Sci-Fi's Best Design Moments

Natalie Beech

Science-fiction may be directly affecting your life more than you know. The king of technology, Steve Jobs, cited Star Trek as the inspiration for the iPad, and the attempts to make flying cars have been dragging on for years now. Whether you love it or hate it, science-fiction has already created virtually everything we now consider to be pioneering technology. That fingerprint sensor on your iPhone – so mainstream.

If it wasn’t for the titillating tech of the genre that inspired the tech magnates of the world, you might not be able to take selfies, crush candies or use that app that lets you see how you’d look old. 

So with sci-fi inspiring the digital age, and IKEA making it increasingly possible to make your lounge look like a spaceship, it’s time to pay attention to the foundations of all this future stuff. Here’s our pick of some of the best in sci-fi aesthetics…

TRON (1982)

TRON potentially takes the prize for the sexiest design, and the very thought of being held captive within the digital world is surely enough to make any computer-geek hot under the collar (and/or panic, perhaps the more appropriate response). There’s the glowing hunk of metal that is the TRON light-cycle (because it really is a hunk), Dillinger’s glossy black desk, the sexy catsuits and we’re still eagerly awaiting the TRON-inspired swim hat. TRON is how we wish Laserquest or Quasar looked and felt – in some idealised universe, where the MDF walls were made slick plastic, and all the chewing gum and hormones were magically removed – and its dark geometric vision cleverly captures the claustrophobia of what it might feel like to be trapped in a computer.

Blade Runner (1982)

In contrast to TRON, Blade Runner is as crowded, filthy and gloomy as you could imagine. The cyberpunk classic manages to envision a futuristic world on the brink of collapse. But Blade Runner is retro, constantly reminding us of its film noir credentials; there are the fedoras, the elaborately piled up 1940s hairdos, and the regal Hollywood-swank furniture of Tyrell’s bedroom. The power of Tumblr recognised Blade Runner’s artistic cred, bringing to light the magazines that appear in just one shot in the film, which might just as easily be found on the websites of upmarket independent publishers today. It’s easy to miss them, but the commitment to creating Blade Runner’s dystopian, materialistic culture is epitomised in these magazines. This universe is fully immersive.

Metropolis (1927)

Fritz Lang’s transformation of innocent Maria astounded audiences of the 1920s, as she is transformed by what appears to be a powerful discoball into a chrome-brassiered robot. The film drew attention for this iconic scene, but Lang really gets the dystopian vibes rolling in Metropolis with its architecture. The film’s vision of an industrialised future involved a cityscape breathtakingly big, with terrifying gothic architecture, and larger than life machines pumping away above the masses.

Moon (2009)

Moon’s purist world is the perfect background to central character Sam Bell’s ever increasing cabin fever. Poor Sam, there’s really nothing to look at on the lunar mining base Sarang, other than an emoticon that occasionally speaks and er, emotes – GERTY. Oh, and space and the moon and stuff, which is fine but a bit samey. Sarang looks like the inside of a fridge and feels just as cold and depressing, creating an atmosphere that’s just made for insanity.

Hackers (1995)

Hackers is mainly included in this list as a result of its unflinching dedication to every single one of the 90s fashion trends but also because of its interesting depiction of technology. Hackers sees a group of teens rollerblading around New York – naturally – hacking into computers and upsetting the status quo. The film creates a computer world so complicated, impractical and kitsch that it leaves the audience no choice but to go along with whatever the characters are saying. The virus hacking scene sees a pacman, rabbits and the cookie monster infect a computer system, while everyone shouts out randomly chosen and meaningless tech jargon like “Overload!” and “Gimme a system display!” Oh, to be back in the 90s.

Dune (1984)

Dune. The most divisive of all Lynch’s films. Panned by the critics, but adored (no, worshipped) by a hardcore of Kwisatz Haderach and Lynch-obsessed fans. The creation-myth of Dune is almost as fascinating as its dense and rich set design: We know for a fact it was first attempted by Jodorowsky (of Holy Mountain fame) with a cast including Salvador Dali and Orson Welles, only to be abandoned because of financing issues; we also know Lynch very nearly turned it down to direct Return of the Jedi. We’ll let your mind run riot with the possibility of that movie-that-never-happened for a little while, before saying Dune features one of the most ambitious set designs ever, one that incorporated eighty separate builds, and a total crew of 1,700. Also – fun fact – it was mostly shot in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, now best known for its bleak and unrelenting drug war, and Roberto Bolaño’s equally bleak and unrelenting novel 2666.

Logan's Run (1976)

Life inside the dome of Logan’s Run, however immoral it is, does look like good fun. Everyone is dressed in beautiful, silky, pastel coloured clothes and they all get together and dance around a big flower. This open-minded civilisation can even select a partner from a handy service called ‘The Circuit’ – a little like Tinder perhaps? Tanned, wavy-haired hippies meet the future in the leafy, youthful paradise that’s more fun than the Eden Project will ever be.  

Follow Natalie on Twitter: @natalie_beech 

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