Futuristic Dystopias, Part II

It is time to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Here is a list of movies:

Fahrenheit 451
A Clockwork Orange
Soylent Green
THX 1138
Logan’s Run
Blade Runner
The Matrix
Minority Report
Code 46
The Island
V For Vendetta
A Scanner Darkly

If you, like me, are a Hollywood screenwriter, you will see not one but two lists here.  There is a short list of movies that were very successful and a longer list of movies that were not successful.  We’re not talking about artistic success here, just boxoffice.  A few of them were smash hits, some were middling disappointments, some were high-profile disasters and others escaped the notice of almost everyone.

My job is to figure out why.  Why did audiences connect with some of these movies and not others?

They all share the Futuristic Dystopia element, which puts them in the realm of sci-fi, but some of them mix in other genre elements as well.  Blade Runner and Minority Report are detective stories, The Island and The Matrix feature action-film elements.

Each has a single protagonist in opposition to his or her society.  That society is either (a) forthrightly awful or (b) awful with a sweet candy-coating that must be peeled away before the awfulness can be tasted.

The key, it seems to me, is in the journey of the protagonist.  Specifically, the protagonist must be active, and must represent something unique and important.

Let’s compare The Matrix and V For Vendetta.  Same filmmakers, similar storyline.  In Act I of The Matrix, Neo is chosen, as The One, to undergo a test.  He is pulled from his world and shown “reality.”  In Act II he undergoes rigorous training, all the while doubting that he is, in fact, The One.  In Act III, a crisis emerges and he must face his destiny, face his oppressors, prove his worth and emerge, triumphant, as The One.  In V For Vendetta, Evey is not The One, she is Some Woman who gets into trouble one night.  She does not undergo rigorous training, she gets brainwashed by a mysterious stranger who won’t take off his mask.  And in Act III, a popular movement forms, but how much does that have to do with Evey’s actions?

The protagonist’s journey need not be heroic.  Alex in A Clockwork Orange is an equal-opportunity thug, victimizing rich and poor alike, seeking nothing out of life but the opportunity to beat, maim, kill and rape.  He’s motivated by the basest of human desires, but we like Alex because he’s pure; he’s smart and resourceful and he has a whale of a time.  He enjoys his life.  Society wants to take from Alex not only his opportunity to rape and kill but his desire to do so.  As bad as Alex is, a society that would take away free will is seen as worse.

In Brazil, Sam has a clear goal, but has no idea how to achieve it.  He gets jerked around a lot, cringeingly accepting indignity after indignity for a very long time.  When he does finally rebel he is immediately punished so severely that he must retreat into a very long fantasy sequence.  It’s also worth noting that Sam is not The One, but rather gains his role of protagonist quite by accident, when a fly falls into a telex machine, starting the narrative in motion.

Rollerball, interestingly, is a sports movie.  The plot is the same as every boxing noir: the athlete just wants to play a good game but the powers-that-be want him to take a dive for the short-end money.  It takes a very simple old story and puts it in a dazzling new context.

In Fahrenheit 451, Montag wants something clear and understandable, but thuddingly uncinematic — he wants to read.  The enormity of that still hasn’t quite sunk in for me yet — a movie about a guy who’s only desire is to curl up with a good book.  Rod Serling in The Twilight Zone knew that that’s no protagonist, that’s an antihero.

I’m off to have dinner with Mr. James Urbaniak, so I’ll leave this for now, but there is much more to be discussed here.  Any information regarding the protagonists’ journeys of, say, Zardoz (which I haven’t seen) or Gattaca (which I haven’t seen in a long time) or any other movie not yet discussed is greatly appreciated.

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40 Responses to “Futuristic Dystopias, Part II”
  1. ghostgecko says:

    Matrix succeeded because it was pure and simple wish fulfillment. It’s Harry Potter for adults. It’s every hero story ever written. It can’t help but succeed because it’s hardwired into the brain. It worked for a bunch of cavemen grunting around a fire and it’ll work a thousand years from now, assuming the species survives.

    BTW, I saw the Prestige last night, and you’re right. Excellent movie.

    Ah well. Enjoy your dinner.

    • Todd says:

      It’s every hero story ever written.

      Well, but unfortunately, that’s what we’re looking for here, “every hero story ever written” dressed up in pretty new clothes, and The Matrix certainly had extravagantly pretty new clothes.

      • ghostgecko says:

        What do you mean by extravagently pretty new clothes? The computer effects?

        • Todd says:

          I mean the special effects, the presentation, the structure, everything.

          Here’s what I say is the oldest story: the handsome prince is asked to leave his village to slay the dragon. He leaves home, gains knowledge, slays the dragon, but now can’t return home because he’s grown so far beyond that place.

          Well, that is indeed The Matrix, except the the village is a gigantic battery filled with humans in pink goo with electrodes in their heads. That’s what I mean by new clothes. We respond to the story of The Matrix because we’ve heard it a thousand times before but the filmmakers found a way to make it completely new and surprising.

  2. dougo says:

    I’m really not convinced that boxoffice success has anything at all to do with the story, or even the script. It’s all about marketing, name recognition, number of screens, and zeitgeist. Are there any counterexamples? Even a flop like The Island still grossed $35 million to Scanner Darkly’s $5 mil. (On the other hand, The Island’s budget was $126 mil, according to http://boxofficemojo.com., so maybe I should be looking at net, not gross.)

    • Todd says:

      The question, for Hollywood’s purposes, is not “did it make any money at all?” but “was it successful?” The Island was designed to make $200 million and made $35 million, so it was a failure.

      What Hollywood, and therefore I, am looking for when assembling my Futuristic Dystopia movie, is popular success. The Island does not count as a popular success. The Matrix? Big success.

      • dougo says:

        Fair enough, it could be worth trying to figure out why one big-budget movie failed and another succeeded (though I still think it has more to do with situational factors than the storyline). But why bother thinking about the indie films? A Scanner Darkly was never going to make Matrix money no matter what it was about.

        • Todd says:

          I disagree — Scanner had all the ingredients to make Matrix money — what it lacked was the will on the filmmaker’s part to push the script that far. That is, they were (probably) too faithful to the book and in search of too personal a vision to have a blockbuster. Which is great for them artistically, but a failure commercially.

          One of the things I’m trying to get at here is that it doesn’t matter what the budget is, certain stories will work on film and others will not, regardless of what plot elements they share or how well they’re marketed.

          I liked Scanner a lot, but it didn’t help that the movie had an ill-defined goal for the protagonist and little forward momentum. (Actually, it was funny — I saw scanner with a friend of mine, and after the movie I kept saying “You know, they had all the ingredients for a good sci-fi thriller and they kept stopping it for all this dumb stoner humor,” and she said “That’s funny, I was just thinking that they had this really good stoner comedy and they kept ruining it by trying to turn it into a sci-fi thriller.” In either case, the neither-fish-nor-fowl problem was a big factor in the movie’s release.)

          • craigjclark says:

            I enjoyed Scanner thoroughly when I saw it in the theaters. I don’t know how it will play on the small screen, but that didn’t seem to hurt Waking Life, which I’ve taken several trips through since I got in on DVD.

  3. craigjclark says:

    In Zardoz, the main character is thrust from a world of primitives into a society of immortals, which he has to subvert from the inside. To say more about it would reveal surprises that should be encountered while watching the film (which for all its inherent silliness, is still worthwhile).

  4. greyaenigma says:

    Specifically, the protagonist must be active, and must represent something unique and important.

    Neo seemed especially non-active for the first 3/4 of the movie — does just being active at the end count?

    Zardoz I’ve seen, but I don’t quite follow. I think that’s a big part of its failure. I think there just wasn’t any level on which a significant segment of the audience could attach itself to. I suspect that a lot of successful films have multiple levels to appeal to different audience segments — don’t like the mystery in Usual Suspects? OK, it’s a gangster drama, too! Matrix is wish fulfillment and a love story, AND pseudo-deep philosophy!

    Gattaca is coming back to me a little, but I haven’t seen it since its release, so I’m not likely to be of much help there.

    I’m curious which count as box office successes — Was V not?

    • Todd says:

      Neo seemed especially non-active for the first 3/4 of the movie

      Close — he is reactive for 2/3 of the movie. Which is extremely rare for Hollywood blockbusters, and is in fact the reason for this post. I got started thinking “Well, why was Matrix successful and V not? They have almost the same story arc, after all.” I think the difference lies in the protagonist’s journey. Although Natalie Portman is the protagonist of V, V is the character who drives the story and could therefore be considered the protagonist. But, and this is a big but, no matter what you think of Keanu’s abilities as an actor, he is infinitely more fun to watch do nothing than a guy with a mask is do something. The mask, which is crucial to V‘s strategy, cripples the movie because it makes Evey the protagonist and her story can’t carry the narrative the same way Neo’s can in The Matrix.

      • greyaenigma says:

        no matter what you think of Keanu’s abilities as an actor, he is infinitely more fun to watch do nothing than a guy with a mask is do something

        Not a dis on Keanu, but this definitely isn’t true for me. I very much enjoyed the guy in the mask. And I don’t think it’s necessarily the mask per se that makes Evey the protagonist. For one thing, I’m sure some people would call V the protagonist. More broadly, I think V is more of a force of nature (or perhaps politics) — the personification of revolution. He’s also monstrous beyond his physical appearance, but that hasn’t stopped us from rooting for protagonists before.

    • Todd says:

      And no, V was considered a disappointment.

      • robolizard says:

        V i think may’ve been unsucceful because Alan Moore came out and claimed it ws worse than the book, which stopped a lot of people I know from seeing it. Also, in 1999 a technological mind bending dystopia seems oh so fantastique and relevant, while V felt a bit [through advertising] like liberal anti Bush pandering. Lukewarm reviews didn’t help either.

        • Todd says:

          I doubt that Alan Moore’s disavowal of the movie hurt its boxoffice, only because most people don’t know who Alan Moore is and the ones that do know who he is know that he’s a crank who hates everything Hollywood does on general principles. And not without reason.

          I had a conversation about the Matrix vs. V conundrum this evening with some friends and they said that V is like The Matrix except instead of Morpheus telling Neo over and over that he is The One and Neo not believing him, in V it’s more like Morpheus telling Neo that he’s going to blow up the world and Neo saying “But that’s crazy!” until Morpheus finally brainwashes him and then Neo says “okay, now I see your point,” and then blows up the world after Morpheus dies.

  5. Anonymous says:


    The two-lists-in-one suggests trying an additional list that contains feature films which have somehow synthesized this ‘dual-nature’. These films would naturally wind up with paradoxical qualities that stop them from being purely Hollywood fare, have skewed perspectives onto Hollywood narratives yet still able to draw audiences, so the question would be how success isn’t related so much to a film becoming “famous” but “infamous”. For example, if just keeping to the shared, populist future dysoptic, sci-fi genre character of the list’s films (Rollerball + Clockwork Orange), the first thing that comes to mind are certain Peter Watkins films, say like “The Gladiators”.

    As for “Zardoz”, when I saw it long ago in the cinema I recall thinking then it was Sean Connery being asked to do a Charlton Heston.


    • Todd says:

      Re: List

      I haven’t seen The Gladiators, but the the other day I also found myself thinking about Gladiator and how that movie, like Blade Runner and all of Scott’s movies, is first and foremost a stunning evocation of a period. Every detail is sweated and regardless of anything else, an overwhelming sense of place and time is evoked. And then I realized, in its own way, Gladiator is a Futuristic Dystopia movie too, except its dystopia isn’t in the future. But you’ve got all the same symptoms (Perfect society with a horrible secret to its success, a rebel whose only desire is to escape, detailed description of imaginary world, etc) of the movies we’ve been talking about.

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: List

        The movies on your list have a script’s evocation of a period, but bound up with another evocation of the period it was produced in, whether the color film used, matte-effects or acting styles or of course, the kind of CGI.

        “Blade Runner” and “Gladiator” as filmed scripts could be morphed together easily (you would get Watkins “The Gladiators” in a way!) just by using certain anchor points related to the same Director, the use of camera movements, dramaturgy (the protagonist focus, the scripting etc) and so on. But it would be difficult because of the leap between the different eras filmic qualities, whereby the past is CGI “cleaner”, less psychological and yet more 3d than the future in old-school matte-painted form.

        In cinematic sci-fi dystopias I would imagine the challenge is that their scripts are evocations of several periods operating at once. That doesn’t allow them to form some cohesive web of logic for the script to be succesful, but more a choreography of partial-networks. This is a dance of partials because the film’s success really relies on how contemporary audiences partner up and fill in the logical gaps with belief.

        (sidebar: in a way the “Venture Bros” shades of dystopia is signalled by how somewhere in the scripts, there are glimpses of earlier animated fare that had began to “reanimate” past cartoons as neurotic, psychological, material, done in part by slightly skewing or warping the exact periodicity so associated to those “classic” cartoons narrative, making them uncanny.)

        Anyway, the point isn’t lost on Watkins “The Gladiators” (1969). Its gritty, stark sense of realism and indie production qualities basically gets a 1:1 Hollywood remake into one of the better Schwarzenager films. The original Watkins synopsis should give that away:

        “The movie takes place in a alternate reality where warfare has been abolished. Countries that want to settle their disputes handle them inside a high tech arena. Each country sends in a crack squad of highly trained commandos. While inside, they play a game that’s similar to “capture the flag”. The supercomputer controlled arena is operated by technicians from neutral countries. The computer randomly puts up obstacles in the way of the commandos (adding a bit of intrigue to the game). The generals from the opposing forces (along with their allies) play a game of chess with their commandos, watching the proceedings from the safety of a control room (TV screens and computer monitors follow the action). Around the world, the game is televised (except in Russia, China and The United States). The TV programmers even have a say in the action (they have to satisfy the TV viewers).”


        • Todd says:

          Re: List

          There are indeed many factors that go into the success or failure of a movie, but as a writer the one I have control over is the script. And barely then.

  6. kokoyok says:


    Ok… I’ve been away from your LJ for a while now, but I’ve come back just in time for a great topic. It just so happens that Gattaca is my favorite movie, and I’ve seen it probably 50 or so times now (not counting the numerous times I popped it in my player just so I could fall asleep to something familiar,) so excuse me if I borrow your format for a moment Mr. Alcott:

    WHAT DOES BIG BROTHER WANT? Big Brother wants to eliminate all genetic disorders, inherited diseases, or any otherwise undesireable trait. Their lofty goal is to make the whole race better by making our gene pool shallow.

    WHAT DOES THE REBEL WANT? Vincent (Ethan Hawke,) a “natural-born” guy with a midwestern accent, myopia and a congenital heart defect, just wants to get along without being noticed as he masquerades as a foreign olympic athlete with better than 20/20 vision… oh yeah, did I mention his assumed identity is significantly taller than he is? Also, he wants to be an astronaut.

    WHAT DOES THE REBEL GET? Oddly enough, he blunders his way through the movie (as well as some high-traffic streets and bodies of water) with pure stubborness and determination until he gets just about everything he wants.

    IS THERE AN UPPER CLASS, AND DO THEY HAVE ANY FUN? There’s definitely an upper class, and it’s implied throughout the movie that in order to have any kind of decent job (and thereby any disposable income) you have to be “Valid” (their term for a genetically selected birth.) Of course, not all the Valids have great jobs. Some are just beat cops or wage slaves whose only pleasure comes from the knowledge that they’re better than Invalids.

    DOES SOCIETY CHANGE AS A RESULT OF THE REBEL’S ACTIONS? Not really. Vincent’s goals aren’t to bring society down, but to join it. Which he does, quite literally, with a flip of a switch.

    NOTES: How great could all that genetic selection be? After all, the people of this future are limited to the possible combinations of their parents’ genes. So, if mom and dad don’t have the goods, it doesn’t really matter how you match up those little As,Ts,Gs, and Cs (if you look for it, the movie is rife with little allusions to the four protein clusters that make up DNA and the title, Gattaca) basically, you can’t mate two horses and get a zebra.

    Also, despite their meddling, it seems like the genetic engineers are screwing up all over the place (though that only seems logical, since the pioneers of this process must have – by virtue of predating their process – been Invalids) Uma Thurman’s got a bum ticker, Jude Law is a suicidal alcoholic, Gore Vidal is a sociopath, there are six-fingered freaks running around for Christ’s sake! Not to mention everyone in the movie is shown up by a wimp with a 5 minute life expectency armed with a several-generations out-of-date text book that teaches him how to be an astrophysicist when not doubling as excercise equipment.

    On a completely different note, I’d like to recommend Equilibrium as another dystopic future scenario, and a rather enjoyable one, too.

    • kokoyok says:

      Re: Gattaca

      As,Ts,Gs, and Cs (if you look for it, the movie is rife with little allusions to the four protein clusters that make up DNA and the title, Gattaca)

      Did I say protein clusters? I meant nucleobases…

    • Todd says:

      Re: Gattaca

      Wow, thanks a lot. This is really helpful.

      • kokoyok says:

        Re: Gattaca

        No problem. It’s my pleasure to contribute to my favorite LJ.

        • ghostgecko says:

          Re: Gattaca

          Yeah, Gattaca was a disappointment in the science department. Very reactionary to transhumanism, pandering to technophobes, reassuring normal people that it’s best to be normal and not strive for anything better and about as scientifically accurate as radiation resulting in giant man-eating ants. You get the feeling there’s a cave painting somewhere depicting humanity being destroyed by that terrifying new weapon, fire.
          It’d be nice for once to see a movie about new developments in science actually have some sort of basis in reality, or where the scary new technology turns out to be helpful. Otherwise, they end up dated in about 10 years, and they’re all just variations on Frankenstein and “things man was not meant to know”.

          • kokoyok says:

            Re: Gattaca

            Actually, I think you got the wrong impression from my comments. As an engineer, I rather enjoyed the humanism in the movie, and the message I got from the movie was that things aren’t really going to change if we toy around with genetic engineering a little, because success is up to the individual not some magical “edge”; in essence the only thing that matters is striving for what is better.
            I also found it to be rather well grounded, too. Engineered people didn’t become super-human, they were merely the optima of their parents’ genes combined. The only thing I found a little hokey was that they went through all that trouble to hide Vincent’s identity when it seemed relatively easy to go into the main DNA database at the end of the movie and declare him Valid. Why not pay some hacker a few bucks and avoid all the trouble?

            • ghostgecko says:

              Re: Gattaca

              Ah, okay. It was the humanism in the movie I didn’t like, but that’s just me. I see a lot of room for improvement in the species, and I don’t see anything wrong with going in there and meddling with the genes. But people are freaking out over drinking milk from cloned cows – it’s not so much the actual movie that bothers me, it’s the whole reactionary attitude.

    • Re: Gattaca Necro

      Was the six-fingered maestro an example of a failure, or of the next stage in genetic fashion? After all, once everyone looks like Uma Thurman, Uma Thurman becomes passé. Since good looks and athletic physiques are ubiquitous, it’s no wonder that parents start looking for traits that make their children unique.

  7. I realize I’m at the risk of being stoned and thrown off LJ… but I never really understood why The Matrix was so popular.

    I asked the theatre box office for a refund. It’s the only time I’ve ever done this. And I am a sci-fi fan. I just didn’t get what everyone was raving about. It reminded me of just so many Man vs. Machine folktales with a biblical touch of the Christ story dressed up with special effects. And it seemed to borrow ideas, visuals and designs heavily from Ghost in the Shell, a Japanese anime movie.

    I think it’s hard to tell what’ll be popular at the box office. I think you should write the movie for yourself and if it rings true, then there’s a chance others will see what you see in it.

    (Either that or slapdash from common mythology and from movies that most of the US public will never see. Okay — that wasn’t very nice and uncalled for, but I’m just expressing what I observed.)

    Well, maybe to change the subject or try to move along… we might ask why Star Wars, Part IV (the 1st of the originals) was so much better than Star Wars, Part I (1st of the second set of Star Wars movies)?

    • Todd says:

      Nothing wrong with not liking The Matrix. I too have seen many Man vs Machine scenarios in sci-fi but I thought this one was done with style and surprise.

      Right after The Matrix came out I was working on a project at Silver Pictures and an executive there was, himself, a little stunned by the success of the picture, because he knew the movie was flawed in crucial ways and he wanted to make sure that he didn’t fall into the trap of believing the hype about his own project. So he was saying “Remind me what was wrong with The Matrix, because I’m scared I’m going to start thinking it’s a masterpiece.”

      “I think it’s hard to tell what’ll be popular at the box office.”

      This is, of course, the ultimate truth of Hollywood.

      And if it was just me sitting and writing a script for myself it wouldn’t matter. But what I’m working on is a pitch for a major studio and, although I am an absolutely brilliant writer, the studio’s going to need more than my assurances of that — they’re going to need to hear me tell them a “hit movie” before the movie even gets written.

      I would love to talk about Star Wars v. Star Wars, but perhaps another day.

      Thanks for writing in, I’m glad to hear your viewpoint.

      • I suspect you already have boatloads of people that you talk to about this… but if you want to run the idea by me, my e-mail is qwrk10@hotmail.com. I could probably free-associate and bounce ideas back at you.

        I’m really removed from that Hollywood world, but when I do imagine studio execs listening to pitches, I imagine they want…

        … something that’s geared to a particular demographic.
        … in sci-fi — explosions! special effects!
        … strong characters, strong universal themes
        … that twist
        … most important they want to hear what makes it different from everything else.

        That’s what I imagine.
        “Yes. I like it. But more explosions! More special effects!”

        • Todd says:

          Thank you for your offer. It’s true that I do have boatloads of people that I talk to about this. And I also have the readers of this blog.

          Your appraisal of Hollywood execs is essentially accurate, although I think they tend to get a bum rap in the non-Hollywood world. The problem is not that they are childish or have no attention spans, it’s that their job is different from that of the writer or director or even producer so they think about the creative process in a very different way.

          In the case of the project I’m working on, the “particular demographic” they want to aim the movie at is, well, everybody. Yes, that’s right — that’s who Hollywood is aiming pictures at now: everybody. So that’s a pretty tall order.

          There’s nothing wrong with strong characters and universal themes, and if you can surprise a studio executive, who hears a dozen different movie ideas every day, with a surprise twist, then you’re doing very well.

          I’ve never heard an executive use the words “More explosions! More special effects!” But it’s true that in an entertainment marketplace as competitive as the one we have, you’ve got to have that hook that no one’s ever seen before. If a listener feels like a script is lacking thrills there’s probably a reason for that.

    • kokoyok says:

      Well, maybe to change the subject or try to move along… we might ask why Star Wars, Part IV (the 1st of the originals) was so much better than Star Wars, Part I (1st of the second set of Star Wars movies)?

      Well, to tie it back into the topic at hand, I always felt that Part IV was great because the plot was a rebel fighting against futuristic dystopia whereas Part I was… well… it was… just see Todd’s post about that from awhile back, ok?

      • Todd says:

        Alas, I have not seen The Phantom Menace in a few years. You may be thinking of my post regarding Attack of the Clones.

        For the sake of argument, here’s a place to start discussing Star Wars: Episode IV is about Luke Skywalker. Episode I is about — who? Qui Gon? Obi-Wan? Padme? Who? Is is about the little kid who shows up at the end of Act I? Is that who the movie’s about?

        • kokoyok says:

          Quite right. My apologies! I don’t so much remember the subject of the post as much as I remember reading it at work and laughing until I cried.

          And as far as who Ep. I is about – in that regard it sorta reminded me of a boring historical piece: a chronological listing of events following a few key players, but not an actual narrative.

  8. ndgmtlcd says:

    It seems to me that if you include Zardoz in that list you should also include The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.


    WHAT DOES BIG BROTHER WANT? On the surface, the tiny photonic supercomputer wants to go on supporting a small community of immortals in sealed-off luxury behind a force field while most of humanity lives at a barbaric level after nuclear wars, slightly manipulated by the barbaric, mortal henchmen of the immortals. At another level it (or one of the immortals who might have altered its programming) knows things have reached a dead end with this lot and manipulates the hero to reach its goal, including its own end and the death of all the immmortals.

    WHAT DOES THE REBEL WANT? Zed wants to find the truth, and possibly to change the status quo, where he is but an ignorant henchman of the immortals.

    WHAT DOES THE REBEL GET? The truth and an end to the status quo, and a girl.

    IS THERE AN UPPER CLASS, AND DO THEY HAVE ANY FUN? The small community of immortal humans is presumably bored to death and just going through the motions of having fun or living.

    DOES SOCIETY CHANGE AS A RESULT OF THE REBEL’S ACTIONS? Yes, the small community of immortals is killed off and the brutals can go off to live without their (slight)manipulations.


    Zed’s journey as the protagonist is totally sidetracked by the producer or director’s desire to put his “big” ideas forward (actually retreads of very old ideas in SF novels and short stories), regardless of the need to establish any convincing humanity in the characters presented and some plausibility to the little immortal community which is the setting (in theory) of the whole film. There is an over reliance on exposition and exposition-filled flashbacks to carry things on.

    Hitch-Hiker’s guide

    WHAT DOES BIG BROTHER WANT? The Vogons wanted to eliminate planet Earth (and its society but who cares about that)and the mice want to find out the answer to the meaning of life, by watching humans.

    WHAT DOES THE REBEL WANT? To survive, in an indifferent and violent universe, while dreaming of a more quiet life, and longing for an old flame.

    WHAT DOES THE REBEL GET? He survives, gets the girl and Earth is rebuilt and humans and their society is recreated as they were before, so that he can resume his status quo ante bellum.

    IS THERE AN UPPER CLASS, AND DO THEY HAVE ANY FUN? Yes, there are many and they have great fun, inasmuch as bureaucrats can have fun, or mice can enjoy testing humans by seeing how they react when they squeak and run through mazes.

    DOES SOCIETY CHANGE AS A RESULT OF THE REBEL’S ACTIONS? No, and that’s the point. He longs for that “perfect” planet Earth human society he lived in before the wrecking crew came along. Vogon society or mouse society do not seem to be affected. Human society (and Earth) is reinstated perfectly unchanged, as it was before its destruction.

    NOTE: In a sense Arthur Dent is (or should be if I can trust the original radio scripts, which I’ve read several times) the perfect anti-hero in a social as well as an individual level, a victim who wants to go back to the perfect, unreal tranquil past of his little house. All of the interest in the story is in the journey itself and not in the result since Earth is perfectly recreated and everything is perfectly circular (except for the missing dolphins). But the journey is not interesting in this movie version, because the producer and or director fell into the special effects and “star player” trap instead of focusing on the human side of the anti-hero victim struggling in an indifferent universe. The BBC TV version was more focused on the anti-hero’s travails and was thus more successful at that level.

    I find it amazing how much these two film have in common:

    In Zardoz the film’s creators continuously interrupt the hero’s journey with the very clumsy presentation of their “big ideas”. In addition, they fail at the basics of creating empathy for the hero or the human society around him.

    In the film’s creators continuously interrupt the anti-hero’s journey with overly long special effects and the useless perfomrance of “stars”. In addition, they fail at the basics of creating empathy for the anti-hero or the small group of human or human-like aliens around him.

    • Todd says:

      I have nothing to add to this, except to say I have nothing to add to this.

    • kokoyok says:

      So long, and thanks for all the fish

      H2G2, in addition to Gattaca is another niche area of expertise I have.
      It should be noted that in the most recent cinematic transfer effort of this franchise, Arthur Dent isn’t a rebel, or even an anti-hero as far as the dystopian society of Earth is concerned. In fact, he has the opportunity to undo the whole thing at the end, and well, he doesn’t change anything, he doesn’t even struggle to go back to it; truthfully, he accepts change much better than the radio script, novel, bbc movie, or bbc serial Arthur Dents do. He just walks away and leaves the whole thing intact. Intact and without him. The other Arthur Dents – genuine anti-heroes all – fought tooth and nail to hang onto anything remotely familiar at all, which is probably why none of them ended up with their respective Trillians.
      Oh, and the dolphins do come back at the end – it’s one of the last shots before the credits roll.