The future's so bright, I gotta watch dumbed-down news magazine-style series like this one. Little's more exciting than dreaming about what may come, but having such speculation shot into your arm with 60 CCs of razzmatazz, repetition and wretched excess (especially if you're pounding through the series on DVD) dulls down that excitement considerably. What's more, the future focused on in the first disc of this collection, while certainly nifty, looks in many ways lame - it's a future in which we don't have to expend any energy or thought because everything in the world, including ourselves, is controlled by computers. Yip-f-ing-eee.
Each 44-minute episode on Disc One - Nextworld - looks at 'one aspect' of life on Earth (or Mars etc.) that will be radically different in the years to come - 5 to 30 years down the road, for many of the things mentioned. Extreme Tomorrow, Future Life On Earth, Future Intelligence, Future Cars, Future Flight and Future Ships constitute Nextworld's subjects, but they all blend together. With breathy, pseudo-excited narration, somewhere between an infomercial and a local infotainment program, Nextworld hypes tech innovation. The ideas are interesting - though fatalistically mechanoid - but we certainly don't need all the cut-rate, zippy edits and Flash animation attitude to sell them. Figurative flash does sit well with future thought, but this stuff seems aimed at an ADD crowd uncertain of whether they should shop at The Gap or Forever 21.
So what's going to happen, according to the Extreme Tomorrow episode? Possibly smart cars, or things built from 'claytronics,' maybe jetpack travel, a robotic exoskeleton, or a four-foot-tall robotic assistant. Don't worry, if you didn't latch on to each of those concepts, they'll make numerous repeat appearances in subsequent episodes. While further iterations at least expand on information already presented, there are many duplicate clips, and over-familiarity makes some of the ideas look flat-out stupid: for instance, I'll pass on the 600-mile-an-hour jet-pack - too many bugs in the teeth.
And frankly - I don't care for much of this stuff anyway. I don't really think we need to go faster, and I don't think we need to sacrifice control of every aspect of our lives to computers. I don't like car accidents, but I like to drive. I don't like doing dishes, but I don't exactly want my house to sense when I'm coming home and start doing the dishes for me ... wait a minute ... but seriously, when we don't have to think about or do anything to maintain our lives, what will we be doing? What will anything mean? And won't we all simply turn into 200-pound blobs of cancer with all that wireless communication going on? Maybe it's these early-21st-century economic collapse blues talking, but lately I'm less into having microchips everywhere controlling everything, and more into enjoying a connection to the simple things in life. By the way, what do we do when all these super-computers get smarter than us, anyway? Turn ourselves into computers too, that's what! Like I said ...
Fortunately, things take a turn for the realistic on Disc Two: Building The Future. With episodes titled The Energy Solution, 21st Century Shelter, The Quest for Water and Surviving Natural Disasters, it's nice to see some serious reflection on matters. Thought is given to balance and restraint (at least a bit) as opposed to unrestrained growth and ever-present access to everything. Nonetheless, the focus is still a little too heavily placed on how to maintain a continually burgeoning and increasingly long-lived population, instead of reigning in our propagation. I realize I'm on a soapbox here, but you must ask yourself why we seem to spend so much time and thought on controlling animal populations - whether encouraging or discouraging growth - and so little thought on controlling our own trend towards overburdening the earth.
At any rate, programs on Disc Two acknowledge that we're creating challenges for ourselves, and while still employing methods of zippedy-doo-dah minus much in depth science or intellectual discussion, present fairly interesting solutions we're coming up with. Various superstructures like the Taipei 101 and a 250-foot pyramid in Kazakhstan demonstrate super cool engineering feats, creative ways to better use our finite water resources are investigated, and new energy sources are harnessed. Engineering marvels used for tackling natural disasters, like the Thames Barrier at Woolwich, are focused on in more depth than we found on Disc One. In addition to being more serious in subject matter, images on Disc Two are far more poetic than the Maxim-style robots-and-hot-cars of Disc One. Hypnotic and surreal shots of Denmark's Horns Rev wind farm are almost off-putting in their disconnect from human scale and function, while Tokyo's Edogawa River Project touts huge, eerie underground chambers used to reroute tons of typhoon waters that might otherwise flood the city.
The Future: A 360 Degree View indeed takes a full turn - from Disc One's facile, dorky and repetitive glances at robots, race cars and our possible future as computer impregnated blobs who hardly have to act, to Disc Two's somewhat more realistic and serious examination of issues we face in the decades to come.