Seeking examples of films where new technology is depicted as being positive and beneficial
April 6, 2004 2:09 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone provide some good examples of films where new technology is depicted as being positive and beneficial. Essentially I want films that are the opposite of the "you're messing with things you don't understand - you're trying to play God!" kind.

I suppose Contact would count, and some biopics about scientists, but anything else?
posted by biffa to Media & Arts (53 answers total)
Bicentennial Man?
posted by rory at 3:43 AM on April 6, 2004

Data in the Star Trek films has a good reputation.....
posted by kenaman at 3:48 AM on April 6, 2004

You'll find films where the new thing is introduced as bad and evil, but it turns out that it's simply misunderstood or misused. Stuff like the Terminator sequels, Pi, The Matrix Series and Eraser and The Abyss and and...

What's more interesting is how poorly received films are that introduce new technology as beneficial, only to see the new thing co-opted by the bad guys. People hate those movies, so you don't see them very often.

I mentioned two James Cameron movies. Hmm hmm. Aliens is a parable about how human kind bests nature with its toolmaking ability. So there you go. Aliens = technology good, nature bad.
posted by raaka at 4:31 AM on April 6, 2004

A great majority of action films probably fit the bill. For example, almost every Tom Clancy book has a technology fetish, and the films based on those books usually reflect this.
posted by Tallguy at 5:01 AM on April 6, 2004

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson paints technology in an ultimately beneficial light. It's not a utopia, there are themes of technology used for grey or even black purposes but overall it's beneficial to the heroine.
posted by substrate at 5:18 AM on April 6, 2004

Early Film that fits the bill very well: HG Wells' "Things to Come."

The end of the film is about the "good guys" trying to travel to the moon and the "bad guys" trying to thwart the effort and return to a less technological time.
posted by grumblebee at 5:20 AM on April 6, 2004

good example grumblebee, I haven't watched that in ages - I might try and watch it this weekend.
posted by biffa at 5:31 AM on April 6, 2004

Depending on whether you don't also mean "post-industrial" when you say "technology": a number of those Roman Empire epics like Spartacus would fit the bill. There's almost always a battle scene in which tradition-bound phalanxes of Roman soldiers march forward in a straight line, hiding behind their shields, while the scrappy rebel slaves/gladiators gin up some sort of technological device on the fly (e.g. burning logs rolling downhill) to take out hundreds of soldiers at a stroke.
posted by Prospero at 6:29 AM on April 6, 2004

"2001" is interesting to think of along these lines. It's not 100% pro technology; nor is it anti-tech. It's about man's complex relationship with technology. The story proposes that technology was integral to mankind's development. But man must also overcome technology (e.g. HAL) in order to progress past a certain point.

Coming from the same brain (Kubrick) but alas filmed after his death, "A.I." has a similarly complex tale to tell about technology. In that film, people are cruel to machines, who are the heros. But the machines want to be human.

Also, isn't there a whole genre of teenage-nerd films in which the heros use technology and science to overcome their lack of jock-like muscle? I've never actually seen any of these films, but I imaging that "Weird Science" would be one of them.

Oh, and "James Bond" films, of course.

Getting back to H.G. Wells, he's an interesting writer in terms of his views on technology. In books like "The Time Machine," and "War of the Worlds," tech seems to be the enemy. Yet "Things to Come" champions technology.
posted by grumblebee at 6:40 AM on April 6, 2004

Sorry, I misread that as books :P
posted by substrate at 6:58 AM on April 6, 2004

I always though Alien Resurrection was kinda like that; when Ripley finds all the failed clones of her.

Oh, and The Fly.
posted by armoured-ant at 6:58 AM on April 6, 2004

Oops. I misread it was films in which playing God was a good thing. Ack.
posted by armoured-ant at 6:59 AM on April 6, 2004

I mean, bad thing. Christ.
posted by armoured-ant at 7:03 AM on April 6, 2004

Hmmmm... Looking through my DVDs, I don't find many. Apollo 13, Creator (though there's a strong humanist message to that one), Hackers, maybe Manhattan Project (though again there's a message).
posted by willnot at 7:26 AM on April 6, 2004

Sneakers. For the most part, anyway.
posted by JanetLand at 7:29 AM on April 6, 2004

posted by jazon at 7:38 AM on April 6, 2004

A few lighter selections for you:

Austin Powers, Back to the Future, Galaxy Quest
posted by pieoverdone at 7:47 AM on April 6, 2004

Useful technology becomes part of everyday life very quickly. As an example imagine how boring a film centered around ATM cards would be. Technologies that are too expensive or big to be controlled by a single person introduce issues about who gets to decide when and how they are used. It's neither realistic nor dramatically useful to assume that tech outside of an individual's control will be used for their benefit.
posted by rdr at 8:07 AM on April 6, 2004

Actually I've just thought of another one, the main characters in The Saint are fighting to develop a new technology.
posted by biffa at 8:42 AM on April 6, 2004

Twister is also about technology overcoming nature.

But rdr is right: What's the dramatic utility of a pro-technology stance? Drama is about reversal -- I thought this was good and it's bad -- so to have a pro-technology moral, the bulk of the action would have to concern itself anti-technology characters, and enlightened Luddites don't sell quite as well as frustrated scientists.
posted by blueshammer at 8:47 AM on April 6, 2004

Though others have given some examples (e.g. James Bond movies), if you define "new technology" as "bigger, better guns" then any number of action movies fit the bill. As far as more fictive science, Star Wars comes to mind immediately.

though i guess those types of movies aren't really the opposite of "don't play god", they are just movies where technology is put to good use (as well as bad). Technology in star wars is sort of like rdr's ATM example, it's just there as part of the premise, able to be used by individuals, and it's not what the movie is really about. In most of those "don't play god" movies, the whole movie is basically about time travel/cloning/predicting the future/memory wiping/etc.
posted by rorycberger at 8:57 AM on April 6, 2004

Looking through my dvds for more truly pro-technology films, a few work in different ways. For comedic effect, Revenge of the Nerds. In an anti-bureacracy/paper trail kind of way, Brazil (though it's anti-modernization in a lot of ways as well). In a man-as-machine kind of way, X-men/X2 kind of work (the "new technology" mutants are - for the most part - the good guys, especially in X2). Unbreakable works that way too. None of these seem to have quite as clear of a message as the "don't play god" movies do, however. I guess that almost by definition, the "don't play god" movies are pretty simple, whereas any movie that puts technology in a positive light needs to be more complex in order to be interesting, as rdr and blue hammer hinted at above.
posted by rorycberger at 9:07 AM on April 6, 2004

Short Circuit
Electric Dreams
posted by sailormouth at 9:14 AM on April 6, 2004

Thanks for all the replies, I think there may be a more interesting (and complex) question relating to representation of technology in film that I can't quite put into words. Hopefully you'll all still be here when I do.
posted by biffa at 9:17 AM on April 6, 2004

rorycberger - Star Wars has a very Anti-technology stance. The force flows from nature. The main bad guy has had most of his humanity (body) replaced by tech. As Luke struggles with the dark side we see that he too has a part of his body taken away to be replaced by technology. At the end of the first (4th) movie, we see that the targeting computers are useless. Turn off the computer and use your intuition. On and on and on -- that whole series has a major anti-tech thread running through it.
posted by willnot at 9:30 AM on April 6, 2004

Army of Darkness. Besides that, I'm stumped. This question is way more difficult than it looks =) I thought about The Saint, but you got to that one first, biffa....

On preview: willnot, I agree that Star Wars had some very negative imagery of technology, what with Darth and all...but the whole story depended on robots. Without R2 to deliver the hologram message, or fix the ship, or shut down the compactor, the story simply wouldn't have happened. And if the heroes depend on technology to succeed in their quest, can you really call the series anti-tech?
posted by jbrjake at 9:40 AM on April 6, 2004

Its interesting that of what I would consider the four most prominent modern trilogies (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, the Matrix, LOTR), three have a central anti-technology motif, and even Indy could be construed that way (Indy doesn't exactly come off as a tech wiz).
posted by gsteff at 9:48 AM on April 6, 2004

Not sure whether this fits in, but Chain Reaction was about some new revolutionary energy source.
posted by Gyan at 9:48 AM on April 6, 2004

I think you're less likely to find examples of technology being wholly good or technology being wholly bad. The more common idea is that people are afraid of science, and tell stories that reassure them that they are still the top of the food chain.

The pattern is generally something like:

1. Innocent world
2. Someone evil uses science to threaten the innocent world.
3. Nobody knows what to do
4. Somebody (human) figures out how to use good science to defeat bad science
5. Science is dominated, contained, and controlled by people. Technology is no longer threatening.
6. Profit!
posted by Hildago at 9:57 AM on April 6, 2004

Space Camp? (yeah, yeah, I know. It was my favorite movie when I was 8)

You can argue if the rehabilitation technology in A Clockwork Orange was used for good or ill.
posted by falconred at 10:02 AM on April 6, 2004

Looking at the films listed, as well as looking over many of my own favorites, I'm struck by the fact that many of the technology-heavy movies--even some of those listed here as pro-technology--are really technology-neutral: technology can be used for good or evil. Sure, time travel may be great in the first Back to the Future, but look what happens in the second when Biff gets his hands on it.

I think this mirrors society's own views about technology. While you may find some Luddites who will argue that technological advances are a universal evil, even technology's staunchest supporters will admit that there is a potential for abuse in any technology--no one is going to argue that technological advances are a universal, unqualified good; only that technology is as good or as evil as the use it is put to.

Having said that, I think the best example I came across of what biffa is looking for is The Secret of NIMH, based on the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Mrs. Brisby (her name was changed for the movie), a widowed mouse, normally moves her family in the spring to avoid the plow of the farmer whose field they live in. But with a son who is deathly ill, she cannot move. She seeks out the rats, made unusually intelligent by experiments at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), who are able to help her with their technology--OK, it may only be things like winches and pulleys, but that's pretty darn advanced for a bunch of rats.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:18 AM on April 6, 2004

DevilsAdvocate reminded me of Flowers for Algernon.
posted by Gyan at 10:37 AM on April 6, 2004

I hate myself for saying this, but...

Home Alone

Not new technology, sure, but its tech being used in a heroic (if sadistic) manner for a noble cause. But as I was grounded for almost breaking my dad's nose with a paintcan on a rope, I would add that there is a dangerous side to Kevin's tech.

Usually, new technology movies seem to have two groups, those who see the dangers of it (and either want to wipe it out or use it for personal gain) and those who see the benefits (either for themselves or for everyone). I guess it's all in how the characters are framed.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:42 AM on April 6, 2004

I haven't seen it, but I assume "Inspector Gadget" is pro-tech.
posted by grumblebee at 10:55 AM on April 6, 2004

AI: The Artificial Intelligence wrestles with the ethics of technology explicitly and profoundly.
posted by goethean at 11:25 AM on April 6, 2004

Minority Report can be used on either side of your deliberative fence.
posted by whoshotwho at 11:32 AM on April 6, 2004

blueshammer and rdr are, I think, right in thinking that you're not going to see many pro-technology movies, because it won't be exciting. You might find pseudo-documentaries about medicine here and there. ISTR that in the fuller context including the sequel books, Colossus: The Forbin Project actually has the two computers that take over the world being good guys (they're preventing an invasion from Alpha Centauri or something).

But what you might actually find are movies where anti-technologists are held up in some way as bad -- then you can still have dramatic tension and all that stuff.

Mmmmmmaybe The Handmaid's Tale fits there, at least the movie version. The bad fundies definitely seem to be semi-luddites (hence the weird scenes with the fucking -- what, he can't spank into a cup?) and they ain't the good guys. A few choice words about the good guys having relatively advanced biotech would be all you'd need.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:34 AM on April 6, 2004

AI: The Artificial Intelligence wrestles with the ethics of technology explicitly and profoundly.

I maintain that no movie that contains the line "I'm sorry I never told you about the world," delivered utterly without irony, is profound. Or even that it is a clever piece of non-claptrap that never made me want to vomit.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:37 AM on April 6, 2004

Armaggedon. (Whoohoo, I had the best answer!)
posted by callmejay at 12:15 PM on April 6, 2004

But what you might actually find are movies where anti-technologists are held up in some way as bad -- then you can still have dramatic tension and all that stuff.

weren't the flesh eaters in Omega Man neoluddites?

given this context, i would say the the Mad Max movies are pro-techonology. i mean, sure the technology is probably what destroyed the world, but the good guys do some very clever make-do duct-tape tech.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:22 PM on April 6, 2004

willnot - is it ironic, given the aforementioned central anti-technology theme in episode 4, that mr. lucas seems hell-bent on using the latest technology to tweak the utter shit out of the original star wars movies prior to releasing them for our DVD enjoyment?

also, what's the anti-tech theme in LOTR? please explain. seemed to me, both in the movie as well as the books, that the underlying message is that things change, and failure to address these changes in time leads to sorrow. that is, it's sad to see the world change, but tragic to allow it to be overcome by evil rather than accept the changes gracefully, acknowledging that your part is done and the future belongs to others. the time of the rings is over, now are the days of men, and all that. evil is always tied to corruption and destruciton in tolkein's works, not to creation. the right of creation de novo is granted only to the good; the evil can only twist creation. that's my take anyway.

it is indeed hard though to find a movie in which new tech isn't seen as evil or dangerous in some way. maybe, perhaps, 'cause lots of new tech is often applied or invented in times of turmoil - rockets, jets, nuclear explosions, dynamite. all new at one time, all of them often not used for good reasons.

hey, maybe that's an answer - wartime films from the 40's and those made shortly after. western technology beats the enemy.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:25 PM on April 6, 2004

clf- The bad guys (orcs, primarily) in LOTR work in factories and rely on siege machines. The good guys are primarily farmers, hunters, scouts.

For a pro-technology movie- Independence Day. Pretty much any recent disaster movie, come to think of it- the aforementioned Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Core.

Oh, and Red Planet.
posted by mkultra at 12:57 PM on April 6, 2004

posted by drezdn at 1:04 PM on April 6, 2004

Not to run this thread way off track, but check out this Salon article for your answer, frogs. You don't even have to look deep to see the Sauron as an industrial power -- factories, deforestation, et cetera. Even in the movies, there is line after line of stuff about Sauron/Saruman having minds of smoke and gears and so on. Saruman even uses gunpowder at Helm's Deep.

As for the thread at hand, how about The Rocketeer?
posted by rafter at 1:17 PM on April 6, 2004

caution live frogs- Saruman cuts down all the trees to fuel his war machines. Seemed to me a pretty clear statement about the evils of industrialization and all that.

Most of the movies people have mentioned as pro-tech are really neutral towards it. Star Wars, Matrix, Mad Max, seems like both sides use technology for good or evil, depending.

i don't know if you could make a real pro-technology movie. People are too jaded now. caution live frogs had it right- Flash Gordon and Mr. Wizard type stuff is when we were last optimistic and wide-eyed about tech.

great topic.

p.s. the robots in Star Wars aren't technology, they're characters.
posted by Miles Long at 1:18 PM on April 6, 2004

Not really 'rpo-tech' but definitely dealing with the 'are we playing god and is that a good thing or bad thing?' question, is Miyazaki's awesome Princess Mononoke.

Essentially, Village B starts making guns, which have the unfortunate effect of turning the local forest Gods into demons when shot. Trying to defend themselves against the Gods, who, being all animistic and such, occasionally like to eat a human or two, leads to a whole bunch of angry demons ravaging the countryside. So there's a trade-off between preserving human life and interests and throwing the natural order completely out of whack. It isn't really portrayed as either side being neccesarily right or wrong, just as a decision to be made.

(And if you want a fucking awesome book about 'enlightened Luddites', check out "The Monkeywrench Gang," by Edwin Abbott. It's about a bunch of angry Southwesterners who want to blow up a dam that's fucking up the countryside. It rocks.)
posted by kaibutsu at 1:21 PM on April 6, 2004

i don't know if you could make a real pro-technology movie.

I don't agree. Look at the success of CSI on the small screen; if it weren't for the fact that this were a TV show rather than a movie, it would be an ideal answer to biffa's question. If it's doing so well on TV, I don't think it would be impossible to do in the movies.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:23 PM on April 6, 2004

DA, you've struck on a fundamental difference between TV and movies. The characters on CSI are basically static -- which is important, because it allows you to skip episodes, or not watch them in order, and still know what's going on and how people relate -- whereas characters in movies can rarely get by with such unchangingness, because the point of the movie is that change. Whereas the point of the TV show is the relation of the narrative. Yes, we care about how Grissom (or McCoy or whoever) react to the case, and the case reveals aspects of their character which can be fascinating, but really, these shows are all about plot mechanics. Yes, technology (or the fine points of the law or an especially thorough investigation -- all basically implementations of the scientific method) flauts evil, but you're really not getting what most would consider "the movie experience."

Not that any given movie is inherently better than any given TV show. There are lots of movies that give you "the movie experience" that are worse than an episode of Law & Order. But they really are different by design.
posted by blueshammer at 2:55 PM on April 6, 2004

(I should add that "the movie experience" is relevant here because it's that kind of sorta-catharsis that biffa is asking about -- an embrace of technology that leads to character change [and therefore audience response] or vice versa.)

(Also, AI is plenty profound.)
posted by blueshammer at 2:57 PM on April 6, 2004

blueshammer: I think you're getting at what I wanted to get at.
posted by biffa at 3:18 PM on April 6, 2004

Batman {all depictions}.
posted by dgaicun at 10:17 PM on April 6, 2004

Biffa, your original suggestion of Contact is interesting. I think that Contact is not championing technology as much it is presenting an optimistic view of a world in which rationality and science drive decisions rather than dogma derived from religion. It's cool that the bugs don't want to eat us, enslave us, or conquer us. They just want to share. The basic story; heroine searches for the word of god, heroine goes on dangerous journey seeking god, and heroine meets god is pretty standard but instead of god it's science and superior alien tech. Contact is one of the few movies out there advocating a rational (in the narrow sense that there is respect for the products of the scientific process) world view. Plus, it's got Jodie Foster.

I'm not sure I can think of any films that contain the exact opposite of the "Don't mess with nature. It's god's domain and if you puny mortals mess with it there will hell to pay." theme. After all, that theme would be something like "Hey, it's only nature. Nothing bad will happen if you just play around with a bit." which I can't see going over too well. I know it's a dark, rainy, tech dystopia of a movie but Blade Runner might be a partial answer to your question. The whole "you're messing with things you don't understand - you're trying to play God!" aspect of the mankind creating life isn't even in question. It our totally corrupt relationship with our creations that is the central concern of the film. That may not meet your criteria of being positive and beneficial but it is a shift from punishing hubris to asking how we can live with tech.
posted by rdr at 11:15 PM on April 6, 2004

cheers, rdr, yeah, the reason I initially said Contact was the rationality inherent in the main positive characters but also that the people who claim to represent God are shown as being irrational and in the wrong (and indeed murderous). I think you're right about the opposite of my example not being very saleable, possibly my question could have been better expressed - I'm just not sure how yet.
posted by biffa at 2:31 AM on April 7, 2004

« Older Training for a 1/2 Marathon   |   Tell me about traveling perfume salesmen. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.