Memories of Ray Harryhausen

Another childhood hero gone.  I just found out that legendary special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation, passed away on May 7th at the age of 92.

The first film I ever saw which Harryhausen worked on was actually his last one, Clash of the Titans.  I was six years old in 1981.  When Clash of the Titans came into the theaters, it totally blew me away.  I kept asking my father to take me back to see it again.  I must have seen it in the theater at least half a dozen times.

Since I was just a kid, I didn’t pay any attention to the film’s credits.  So the first time I found out about Harryhausen was several years later, in 1988.  The science fiction magazine Starlog printed an extensive interview with him, complete with numerous photos from his various films.  I realized that not only had Harryhausen done the special effects for Clash of the Titans, he had also worked on numerous other sci-fi and fantasy films over the decades.  Some of these I had seen on television, such as Mighty Joe Young, which he worked on in 1947 as an assistant to stop motion pioneer Willis O’Brien, as well as some of his later solo efforts, namely Mysterious Island (1961) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977).

That article in Starlog pointed the way to many of Harryhausen’s other great movies, which I began searching out on television and video cassette.  My father, who had grown up watching a lot of those Harryhausen classics in the movie theater, often would join me in front of the TV, sometimes tracking down those films on VHS for me.  I remember watching Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) with him.  Now that I think about it, when my father first saw those films in the movie theater when he was a kid, he would have been pretty much the same age I was when I saw Clash of the Titans.  Maybe when you are six years old it really is a magical age.

Ray Harryhausen with his models for Calibos and Medusa from Clash of the Titlans
Ray Harryhausen with his models for Calibos and Medusa from Clash of the Titlans

It might be difficult to explain to younger people in this age of super-realistic CGI, but back before the advent of computer animation, stop-motion effects were the best way to create monsters and aliens in a super-realistic fashion.  And the master of giving life to these tiny, detailed puppets & models, imbuing them with emotion and subtle gestures, was Ray Harryhausen.

Stop-motion animation required the utmost patience, as well a tremendous skill.  The process involved moving the model a minute amount, shooting one frame of film, moving the model a bit more, shooting another frame, and repeating the process numerous times until you had several minutes of footage.  And at the end, after all those long days of work, hopefully you had something that looked natural and alive, rather than awkward & jerky. Well, I tell you, Harryhausen’s creations definitely possessed a smoothness & fluidity.

The sequence at the end of the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts is considered one of the greatest achievements of Harryhausen’s career.  Having killed the Hydra and obtained the Golden Fleece, Jason is making his way back to his boat the Argos.  Jason and two of the Argonauts stay to hold off the forces of the vengeful King Aeetes while the rest of the crew retreat to their vessel.  Aeetes takes the teeth of the slain Hydra and sprinkles them on the ground, in effect sowing them.  And the bitter fruit that sprouts up are “the children of the Hydra’s teeth,” seven skeletal warriors.  Aeetes bellows “Kill! Kill! Kill them all!” and the undead soldiers charge.  We then have an absolutely amazing fight sequence, as Harryhausen seamlessly integrates the live action footage of the three actors with his stop-motion animation of the seven skeletons.

(If you do a search on YouTube, I’m sure you can find the skeleton fight from Jason and the Argonauts posted there.  If you haven’t seen it before, it is definitely well worth viewing.)

The skeleton battle from Jason and the Argonauts
The skeleton battle from Jason and the Argonauts

I had long often hoped that one day I would have the opportunity to meet Harryhausen, so I could let him know just how much enjoyment his films brought me.  Unfortunately, that’s now never going to happen.  But I do know that in the 1980s and 90s, appreciation for Harryhausen’s work grew by leaps & bounds in sci-fi fandom, and a great many other people did have the chance to tell him how much his work meant to them.  This included a number of individuals who went on to become very successful filmmakers in their own right, among them Tim Burton, Peter Jackson, and John Landis.  So I’m glad to know that Ray Harryhausen lived a long, productive, happy life, and that he was received recognition for his amazing creative accomplishments.

Happy birthday to Elaine Lee

I wanted to wish a very happy birthday to writer Elaine Lee, who was born on April 22, 19XX (I’m not going to guess the year, because it is impolite to speculate about a woman’s age).  I first discovered Lee’s work back during the summer of 1994.  Lee had collaborated with artist William Simpson and cover artist Brian Bolland to create Vamps, a miniseries about a quintet of sexy vampire bikers crisscrossing the highways of America.  The book was published by DC Comics under their Vertigo banner.  Lee was doing a signing at the Heroes World comic shop in White Plains NY, and I picked up the first issue there.  Lee had come to the signing with her friend Rachel Pollack, whose bizarre writing I had been enjoying on Doom Patrol.  It was there that I learned that Pollack was also a prose author, and soon after I picked up a copy of her excellent novel Unquenchable Fire.

Vamps #1
Vamps #1

Vamps was a pretty good read, and I was interested in finding some more work by Lee.  I soon discovered that she had written the sci-fi series Starstruck, which ran for six issues under Marvel Comics’ Epic imprint in 1985, as well as a graphic novel.  I found a copy of the first issue, and was totally blown away by the amazing artwork by Michael Kaluta.  Truth to tell, I was a bit confused by the events in Lee’s story, but Kaluta’s art was simply amazing.  This was the beginning of my love affair with his work, and I soon became a huge fan.

This was also the first time I learned that Starstruck had originally begun life as an off-Broadway play, via the cute editorial cartoon on the inside cover, wherein a robotic Archie Goodwin presented the readers with a striking portrait of Elaine Lee herself in the role of freedom fighter Galatia 9, as seen below:

Archie Goodwin presents Elaine Lee as Galatia 9
Archie Goodwin presents
Elaine Lee as Galatia 9

A few years later, I started running into Kaluta himself at several NYC comic conventions.  He must have mentioned that the original Starstruck script could be found on Amazon.  I ordered a copy and when I read it, I was laughing out loud almost non-stop.  The script was written by Elaine Lee, Susan Norfleet Lee and Dale Place.  Michael Kaluta did the imaginative & intricate costume and set designs.  A funny & clever homage to and parody of space opera, it had two month-long runs, first in 1980 and then in 1983.

Early on, Lee and Kaluta decided they wanted to expand the Starstruck universe and characters beyond what was seen on stage, and planned out a whole series of comic books & graphic novels.  Starstruck, in addition to the Epic issues, appeared in the pages of Heavy Metal, through Dark Horse, and then finally a 13 issue miniseries published by IDW starting in 2009.  That was a combination of “remastered” older material and brand new work by Lee & Kaluta.  Having met both Lee and Kaluta at different comic book conventions throughout the years, I knew that they had a wealth of unpublished stories that they’d one day hoped to bring to print.  So I was thrilled when the IDW series was released, although I did end up waiting for the trade paperback edition so I’d have everything in one handy volume.

Starstruck script book
Starstruck script book

Currently Lee and Kaluta are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds in order to publish a new graphic novel, Harry Palmer: Starstruck.  I definitely wish them the best of luck.  After so many years of dormancy, it’s great that they have these opportunities to return to the Starstruck universe.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. The second time I met Elaine Lee was, I believe, a year later.  She was at a comic con in upstate NY, somewhere in the Hudson Valley.  One of the books she had for sale was her graphic novel anthology of erotic sci-fi stories, Skin Tight Orbit.  I really wanted to get a copy, but back then I was only 19 years old, plus my father was with me at the show, so I was much too embarassed to buy it!  Hmmm, all these years later, and I still don’t have that book.  Time to look for it on Amazon, I guess.

But, anyway, each of the times I’ve met Elaine Lee, she’s always come across as a very friendly person.  It’s always a pleasure to see her at a convention or on Facebook.  So, once again, let us wish a very happy something-something birthday to the talented, lovely, and very pleasant Elaine Lee.  Here’s hoping for many more years of amazing stories from your pen.

Godzilla Vs. Biollante finally out on DVD!

For a long time I have been a fan of the Godzilla series of films produced by Toho.  As someone who is into both science fiction and monsters, I really enjoy the idea of a dinosaur awoken from suspended animation by a nuclear explosion and mutated into a 200 foot tall behemoth with radioactive fire breath that goes around smashing cities to pieces.  There have been a lot of Godzilla movies made since the creature’s debut in 1954, some excellent, some merely average, and a few truly dreadful.  One of my favorites, which falls squarely into the first category, is Godzilla vs. Biolante.  The film premiered in Japanese theaters in 1989, but due to various rights problems, took a number of years to make it onto home video here in the States.  And it took even longer to finally come out on DVD, at last being released in late 2012.

I have a confession to make: I actually bought a bootleg copy of Godzilla vs. Biolante at a science fiction convention in the early-1990s.  That’s not something I usually do, but I had no idea if the film was going to get a proper release on VHS.  It turned out that the videotape had a grainy picture and what seemed to be an especially poor dubbing job.  Nevertheless, in spite of all that, I really enjoyed the movie.

Godzilla Vs. Biollante DVD
Godzilla Vs. Biollante DVD

Godzilla vs. Biolante opens in the aftermath of the previous film, The Return of Godzilla (a.k.a. Godzilla 1985).  Amidst the rubble of a demolished Tokyo, a team of mercenaries working for genetics corporation Bio-Major steals a sample of Godzilla’s cells left behind in the wake of his attack.  The mercenaries, in turn, are ambushed by a hit-man in the employ of the Middle Eastern nation of Saradia.  The cells are smuggled to that country, where the expatriate Dr. Shiragami (Koji Takahashi) hopes to use Godzilla’s DNA to create a crop of wheat that can flourish in the desert.  However, Bio-Major launches a retaliatory strike, bombing Shiragami’s lab, killing his daughter Erika.

Flash forwarding five years later, Godzilla is beginning to wake from his slumber at the bottom of the volcano he was lured into at the end of the last movie.  The Japanese government, which possesses its own supply of Godzilla cells, approaches Shiragami to use them to develop Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria with which to attack the monster.  Shiragami has secretly combined the cells of a rose with that of his dead daughter in an effort to preserve some semblance of her existence.  The scientist now adds the Godzilla cells to this hybrid plant, hoping to imbue it with the monster’s restorative powers.  Instead, the rose develops into a towering plant creature which is dubbed Biollante.  While both agents from Bio-Major and the hit-man from Saradia make plans to steal the Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria, the newly awakened Godzilla begins to make his way to Japan, sensing the presence of his genetic cousin.

Also introduced in Godzilla vs. Biolante is the character of Miki Saegusa, a psychic teenager portrayed by actress Megumi Odaka.  The character of Miki would prove to be very popular, and Odaka reprised the role in the next five films of the series.

Godzilla vs. Biolante is an engaging story.  The script was written by director Kazuki Ohmori, based upon a concept by Shinichiro Kobayashi.  The direction by Ohmori is also excellent.  He certainly does a superb job staging the final confrontation between Godzilla and Biollante.  That must have been a lot of work, considering Biollante’s size, and her numerous vine tentacles thrashing about attacking Godzilla.

That brings me to the whole “men in rubber suits” aspect of the Godzilla movies.  Yes, seeing a guy in a monster costume smashing a scale model of a city may not appear one hundred percent realistic, especially with today’s CGI effects.  But I really admire & respect the craft and hard work that the technicians at Toho have demonstrated over the decades, creating these intricate costumes and models, and then filming all of the action in real time.  I also think there is often more of a weight (for lack of a better word) to those sorts of special effects than some of the stuff people put together on a computer.  It can seem much more convincing to me as a viewer.

Biollante adopts her final form
Biollante adopts her final form

As is pointed out in the “making of” feature on the DVD, both Godzilla and Biollante represent the dangers of unchecked scientific progress.  Godzilla, of course, is the embodiment of the post-World War II dangers of nuclear destruction.  Biollante, on the other hand, was inspired by the then relatively new fears of unsupervised genetic engineering, concerns that in the years since 1989 have certainly become more prevalent in the real world.

One aspect that I have heard criticized about the movie is the soundtrack.  Truthfully, in my opinion, for the most part the music by Koichi Sugiyama is pretty effective.  It is a bit odd or melodramatic in places, compared to the more traditional themes used in many past entries of the series by composer Akira Ifukube.  However, Sugiyama utilizes several of Ifukube’s compositions in certain places, making the soundtrack to the film a somewhat unusual, but nevertheless interesting, mix of new and old.

As I mentioned before, that old bootleg VHS tape of Godzilla vs. Biolante was not the best quality.  Watching the DVD of the movie yesterday, I was impressed at how much better the official release is.  Of course the picture quality was better.  What I was really pleased about was that the disk has the choice of being played with either an English dub, or with English subtitles over the original Japanese dialogue.  I chose to watch it with the later, and the story was a lot clearer that way.  Aside from the occasional typo or grammatical error, the subtitles appeared to have been put together with an eye towards accuracy.

One more thing about that bootleg tape.  Turns out that for some reason several key scenes from the movie had been cut out.  Yeah, really stupid, huh?  Watching the complete, unedited film on DVD, the story flowed a lot more smoothly, and a few areas where I had thought there were unexplained elements or plot holes vanished.

By the way, back in the mid 1990s, the toy company Trendmasters produced a series of Godzilla action figures.  When I was growing up, there had never really been any Godzilla-related toys available here in the States.  As a kid, I’d always wanted to be able to have stuff like that.  So, even though I was in college when the Trendmasters action figures came out, of course I had to buy a bunch of them.  And, collectability be damned, I made sure to take them out of their packaging!  After all, I wanted to put them on display.  Among the assortment of monsters available in the toy line was Biollante.  Given my fondness for the movie, of course I had to get that one.

Godzilla V.s Biollante (the action figure version)
Godzilla Vs. Biollante (the action figure version)

So, having re-watched Godzilla vs. Biolante on DVD, I then took those two action figures down from the bookshelf, dusted them off, and posed them facing off on the living room floor.  Wish I had some kind of backdrop or something.  I was considering using the rock from the turtle tank, but I didn’t think our red-eared slider Meeshee would have approved.

Anyway, after a very long wait, it was great to be able to get this movie on DVD.  I was thrilled when my girlfriend gave it to me as a present.  If you happen to be a Godzilla fan, I highly recommend picking this one up.

(Photo of the Godzilla / Biolante slugfest re-enactment courtesy of Michele Witchipoo.  No action figures were harmed in the writing of this blog.)

Comic book reviews: Lilly Mackenzie & The Mines of Charybdis

Okay, so I was originally going to do a write-up on Lilly Mackenzie & The Mines of Charybdis in an upcoming post on graphic novels that I’ve been reading.  But then I realized it didn’t quite fit into that category.  Written & drawn by Simon Fraser, The Mines of Charybdis originally appeared as a weekly web comic on ACT-I-VATE in 2009, and subsequently appeared in print as an eight part serial in the Judge Dredd Megazine.  In 2011, Fraser released a limited edition trade paperback collection of the story, and I was fortunate enough to score a copy of that.

The Scottish-born Fraser is probably best known for co-creating with Robbie Morrison the swashbuckling Russian rogue Nikolai Dante in the pages of 2000 AD.  Fraser has worked on a number of other features for that famed British anthology, including flagship character Judge Dredd.  Among his other works was an excellent comic book adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel Hell House done with Ian Edginton at IDW.

Lilly Mackenzie is Fraser’s creator owned series.  Lilly is a sexy space adventurer, seemingly bubbly and carefree, but with a dark family past.  Her best friend is Cosmo Judd, a brilliant scientist who happens to be a midget, and so is consequently underestimated by many people.  Cosmo carries an unrequited attraction to Lilly.

Lilly Mackenzie & The Mines of Charybdis

The Mines of Charybdis sees Lilly attempting to track down her long lost, ne’er do well brother.  The trail has led to the brutal mining world of Charybdis.  The planet is surrounded by an EMP field, meaning that all electronic equipment does not work.  Settlers and prisoners are sent down in unpowered space capsules, where they are expected to spend the rest of their lives.  The only way of launching the mined ore & minerals back into space is via a mass accelerator.  Due to the enormous acceleration needed to escape the planet’s surface, this would kill any human beings attempting to travel on it.

In other words, Lilly and Cosmo need to find a way to sneak onto a planet with no advanced technology, find Lilly’s brother in a desolate wilderness, and then come up with some sort of method of escaping the planet that won’t leave them pulverized.  The problem is pretty well summed up in an exchange between the two, when Lilly asks “Can’t we just, I dunno, improvise something,” and a disbelieving Cosmo shoots back “Improvise? Improvise what? Physics? Maybe Newton, Einstein and Sinclair got it wrong?”

Of course, Cosmo eventually does come up with a plan to get down to Charybdis safely and, in turn, theorizes a brilliant, yet incredibly dangerous, method of possibly getting the pair of them off the planet.  Possibly, because even if he can get it to work, there’s still no guarantee it won’t end up killing the pair of them.  And before they can even attempt this, they have to locate Lilly’s brother while dealing with any number of desperate thugs and crooks who are imprisoned on Charybdis.

Fraser does a superb job of blending two often disparate aspects of science fiction, namely space opera and “hard science” speculative fiction.  He appears to have conducted a thorough amount of research into physics to have devised Cosmo’s ingenious scheme.  Fraser also adds in what you might consider to be high-octane, adrenaline-packed action sequences, with Lilly doing some major ass-kicking.  And at the same time, he makes sure to really develop his characters, to show the depths of their personalities.

It’s unfortunate that economics only allowed Fraser to release the collected edition of Lilly Mackenzie & The Mines of Charybdis in a limited print run, because it is an excellent story, one I highly recommend.  But you can read it in the pages of Judge Dredd Megazine #298 to #305.  Those may be difficult to locate here in the States (you can always try to find them on Ebay or something) so if not, then definitely go to the ACT-I-VATE website and read it there.  Fraser’s sequel, The Treasure of Paros, is also online, along with various other excellent series by a number of talented creators.

The ACT-I-VATE Primer

In 2009, IDW published The ACT-I-VATE Primer, a hardcover anthology featuring 16 new stories.  Among the creators whose work is featured in The ACT-I-VATE Primer are Dean Haspiel, Roger Langridge, Pedro Camargo, Molly Crabapple, Tim Hamilton, and Mike Cavallaro.  Fraser’s contribution was “When Lilly Met Cosmo,” a prequel tale that reveals how Lilly Mackenzie and Cosmo Judd first met.  It’s a good story in an excellent collection of material, and I highly recommend purchasing a copy.

Memories of Ray Bradbury

I was sad to learn of science fiction author Ray Bradbury’s death on June 5th at the age of 91.  In my youth, I read a number of his stories.  His short story collections The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles are both in my personal library, and I discovered numerous others of his tales in various sci-fi anthology books.  In addition, I frequently watched The Ray Bradbury Theater, which adapted his short stories for television.  And I enjoyed reprints of the EC Comics’ adaptations of his writings which were featured in the pages of their famed science fiction and horror titles.

Ray Bradbury: August 22, 1920 − June 5, 2012
Ray Bradbury: August 22, 1920 − June 5, 2012

What really made Bradbury’s work stand out for me was that he so deftly blended science fiction with horror.  In his stories, the wonders of the infinite universe stood side-by-side with the darkest of primal terrors.  Bradbury’s prose could be incredibly poetic.  Yet, at the same time, there was a certain disquiet to his writing.  The forlorn searching of the sea serpent for another of its kind in “The Fog Horn,” the cruelty that children can exhibit towards one another in “All Summer in a Day,” the descent of the human mind into madness in “The Long Rain;” the stories of Bradbury were often imbued with a sense of palpable anxiety.

There are certain specific stories that Bradbury penned that stand out in my mind.  Foremost among them is “A Sound of Thunder,” one of the most brilliant and revolutionary examinations of the theory of time travel, framed around a safari to hunt dinosaurs.  The idea that one single minute action could reverberate through the ages was astounding to me.  As Bradbury wrote,

“It fell to the floor, an exquisite thing, a small thing that could upset balances and knock down a line of small dominos and then big dominos and then gigantic dominos, all through the years across Time.”

It was my introduction to what I now recognize as the Butterfly Effect, in this case quite literally.  And the ending was unremittingly bleak.

(“A Sound of Thunder” was one of the Bradbury stories adapted by EC Comics.  Illustrated by the legendary Al Williamson, it appeared in Weird Science-Fantasy #25, cover dated September 1954.  In 1993, Topps Comics reprinted the Williamson adaptation in the first issue of the short-lived Ray Bradbury Comics anthology series.  That comic also contained a brand-new adaptation, with beautiful artwork by Richard Corben.  It’s interesting to compare the two versions, and see the narrative decisions each artist made in translating the story from prose to sequential illustration.)

"A Sound of Thunder" comic book adaptation by Al Williamson, page one
“A Sound of Thunder” comic book adaptation by Al Williamson, page one

“The Veldt” was written in 1950, and in retrospect is probably one of the first short stories to postulate virtual reality.   Bradbury sees this technological development not as a positive one, but something with effects akin to an addictive drug, complete with isolation from the rest of humanity.  This is demonstrated through Peter and Wendy, two children who spend all of their time within their telepathic “nursery,” to the exclusion of all else.  The ending is, once again, an especially grim one.

One of the most frightening stories I read when I was younger had to be “Mars is Heaven” (re-titled “The Third Expedition” in The Martian Chronicles).  An expedition to Mars arrives on the Red Planet to find what appears to be a pastoral early-20th Century small town populated by the deceased relatives of the rocket ship crew.  The astronauts are quickly pulled in by this seeming paradise.  But obviously all is not as it appears.  Bradbury effectively ratchets up the suspense as the story progresses.  It climaxes in something horrible happening to the crew, and Bradbury leaves it ambiguous exactly what has taken place.  He must have realized that the unknown is often much more terrifying than what we do see.  Certainly my young mind filled in all sorts of nightmarish possibilities trying to figure out what horrific fate had befallen the astronauts.

Not a stand-alone story as such was the framing device for The Illustrated Man collection.  I found it especially effective, the concept that a man had been covered from neck to toe in mystical tattoos, and that the lines of ink come alive to reveal events of the past, present and future, of our world and many others.  It was an interesting method of linking together the disparate short stories collected in the volume.  And in the denouement of the collection, Bradbury returns to the tattooed man and the narrator, offering a chilling moment of disquiet.

The Illustrated Man
The Illustrated Man

Despite his recent illness, Bradbury was active as a writer up until the end.  He contributed an essay, “Take Me Home,” to the recent science fiction themed issue of The New Yorker, which was topped off by a charming cover illustrated by Daniel Clowes.  In his essay, Bradbury reflects on his childhood, and the influences that led him to write some of his stories.  An idyllic piece, it was a lovely way to cap off a brilliant career that spanned seven decades.  It is certainly a fitting tribute to the man and his work.

Not all futures are created equal

“Oh, our old future.” – Crow T. Robot, Mystery Science Theater 3000

A couple of weeks ago, a fellow blogger posted the cover to an old science fiction paperback short story collection (I finally located that post again, and it can be viewed at this link).  The art was what you might regard as your typical mid-20th Century vision of the future: an image of a gleaming metallic cityscape with flying cars darting back & forth above it.  The blogger made a comment along the lines of it isn’t the future unless you have some flying cars in it.

This got me thinking about how popular culture has conceived of the future playing out.  Growing up in the early 1980s, the 21st Century still seemed far enough away that all of the images of personal jetpacks, robots in every household, and traveling to other planets being just a few short decades away still seemed at least semi-plausible.  Whether in a cartoon series like The Jetsons or more serious fare such as Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was a commonplace prediction that some sort of hi-tech, shiny future was just around the corner.

Where's my flying car?
Dude, where’s my flying car?

I remember when 2001, that is to say, the real year 2001 rolled around, I half-jokingly commented to some friends “What the hell is this? Shouldn’t we have flying cars by now?  Where are the colonies on the Moon?  Why aren’t we flying back & forth in outer space in rocket ships, fighting aliens with ray guns?”  I say half-jokingly, because there was still that part of me that was just the tiniest bit disappointed that none of this had come to pass.  Well, okay, I can do without the bug-eyed monsters packing heat.  And if we really did have flying cars, I’d probably drive one just as poorly as I do a regular automobile.  But, still, the future just seemed like it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

And most speculative fiction from forty or fifty years ago really did miss the mark as far as what kind of technology we would have in the early 21st Century.  Instead of teleportation and time travel, what we got was the microchip revolution, the Internet, MP3s, iPads, flash drives, etc.  We’re still stuck on Earth, unable to colonize the galaxy, but the ability to spread information across the globe has grown in astonishing leaps & bounds.  Perhaps some of the disappointment lies in the fact that these developments, as incredible as they are, were not what we were led to expect.  And there is also that lingering disappointment left over from the previous century that technological advancement would eventually lead to the betterment of humanity.

Of course, it’s not like most fictional conceptions of the future were totally utopian.  George Jetson had his flying car and his home in a floating city, but he still had to deal with a douchebag boss, nagging wife, and spoiled kids.  Kubrick & Clarke’s vision of 2001 saw humans traveling to the other side of the solar system, but we still did a half-ass job at programming computers, to the point where HAL 9000 wanted to kill off its entire crew.

So I guess it wasn’t so much that those visions of the future were perfect, because they weren’t.  It’s just that they had such cool stuff.

Mind you, for every romanticized prediction of the 21st Century, there were also plenty of conjectures that the future might turn out to be a much darker place.  On one hand, the mid-20th Century rise of both the Axis powers and Communism begat visions of the all-encompassing totalitarian dystopia, best exemplified in the George Orwell novel 1984.  On the other hand, nuclear proliferation led to forecasts of ragged survivors roaming radiation-ravaged post-apocalyptic wastelands, as seen in such films as The Road Warrior.

The Lost World: a nice future to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there
The Lost World: a nice future to visit, but you certainly wouldn’t want to live there

And if you want a really pessimistic outlook on the day after tomorrow, you should consider the so-bad-it’s-good David Worth film Warrior of the Lost World, which I would have to describe as “1984 meets The Road Warrior.”  In that future scenario, you would face the prospect of having both fascist stormtroopers and mutant cannibal biker gangs simultaneously chasing after your rear end.  Not a pretty picture!

(Incidentally, Warrior of the Lost World was screened on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which brings us back to quote that opened this blog post.)

So, considering all of the options, the real future that we have right now isn’t nearly as bad as it could be.  Yeah, it isn’t The Jetsons, but at least we haven’t had to live through World War III yet.

That said, I’m still holding out for flying cars.  But knowing how things work out, we’d probably still have traffic jams.