Sunday, September 3

Streamathon - Dystopian Futures (September 2017)


September 2017 – Dystopian Futures

Preface: This is part of an ongoing blog series of curated movie marathons that are thematically or otherwise tied together. The other common factor tying these films together will be their availability to watch them all from the comfort of your own home on various streaming platforms. The goal is that writing this blog will somehow justify the excessive number of streaming platforms I subscribe to. The films will be found on some combination of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Mubi, FilmStruck, and/or Fandor. These titles will be available for the month that the blog is published. All of these subscriptions offer free trials so feel free to dive in and follow along… Have fun. Just don’t message me for my login information.

By. Emery Martin-Snyder

DYSTOPIAN FUTURES – This is probably my favorite sub-genre of science fiction. On the surface, these stories are often flourished with futuristic technologies and gadgets. But underneath, these are really just cautionary tales meant to inspire the public to question the powers that be. Many of these films could be considered “Orwellian”, a reference to George Orwell’s masterpiece novel 1984. Plenty of other authors have taken on this theme as well; Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, H.G. Wells and William Gibson have all contributed seminal literature. My favorite of the lot is actually a novel published about 17 years prior to Orwell’s book. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World gave us a view of a future in which the public is not overtly oppressed by a heavy handed government, but rather complicit in its own subjugation. He envisioned a future far too preoccupied with sex and pop culture to concern itself with civil liberties, government atrocities, corruption or collusions. I think the present day has proven Huxley’s future to be far more prescient and prophetic than Orwell’s. The mechanisms of our domination are pleasure and distraction, rather than fear and pain.

“...most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.” -  Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

I’d buy that for a dollar!!! - H.G. Wells (I think)

And now that we’re only a month away from Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated sequel, BLADE RUNNER 2046, I figured it would be a good time to gear up and get in the mood with a bunch of films warning us with a harrowing glimpse of what may be.

PRO TIP: Add Fandor to your Amazon Prime membership. That way, its entire catalog is available through your Amazon Video app.


DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) 
Directed by Paul Bartel – Streaming on Fandor

1975 was apparently a great year for this type of cinematic theme. This film and ROLLERBALL have very similar premises. A large corporation runs the country and pacifies the masses with a popular annual sports event. This is a cross country race in which the drivers score points by killing pedestrians. The front runner is Mr. Frankenstein (David Carradine) and he’s treated like a national hero. The story takes place in the year 2000, around 20 years after what is described as a “world crash”. It doesn’t really go into any more detail but it absolutely doesn’t matter. This low budget grindhouse flick is as bizarre as it is delightful.

LA JETEE (1962) 
Directed by Chris Marker – Streaming on FilmStruck

For those unaware this is the film that Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film, 12 MONKEYS, is based on. This arthouse classic is stunning. It is composed entirely of black and white still photography that tells of a post holocaustic future. Humanity’s survival depends on a man with a sponge memory to travel to the future to gather technological information that could save the present. The photography is gorgeous and the accompanying narration is extremely creative and inventive. Also, it’s only about a half an hour long so what’s there to lose?

Directed by Fritz Lang – Streaming on Netflix

Even before Huxley’s masterpiece novel, this silent German Expressionism film tackled the subject of a dystopian future. This story takes place in a futuristic city in which the divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ could not be more stark. It’s a utopian wonderland for those with the means. The city’s gears however are turned and greased by the working class in an underground factory, out of sight. This film is also unique in that ultimately its message is one of hope. The prophet is searching for a mediator between the hands and the head, someone to bring unity, empathy and understanding.

Directed by Lam Nai-Choi – Streaming on Fandor

There are a lot of good reasons that the public should be concerned with the privatization of the industrial prison complex. It incentivizes local law enforcement and prosecutors to fill them with non-violent criminals. It incentivizes lobbyist groups to pressure legislators for tougher laws to keep their criminal faucet running. And lastly, as this film explains, it gives crime bosses super powers… I guess. And no one wants that. This is a ridiculously violent flick. I can’t really say that the practical effects are great, but they are excessively bloody. And isn’t that what’s really important?

ROBOCOP (1987)  
Directed by Paul Verhoeven – Streaming on Hulu

This film takes place in the crime riddled future of Detroit. In order to combat street crime, the city begins privatizing the police force. It’s like Reaganomics on steroids. The evil Omni Consumer Products essentially “Pickle Ricks” the body of fallen officer, Alex Murphy, making him into a titanium/Teflon super robot cop. This is a satire meant to send up the excess consumerism of the 80’s. It should be watched in the same tone as John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE (88). And I actually think it’s a lot more fun than that film.

Directed by Norman Jewison – Streaming on FilmStruck

Although it’s not explicit in the film, I’m sure this world’s backstory began when some real estate billionaire reality show star became president after his failing ventures into the XFL and WWE. The world is controlled by what I would call a corporate oligarchy. The masses are subdued by live sporting events called rollerball. It’s basically like quidditch but they ride motorcycles instead of broomsticks. This makes for a much better spectator sport. The opulence of the set design on display here is what you would expect to see from the 70’s vision of a dystopian future, glass and crystal are everywhere. It reminds me of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s WORLD ON A WIRE. It’s very tacky.

SIDE NOTE: Considering the political and economic climate of the mid-70s, it’s understandable that we would find films like DEATH RACE 2000 and ROLLERBALL. This year also saw the release of a different post-apocalyptic dystopian future film that I almost included in this list. Unfortunately, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend L.Q. Jones’ A BOY AND HIS DOG. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime right now but it’s just far too disturbing for me. Judging by the rest of the films that I do recommend, this should tell you a lot.

Directed by James McTeigue – Streaming on Netflix

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think this is all that great of a movie. I find it a bit over stylized and most of the action scenes don’t really work kinetically. Some of the dialogue is just downright poorly written as well. But in the right mood, it works. Part of the reason that it works is that it’s just as much about the revolution as it is about the problem. And there isn’t anything with Natalie Portman in it that I won’t watch. In spite of all of its flaws, I still find the tone of this film to be inspiring and hopeful.

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