Two Science Fiction Films In Depth Critiques Term Paper

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Science Fiction Stories -- Comparisons / Contrasts

Wall-E & Blade Runner -- Utopia vs. Dystopia

The two well-known science fiction films that are critiqued in this paper -- Wall-E and Blade Runner -- will be critiqued and contrasted as to the following dichotomies: utopia and dystopia; technophobia and technophilia; and futurity and nostalgia. Thesis: these films both delve into the potentially disastrous environmental future for the planet, and each in its own way provides an alternative future.

Wall-E and Utopia: This ravaged planet is no utopia in the traditional sense, for sure, but Wall-E has evolved over the past 700 years; some kind of mutation perhaps is what has allowed him to survive in a highly radioactive environment. To survive alone with the exception of a cockroach (which is one of the few species that can survive horrendous polluting events like radiation) is proof of his survivability. After all, utopia is always a fictional place where everything is supposed to be perfect. In Wall-E's world, he has gone from a dumb robot to a conscious being capable of learning, self-repairing, and in addition to being adaptable to his environment, trashed though it is, he has developed human-like feelings. That is certainly more perfect than being a boring machine. It would be utopian in context if out of Wall-E could come a stronger commitment to conservation. As Robin Murray and Joseph Heumann write: "We must protect the earth and its resources because leaving it behind cannot effectively preserve humankind…[albeit] humans -- with the help of the robot left to clean up the mess -- can and should restore it to its more natural previous state" (Murray, et al., 2009).

Wall-E and Dystopia: Dystopian stories borrow features from the real world and alter them into negative experiences in the future. In this film the dystopia is more applicable to those fat weird people in the ultra-modern spaceship. Well the earth too has been dehumanized and is clearly in a cataclysmic decline, which is one of the definitions of dystopia. Dystopian images show the disasters left behind when a society implodes or explodes, and in this case pollution and the obsessive consuming society caused the dystopia within which Wall-E toils. Wall-E's job of course is to clean up the badly trashed earth, but up in space the humans are seated in chairs and robots do everything for them. Clearly, these folks are living in dystopia. Mankind living in outer space as pigs is dystopia personified -- it's almost as though they are robots themselves!

Blade Runner and Utopia: Blade Runner would be the antithesis of Utopia in most minds, because it is so Orwellian and bleak and stunningly over-produced in terms of media. The misery of the inhabitants is portrayed through the ever-present big brother images; you can't even dream without being spied on! So, again, Blade Runner is not a utopian film at all, quite the contrary, it is steeped in dystopia.

Blade Runner and Dystopia: Environmental disaster and the Orwellian "big brother" scrutiny of every person in 2019 is clearly a dystopian theme in Blade Runner. It is scary to realize that some of what was seen in Blade Runner is a reality today. Writer Mary Jenkins quotes the original scriptwriter for the film, Hampton Fancher: "…a simple walk through any downtown neighborhood should convince viewers that the trash-strewn, poverty-ridden, overpopulated streets of Blade Runner are already with us today" (Jenkins, 1997). After all, dystopia is an undesirable and frightening situation, and Blade Runner is the epitome of that.

Wall-E & Blade Runner -- Technophobia vs. Technophillia

Since technophobia isn't just the fear of technology, it is also the detesting of certain technologies, the two films being critiqued in this paper are exploding with technophobic images and responses to those images. It is perfectly human and normal to have some anxiety about cutting edge technologies, but in these films the outrageous manipulative and destructive power of technologies has gone overboard and the ship of sanity has long sunk into the wasteland of what is left over. The irrational fears of average, ordinary people when it comes to technology are usually associated with those individuals being overwhelmed by the functioning of computer software and hardware. But in these two films, technophobia relates more to the bad things that technology has created -- and the detestable results of technologies -- not the fear of technology per se.

Blade Runner -- Technophobia and Technophilia

Technology has run amuck in Blade Runner, and as author Will Brooker explains in his book The Blade Runner Experience: The Legacy of a Science Fiction Classic, the city of Los Angeles is "nightmarishly futuristic" with acid rain pouring down in buckets and the sun just a vague, mostly missing due to heavy pollution in the air (Brooker, 2013). This is all due to the abundance of hideously technophobic images and machines in the film. The flying cars don't just fly around above the city -- they are like menacing machines -- and people find their way using weird neon tubes in their umbrellas. '

"Big brother" is another technophobic presence in Blade Runner, as the media is an ever-present force observing everyone and shaping how people should live and behave. This is dystopian science fiction at its most frightening: being spied on, watched constantly, and having all one's behaviors critiqued and shaped by the media is a root cause for people to despise technology in Blade Runner (Brooker). The media doesn't just watch every move people make, it has loudspeakers (from every street corner) blasting constant news bulletins and nattering information about where to travel, things to be wary of. The media even visits citizens during their sleep through bizarre memory plants. Even the soundtrack in Blade Runner is, as Brooker explains, a "haunting electronic pulse" which contributes "semiotic weight" to the dystopian images and themes in this film.

Hence, given a few of the elements of the film presented in the two paragraphs above, Blade Runner's technophobia causes people to fear what technology is doing to the population. There are other fears which Blade Runner alludes to, including over population, globalization, and environmental collapse.

But what Blade Runner also produces is the "simultaneous technophobic / technophiliac dichotomy" (Brooker). That is to say, along with the many images and machines that produce a fear and hatred of technologies, the Blade Runner film also produces some extraordinarily amazing panoramas of a futuristic Los Angeles. It is ugly, and yet it is beautiful; it is scary and yet it offers a kind of melancholy; it is populated with cyborgs and cyberpets and yet the replicants are reflective of human values and are actually a family unit, they are loyal to each other and look after one another -- very much juxtaposed with the technophobic aspects of the film. The replicants are linked to nature, to the human aspects of life, and hence they embrace a theme apart from technophobia although hatred of technologic extremes is all around them.

The replicants are "…shining beacons for the triumph of genetic engineering" and they symbolize a class conflict that has become "open warfare" as the boss calls law enforcement to put down the uprising (Brooker).

Wall-E Technophobia & Technophilia

Wall-E and Technophobia: Wall-E is a robot garbage compactor living in a world teeming with refuse and junk; the earth has been pillaged and Wall-E's daily tasks include collecting garbage and compacting the junk and garbage into units that are fairly manageable. There is no end to the piles of refuse and junk, but Wall-E has his own little makeshift shelter and though his existence is bleak, he has befriended a cockroach which may be one of the last survivors on earth due to the catastrophic destruction of the planet.

Wall-E shows what happens to the earth when over-consumption by the capitalist society leaves the planet with nothing but the relics of consumerism. Technology is not necessarily to blame for the barren, trash-filled landscape; humans abused their interactions with technology and a wasteland is all that's left. But Wall-E certainly challenges the concept of technophobia because the protagonists are machines, and "…humans rely on machines to restore life on Earth and prepare for humanity's return" (Weakland, 2012). The technophobia is obvious to the viewer as the people who were "bad ecological stewards" (and left the earth a mess) are seen in a spaceship as fat, indifferent beings riding in a vehicle that is run by a "malicious computer" (Weakland, 127). In a way, these obese people are imprisoned by a machine and they cannot control their desires for the products that they would like to continue consuming. Basically Wall-E is a kind of digital annexation of the normal human body; indeed, technology has rendered humans void of social interaction and made them into cybernetic beings, a vivid example of technophobia in extreme.

Wall-E and Technophilia: The way in which Pixar presents Wall-E could be taken as a powerful environment statement, because the earth…

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