Monday, May 20, 2013

Visions of a Dirty Future

Though a hotly contested point across many a far, far away galaxies, I like Star Wars: Episode II: The Attack of the Clones. I enjoy its wide-eyed development of the behind-the-scenes machinations by which one man (Palpatine) can turn his republic towards a war

whose only goal is to consolidate power under that very man. (In the early 2000s, this story seemed oddly prescient, of course.)

Yet there is one enduring memory from Attack of the Clones that I find to be endlessly irritating. (Sorry, it isn't the acting of Hayden Christensen.) I despise how darned clean it is on Kamino. You remember, of course, the stormy planet upon which is the base for secret cloning operations, inhabited by the long-necked aliens and Jango Fett. (Those who have seen the spaghetti western Django will doubtless be hearing the theme song in their heads right now. But I digress.) You may recall that Jango's quarters were spotlessly clean, as were the hallways, doorways, and walkways. This is, of course, because it's all computer generated, and Industrial Light and Magic has become a sloppy place, what with the best of the best drawn to work either for Peter Jackson's Weta Digital or John Lasseter's Pixar. Odd, isn't it, that the eye doesn't bicker with an 8 foot tall alien lady, but the absence of a dirty floor is an eyesore. On that note, let's look at three visions of a dirty future.

First, fittingly, must be Hill Valley 2015 as seen in Back to the Future, Part II. Think of that reveal of Courthouse Square as Marty first steps away from the Deorean. Posters extolling one to "Surf Vietman" are seen in the background; so too are large "compact disc"-like bundles of trash. The cars are appropriately slick enough, but one almost mows down
young Marty Jr. The Max Headroom-inspired automatic waiter at the Cafe 80s isn't dirt-laden, per se, but the (intentionally) glitchy nature of its Regan and battling Iotolah are a far cry from that perfect future found on Kamino. Heck, the Cafe 80s even has that clunky, forgotten, unplugged Wild Gunman video game--the one in which a future ring bearer, in his film debut, declares, "You mean you have to use your hands?" Throw in the later instances of the worn out scene-screen in the McFly home, as well as the imperfect "eventuality" of the Japanese owning everything, and the future isn't looking too bright.

So too is the case in Demolition Man, an overlooked minor sci-fi/action extravaganza.
Initially it does present us with a squeaky-clean vision of the future, one that is so pristine that even swear words have been scrubbed from normalcy just as remote-controlled graffiti applications are zapped away moments after being drawn. Yet let us not forget that "terrorist" Edgar Friendly is no terrorist indeed: the utopian San Angeles is made possible only by the subjugation of the least among us, who literally live in the filth and squalor of the sewers, stealing food to survive. Add to that a rather whimsical irony, that the architect of peace and prosperity in the future is also behind the violence and death which propels the plot, and one sees that the film's future is very unsavory indeed. For those still in doubt, Jesse Venture is in the film, thereby making it stink of elk hide and mat sweat.

Lastly, ironically, is George Lucas' own THX-1138. If you haven't seen this true
masterpiece in its special/restored/directors edition, then stop reading and go watch it on Netflix immediately (this is not some haphazard redoing that risks riling fans (Han should always shoot first), but rather the completion of a visionary young filmmaker who had far too little resources to suit his grand imagination). On the surface (for those who have seen the film, that's a pun), the world of the film seems similar to that of Kamino--lots of white walls and soft light. Yet clearly the edges of this world are dirty indeed. Explosions at the factory tearing through people, inherit sadness of those looking for ease from life via their medicine cabinets,lustless porn and sexless marriage: these all speak to an uncaring, dispassionate world. Indeed, one of the enduring images from the film is the robot police officer quietly, inexplicably walking back and forth into a wall. That scene has no bearing to the plot; indeed, it is presented as merely shading--commonplace shading in a world that similarly is quietly broken.

Thus we return to that pristine world of Kamino. Perhaps the storms which rage outside its perfect-white cities are a bit of a hint of imperfection. I nonetheless declare "bantha pudu" upon the House of George for having birthed such a clean baby.

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