Thanks to Fandango.com—the newfangled Internet service allowing people to purchase their movie tickets from home—I am now officially screwed. Though I have arrived at Sony’s Metreon theater in San Francisco a full two hours early, naively planning to acquire tickets for the futuristic Jim Carrey film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” I find that they are all sold out. Sold out! Every last ticket has been snapped up by obsessive web-surfers. This for a late night screening (9:40 p.m.) on a Monday evening no less. By the time I am joined by my scheduled movie guest—Glasgow-based cyberpunk author Richard K. Morgan (Altered Carbon)—several other films have also sold out, though I’ve glimpsed less than two dozen people actually walking up to buy tickets.
“Ah, it’s the curse of technology, isn’t it?” remarks Morgan bemusedly, casting a cautious glance at the nearby ad display featuring a life-sized replica of Robbie the Robot (the booming automaton from “Forbidden Planet”), now a mere shill for the trendy comic book boutique up the escalator from where we stand—”Things From Another World is the greatest store I’ve ever seen,” the robot says.
After five or ten minutes of discussion in which we come frighteningly close to grabbing tickets for “Dawn of the Dead,” Morgan—whose relentless new book, Broken Angels (Ballantine), continues the bloody adventures of body-swapping 25th century bad-a*s Takeshi Kovacs—confesses a sudden, intense desire for a hamburger. We say goodbye to poor babbling Robbie, and ten minutes later are seated in a fake 60s diner, looking at posters from “American Graffiti,” eating cheeseburgers and apple pie.
Morgan mentions the upcoming big screen incarnation of his, the rights having been snapped up by Joel Silver.
“I’ve seen an early draft,” Morgan says with a shrug. “They’ve given Kovacs a daughter, to humanize him. They’ve taken this scary, heartless mercenary and given him the disfiguring scar of morality.” Even so, Morgan is looking forward to seeing how modern special effects will recreate the brutal, pitiless world he’s imagined for the year 2550. Citing Ridley Scott’s “Bladerunner” as an example of a science fiction film that still holds up after time, Morgan explains what he sees as the major problem with futuristic films and books.
“The thing about ‘Bladerunner’,” he says, “it was made 22 years ago, but it still looks like the future. That’s no mean achievement. I can’t think of any other science fiction movie, with the possible exception of ‘Alien’, that still looks like the future. Every old science fiction film about the future, and many of the books seem horribly, horribly outdated now. There’s a shot of a computer and you think, ‘Ah man, I have something more sophisticated than that on my desk at home.’ In ‘Bladerunner’, you watch it today and it still looks like the possible near future.
“The great thing about writing novels set 500 years in the future,” he continues, “is that by the time I’m proved wrong I’ll be dead. I’ll be spared all those embarrassing questions on whatever passes for talk shows in the future.”
“Unless they’ve downloaded your consciousness and jack you into a new body just so you can face the humiliation,” I reply.
“That sounds about right,” he laughs. “Keep people alive just so we can laugh at them in the future.”
“Why, do you think,” I ask, “is it easier to imagine a future that’s dark and dangerous and murderous, but hard to believe in the kind of future we were promised at Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland, a world where technology is only used to make life better? It’s impossible to imagine that today. What we imagine now is something out of ‘Mad Max’.”
“To be honest, I think you could sell that in Disneyland quite successfully,” Morgan laughs. “A dystopian Tomorrowland, with attractions in which you’re equipped with sawed-off shot guns, sent out on a ride of some kind where you blast dangerous people as they come along. What you can’t do anymore is give people a vision of a wholesome future. And in a sense I think that’s our failing. I think to a large extent, in Western culture anyway, it’s become cool not to be impressed. A few years ago there was no shame in going, ‘Oh my god! That’s astounding!’ Remember the story about the old guy who saw the very first motion picture, and came stumbling out saying, ‘We have conquered death!’ We no longer have a culture that is capable of sustaining a sense of wonder, whether it’s wonder about the present or wonder about the future.”
“Or we simply fear the future,” I point out.
“We do tend to imagine the worst for our future, don’t we?” Morgan muses. “I know I do. In the future, I think they will be much the same only with different furniture. Society only works as well as the human beings behave themselves. In the end, technology won’t have much to do with how utopian or how dystopian our societies are, it will depend on whether we’ve grown up or not.”
“I just hope that in the future we’ve found a way to avoid missing movies,” I reply.
“I think we already have,” Morgan says. “I think it’s called Fandango.”
Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to the movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.
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