When Tony Stark introduced the Binarily Augmented Retroframing technology in Captain America: Civil War, the genius did mention that this method of “hijacking the hippocampus” to manipulate memories is not cost efficient and obviously it does not exist in reality. However, it got me thinking about the extent to which Augmented Reality can be used to manipulate our thoughts. Similarly, after watching The Matrix, the idea of being stuck in a dystopian world created by Virtual Reality was stuck in my mind for a good few days. There is hardly anyone who hasn’t considered the idea of time travelling even if they have not watched Back to The Future, The Time Machine, Hot Tub Time Machine or any other time travelling movies. Science fiction movies, popularly known as Sci-fi movies is possibly one of the most popular movie genres of all time.
When E.T- The Extra Terrestrial won the audience’s hearts and boggled their minds as early as the 80s, it set the stage for films of this genre to captivate the movie-goers. Whether it is the Star Wars series or the Krrish series – sci-fi films be it Bollywood or Hollywood, have always given us something to think about.
What is science fiction?
Any fictitious story based on imaginary scientific or technological advances leading to major social or environmental changes or stories portraying space or time travel and life on other planets are science fiction. Even though the definition remains same, sci-fi, in itself, has evolved over the century and watching its evolution is a sociological exercise – mostly because the sci-fi literature or movies of a particular time reflect not only the technological advancement of that period but also how much the thought process of people of that has changed.
For instance, Harry Houdini’s The Master Mystery, 1919 contains the first appearance of a robot in cinema but at the time the word “robot” did not yet exist so it is referred to as “The Automaton”. However, in the 21st century, the appearance of a robot in a film is no longer merely “fiction” because robots do exist in reality – in fact, we can barely find any sci-fi movie that does not include a robot or some kind of advanced computer technology. The reason is that this technology is no longer incorporeal. Fifty years back, it could have been just a theory but now it’s a tangible entity. Sci-fi films may not lay down ground rules or theories and formulae for developing the kind of technology they show in their films, but they certainly provide food for thought and tickle curious minds.
Evolution and impact of science fiction
The lightsaber first appeared in the original Star Wars 1977 film A New Hope and has since appeared in every Star Wars movie. We can safely say it is as cool today as it was back then. The only difference is that people of that generation may have written to Santa Claus asking for a light-saber under their tree on Christmas whereas people these days may ask for a J.A.R.V.I.S or Friday or Edith, all of which are Iron Man’s AI assistants. Another difference is that technology has advanced enough that there actually exist many AI assistants-Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant to name a few.
The movies of a time can be more telling than history books. Sci-fi movies have always been a reflection of the society at the time of their filming, not necessarily the same time period being portrayed in the movies themselves. They started out as enterprises of escapism and fun before developing into complex narratives exploring politics, religion, technology and social and economic status of people.
In the beginning, robots would be made out of cardboard boxes, the protagonist would fight against men in lizard suits or people covered in blue make-up and armed with laser guns and flashing swords with barely any female on the team except for those added as “damsels in distress”. However, it would be wrong to say that it was purely for entertainment.
Watching strange creatures, people using fictional gadgets light years ahead of their time, even before phones or computers came into existence or people travelling back or forward in time certainly tickled more than just the funny bone of the average movie-goer. Someone at some point must have thought that if it can be real on screen, it can be real off screen as well.
Over the years, the movies have improved with the use of computer generated imagery or CGI, use of factually correct theories, more potent villains and inclusion of women as characters other than “damsels in distress” and actors of different races and identities. It shows that the society has advanced in technology and the interest in this genre has grown enough that it demands veracity of dialogues and social inclusion in order to avoid disappointing the audience.
This also reflects that our imagination is no longer limited to robots, time travelling or fighting aliens – with exponential technological revolution, we can now imagine what kind of advancements might happen in the next few decades. This is why we now have films about multiverses, robots taking over humans, apes taking over humans, superhumans etc. The human civilisation has achieved success in space travel and that is why we have films like Interstellar, Gravity, The Martian and Mission Mangal.
People have taken inspiration from sci-fi movies and it has remarkably impacted the field of technology. For instance, the communicators in Star Trek have remarkable similarities to today’s smartphones and smart watches. The driverless car from the TV series, Knight Rider is no longer a science fiction.
Sci-fi movies have differently influenced different people. One might come out of a theatre satisfied with the idea of time travel being used as a benefit for others, whereas another person might imagine using the same for a harmful cause, and someone else might simply enjoy the movie for its aesthetic appeal. Take cell phones for instance- they have become a necessity now but they can be used for harmful purposes as well. But it would be foolish to disregard the impact that sci-fi has had on its audience. According to researchers at the University of Hawaii, not only does science fiction play a significant role, but also its impact is on the rise.
Science Fiction has for ages influenced people of all ages, bedazzled minds in the past and shaped the future and it will continue to do so because one can never get tired of imagining “what ifs”.