Back to the Future II is my favorite sci-fi film because of its madcap depiction of the future — namely 2015.
Watching it as a kid, the film became a neon-filled promise of self-tying shoelaces, hoverboards, and flying cars powered by garbage.
Then real-life 2015 rolled around and the lament of “where’s my hoverboard!?” range out.
It turns out director Robert Zemeckis’ fantasy of the future failed to match up to reality. Not only are we deprived of such fanciful gadgets and a Jaws 19 sequel, in this version of 2015 we apparently still read newspapers and have fax machines in every room. Fax machines! Without Internet. Not Twitter. Not insufferable influencers.
“But how about 2022?” I hear you do not ask.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve searched for old sci-fi films and books that are set in 2022.
Like digging for loose change in the back of the pop-cultural couch, I’ve managed to source some glitchy mp4s, mpegs, PDFs and … other acronyms that were sadly lacking from Back to the Future II.
How accurately do these 2022 sci-fi stories capture our doom-scrolling era of pandemics, climate disaster and international war?
Time Runner (1993), movie
Watching a jittery straight-to-VHS movie on a laptop in 2022 is one of the closest things we have to real time travel.
Star Wars star Mark Hamill is the Time Runner in this derivative Terminator/Time Cop rip-off. When an alien invasion strikes in 2022, Mark Hamill escapes his space station getting blown up, by falling into a wormhole. He finds himself back on Earth, but it’s an acid-wash-jeaned, mullet-filled 1992. He tries to warn Senator John Neila (who’s the future 2022 “President of Earth”) about the impending alien invasion — but surprise, no- surprise — Neila’s a secret ALIEN.
If only Mark Hamill had reversed the letters of “Neila” he would’ve known! Rookie Time Runner mistake. To make matters worse, someone is trying to kill Mark Hamill’s mother to prevent her birth from her.
2022 accuracy rating: 2/10.
Futuristic space-ship stuff aside, the weirdest thing in the 2022 plot line is a race against time to unlock some Russian nuclear launch codes to stop the aliens. So, in this reality, Russia may help prevent an invasion and war!
The Secret (2002), novel by Eva Hoffmann
The secret behind the secret in The Secret is that the main protagonist discovers that she is her mum’s clone.
Accuracy rating: 10/10 for the nightmare of every young woman realizing… you’re basically your mother.
Soylent Green (1973), movie
Unlike the above depictions, I think Soylent Green is eerily relevant to our times. It’s also an unapologetically bleak film — so perfect for your date night with Werner Herzog.
Charlton Heston plays an investigator who’s trying to solve the murder of a big wig from Soylent Corp. And then something, something… to be honest, I wasn’t really paying attention to the detective story. I was more aware of Heston’s jaunty blue train drivers’ cap and how the plot is just a vehicle to take us on a journey through the film’s utterly dystopian and scarily prescient vision.
There’s dwindling natural resources, police brutality, the super-rich who treat women like “furniture” and… yep, global warming. The opening credits even feature crowds wearing face masks. The only thing missing from this nightmare checklist is a never-ending Zoom meeting.
The movie is best remembered for its immortal final line, uttered by Heston: “Soylent Green is made out of (spoiler alert).” I don’t want to give it away if you haven’t seen it. Let’s just say the special ingredient starts with P and rhymes with eople. Oops, I mean rhymes with Sheeple. Dammit. It’s people. Soylent Green is made of people. And KFC. Probably.
Accuracy rating: 8/10.
Among the misery, my favorite scene features Edward G Robinson playing an old chap who is presented with an apple in the first time in ages. The way his face lights up on seeing one again is exactly how I felt when my toddler’s daycare re-opened after lockdown.
Station Eleven (2022), TV series based on 2014 novel
Station Eleven is based on a 2014 novel by the same name, written by Emily St John Mendel and describes the aftermath of a devastating global pandemic. When the novel was adapted into a TV series, the pandemic was set to kick off in the Xmas of — yes, you guessed it — 2020.
Actress Mackenzie Davis, who plays the main character, has described the eerie feeling as the production came to a sudden COVID-related halt. The very thing they were play-acting was starting to unfold in real life.
The series traces the consequences following the outbreak (2021–2022) as well as the fragile recovery 20 years in the future. Luckily, the prophetic powers of Mandel and the TV writers were only accurate to the timing of the pandemic, not the severity, as Station Eleven depicts the complete fall of civilization and the death of 99.9 per cent of humanity.
The early days of the outbreak are desperate and familiar with unnerving scenes of pandemic panic, canceled flights and lost loved ones.
The depicted winter of 2021–2022 in Station Eleven is one of hunting rabbits, knife throwing practice and using car batteries to watch old VHS tapes. So not too dissimilar to our own desperate times with sourdough-making and Word-fueled rage.
However, it’s the scenes set in the future that makes the show incredibly touching and emotionally, er, nourishing. The main protagonist — now grown up — has become the lead actress for a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors who perform for post-pandemic survivor communities.
I don’t want to spoil the show, but I’ll say it’s one of the best shows I’ve watched so far in 2022.
Accuracy rating: 2/10.There’s a lot more support for the arts/entertainment industries in this fictional post-pandemic world.
Station Eleven shows that post-apocalyptic science fiction doesn’t have to be all dog-eat-dog violence and misery. We can have sci-fi stories about hope, humanity and how art and culture are essential for survival.
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