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Outdated Technology: Not So Special Effects
David Bax , June 7th, 2010 10:58

David Bax counts down 10 films which made some bold technological predictions that didn't quite come to fruition...

Film, in the century plus that it's been around, has grown as an art form at roughly the same rate that it's grown as a technology. In fact, there really is no separating one from the other. Every couple of decades, some new innovation comes along that's just as responsible for driving audiences to theaters as the stories are. From the motion picture itself to sound to color to widescreen to 3D to CGI to motion capture and back to 3D, the movie industry has been a technology competition as much as it's been an entertainment one. This fascination with new tech extends to the subject matter as well and often, the desire to be early adopters leads filmmakers and studios to take on new gadgets and advances too soon, before they're really understood or before they've even proved their worth. Below is a list of ten movies whose hearts may have been in the right place but have been made less than relevant by technological history.

James Bond

Every couple of years, Agent 007 returns to the screen and with him comes the obligatory scene of Q presenting our intrepid, well-dressed hero with the exact gadgets he would need over the course of the mission. From watches contained garrotes (or lasers - or, indeed, whatever Q could fit in a timepiece) to perfume bottles that doubled as flamethrowers, each deadly new toy was meant to wow us. Maybe it did at the time but these sequences now are enjoyable in an entirely different way, adding to the dated camp that has become half the reason people watch old James Bond movies.

Videodrome

In retrospect, David Cronenberg's film, in which he predicted the melding of individuals and media and examined the possible effects that would have on our morality and politics, was quite prescient. But the decidedly non-high definition imagery broadcast on the Videodrome frequency don't bear any relation to the clean, crisp visions we receive now through our various screens. Not to mention the scene where the protagonist becomes one with a Betamax tape.

Wargames

Artificial intelligence has long been a science fiction staple but, in its pure form, it still exists somewhere down the road of time. Artificial sentiment, however, is at least as old as the movies. In Wargames, the two are blended when an intelligent computer system that is distant enough from humanity to view nuclear war as a game suddenly gives a shit about humanity when it realizes that game would kill us all. In this scenario, artificial intelligence exists, it's got control of our weapons and it possesses a bleeding heart.

The Wizard

Any kid who fell for The Wizard back in 1989 would be shocked to learn that videogame technology didn't stop with the advent of the Nintendo Power Glove. This astoundingly incompetent film treats the glove and other Nintendo products (including Super Mario Bros. 3, which had yet to be released when the movie came out) as if they were the culmination of videogame history, the peak of all that was and ever would be possible. These days, The Wizard, much like the Power Glove itself, can most likely be found on the bookshelf of a hipster, along with all the other ironic detritus of an over-stimulated childhood.

Back to the Future II

The makers of Back to the Future II have no-one but themselves to blame for how dated their film looks. There is no sense of imagination to be found anywhere among the movie's predictions of the year 2015. They simply took everything that existed in the late 1980's and exaggerated it. The result is every bit as garish as that sounds. The most hilarious and ironic example is the movie theater marquee, advertising Jaws 19, as though the filmmakers are completely unaware of a franchise's tendency to burn itself out in the space of just a couple of instalments - at a time when the Back to the Future series was already beginning to do just that.

Lawnmower Man

For a long time, filmmakers did not possess the visual language necessary to describe a virtual space. In fact, they probably still don't today but at least they've learned the lesson not to try. After Tron, one of the earliest attempts to achieve this was the unbelievably awful The Lawnmower Man, which can be described as Flowers for Algernon inside an animated MS Paint program. That's a pretty simple description, but The Lawnmower Man is a pretty simple movie.

Timecop

It's not that the special effects in Timecop are that bad. For 1994, they're about what you should expect. No, the problem with Timecop is much more specific than that. There was a brief time in the mid-90's - so brief that you might not have even noticed it if you were there - when minidiscs were the next logical step for audio consumption. Our phones and our computers kept getting smaller and more compact, so why not our CD's? The technological trend was clearly downward in size and would obviously always be thus. Well, within a year of the movie's release, the image of a slick businessman in the future reaching naturally for a minidisc to listen to whatever version of 90's rock was to be popular in the future was almost laughable. Then again, this was also a future where Jean Claude van Damme was still kicking ass.

Hackers

By the time the 1980's cyberpunk movement in literature made it to the cinema, it had naturally been dumbed down, aimed at teenagers and forced into standard Hollywood story conventions. The end result was Hackers, a film in which a group of good-looking teenagers practice a very safe form of techno-anarchy and combat a corporate enemy so sleazy, he's played by Fisher Stevens. With little to no attention paid to the serious damage angry people with computer skills can actually do (identity theft, national security breaches), the cardboard cut-out revolutionaries of this film instead make the TV stations play whatever they want. This movie is a perfect description of what a 10-year-old boy would do if he had unlimited powers.

The Net

When any new technology gains a foothold on our way of life, new fears are bound to come with it. To some extent, this is a good thing. Caution is never a bad idea. But when it's taken too far, one begins to sound like an old coot, gesticulating wildly with a cane while ranting about the young people today. That's what The Net is like. Sandra Bullock's Angela Bennett has become socially maladjusted, a shell of a real human being, because she communicates almost entirely through the internet. Of course, she learns the error of her ways when the internet - her best, best friend in the whole world - is so easily turned against her. It's easy to look back on some films and laugh because they didn't know what we know now, but the makers of The Net didn't even seem to know what they knew then.

Strange Days

It's not an uncommon notion that someday we will merge with our technology, becoming essentially cyborgs but without martial arts abilities. This idea was on display a lot at the beginning of the information age, in films like Johnny Mnemonic and Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days. Where Strange Days - actually a pretty good movie - goes wrong is in making the mistake of much science fiction work before: overestimating the rate of technological progress. The movie, which was made in 1995, presents the far-off year of 1999 as a proto-technodystopia where people trade discs of experiences, recorded directly from the cerebral cortex of individuals whose lives are more interesting than theirs. A whole lot has apparently happened, both in science and society at large, in a mere four years. At least the filmmakers had the restraint to leave out the flying cars.

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