Friday Five: Dystopian Science FictionBy Peter SM Fri, August 9, 2013
Elysium, the latest entry into the dystopian sci-fi film cannon, is set in the year 2154 where the disparity between the rich and the poor is literally larger than ever--the rich live on a floating space station (named "Elysium", natch!) in luxury with no crime or disease, while the poor live on an overpopulated, crime and poverty-riddled Earth with widespread disease and hunger. Matt Damon plays the one-man-can-make-a-difference protagonist here and with the help of a d.i.y. scrap-metal exo-skeleton and some techie hacker friends, he's going to try and save what's left of the human race and bring equality to the polarized worlds of Earth and Elysium.
Elysium is the newest film from writer and director Neil Blomkamp, who in 2009 came out of nowhere and reinvigorated the sci-fi genre with the low budget but high concept District 9. The movie was also rooted in a dystopian alternate reality, dealing with the issues of xenophobia and social segregation, where aliens descend on Johannesburg, South Africa and the government confines them to an internment camp outside the city. The independent, outside the studio system film was lauded for its creative special fx but also for its character development and innovative, intelligent story. District 9 received four Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture, as well as seven British Academy Film Awards nominations, five Broadcast Film Critics Association nominations, and one Golden Globe nomination.
Here is a Friday Five of dystopian science fiction films available from our online catalog.
Blade Runner (1982)
Loosely based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner is one of the quintessential modern dystopian sci-fi films. The neo noir thriller is set in a neon filled and always raining Los Angeles of the future where genetically engineered organic robots called "replicants" (visually indistinguishable from humans) are manufactured by a powerful mega-corporation for work on off-world colonies. Replicants are not permitted on Earth and those who defy the ban are hunted down by police known as "Blade Runners". Cantankerous Harrison Ford is at his best in this film as expert Blade Runner Rick Deckard, and the final showdown with him and replicant on the run Rutger Hauer is cinematic perfection.
They Live (1988)
No list of dystopian sci-fi films would be complete without at least ONE John Carpenter film. They Live takes the premise of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and swaps out cold war paranoia for mind control, subliminal messages, and mass consumerism. A down on his luck drifter named "Nada" (played by wrestling icon Rowdy Roddy Piper!) discovers a pair of special sunglasses that allow him to see that the world's politicians and leaders are really aliens, concealing their appearances and motives for world domination with subliminal signals broadcasting from TV stations. It all sounds a bit silly, but the movie is actually fairly intelligent with its commentary on advertising and the media.
The Hunger Games (2012)
Based on the best-selling YA series by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games takes place in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem in North America. The Hunger Games themselves are an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12–18 from each of the twelve districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle to the death. Collins has said that the novels in her universe "tackle issues like severe poverty, starvation, oppression, and the effects of war among others." The next installment in the series, Catching Fire, is slated for theaters in November 2013.
Written and directed by Mike Judge (of Beavis and Butt-head infamy), Idiocracy is a hilariously brutal satire of a future where anti-intellectualism is the norm and the world is devoid of any intellectual curiosity, social responsibility, or any semblance of a sane society. Quite possibly the scariest dystopian future anyone could think of!
"Beyond 1984. Beyond 2001. Beyond Love. Beyond Death." That was the tagline on the poster for Sean Connery's post-apocalyptic head trip of a film, Zardoz. To say this film is out there is an understatement! There are a number of themes trying to be dealt with in the film: immortality, genetic manipulation, artificial intelligence, time travel, psychic power, immortal deities and god figures, and the end of civilization as we know it. There is also a giant, floating stone head that talks. And I don't want to give away the big reveal / twist, but let's just say that no one in this film is in Kansas anymore.
The science fiction genre isn't just about robots or aliens or time travel (although those are all cool and fun things to immerse ourselves in as readers : )
At its best, science fiction can be used as social commentary, focusing on political or controversial issues of the day, and hopefully explore and discuss solutions to the problems we face as a society.
Clearly the above film recommendations are not an exhaustive or complete list.
You can browse our online catalog using search terms like "science fiction", "dystopias", "time travel", and "extraterrestrial beings", to name just a few.
We also recommend you check out this great Online Exhibition devoted entirely to science fiction, including all kinds of different sci-fi sub-genre's in literature and film!
Leave a comment and let us know some of your favorite science fiction authors, books, and movies!