Journey back with us now, to an era that was more naïve, innocent and relatively free of mobile phones. Filmmakers of the '90s thought they were cynical bad boys and girls rocking out nihilistically to a Nirvana and Limp Bizkit soundtrack, but their idle wonderings on the nature of the times ahead are adorable in retrospect. Mostly. Some of them are terrifying. (But enough about 1998’s Lost In Space starring Matt LeBlanc.)
The Dark and Drearies
Everything is awful. For whatever reason – pandemic, off-world colonies, general cyberpunkiness – the future ain’t what it used to be.
12 Monkeys offers an escape to the past from these extremely Gilliamesque Victoriana surrounds…
Total Recall lets you change your face as well as your mindtanks…
But as for Johnny Mnemonic, the only way out is into a cyberspace that looks way cooler than the actual internet turned out to be.
But at least none of them are as terrifying as Event Horizon.
Well, except this dystopian vision that posits the Spice Girls as some kind of morally ambivalent, ubiquitous presence in an eternally twilit panopticon metropolis – a distaff Dark City.
The Bright and Shinies
Then there’s a peculiarly '90s aesthetic that makes everything look colourful, even when events aren’t as happy-go-lucky as you’d like to think the future will be. Sometimes that’s used as a counterpoint to a previous era of dark dreariness, as in Demolition Man, where they have to unthaw a primitive savage to defeat a primitive savage…
…and The Girl From Tomorrow, where Alana travels back from the bucolic year 3000 to battle circa-2500 villain and trashlord Silverthorn.
In other cases, it’s a specific vision from a creative team, as is the case with the Gallic coolness and uber-efficient multipasses of The Fifth Element, and the desert-bright Antipodean radness of Tank Girl, that has Ice-T playing a mutant kangaroo. What a decade.
Either way, it makes the future look like a nice place to be, doesn’t it? As long as someone explains how the shells work…
Is there going to be enough stuff for everyone in the future? You might think that’s a particularly 21st-century fear, given our fears about climate change, the ever-dwindling marine population and poisoned rivers. But it's so retro, 'cos the '90s were all about scarcity.
Generally, though, they posited this state of affairs as the result of war rather than entrenched political and economic powers. And they also tended to be less down on baby boomers than we are…
Sometimes the war was a second American Civil War that spawned 'badass' blondes, a la Barb Wire.
Sometimes it was one we lost against machines, like in The Matrix or Terminator 2: Judgment Day – both of which were totally our fault for trusting Siri, Alexa and that adorable Google Home Mini.
Sometimes we lost because Kevin Costner was involved, as was the case with both The Postman and Waterworld. (Okay fine, it was environmental collapse that caused Waterworld’s sorry state of affairs, not a war, but it was worth it for the unnecessary shot at KC.)
Other People are Better than You-sies
The '90s was a decade deep in thought about the various inequalities of the planet, and concerned that they might one day apply on a whole different scale.
That’s where we get the state-mandated eugenics of Gattaca
…and the robo-racism of Bicentennial Man creating a new underclass of Robin Williamses.
It’s all about the West Coast-ies
And now we come to the prognosticator of prognosticators. The only one to successfully predict the future we’d all be living in after his untimely demise: Tupac Shakur.
The Fifth Element is screening multiple times from midday on Sunday, 5 May on SBS VICELAND