Yogi Berra once said that it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future. That hasn’t stopped a slew of science-fiction movies and TV shows from trying though. And just as Yogi warned us, they don’t always get it right.
For instance, does anyone remember the "Eugenics Wars"?
They were the product of a bunch of genetically altered supermen led by Khan Noonien Singh that took over the world before being cryogenically frozen and blasted into deep space on a ship called the S.S. Botany Bay.
According to a 1966 episode of the original “Star Trek” TV series, all of this happened prior to 1996. We might have forgotten about that if Ricardo Montalban hadn’t mentioned it again in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Of course, that movie came out in 1982, so it still allowed 14 years for these genetically altered supermen to get their act together.
But alas, 1996 came and went with no sign of Khan and his minions, let alone the technology to freeze people and exile them off the planet. When J.J. Abrams brought Khan back in last year’s “Star Trek Into Darkness," he blithely glossed over Khan’s improbable 20th century origins. It seems nobody wants to admit they made a mistake.
Or consider “Back to the Future II.” Released in 1989, that movie followed a time-travelling Marty McFly to a fictional October 2015 where cars fly, skateboards hover and lawyers are abolished. Here in the real world, we’re less than a year and a half away from Marty’s scheduled arrival, yet there’s no sign of flying cars and there are more lawyers than ever. And while there have been several recent attempts to produce an actual hoverboard like the one seen in the film, it seems unlikely that a working prototype will be produced prior to the 2015 deadline.
So what does Hollywood do when confronted with its record of bad predictions? It keeps making more of them.
This year alone, filmed forecasts are thick on the ground. “Divergent,” a story of a future Chicago where an oppressive government herds people into groups and hunts down individualists, came out in March. Now in theaters, “Edge of Tomorrow” gives us Tom Cruise battling alien invaders who arrive within the next decade or so. And “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” will be released next month to tell the story of how the earth will soon come to be ruled by chimpanzees. Maybe simian domination really is just a few years away, but I’m not holding my breath.
In all seriousness, I recognize how foolish it is to expect any of these scenarios to come true. “Star Trek” and “Planet of the Apes” aren’t documentaries, and there’s no shame in telling a compelling fictional story that imagines a world that doesn’t line up with the real one. What’s interesting to me, however, is that almost all of the Hollywood guesses that missed the mark predicted a future that was considerably worse than the one that arrived.
The world has seen several brutal wars since 1996, but nothing on the scale of what Khan was supposed to have wrought. Mel Gibson’s “Mad Max” movies predicted a nuclear war a few years after 1979, but we’re still waiting for the real apocalypse over 30 years later. It’s also been three decades since “1984,” but George Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare hasn’t come to pass, either.
This is a good thing, and it provides fuel for optimism. After all, if movies have been this spectacularly wrong about how bad things will be, then we have every reason to expect the future to be better than anyone could imagine.
I’d still like a flying car, though.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.