Jul 6, 2005

George Lucas Wrestling A Bear In A Wading Pool Full Of Peanut Oil For A Box Of Zingers

That's how I view science-fiction's view of the future versus real life.

No, not really, but it's a nice visual, isn't it.

I watched an utterly wonderful show last night on TCM called "Watch The Skies: Sci-Fi, the 1950's And Us." It was an hour-long documentary on the massive rush of science fiction movies of the 50's that were seeded by a World War and the discovery and use of atomic power, and the fears of the public that were brought to the screen by visionary and not so visionary directors and actors. The finest part was that instead of having a sound bite by three dozen different people they instead focused on four of the biggest movers and shakers in the science-fiction film field: Ridley Scott, George Lucas, Stephen Speilberg, and James Cameron, and let these visionaries talk quite frankly and quite extensively about the effect the 50's Drive-In Sci-Fi Double Feature had on them, and how it shaped their visions.

Quite the treat, and while I don't have TCM's programming guide handy I would certainly suggest you check out their website and see when it next plays, because it's well worth watching, even if you're not a big fan of space ships and bug eyed monsters.

I don't recall which director it was who brought up the point of 50's space ships vs reality, but those ships have always been a particular interest of mine. In the 50s and even further back, space ships were always these gleaming chrome bullets pointed at the Unknown, with beautiful pure blue plumes of flame out the back end and up front was a control room that looked remarkably comfortable and roomy, and was filled with pipe-smoking lantern-jawed 100% pure Americans with steely eyes and clear vision, always on the lookout for a planet-full of smoldering-eyed busty alien women and some leering, lumpy aliens to shoot full of .45 caliber holes.

When I was a very young Irrelephant I can remember pretty much existing in the library at school. I recall very fondly a book series called, euphemistically, "The How And Why Wonder Books." My very favourite, after the Nature Book was "The How And Why Wonder Book of Robots." It was a huge thing, very thin but about two feet tall and a foot and a half wide, and was filled with artist's conceptions and sketches of how Robots Might Be In The Future. And I'm certain there were fairly realistic and non-idealised robots in there, the ones that assemble cars and work in nuculear plants in places where flesh cannot go, but I could never tear my eyes from the polished chrome Service Robots, the mechanical men that duplicated us just enough that we could be comfortable with them without mistaking them for human, the sort of Frankensteinian robot that has made appearances in every sort and ilk of movie since film was used.

Looking back then, and looking forward to today, I cannot help but feel a little pang of regret. In the heady days of the 1970's (and probably earlier, as the book was even then long in the tooth,) robots were going to be magnificent giants astride the Earth, carrying along their frail flesh cargos to greater and greater goals. In reality, robots surround us everywhere; they work in our factories assembling cars faster and more uniformly than any man could, they dispense medications in hospitals, they follow train tracks checking for defects and flaws, they perform a thousand and one menial tasks all around, and do so without gleaming glass eyes and curled antennae, much less prehensile tentacles.

And spacecraft are not the gleaming lawn darts with luxurious cabins that served as John Agar and Lloyd Bridge's fiery steeds, nor are they the perfectly round anti-gravity Flying Saucers that Leslie Neilson piloted as a young hero in "Forbidden Planet." No, in reality they are sort of fat, ceramic-covered monochrome Lear Jets, a little dumpy in the wings, and have just about enough room up front for five crewmembers and a can of green peas. Space suits are not excitingly form-fitted silver bodysuits, either, nor day-glow coloured, and we have yet to find a planet-full of excitingly full-bodied alien women who have never met a man before and who perform erotic dance moderne ballets for our entertainment.

But, the thing to remember, for me, is that we ARE in the future. Those far-away visionary dreams have come true, just not exactly in the form we first envisioned. We just hit a relatively tiny comet with an incredibly small sattelite probe several millions miles out in space, and flights to and from The Great Void happen with such regularity that they're barely even mentioned in the news anymore, unless an accident occurs. No, our future isn't gleaming chrome and roomy space liners, but like The Amazing Creskin said: "Are you interested in the future? You should be, because that's where you're going to spend the rest of your life!"

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