RCL Exclusive

Why Sci-Fi Gets Everything Wrong

Hollywood’s crystal balls are cracked.

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I want my rollerball.

I mean, according to Hollywood, this was supposed to be the sport’s peak year. And if you’ve never caught a game, let me tell you, it’s pretty terrific. The fast-paced competition has two teams on a circular track, chasing a ball – fired from a cannon, no less. Players are on motorcycles or skates. Gloves and helmets are studded. Lethal attacks are only mildly discouraged.

And back in 1975, when the first Rollerball movie came out, with James Caan – the less said about the 2002 remake with Chris Klein the better – it said that by 2018, the futuristic game would be an international sensation, the perfect combination of male rage, vicarious violence, slick sadism and heartless corporate ownership.

So how come it’s not on ESPN?

Face it: Hollywood does a lot of things badly, but there’s absolutely nothing it does worse than predicting the future.

For more proof, ask yourself why there isn’t anyone showing a new episode of The Running Man show, with pro wrestler Professor Tanaka hunting down Arnold Schwarzenegger? According to the 1987 movie, that run-for-your-life reality series was going to be must-see TV in 2017. Of course, it was also going to end up getting cancelled – pretty violently, too – but you’d think at least Bravo would still be showing repeats a year later.

And seriously, what about the hoverboards? Back to the Future Part II promised me those levitating gizmos by 2015. (They also said the Chicago Cubs would win the 2015 World Series, and they were only a little off, there.) Or 2001: A Space Odyssey, which said we’d discover intelligent life in outer space by the beginning of the 21st century? We’re already nearly two decades into the new millennium, and I’m not sure we’ve even discovered intelligent life on earth.

That said, movie makers’ inability to see clearly into the future can be a good thing. I’m pretty happy that, while it’s unaffordable, Manhattan hasn’t become the completely unlivable prison Escape from New York said it would be by 1997. Our police officers are still a little more human than the original RoboCop, which was due to start clanking around by 2015. And, while 2022 is a mere four years away, we haven’t yet been reduced to eating real Soylent Green. (Although someone with a sick sense of humor does sell various Soylent products online now, including a chocolate-flavored powder that’s “perfect for smoothies.”)

So, yeah, some movies were a little premature in their grim predictions of all-out environmental apocalypse and worldwide political collapse. On the other hand, it’s not as if we can’t see any of that on the horizon. And really, a lot of the things Hollywood has gotten right – well, they’re nothing to be happy about.

We may not be able to unwind at the milk bar, for example, washing down our synthemesc with a glass of moloko plus, but the crumbling, gang-ridden subsidized housing of A Clockwork Orange – set in 1995 – pockmarks every big city. Sexy replicants probably won’t be here by 2019, as predicted – sorry, Pris, you looked like serious fun – but this sure felt like a Blade Runner summer of gridlocked streets, constant rain and clothes-plastering heat.

Meanwhile, in an era of “alternative facts” and “fake news” – well, although it took its own sweet time getting here, we’re finally living in a society that was due back in 1984 (even if Big Brother is a little less obvious, watching us through search histories and GPS). And as for the patriarchal, birth-first fascism of The Handmaid’s Tale – well, the unspecified “near future” that little dystopia is set in seems nearer every day.

So although old Hollywood’s version of our present is usually negative and often wrong – really, where are all those flying cars? — occasionally it gets things right. Which means, for now I’m going to try and concentrate on their happier predictions.

Honestly, I hope I don’t have to wait all the way until 2084 for the fake-memory vacations of Total Recall, or for the 2173 of Sleeper to find out that tobacco’s good for me (but I should stay away from health food). And can’t we just speed up things by three hundred years or so, and get into the Star Trek world of the 24th century?

Seriously, a real, global space force made up of international and interplanetary colleagues working together to spread peace and advance knowledge? That actually sounds OK, even if their clunky communicators do look pretty sad next to a new iPhone. (Those transporter beams would make commuting a lot easier, though.) I want this future and I want it now.

On the other hand, if someone could find a way to indefinitely stall the no-one-lives-over-30 edicts of Logan’s Run, said to be in place by 2500 A.D. – or the monkey business of Planet of the Apes, scheduled for 3978, give or take a few generations — that’s just fine. Nobody’s looking forward to that, although at least we’re a little prepared now. Knowing what we do, we should still be able to rewrite at least a little bit of the future.

Even if the Idiocracy predicted for 2505 seems to have already arrived way ahead of schedule.