How films of the past envisioned the future

Deutsche Welle
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A new exhibition in Berlin gives visitors the chance to discover how past visions of the future were shown on film. Inspired, DW film critic Jochen Kürten presents his five favorite visions of the future.
Over the years, passionate movie fans have built up their own collection of favorite films – each different from the rest. Those of us fascinated by science fiction movies have enjoyed a rich selection over the years, with the genre being almost as old as film history itself, not to mention quite diverse.

Some love “Star Wars,” while others prefer “Star Trek.” There are devotees of the weird sci-fiction films of the 1950s, even though many seem quite ridiculous nowadays, while others are more into the modern, digitally produced space epics. Inspired by the new Berlin exhibition “Things to Come” at the Deutsche Kinemathek Film and Television Museum, which runs until April 23, 2017, DW film critic Jochen Kürten has chosen his five favorite science fiction films.

‘Metropolis’ (1927)

It’s by no means obligatory to consider “Metropolis” the pinnacle of science fiction. It goes without saying that Fritz Lang’s silent classic is one of the most-referenced films in cinema history, and it continues to exert much influence on the world of film to this day. But despite being such an important work, “Metropolis” also remains an extremely entertaining movie. It looks to the future, but also tells a tale of the past.

“Metropolis” is both a melodrama and a crime thriller, a Freudian father-son conflict stuffed with social criticism. The towering buildings that make up its fantastic set are still strikingly original, even today. In addition, the story is told in such a highly complex and complicated way that viewers may end up forgetting some of the plot points and characters – which only gives it a high rewatchability factor, as there always seems to be something new to discovered.

‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968)

The narrative structure of this nearly 50-year-old space epic by director Stanley Kubrick continues to fascinate viewers, and makes his work seem tremendously modern. Almost no other director enriched the science fiction genre with such courage and audacity.

Weaving together ingredients like Stone Age man wandering around the steppe, a space station and abstract color sequences, Kubrick created a film that was both unpredictable, and yet dense. Added to that was a sensational soundtrack that continues to serve as a model for many filmmakers to this day.

“2001” is a monolith of film history that should preferably be watched on a huge screen. Those experiencing the film for the first time in such a setting might assume they’re on drugs – not least due to the psychedelic scenes in the movie’s final minutes.

‘Blade Runner’ (1982)

“Blade Runner” is almost as influential as “Metropolis” – hardly surprising, as it was inspired by Fritz Lang’s work. Like every good science fiction film, Ridley Scott’s masterwork contains many levels. The story of android-hunting (and possible android) Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, has a philosophical dimension to it. It asks fundamental questions about the nature of man, namely, do robots have souls?

That thorny question was later picked up by other filmmakers. But even more impressive than the story is the film’s cinematography. Scott chose to portray a future Los Angeles as a somber and overpopulated city, drowning in permanent rain, with its inhabitants under the constant manipulation of gigantic ad campaigns – surely one of the most fascinating settings in film history.

‘Gattaca’ (1997)

Though not quite as famous as the above-mentioned films, “Gattaca” should undoubtedly be seen as yet another milestone of the genre. The story of the “in-valid” Vincent (Ethan Hawke), a man conceived by his parents without the benefit of genetic engineering, shows remarkable foresight. The message is clear – this is what the future will be like! As in “Metropolis,” the plot deals with the idea of categorizing people into two groups, one “valuable” and one “second-rate.”

The film’s young director, Andrew Niccol, came from New Zealand all the way to Hollywood to create one of the saddest, most melancholic and visionary science fiction movies in film history. Viewers enchanted by the blue-tinted images of Polish cameraman Sławomir Idziak are likely to never forget them.

‘Ex Machina’ (2015)

Last year, British director Alex Garland, inspired by the visual and visionary power of “Gattaca,” released his take on the future. Like the ’90s classic, “Ex Machina” lures viewers into a highly individualistic and futuristic world, not so much dominated by aliens and spaceships, but rather humans, their dreams and nightmares.

The protagonist is a young programmer invited to the remote estate of an internet billionaire, where he meets the female android, Ava. Garland succeeded in turning the romantic encounter between a human and a robot into one of the most moving love stories in recent memory. It’s rare for moviegoers to come across such an enchanting character as Ava, superbly played by Danish actress – and recent Academy Award winner – Alicia Vikander.

The exhibition “Things to Come” at Berlin’s Film and Television Museum will run until April 23, 2017.

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