Wednesday 29 July 2020

Hans Christian Andersen's In a Thousand Years

Most famous for his moralistic fairy tales like The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen, Hans Christian Andersen was not too aloof of Retro-Futurism to supply a quick satire in the form of the short story In a Thousand Years. Published in 1853, it severely overestimated the length of time before mass aerial transport and packaged vacations would reduce travel to Europe to a matter of days. More often, naive fantasies tend to underestimate how long it takes to affect change - a lunar colony by 1986, abolishing private automobiles within ten years - but Andersen would have been perfectly fine putting his story a mere 100 years in the future. Anyone who has loaded onto a bus for a whirlwind tour of Europe, Japan, India, or South America could easily relate. They might even miss the satire.

Wednesday 22 July 2020

The Future of the Earth, According to Cosmo

The Future of the Earth by Nobel Prize-winning Belgian poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck was originally published in the March 1918 volume of Cosmopolitan. As futurism, it is not very specific with technological, social, or evolutionary hypotheses. But in the context of the Great War raging on around it, it is a marvelous sermon. "It is well, sometimes," he says towards the end of his article, "to tell ourselves, especially in these days of distress and discouragement, that we are living in a world which has not yet exhausted its future and which is much nearer to its beginning than to its end." It is advice still worth heeding. 

Accompanying the article is a magnificent illustration titled The Earth with the Milky Way and Moon by Wladyslaw T. Benda.

Wednesday 15 July 2020

Pirates of 1920

Never mind the Caribbean! These are the pirates of the future! Pirates of 1920 gives an (incomplete) glimpse into how 1911 imagined buccaneers to plunder the riches of the high seas a whole nine years hence. Airships were ubiquitous in film and, by this point, in real life. It was only natural to explore how the technology might be misused by ne'er-do-wells rather than employed in the service of exploration and discovery, ala Georges Méliès. 

Méliès' final Scientific Romance, Conquest of the Pole, would be released only a year after Pirates of 1920, which is fitting in a way. Both films have taken the short trick film of cinema's earliest years to their greatest length. Around 20 minutes is the most they can sustain before becoming the full-length feature films of the Twenties, expanded with more engaging plots and larger effects budgets. This is one of Scientific Romances' last hurrahs.

Wednesday 8 July 2020

Disneyland's Tomorrowland '98

Welcome to Tomorrowland. Photo: Cory Gross.

The problem with the future is that it keeps happening. As it was originally conceived by Walt Disney, Tomorrowland was to be a permanent World's Exposition nestled into his Magic Kingdom. Set in the faraway year of 1986, guests could learn about advancements in science and technology in an entertaining format from America's industrial giants. But the future keeps happening and Tomorrowland kept falling further and further out of date. When it first opened in 1955, Autopia tapped into the emergent culture of the automobile in post-war America. Today, its far from futuristic gasoline-powered cars are only maintained as an artifact of nostalgia. In 1986, the science-focused Adventure Thru Inner Space was outright replaced with Star Tours, a Star Wars-themed attraction. This shift towards overt science fiction franchising was complemented with another George Lucas-produced attraction titled Captain EO, starring Michael Jackson.

To overcome this problem in Disneyland Paris, Imagineers invested fully in a Retro-Futuristic theme pulled from Jules Verne. It featured a walkthrough attraction based on the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a version of Space Mountain based on From the Earth to the Moon, and a brass and copper Victorian World's Exposition aesthetic. This worked so well at the time that it furnished inspiration for another Retro-Futuristic remodel in Walt Disney World. Rather than a Vernian theme, the Magic Kingdom's "New Tomorrowland" was made to evoke a galactic spaceport out of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Twice successful, Imagineering turned their attention to the original Tomorrowland in Anaheim.

And then something went wrong.

Few attempts to reinvigorate the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California, have been as universally condemned as the 1998 remodel of Tomorrowland. This would-be Retro-Futuristic masterpiece was hampered by budget constraints and poor management, resulting in controversial choices and broken down rides that spelled doom not only for the remodel, but for the integrity of  Tomorrowland as a whole. Nevertheless, despite universal condemnation, there was still much to recommend about Tomorrowland '98, at least in theory if not execution.

Photo: Jeff Keller.

Wednesday 1 July 2020

Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio

By 1881, the Italian author Carlo Collodi had already achieved renown as a translator of fairy tales when friends piqued his interest in writing his own. A short story about a little wooden puppet come to life was published in the children’s section of a Roman newspaper, which evolved into the serialized Adventures of Pinocchio. The first 15 episodes ran through 1881 and 1882 before Collodi was invited to write an additional 21 chapters for publication in a book in 1883.

In the original serialized form, Pinocchio is an outright brat whose short life ends with being hanged until dead at the conclusion of chapter 15. Collodi dispenses with trying to explain how Pinocchio is alive. Much like ourselves, he merely is and the rest must suffer the consequences. Among his miscreant acts is to flee from Geppetto the moment he is given legs, squish the Talking Cricket that tries to moralize at him, sell off the A-B-C book that Geppetto bought for him (by trading off his only coat) in exchange for tickets to the Marionette Theater, and finally to run afoul of the Fox and the Cat, who are ultimately responsible for his assassination. Pinocchio's was a hard life poorly spent and easily lost.