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It is bleak, eerie but also has hope

HOW SIX classic sci-fi movies have visualised the millennium.

Where the Millennium is lost: "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956). Bleak. In this one we aren't even in control of our future. The idea that aliens from outer space will take over the earth is one that can never lose currency and is as old as the movies itself but this chilling, brilliant black and white sci-fi classic was the first to suggest that it would happen in such a creepy, subtle way, we wouldn't even know it!

Its classic plot is a familiar one to most movie buffs: aliens from outer space take over the earth in the shape of "cocoon-like" human-sized pods which suddenly appear everywhere and reproduce within them the physical bodies of the inhabitants of earth, transplanting alien minds for human. On the outside you look the same but inside you've changed ; you don't feel anymore — no emotions, no pain, no guilt. It works with the deliciously paranoid theme: trying to hang on to your individuality while those around you are contentedly turning into vegetables and insisting that you join them. Tempting? So it's going to be a millennium full of walking, living zombies.

Where the Millennium is reborn: "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968). The most inspiring, blessed, transcendent vision of the Millennium. It is the year 2001 and human beings and their fragile planet Earth find themselves tired, burnt-out, afraid.

An expedition to Jupiter turns unexpectedly into a mysterious, mystical voyage into deep space and thence into infinity. One of the astronauts grows old and is reborn as the star child — a symbol of hope for a new humankind and a new Earth.

It contains some of the most powerful images of the future put on film, the eerie opening `Dawn of Man' sequence, the bone turning into a spaceship, the mystical Monoliths, all those Ferris-wheel shaped spaceships dancing to Strauss' waltzes, the gigantic, oddly-shaped Jupiter mission spaceship, HAL the almost human computer and of course that luminous `star-gate' ending that catapulted 2001 instantly into a cult film as thousands `tripped' on the psychedelic ride into infinity.

Where the Millennium has a new Saviour: "Blade Runner" (1982). It is the 21st century and the entire world seems to shimmer noir-ishly in this unforgettable sci-fi noir cult classic, which is ultimately moving and hopeful, not cynical and bleak as many think it to be. The film comes close to accurately imagining what the world would end up looking like by the next century. Here cities are permanently drenched in fog and drizzle, everywhere bathed in neon, and a sky claustrophobically encircled by flying cars, towering skyscrapers, and giant billboards.

The hero of the movie is Deckard, ,, live only so long, when their services are no longer required, they are `retired' by blade runners like Deckard. But these Replicants have fallen in love with life and with each other and don't want to die.

The inevitable happens: like all hard-boiled detectives Deckard falls in love with a Replicant, the eerily beautiful, magnificently attired Rachel. The note of hope comes at the end and it comes out of an act of great compassion: the Replicant leader gets a chance to kill Deckard, instead he saves our hero saying: "I've come to love life. Not just mine - anybody's. Even yours." Machines having become more human than humans, the movie seems to be saying, will be our redemption in the end.

Where the Millennium is an Epic Fairly Tale: "Star Wars". In this epic sci-fi American Mahabharata not just our world but the entire galaxy has once again turned feudal with emperors, princes, knights and slaves. The future is to be shaped by the Force — a source of invisible, neutral power in the universe that can be used for good or bad. Once again great, epic battles are fought but this time in space.

Where the Millennium is only an illusion: "The Matrix". The world is not the world but a matrix says this cyber-punk thriller. And what is the Matrix? The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world. We think we, and the world around us, are real but we are actually part of a computer-generated programme.

Using humans as hosts, artificially intelligent machines have come to life, parasitically feeding on us. To sustain the illusion that the world is as it is, machines have created an entire virtual world. Our future is maya.

Where the Millennium is Paranoid: "Minority Report". The future is a dark and dazzling spectacle, shot in watery hues of blue and grey. Just 50 years from now we will have "eye-scanning spider robots, vomit-inducing `sick sticks', holographic home video cameras, vertical highways, holographic ads that greet you by name, cereal boxes crawling with maddening animation, psychoactive designer drugs, vertical cities of glass and concrete and electromagnetic cars." And paranoia — no one seems to be who they say they are. Our memories don't belong to us. Our past is fiction.

PRADEEP SEBASTIAN

(pradeepsebastian@hotmail.com)

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