Sci-fi films: The final frontier

Sci-fi films: The final frontier

The best science-fiction films have always been, on some level, about the conflict between classes.

Planet Of The Apes (1968) reflected the American civil rights movement in its role-reversal conceit of superior ape castes and enslaved humans. Alien (1979) dramatised that the real danger in space is not so much face-hugging, stomach-bursting space creatures, but soul-less capitalism: a mega-company which sacrifices its honest, hardworking, blue-collar employees, the Nostromo's crew, for its own interests.

Even the original Star Wars trilogy was about the battle between two systems - democracy against fascist dictatorship; youthful rebellion versus corrupt old ways; American-style salvation as opposed to Soviet-style nuclear annihilation.

These days, however, space is no longer the final frontier. The tired colonial formula of seeking new planets to conquer - physically or ideologically - has become horribly politically incorrect. Instead, the clash between (alien) civilisations is giving way to more earth-bound jostling between the haves and have-nots.

Nowhere is this jockeying for position more urgent than around immigration and border control. As three recent Hollywood blockbusters have shown, the sci-fi war is now between the internationally/ intergalactically mobile and the immobile.

In April came Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise as a tech-drone repairman serving out a tour-of-duty on an alien-warravaged Earth in 2077, awaiting the day he and his partner can emigrate to join other survivors on a space station named Tet. Three months ago, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro's much-awaited flick Pacific Rim premiered, featuring giant robots in 2025 trying to stem the tide of monsters migrating from Earth's core to its surface.

And then there's Elysium, recently in cinemas, the socially conscious action- thriller that right-wingers have called "immigration propaganda".

Of the three films, Elysium is the most overt in its message. Set in 2154, it features a polluted, over-populated Los Angeles. The uber-rich have migrated to the Elysium space station, which looks just like The Hamptons would in space. On Earth, Spanish-speaking poor people are harshly policed by robots and have no access to medical care; in Elysium, state- of-the-art "med pods" can cure cancer, trauma and even a gun shot to the face in a matter of minutes.

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