If you’ve been paying attention to the news in the past two weeks, it seems like the United States has dissolved into a less cartoonish, more realistically ugly version of the kind of dystopian landscape you used to see in John Carpenter films that starred an eyepatch-sporting Kurt Russell. Civil rights are being violated left and right, people are taking to the streets in protest, and every day seems to bring yet another gross injustice. Perhaps that’s why this new twelve-minute video pastiche —a collage of cinematic dystopias ranging from the original “Logan’s Run” to the more recent “Hunger Games” films— packs more of a punch than it might under more ordinary circumstances. Dystopian science fiction has evolved into several permutations, from box office friendly YA likes of this year’s “The Giver” to neglected cult comedies like Mike Judge’s sorely slept-on “Idiocracy,” but the genius inherent in the genre’s best is an ability to seamlessly and sharply assess broken cultural institutions while offering audiences slam-bang thrills in the guise of mainstream entertainment.
There are a number of visual motifs that run through the following twelve-minute video: impossibly pristine utopian landscapes, Big Brother-style public orations assuring the public that everything is fine, and some high-paid actors in some really shitty costumes, just to name a few. And yet the films on display in the video is diverse. This is perhaps the only context in which you’ll see a film like Woody Allen’s great 1973 comedy “Sleeper” —where a prototypical Allen nebbish finds his anxieties amplified after being cryogenically frozen and waking up two centuries later in a sinister, sanitized future world— rubbing shoulders with a film like the ugly, cynical “The Purge,” which milks its dystopian associations for surface shocks and little else.
There’s also Fritz Lang’s watershed “Metropolis,” which practically wrote the rulebook for this sort of film, and some less-than-reputable entries like Michael Bay’s “The Island,” a typically slick and hollow mishmash of potentially intriguing concepts with Bay’s characteristic tendency to blow random stuff up in slow motion.
With “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part One” currently ruling the roost at the holiday multiplex (the third entry in the lucrative franchise opened with a staggering $273.8 million, the sixteenth-largest opening of all time), one wonders what exact purpose these stories serve in an increasingly tumultuous world. Some may argue it’s all just entertainment, but I choose to believe it’s much more than that. “Snowpiercer,” my pick for one of the best films of the year, was a bizarrely gorgeous marriage of big ideas and even bigger set pieces, and it would be amazing to see more films like Bong Joon-Ho’s batshit-crazy screen parable find an audience.
Tell us what you think and watch the full video below. [35MM]