Is it just me, or does most current sci fy tech try to be too “grounded in reality”. In the old days, Star Wars and Star Trek and other media had all kinds of crazy shit scientists couldn’t even tell you how it might be built - teleporters, replicators, energy weapons, force shields.
Now thanks to James Cameron, the future looks like space marines travelling between the stars in giant gunmetal shipping containers, wearing Land Warrior gear, riding in VTOL aircraft with tilting nacelles, shooting Belgian automatic rifles with extra tac-lights, lasers and optics, with equipment and vehicles that came from a Raytheon proposal for a DARPA research grant, probably thinking about their loved ones back home living in a giant 400 story tower and riding a maglev train to work.
Loss of optimism probably, although if you want the snazzy gadgets (and who doesn’t!) there’s plenty available in recent science-fiction books.
Although I have to admit I do like the more gritty real-world futuristic feel of the Aliens movies and Avatar rather than Star Trek and its ilk when it comes to visual media. Though I’m not sure I could explain why.
Because most science fiction technology used to be entirely imaginary so it could look like anything. Now it’s extrapolated from existing technology. We know what a user interface looks like, and it’s not spinning reels of tape and blinking lights.
I’m sorry but Avatar showcased a pretty phenomenal piece of technology that I doubt will ever actually exist. A gadget that let you take over a body and control it as if it were your own. Pretty damn cool. Surrogate, the Bruce Willis flick, had the same sort of thing but with robots and realized in a massive political scale. That’s pretty awesome.
In short, I don’t agree with the OP’s premise at all.
Traveling between stars within a lifetime (let alone weeks or days) qualifies as “exotic fictional technology”. It ignores relativity and is most likely impossible. The shape of the ships is completely secondary to that.
SF from the past is not really different from today, except that people nowadays seem better at not making complete BS technology. By “Belgian automatic rifles” I assume you mean an FN P90 with some lights glued to it to be futuristic? In 1982 Deckard used a frankengun made from a rifle stock mated with revolver parts. It is a lot cheaper to do that than make something completely from scratch.
I think more bullet points are needed than Avatar. It aims to be in the near future, whereas Star Wars is [del]in the distant future[/del] a long time ago.
In general, I don’t care if you go the believable hard SF route or the unexplained technology way, as long as the story is good. But if you’re going fantastical, please, please bump back the future date a bunch. “The distant future, the year 2000” is fine in comedy, not so much when you predict all kinds of crazy changes, especially of the social type, okay Mr. Stephenson?
You probably just got older. They seemed beyond your imagination at the time because your imagination was limited. Any science fiction film in the past year has at least one of these standards that are just as un-scientific as older films:
Consciousness transference, telepathy, switching bodies, etc.
Laser beams, laser walls, laser weapons, etc.
Unobtanium, trilithium, or any other energy source that exceeds its mass
Faster than light travel, wormholes, black holes, etc.
Force fields, energy constructions, things made out of light that have mass, etc.
There was Mass Effect which had Element Zero which has some interesting fake-science behind it, but between what it actually did (reduced the mass of other elements to zero allowing FTL) and its other… side effects (like making biological lifeforms exposed to it in the womb strongly telekinetic), it was basically just Space Magic™.
I think part of it these days is the Internet and the propensity of people to complain about things. To stick with Avatar, for example, the whole reason humans are even on that planet is because of a metal with amazing properties not found on Earth. It’s called Unobtanium in the movie and people went absolutely crazy over that name. What I thought was an obvious joke for a couple reasons (it doesn’t actually matter what it is for the plot and it’s exactly the kind of name a discovering scientist would stick on such a material) angered so many people here on this board. Apparently if James Cameron had called it mithril or adamantium or naquahdah something it would have been perfectly acceptable but God forbid you make a bit of a joke out of naming your fake metal.
In fact the USS Sulaco, the main starship shown in the movie Aliens was actually basically based on one of the guns they were using when creating the movie, so it quite literally is a ‘flying gun’!
Agreed, that really raised my eyebrow during the discussions on Avatar as well. I actually thought it was quite plausible and fun and as you say exactly the kind of thing scientists actually might call it. But for some reason it caused quite a proportion of people to lose their minds and get all bent out of shape regarding it.
Its not just science-fiction movies I think too many people aren’t happy unless they have picked a piece of media to pieces and pointed out all its flaws. Personally I’m not difficult to please and recognise movie-makers are as fallible as the rest of us.