From Idiocracy to Soylent Green, Five Favorite Film Dystopias

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You think things are bad just because we have police murdering people daily, the government spying on us 24/7 and the slowest broadband speeds in the world? Pfft, whatever. Sure, the dystopia-lite that is modern-day America is a giant shitshow, but anyone with a passing familiarity with science fiction film can tell you that it could be worse — so much worse. The dystopias of science fiction have set a high (or is it low?) bar for how awful things can get, and it’s important to remember that as you watch yet another CNN report that seems like a terrible joke. To help with that perspective (and to celebrate the showing of dystopian classic Soylent Green on Tuesday, April 28 at the Denver Central Library) here are my five favorite dystopian nightmares.

1) Logan’s Run
You never forget your first, even if it’s your first look at how awful the world can conceivably be. I saw Logan’s Run, the cheerless tale of a society that deals with a shortage of resources by killing people the moment they turn thirty, at the tender age of six or seven. At the time, it didn't seem so unreasonable — thirty was like, really old! — but now, almost four decades later, it feels a little darker. The effects and costumes are super-dated, but it’s still worth watching on the eve of your thirtieth birthday, just as a reminder that even though you think your life is over, at least you aren’t going to be vaporized.

2) RoboCop
Sure, it’s unrealistic — privatized police and Detroit crumbling into a decayed wasteland? Come on! — but sci-fi dystopias don't get much better than RoboCop. The huge, shadowy corporation that runs the police (and damn near everything else) in old Detroit decides to turn the corpse of a cop into a cyborg crime fighter, proving that there are worse fates than death. It’s also weirdly prophetic, which is both disturbing and awesome. Mostly disturbing.

3) They Live
Ever wonder how rich people can be so all-consumingly shitty to poor and working-class people? I mean, we’re all just human, right? But what if we weren’t? Or, more to the point, what if they — the rich pricks who run everything and seem hellbent on destroying the planet in the pursuit of ever more wealth for themselves — weren’t human at all, but skull-faced, pop-eyed aliens keeping us all in a constant trance while they suck the planet dry? Creepy shit — but at least it would explain an awful lot about the fucked-up state of the world.

4) Idiocracy
Ever notice how stupid people seem to have a lot more kids than smart people? Mike Judge did, and then he extrapolated what the world would look like 500 years in the future if that trend continues. It isn’t pretty, but it is pretty goddamn dumb. And funny. Luke Wilson plays an average man who’s accidentally frozen and revived in a world where only the dumb and dumber remain — and it looks like an awfully familiar place to anyone who’s ever landed at a monster truck rally or seen an episode of Jackass. Welcome to Costco, I love you!

5) Soylent Green
Let’s not forget the classic that inspired the whole list! In the New York of the film’s future, people suffer in a polluted, overpopulated wasteland under the rule of oligarchic capitalists who use the police to stifle dissent and control the populace, which makes it basically a documentary. It also offers one of the great twists in science-fiction history — known to literally everyone on the planet at this point, but still awesome — and a great, final performance by Edward G. Robinson. (And don’t forget, it’s showing as part of Fresh City Life’s film program Tuesday, April 28 at the Denver Central Library.)

Find me on Twitter, where I tweet about geeky stuff and waste an inordinate amount of time: @casciato.

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