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06/22/2002 - We're All Gonna Die

The last month of terrorist-related speculation and panic has me wondering how many of those Y2K survival shelters are still floating around. Remember all that commotion about how the world was going to revert to the Stone Age once the computers fried at midnight on New Year's Eve 2000? All those doomsayers had their shelters, grenades, canned beans and lifejackets ready to go, and then - nothing. We laughed and laughed at their folly.

Who's laughing now? The current day of doom is supposed to be the Fourth of July. Whoever didn't get around to sheepishly disposing of their paranoiac stockpile must now be feeling pretty smart.

Unfortunately, most people in Hollywood are too busy to really make good survival plans. To begin with, look at the profession we chose: survival obviously isn't that high on the list. We're simply too jaded to prepare for the end. My idea of Armageddon shopping is to pick up a few extra rolls of toilet paper.

That doesn't mean we don't think about The End of It All. On the contrary, we're obsessed with the idea - for a movie. Hollywood has churned out dozens of questionably cathartic disaster movies over the decades and we're not going to stop just because some militant nutjobs are threatening to drop the final curtain.

As a matter of fact, the industry seems to be embracing the suspected sea change in Earthly life, or at least everybody wants to correctly guess how we're all going to die. The Development Czar's assistant tells me all his ideas for how the terrorists will best attack Los Angeles. Like a good writer, his creative juices are stirring around topical news, although some of his theories are kind of out there - right now he's calculating the best times to avoid driving on the freeway (?).

While all this unfocused panic and gloom has taken over our national consciousness, there's been a perceptible industry swell in classic science fiction. Not that I'm some sort of industry barometer, but Orwellian futurism, techno-fascism, robotics and all the dated "World of Tomorrow" stuff seems to be popping up everywhere in development. Of course, there's always been a faction of admitted geeks anxious to get more and better sci-fi into the mainstream, but that right there is the challenge: getting high-style sci-fi to cross genre boundaries and sweep the box office.

MINORITY REPORT is such a project: a must-see sci-fi piece that targets 18-49 year old males and everyone they know. Of course, casting Tom Cruise pretty much gets the female audience on board, but there's more to it than that. I'll wager that audiences today feel almost romantically entranced by a totalitarian future. Frankly, right now I'd rather be in an Orwellian future than this lame, wannabe biblical feud here on Earth.

Perhaps now deep-space, alternate dimensions, inner space, or whatever pseudo-metaphysical or futuristic realms we can come up with will be the hot new setting for projects, because escapism has a new goal: transport the audience away from this endless, senseless, hopeless, goal-less debacle here on Earth.

Seriously, if you pitched me a mad terrorist plot on September 10th I would've rolled my eyes. If fanatical terrorism isn't current enough for a cheesy movie, how can it be really happening in the world? I refuse to believe that this pissant religious nonsense is the way we're going down. The only way I can factor in the terrorist death-grip is to think of it as the X factor that ushers in the age of totalitarianism. Maybe the one commanding entity capable of putting an end to this terrorism will be the entity that implants us with complicity chips and tattoos identity codes across our foreheads.

We can't escape this real-life B movie madness, but it's a logical desire, or at least a proactive one. This is the 21st Century, after all. Aren't we supposed to be zipping around between teeming galactic outposts by now? Isn't there supposed to be a phalanx of transport shuttles waiting to evacuate the planet? I went to see the IMAX space station flick and liked it, but they're still giggling around in zero gravity. I don't think they're ready for us all to move out there yet.

Until the space suits have been issued, maybe it's time to solicit sweeping sci-fi specs and pull the funky sci-fi projects out of development hell; projects like those based on I, ROBOT, LOGAN'S RUN and A WRINKLE IN TIME. What are these cool classics being saved for? Anything futuristic or otherworldly will be a welcome new landscape to distract us between color-coded warnings of vague doom.


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