Elysium and Science Fiction Films that Hate Science and Technology

I haven’t seen Elysium yet, but Ryan Britt’s article “Our Science Fiction Movies Hate Science Fiction” is interesting nonetheless:

Ripping off the heads of robots like a sweaty space-age cyberpunk Robin Hood, Matt Damon is delivering future-social-justice this week in Elysium.

Alright, so what does this have to do with anti-science-fiction? As Britt writes:

But the vast majority of science fiction films—even the very best of them—still see the SF, the tech, the speculative concept, as the antagonist of the film.

And that is the heart of the matter. As he says about Elysium:

Elysium could have been poised to change that simply by virtue of the fact Matt Damon is using an SF creation—a super-powered robot exoskeleton—to fight science fiction: a space station dream paradise which allows the rich to forget about the rest of us. This is a gorgeous set-up, but it’s all there is: then it becomes every Iron Man, two guys in super-powered suits hitting each other.

ELYSIUM (2012)

ELYSIUM (2013)

I’ve noticed these unsettling, often grotesquely simplified, anti-technology displays myself; my only disagreement with Britt is his claim that this is a recent phenomenon. I kept a list several years ago of science fiction all films involving artificial intelligence and/or robots. The list was intended to span all decades of film. There were two categories of how a piece of technology was used in the narrative: in a positive role to humankind or the universe, or in a negative role. It seems to me that film has always had a mix of thoughtful future building vs. the future as an enemy. The list is pasted below.

Britt also ignores recent films which in the future tech was not evil (or at least not the only evil). The first Iron Man movie contains one of the best film depictions of engineering development, but apparently all Britt noticed was guys in super-powered suits hitting each other. Aren’t there any films recently that are “serious” about science and/or technology? Of course there are, such as Computer Chess. Indeed, Britt mentions others such as Moon. So the real problem is revealed—it’s not that thoughtful and pro-tech films don’t exist anymore, it’s just that they are “in the shadow of” bigger budget efforts.

Point of No Return

Although many standard plots include a point of no return for the main character, the fictional world itself can return. Science fiction is best when the world is changed—and never goes back. A lot of science fiction films cheat us by going back to normal at the end. That is the one major infraction of most of Michael Crichton’s techno-thrillers.

The List of AI Use in Film

Note this has not been updated since 2005. It should probably also include artificial creature films such as The Golem and Frankenstein.

In a positive role to humankind or the universe:

  • Tobor the Great
  • Forbidden Planet
  • THX1138
  • Alien
  • Star Wars Trilogies
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy [miniseries]
  • Knight Rider [TV] (AI car)
  • Bladerunner
  • Aliens
  • The Last Starfighter (the beta unit)
  • 2010: Odyssey Two
  • Electric Dreams
  • D.A.R.Y.L.
  • Short Circuit
  • Flight of the Navigator
  • Space Camp
  • The Transformers Movie
  • Max Headroom [TV]
  • Space Balls
  • Little Wonder [TV]
  • Robocop and sequels (cyborg)
  • *batteries not included
  • Cherry 2000
  • Short Circuit 2
  • Cyborg
  • Robot Jox
  • Total Recall (Johnny Cab)
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Edward Scissorhands (not a robot, but a golem-like artificial human)
  • Star Trek VII and sequels
  • Alien Resurrection
  • Lost in Space
  • Iron Giant
  • Bicentennial Man
  • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Spider-man (powered armor)
  • Minority Report (spider recon bots)
  • Payday (has a real industrial robot)
  • The Matrix Reloaded (some automated technology is shown as necessary to human life)
  • The Animatrix (some of the robots are helpful to humankind)
  • The Matrix Revolutions (the mechs)
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
  • Spider-man 2 (neuro-computer interface with robotic arms)
  • Robot Stories
  • I, Robot
  • Robots
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

In a negative role to humankind or the universe:

  • Metropolis
  • The Colossus of New York
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • Gog
  • The Invisible Boy
  • Dr. Who [movies and TV] (Daleks)
  • Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine
  • Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution
  • Barbarella
  • 2001: A Space Odysey
  • Colossus: The Forbin Project
  • The Stepford Wives
  • Westworld
  • Future World
  • Demon Seed
  • Terminator
  • Moontrap
  • Slipstream
  • Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam
  • Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • The Lawnmower Man
  • Eve of Destruction
  • A.P.E.X.
  • Ghost in the Machine
  • Screamers
  • Judge Dredd
  • Virus
  • Star Trek VIII
  • A Life Less Ordinary
  • Austin Powers and sequels (fembots)
  • The Matrix
  • The Matrix Reloaded
  • The Animatrix
  • The Matrix Revolutions
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
  • Spy Kids movies (not sure, I haven’t seen these)
  • Tomo [short film]
  • Spider-man 2 (neuro-computer interface with robotic arms)
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

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