Movie into the future

Dec 22, 1999 at 12:00 am

Speculating about the future has been a movie obsession even before Gort sent Rennie to preach the anti-nuclear gospel in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) or H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (1953) dreamed a black-and-white alien invasion on the big screen.

Of course, back then all E.T.s were "Martians" and prop spacecraft looked about as convincing as aluminum Frisbees hanging from fishing line.

But visitors from outer space don't always take center stage in movies that imagine the future. Armageddon, the apocalypse, computer intelligence gone awry, weather catastrophes, cosmic disasters, the fulfillment of prophecies, space colonization and exploration, cloning, killer viruses, time travel and brave new worlds have also been prominently featured. In fact, there's a flick on the video store shelf to entertain just about any brand of premillennial anxiety out there.

If you suffer from the classic alien invasion phobia, pick up one of the '50s classics mentioned above for horror visions of the future that have aged into quaint antiques.

For something more frighteningly realistic, revisit Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). It is still one of the most stunning epic visions of extraterrestrials on earth. Men In Black (1997) offers Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as keepers of invading space monsters, a sillier but more contemporary take with slick special effects and aliens that you can see (unfortunately).

If it's Armageddon, the apocalypse or mystical prophecies that get your premillennial imagination going, spend a few hours in Francis Ford Coppola's mind-scarring depiction of the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now (1979). If the madness and surrealistic bloodletting have become a haze in the past two decades, seeing this movie again will clear it up as much as it will renew anybody's fear of war.

Christopher Walken plays a hauntingly tormented psychic who saves the world from nuclear destruction in The Dead Zone (1983). To see creepy Walken as the angel Gabriel, dig up the The Prophecy (1995). If that's not your cup of disaster, see The Seventh Sign (1988) or The Omen (1976) to find angels, devils and hellfire visiting folks just like us.

Cosmic disasters? Watch a killer comet crash into our planet in Deep Impact (1998), but don't expect to be struck by the acting or the plot.

See science trying desperately to beat nature in Michael Bay's Armageddon (1998), as a team of engineers led by Bruce Willis attempts to head off an Earth-bound asteroid.

It's been 10 years since the release of the movie Millennium (1989), a semi-interesting story directed by Michael Anderson about an airplane that crosses warped paths with time travelers from a heavily polluted Earth in search of fresh air in the future.

And it's been even longer since the release of Stanley Kubrick's unforgettable cosmic ballet, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Kubrick managed to pack it all into this must-see-again trip to the edge of space and imagination, which features space travel, futuristic visions and a supercomputer, HAL 9000, who suffers from an electronic psychosis and sabotages a trip to Jupiter.

For the quirky, fringe visions of the years that lie ahead, check out Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985). This depressing movie explores a bureaucratic society similar to the one in Michael Radford's 1984 (1984), an even bleaker picture of passionless life in the future based on George Orwell's novel. Thankfully, the latter vision didn't catch up with us in the '80s.

Neither did Fritz Lang's stunning fantasy Metropolis (1926), which features androids and predictions about the socioeconomic impact of mass production and technology. The originally silent movie was restored and rereleased — fittingly — in 1984 with a soundtrack that includes songs by Pat Benatar and Queen.

Even feeling safe inside your own body can be a challenge in the aftermath of deadly virus flicks, such as The Andromeda Strain (1971), Gilliam's 12 Monkeys (1995), Outbreak (1995) with Dustin Hoffman, or John Bruno's not-so-infectious Virus (1999).

The prospects of posthumans and cloning are explored in the sci-fi favorite Blade Runner (1982) with Rutger Hauer as a "replicant" with a dangerous thirst for immortality. Jurassic Park (1993) envisions a revival of dinosaurs from genetic material trapped inside pieces of amber while the old standby The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) reminds us that we are still as far away from mad scientists manufacturing male studs inside dark castles as Susan Sarandon is from a singing career.

If you don't plan on venturing out on the eve of the new millennium, pop the popcorn, chill the champagne and rent a movie that feeds your favorite New Year fear. Just make sure you finish it before the power outage strikes.