1981.

The basic storyline was set up at the beginning of each episode when the narrator would say, "The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America's deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Ranger 3 and its pilot, Captain William 'Buck' Rogers, are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems, and returns Buck Rogers to Earth ... 500 years later."

I mean, had we even launched the first of our deep space probes by 1987? I'm assuming that Ranger 3 and pilot Buck are the last deep space probe, and I don't think we launched anyone very deep into space in 1987 or even 1997.

The show also works under the premise that shortly after Buck gets frozen to his control panel, the Earth is devastated by a nuclear war. That hasn't happened yet either.

Let's go now to the distant future of ... 1997. Several movies from when I was growing up fixate on this year for some reason.

In "Terminator 2," which came out in 1991, we are told 3 billion humans will die in one of those pesky nuclear wars in 1997. I love the quote from Sarah Connor, who knows the future because people keep coming back in time to tell her about it and also to try to kill her.

After her shrink tells her these visions only feel real, she says, "On August 29th, 1997, it's gonna feel pretty (blankin) real to you too. Anybody not wearing 2 million sunblock is gonna have a real bad day. Get it?"

Two things. First of all, you can't get 2 million sunblock. It's not manufactured and even if it was, it wouldn't save you from nuclear fallout. Second, there was no nuclear war perpetrated by evil computers and robots in 1997.

It was, however, the year I got married. I think. I'll have to check on that.

Probably the funniest one is from John Carpenter's "Escape from New York." That film predicted that in 1997, the entire city of New York would be one massive prison complex.

In real life just a few days ago, it was widely reported that New York is now ranked as the safest city with the lowest crime rate among the 25 largest cities in the United States. So much for John Carpenter as a prophet.

Probably the most egregious future prediction movie was "Strange Days" released in 1995 starring Boring Fiennes, I mean Ralph Fiennes, as a former cop who now sells people's memories on a futuristic machine. The movie is set in the dystopian future L.A. of, get this, 1999. So in a mere four years, L.A. was going to turn into a futuristic setting!

In a minor digression, I will note that "Strange Days" is a total ripoff of the somewhat better Christopher Walken/Natalie Wood movie "Brainstorm" from 1983. That's a movie about using a machine to play back memories released in the 1980s, but for some reason everyone's dressed like it's the 1970s.

In addition, the world did not end in 1984 via comet radiation and zombies as predicted by one of my favorites, "Night of the Comet."

Many of the predictions made in late 20th century movies concerned the year 2000 or thereabouts.

Consider this movie title and its tagline: "Death Race 2000: In the year 2000, hit and run driving is no longer a felony. It's the national sport!" There's that dystopia again.

And we all remember what a disaster Y2K turned out to be.

I think the band Flight of the Conchords put it best when they sang:

"It is the distant future, the year 2000 / We are robots / The world is very different ever since the robotic uprising of the mid-nineties / ...Finally robotic beings rule the world / The humans are dead."

Of course, they released the song after the year 2000, just to make fun of these old movies.

Finally, there are flying cars. We can't be sure because the movies featuring them are for the most part still set in the future. "Back to the Future Part II" predicts that flying cars will be common by 2015. The engineers better get cracking. And "Bladerunner" shows us a 2019 featuring not only flying cars but robots or clones so realistic they can be mistaken for actual people.

But that will never happen because, the world will end in 2012.

In fact, looking on to the future can be even more fun.

Will intelligent apes rule the world in the year 3955? (Actually, I could have written this entire column based on the "Planet of the Apes" franchise, but I think it would have ended up being too confusing. For a full time line visit http://pota.goatley.com/prophecy/timeline.htm.)

Will humans have split into two separate species, one feeding off the other, by the year A.D. 802,701 as H.G. Wells predicted?

In the end, every movie and story about the future comes down to the same question posed famously in the Zager and Evans song, "In The Year 2525":

"In the year ninetyfive ninetyfive / I'm kind a wond'rin' if man is gonna be alive ..."

As for me, I'm just surprised to find that the distant future from my childhood arrived so fast. And I didn't need a flying car to get here.

 

 

 

 

 

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