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Tirade of the Week


6.13.98

Setting a Date


"It's a date. You eat 'em."
- Harrison Ford, Raiders of the Lost Ark

Ever wonder what the last movie released in December 2000 will be, and what the first movie released in January 2001 will be? Either of those films will be historical; here's hoping they deserve it. The reason I say "December 2000" & "January 2001" and not "December 1999" & "January 2000," of course, is that the 21st century doesn't actually begin until 12:00:01 am, January 1, 2001 -- not 2000. Still, that won't stop everyone from throwing megaparties on Dec. 31, 1999 -- everyone, that is, except smart folks like you and me who (literally) know what time it is. So don't go to the fake century's-end or millennium parties next year, folks. Respect yourselves more than that.

Anyway, my point is that the first film released in the 21st century will be historical. Lucas will probably hog the slot for the second Star Wars prequel. Or Kubrick might claim it for Eyes Wide Shut, at the rate it's going. Wouldn't it suck, though, to have your film be the last one released in the 20th century? It'd come out the last week of December and hang around through January, but everyone would want to see it the first weekend -- nobody's gonna want to see it in the new century. Talk about a second-weekend drop-off. "Fuck that movie, dude -- that was good last century."

In other date-related musings, I notice 1997 came and went without Manhattan turning into a maximum-security prison, as in 1981's Escape from New York. Also, no virus broke out in 1996 and killed 99% of us by 1997, as 12 Monkeys predicted in 1995. And I bet you didn't know that in 1983, a space virus killed all the dogs and cats, and humans adopted apes as pets until the apes began to rebel in 1991 (all this was documented in 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes). And all the devastation in the Terminator films (released in 1984 and 1991) was supposed to happen in 1997 -- what is it with dystopian films and the year 1997? Gee, 1997 didn't turn out to be that bad, despite Speed 2.

Someone with a lot of free time should sit down and compile a source of all the futuristic movies that were dumb enough to specify a date, so we can all laugh at what was supposed to happen but didn't, and all the unintentional retroactive anachronisms. Like It! The Terror from Beyond Space, made in 1958 but set in 1973, with its crew featuring decidedly pre-feminist women -- didn't any of these ladies read Ms., which hit newsstands in 1972? Futuristic movies always tell you more about the past in which they were made than about the future they're trying to guess at. There's a book called Past Imperfect that exposes historical inaccuracies in films; there should be a companion volume, Future Imperfect.

Of course we can think of two glaringly obvious exceptions to the "Don't Specify A Date, You Assheads" rule: George Orwell's 1984 and Stanley Kubrick's (and Arthur C. Clarke's) 2001. 1984, written in 1948, was Orwell's warning that Big Brother was already here; fantasies like 1984 and Animal Farm got his point across more vividly than, say, an essay about the evils of totalitarianism as he knew it in 1948. And 2001 -- remember, the correct birth of a new century -- was more a meditation than a prediction. The movie showed us where we'd been, where we were in 1968 (the film's technology wasn't far ahead of 1968), and where we might be headed -- i.e., evolution into something beyond human. Then, of course, you have cheesedick stuff like 1983's 1990: The Bronx Warriors and 1990's Class of 1999 (and its 1993 sequel, Class of 1999 II -- both actually sequels to the non-futuristic Class of 1984, from 1982).

Even some futuristic films that are still futuristic, brilliant as they often are, sometimes date themselves. Does anyone expect that people dressed like 1981-era punk rockers will be milling around the congested streets of L.A. in 2019, as seen in Blade Runner? (People increasingly can't smoke anywhere in California, so the film's smoky atmosphere also seems outdated by now.) Or how about the fresh new hairstyles of 1984 as seen in Dune, set in 10,191? We laugh at the fluffy blow-dried 1977 hairdos on the guys in Star Wars, but at least we don't know what date it's supposed to be -- indeed, Lucas hedged his bets and waffled: "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."

So the Star Wars movies technically aren't futuristic, one can assume. And the prequels will be even less so. Apparently all this stuff was going on long before any of us was born, off in some galaxy that's beyond us technologically. Except they had bad Dirk Diggler hair.