Present is precedent when it comes to envisioning our digital future in big screen sci-fi and futuristic action films. Guided by an imperative that props must be believable to audiences in the context of today’s culture and technology, writers and prop designers are much too conservative in envisioning a future that will be radically different from today’s. Their conceptions are often times visually radically, and yet at the same time functionally anachronistic – a phone is something you hold to your head, we receive information through visors and displays that look like flashier versions of today’s screens, etc.
Familiarity is essential to some extent. It’s like a Broadway actor flamboyantly acting out emotions with exaggerated facial gestures and body language to convey what would be a subtle expression in real life. Similarly, the retro-future technologies featured in so many sci-fi films give the audience a necessary hook to accept a futuristic vision or identify the role of a prop without stumbling over it. The technique is successful as a narrative device, but it inhibits our ability to collectively imagine the wild possibilities before us – possibilities that will trend toward the magical while being increasingly invisible (thus not making for good film).
Twenty years ago