I’ve been listening to some 80s Internet radio stations at work recently (no doubt reaffirming my … eccentric … taste in music with certain individuals in my Dungeons & Dragons campaign) and I’ve been hearing some old classics like “Weird Science”, “She Blinded Me With Science” and “The Future’s So Bright I’ve Got To Wear Shades”.
And it got me to thinking about the various 1980s movies that involved slightly-mad, but usually benevolent scientists creating marvelous new inventions. Said inventions usually went somewhat amok, but everything worked out in the end.
I’m talking about movies like Weird Science (Amazon), in which two teens — through a combination of excessive computing power and, well, weird science — create a high-tech, sexy genie of sorts. Then there’s Real Genius (Amazon), which involves college geniuses using their scientific prowess to create new and improved pranks, being tricked into creating a superweapon, and finally getting revenge by destroying a host with popcorn.
We’ve also got the Back to the Future trilogy (Amazon), which at first glance may seem to damn such dangerous technologies as time travel, but ends up showing what positive effects they can have in the right hands. Heck, we’ve even got a pro-capitalism, pro-free market movie involving a bunch of supernatural engineers who go around catching ghosts (and saving New York from extra-dimensional bad guys) in Ghostbusters. Heck, in Ghostbusters (Amazon) it’s the EPA that provides the catalyst for impending doom in NYC, not the businessmen. Imagine that!
In each of the movies, there’s a sense of optimism and benevolence surrounding the film’s application of science. Science, they say, is a tool … one that can be used for good or for bad, but when done for the former, can counteract the latter. And in the process, it can take us to hereto unexplored heights.
The entire sentiment can be summed up in the lyrics “I study nuclear science, I love my classes, I’ve got a crazy teacher he wears dark glasses … the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”
So here’s my question: where are today’s “weird science” movies? Are there any films that envision the “bright future” of the 1980s? I ask because off the top of my head, I can’t think of any. Certainly not since the Oughts arrived, and perhaps since the mid-1990s.
Oh there have been a few good science movies — Apollo 13 (Amazon) and October Sky (Amazon) spring immediately to mind — but these are dramatic offerings. At first glance, Jurassic Park (Amazon) and its sequels might seem to incorporate this sentiment, but in reality, they damn science and its accompanying curiosity as little more than an attempt to play at God. The innate wonder they evoke — and certainly we go to see them because of that sense of wonder — is erased by a heavy handed moral message about man messing with the affairs of nature.
I suspect the answer to my question lies in the preteen genre. Cats and Dogs (Amazon), for example, featured a zany scientist trying to find a cure for dog allergies. I haven’t seen them, but I suspect that the Spy Kids movies, with all their various high-tech gadgetry, might fall into this category.
Are there others? I don’t know. If anyone reads this, and can think of any modern day equivalents of Weird Science and its ilk, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll incorporate your suggestions into a future column.