I saw “Star Trek: Into Darkness” the other day. I walked into the movie expecting a thoroughly decent action flick that would never go very deep into the science aspect of science fiction. For the most part, that is exactly what I got, but I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about the trailers that came before the movie. Not surprisingly, previews shown before a Star Trek film are going to be mostly science fiction trailers. However, as I watched these trailers, a pattern began to emerge. Cinema can be an interesting reflection on society as a whole, and the recent trends of science fiction indicate not just pessimism about the future, but a general distrust of science.
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The first trailer previewed a movie called “Elysium.” The apparent plot portrays a giant space station orbiting Earth, carrying the minority of wealthy people in a lush paradise. Everyone else was trapped on a bleak, war-torn, and devastated Earth. Explosions, poverty, and human misery were everywhere. Clearly, the creators of “Elysium” were intent on presenting a dystopian nightmare where the wealthy lived in a beautiful, blissful setting sectioned off from the devastation on earth, a concept that would certainly be familiar to the audience given the current wealth disparities in America.
The second trailer presented a movie called “World War Z.” As the film rolls, clearly there is some disaster happening across the world, but the audience doesn’t know what. Chaos ensues, buildings blow up, and the characters look scared. The threat is revealed at the end of the trailer when the title is shown, indicating the threat was zombies. I am familiar with the book “World War Z,” so I recognized the threat. I must admit that I was a little disappointed, since zombies in entertainment media have been overplayed in recent years. They have practically become the default cannon fodder in many video games.
The final trailer offered something a little different. It was the preview for “Ender’s Game,” a book that I read a very long time ago. This trailer seemed a little more upbeat than the other two, but it still could not escape the tone of the other two completely. The alien invasion aspect and militaristic training from the book was played up tremendously. Everyone had a serious face and the audience was shown the aliens blowing up yet more things.
Watching these three trailers then seeing the movie, with more things blowing up and people dying, I had to wonder, what happened to science fiction? When did these movies become so gritty and cynical? Looking back at the past decade of movies, I could see this growing trend. During this time, movies became darker, edgier, and a bit more realistic. Everything from “The Dark Knight” saga to “District 9” seemed to be pointing toward this trend. Nowhere is this new style more tangible than in science fiction. Gone are the days of peaceful exploration. Instead, we have dystopian themes, malevolent schemes, and apocalyptic settings, like in “2012.” People are always dying and things are always blowing up. This seems to be the new constant.
After this sobering reflection of public attitudes towards the future, I have to ask, is science in the real world heading in this direction? Will it be the death of us all or will it allow us to seek out new life and new civilizations and boldly go where no one has gone before? I cannot answer this. I can only offer my opinions and reflections. Cynicism is a powerful force. It is easy to write off someone who preaches hope and optimism as a naïve idealist. However, the relationship between science and how people use it requires some idealism. As the world moves on from the current recession and political gridlock, science fiction may become less about the end of the world and more about endless possibilities. But for now it seems we are stuck with gritty realism, dark plots, and explosions everywhere.