Evolution of science fiction in Films from the 1970s to Present Day
Aims and Objectives 4
Science fiction covers a broad genre of hypothetical fiction which has defined many films and games, including ‘Cyberpunk 2077’, ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Frankenstein’. It is generally defined by futuristic concepts such as time travel, space exploration and extraterrestrial life.
Figure 1. Famous image captured from the first science fiction film ‘Le Voyage Dans La Lune’ (Méliès, 2013).
Many films have been categorized as science fiction throughout the years, with ‘Le Voyage Dans la Lune’ (‘A Trip to the Moon’) being one of the first known science fiction films to be created. In this revolutionary film, a group of astronomers listen to their professor’s plan to fly to the Moon. Six men travel to the Moon in a large bullet-shaped vessel and encounter hostile alien life before retreating to Earth and celebrating their voyage (Le Voyage Dans la Lune, 1902).
Since 1902, many advancements have taken place within society, which has, in turn, impacted the way that science fiction is portrayed in films. Technology that was predicted in the 1970s has already been invented, counting artificial intelligence and biometric scans. As a result, modern science fiction films endeavour to predict future technology, which is often assumed to include devices resembling advanced AI and robotics (Standage, 2020).
In this dissertation, investigations will be completed into various science fiction films from the 1970s and how their portrayal of technology compares to recent films in the 2010s. Through investigations, the goal is to research how science fiction has evolved over the past fifty years and what might have caused these changes.
- Observe elements of science fiction from the 1970s to present-day to discover how it has evolved over the years.
- Understand what factors have affected the change in science fiction films throughout the years.
- Examine technological advancements in the past fifty years and how that has impacted perceptions regarding futuristic technology.
- Gather and analyse data on how science fiction technology has been imagined and perceived from 1970s films to present-day films.
- Research what technology was available in the 1970s compared to the 2010s and how that influenced predictions of future technology.
- Explore past predictions of future technology compared to current equipment and comprehend its impact on contemporary science fiction.
Technological advancements from old science fiction films to recent science fiction films have been caused by many factors, but an important factor is the evolution of existing technology in the past fifty years. From the 1960s to 1978 (the year that ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ was published), many futuristic devices that had previously been featured on the television series had been invented, including automatic doors, touch screens, and personal communication devices (PediaPress, 2012). Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the ‘Star Trek’ series, requested that ‘Star Trek’ technology be based on scientific fact to be more believable. As a result, ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ accepted consultancy from NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology, and former astronaut and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov to make the technology seem plausible (PediaPress, 2012). Jesco von Puttkamer, a scientist provided by NASA, worked as an advisor to the film reviewing the technical parts of the script and suggesting alterations to establish credible science fiction elements (PediaPress, 2012). By accepting assistance from knowledgeable people, ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ contained feasible technology based on science, allowing it to withstand the test of time as technology became more advanced in real life. Interestingly, various fictional elements in ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ have been invented in the present day, involving biometric scans and smartwatches, providing evidence that the science used in the film revolved around scientific facts. Despite these advancements, the crew aboard the Enterprise still use Communicators which are reminiscent of flip-screen phones invented in the late 1980s, which are now uncommon and generally outdated.
Figure 2. Mobile communication platform from ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ which resembles a Smartwatch (King, 2015).
As ‘Star Trek’ already established which technology exists in the universe at the beginning of its television series, ‘Star Trek: Beyond’ (which was released in 2016) maintains the same technology as it did decades ago, however new equipment is available today which can replicate the equipment in a more cost-effective and time-saving way than before, one of these is the use of improved CGI (computer-generated imagery). Modern films often use CGI to generate lifelike components which cannot be replicated in real life, much like dinosaurs, cyborgs, and holograms (Abbott, 2006). Contemporary films can explain specific technical elements in greater detail due to scientific discoveries, for example, artificial gravity has remained the subject of research by scientists in the past few decades. As a result of these investigations, scientists have discovered that artificial gravity is plausible through a combination of rotating rooms and short-arm centrifuges; devices in which the astronaut lays down while the machine spins, recreating the effects of gravity (Young, 1999).
Figure 3. Holographic Starfleet datapad in ‘Star Trek: Beyond’ (TrekCore, 2016).
Figure 4. Updated bridge appearance in ‘Star Trek: Beyond’ (TrekCore, 2016).
Figure 5. Classic bridge design from ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ (Kline, 2016).
Many of the noticeable differences between ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ and ‘Star Trek: Beyond’, is visual. For instance, the bridge was redesigned to include more blue hues and holographic screens compared to the older film, which generally appears duller with little to no holographic tablets and screens. Part of the reasoning behind this change is linked to the advancements of computer-generated imagery, which has provided a simpler way to generate realistic artificial technology compared to the matte painting techniques used in the 1970s (Hall, 2012). ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ generated special effects in a variety of ways, including replicating a transporter malfunction by hiding steel wool inside of a console with an arc welder attached to create a spark (PediaPress, 2012). Effects created with these methods were effective and realistic, but dangerous as a few actors and actresses were burned because of the chemicals used in the scenes (PediaPress, 2012).
Another method was matte painting, which involved physically painting on a pane of glass between the camera and the environment to create a fantastical environment which could not be found in real life (Mattingly, 2011). This method was cheaper than building each necessary prop but placed the matte painter under immense pressure to complete the painting quickly so that the scene could be filmed (Mattingly, 2011).
Figure 6. Diagram of how matte paintings were created (Mattingly, 2011).
In contrast to the older films, ‘Star Trek: Beyond’ uses much more computer-generated imagery and digital painting to create the special effects instead of matte painting and utilising real chemicals (Richards, 2013). An advantage of these modern techniques is that they are cheaper and easier to generate, but some fans express that the new methods remove the novelty from the old hand-painted scenes (Richards, 2013).
Robots and artificial intelligence are components which have been incorporated in science fiction films and adapted over the past fifty years. Renowned mathematician and scientist, Alan Turing, invented the Turing test in 1950 intended to determine whether or not a machine is capable of thought similar to a human (Saygin, et al., 2000). While there are multiple adaptations of the assessment, the prevailing test involves a person (the evaluator) communicating through textual messages with another human and a machine, both of which attempt to appear human, before estimating which one is the computer. If the evaluator cannot reliably predict which one is artificial, the machine passes the test (Saygin, et al., 2000). After being incorrectly identified as a human by 33% of the judges in 2014, the Turing test was passed by Eugene Goostman; a conversation bot masquerading as a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy (O'Carroll, 2014). According to the Turing test, Eugene Goostman displayed intelligence by deceiving humans (Saygin, et al., 2000). Similar intelligence has been portrayed in science fiction films, including ‘War of the Robots’ (1978) which includes antagonistic humanoid robots. Despite being intelligent creations capable of combat and conversation, they are effortlessly distinguishable from organic life caused by their mechanical movements and dialogue, presenting evidence that they would fail the Turing test (Ishida & Chiba, 2017). Unlike the robots in ‘War of the Robots’, V’Ger is a machine, in ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’, which evolved from a satellite named Voyager Six to achieve consciousness after amassing a significant amount of knowledge.
Figure 7. A photograph from behind the scenes of ‘Star Trek: Beyond’ which features a green screen (Baker, 2016).
Figure 8. The Robot Army in ‘War of The Robots’ (Borntreger, 2010).
The key differences include V’Ger being reprogrammed by other machines and evolving, whereas the mechanical men in ‘War of the Robots’ provide no evidence of free thought or capabilities to evolve.
Being efficient in combat, advanced weapons are used in ‘War of the Robots’, including laser blasters, Imperium Swords, and stun weapons. Such ordinances are comparable to the technology in ‘Star Trek’, in which stun and laser guns are used as weaponry. Over the past fifty years, laser weapons have already been invented after decades of research. Although it is an experimental weapon, the US Navy presented a ship-mounted laser firearm in 2014 named LaWS that could target small boats (Extance, 2015). As technology from science fiction films become reality, such as laser weapons and artificial intelligence, the movies seem more convincing.
In contrast to ‘War of the Robots’, the Netflix science fiction film ‘I Am Mother’ showcases a robot with the potential to excel in the Turing test. Although ‘Mother’ was created to protect humanity, she took the initiative to build a new world with ethical humans despite deceiving humans herself, indicating that she is capable of free thought. Since the Turing test largely revolves around machines convincing people that they are human, it is evident that the Mother would do well in the test due to her deceptiveness. As an advanced robot designed to preserve humanity, she has devices which assist her in raising children, including heating panels (to keep the baby warm), portable lullaby songs in her wrist, and a built-in scanner (to detect danger). Similar care robots are being investigated to assist elderly people in daily life, for instance aiding them in standing up or summoning assistance in the case of an accident (Sorell & Draper, 2014). Although these robotics are primitive in comparison to Mother, these care robots support the legitimacy behind the technology presented in ‘I Am Mother’ due to realistic advancements.
Figure 9. Mother (the robot) in ‘I Am Mother’ (Robertson, 2019).
Even though Mother performs a different function in contrast to the robot army in ‘War of the Robots’, there are other robots in ‘I Am Mother’ which form an army. Every droid in ‘I Am Mother’ shares the same consciousness, but comprise of different bodies, although the army mainly consists of duplicate units. Wielding miniguns with laser sights, they are an intimidating army which is highly efficient in warfare. Compared with the machines in ‘War of the Robots’, the droids in ‘I Am Mother’ appear considerably less human on account of their metallic frames, although they are still bipedal. Contrasting techniques were used in each movie to create the robot models. In ‘I Am Mother’, the robot was 3D modelled using digital software in addition to being assembled and positioned on a human actor, ensuing a blend of real and CGI elements being combined to present a lifelike automaton (Weta Workshop, 2019). Juxtaposed to ‘I Am Mother’, the mechanical men in ‘War of the Robots’ are created through men wearing identical wigs and outfits. Since computer-generated imagery has considerably improved since the 1970s, ‘I Am Mother’ had the necessary technology to generate several duplicates of the same droid in a time-saving and cheap method whereas the necessary CGI was not available during the production of ‘War of the Robots’ (Turnock, 2015), resulting in the use of multiple actors to create the army.
Figure 10. Droid army in ‘I Am Mother’ (Guraziu, 2017).
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