December 21, 2007

What Happened To The Future?

So, I'm going to do something a little different with this particular post. This time, I'm actively seeking your opinions.

But first, of course, comes MY opinion. :-)

I think this particular train of thought started for me after watching the special features on the anniversary DVD for Ridley Scott's Alien. In an interview with the original screenwriter, Dan O'Bannon, he mentioned that he drew from a number of influences for inspiration for that story. In particular, a wild '60's Italian sci-fi film called "Planet of The Vampires" by Mario Bava, and "Strange Relations" a collection of short stories about the, shall we say, complications created by human/extraterrestrial sexual intercourse by sci-fi novelist Philip Jose Farmer.

At one point, O'Bannon was also involved in Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt in the mid 70's to adapt Frank Herbert's "Dune" for the screen, and had actually been trying to adapt "Total Recall" from Philip K. Dick's short story, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" with Ron Shussett at least since they worked on "Alien".

What really struck me was that O'Bannon had drawn on an incredibly diverse body of written work in science fiction for his films and, as such, had helped usher in a real renaissance of sci-fi films: really original, groundbreaking ideas coupled with major studio-scale budgets for films aimed at adults as opposed to just more expensive Saturday morning cartoons like the original Star Wars.

Fast forward to a month or so ago, when I finally got to see the remastered version of "Blade Runner" on the big screen. And, as beautiful as that film is to behold, I was suddenly aware that Blade Runner represented a somewhat sad milestone, because virtually every sci-fi film that's been made ever since seems like it occupies the same world as "Blade Runner". It's like, it's so amazing, that everybody decided they weren't interested in exploring any new worlds anymore - this one will do just fine.

Consider for a moment why the original "Star Trek" has managed to survive for 40 years, but why "Enterprise" died a painful death: Roddenberry was creating and exploring a totally new world, while "Enterprise" was simply retracing the lines on a masterpiece.

Personally, I find this trend of "inhabiting" instead of "exploring", bleeds over into all sorts of genres & mediums. As Mark Millar stated recently, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby were introducing a new world, or dimension, or race in almost every issue of their 100 issue run on "Fantastic Four" during the late 60's, but most of the writers who've followed them on those books have simply found new ways to recombine the same elements that Stan & Jack created rather than adding to the pantheon. Someone once argued that George Lucas should open up the licensing for "Star Wars" so that other filmmakers can tell stories in the world he created (as opposed to creating their own worlds). And, aside from perhaps "The Dark Tower", who has recently written anything that can actually be considered legitimate fantasy that doesn't look like just another province in Tolkien's Middle Earth?

What's curious to me is that, particularly in the realm of comics, most prominent American writers are more than happy to reuse & repackage old superhero stories & characters, while the Brits like Moore, Millar, Grant Morrison, & Warren Ellis seem much more willing to throw something new and crazy out there (e.g. We3, The Filth, Invisibles, Ocean, Ministry of Space, etc.)

But what really drove the point home to me was the latest segment in Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen": "The Black Dossier". Moore just floods the story with sci-fi, fantasy, and pop culture figures from the turn of the century, and it's just a world teeming with life and new ideas. At the beginning of the modern scientific age, it seemed as if nearly everyone had an idea of what was possible and just let their imaginations run wild.

So, I have two questions:
1. has the technology advanced so far that, as William Gibson suggested at the time he released "Pattern Recognition", we now actually live in a sci-fi world, so there's no more room to imagine a big future? (Personally, I think that's a load of B.S., but I'm open to hear arguments to the contrary)

2. Where are the new, big ideas of the future coming from now? Are there books or magazines that I'm overlooking?

Consider this an open discussion. So, wherever you happen to see this post (email, macroscope, facebook, or myspace) feel free to comment or pontificate out loud.

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