While it’s certainly a debatable matter of taste, I bet if I were to ask you which decade was best for sci-fi movies, many of you would say the 80s…
…It seems safe to assume that that is the feeling of director David Weiner. As a follow-up to his forays into 80s horror, In Search of Darkness Parts I & II (with a part III coming soon), Weiner has begun what I’m sure will be another series venture into the mind-blowing era of 80s science fiction films, In Search of Tomorrow.
You no longer have to search galaxies far, far away for the definitive 80s sci-fi documentary. It has arrived.
The sci-fi genre has always been about looking to the stars and letting our imaginations run wild at the possibility of it all, and so In Search of Tomorrow fittingly opens on a young kid gazing up at those twinkling lights, Weary Pines’ dreamy synth score accentuating the marvel of the moment. Weiner presents a very brief rundown of the genre in film, starting with Georges Melies’ A Trip to the Moon and that classic image of a rocket in the moon’s eye, fast-forwarding through decades of inspiration before landing on the topic at hand, the 80s.
“Sci-fi truly came of age and exploded in the 80s,” says actor Matt Winston (“Star Trek: Enterprise”). That’s because, while the 70s was a period which saw a bevy of genre-shaping though heavy films such as Alien and Mad Max, it was the arrival of Star Wars (1977) that opened up the gateway for less pessimistic sci-fi fare and showed sci-fi films could have big box office. In Search of Tomorrow opens on this topic, setting the stage for five hours (yes, five) exploring the furthest regions of 80s sci-fi and how it was a period full of awe-inspiring ideas, innovative effects, and filmmakers going as far as their imaginations could take them brought on by the exciting potential which Star Wars introduced.
Like Billy Dee Williams says with the utmost pride, “It changed everything”.
In Search of Tomorrow begins in 1980 with the oddball sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, a choice that might seem odd but works due to the film’s clunky flaws yet colorful design, a precursor to the type of wild ideas that were about to take over the genre. From there, In Search of Tomorrow acts as your DeLorean guide through the past, zipping through 1980-1989 as quickly as it can while still paying deserved attention to the classics of the time. The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, Short Circuit, Wargames, Weird Science, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn…If it had any impact on the sci-fi genre at all, chances are, it’s covered in this documentary.
But it isn’t just the classics. A love letter to all things 80s sci-fi, In Search of Tomorrow pays just as much attention to worlds less revered or unheard of as it does those iconic movies of the era. Runaway, Outland, Galaxina, Buckaroo Banzai, the odd disaster that was Howard the Duck and so many more all get their time under the galaxy’s sun. You’ll want to have a pen and paper ready (or your Notes app open), because there are tons of under the radar titles that make an appearance which viewers will want to add to that watch list. While many such as Mutant Hunt or Creepozoids aren’t given any discussion time, the V/H/S covers appear on a massive backdrop of 80s sci-fi titles shown before diving into each film, creating a tapestry of galactic wonder that you’ll be dying to get your hands on.
Accompanying viewers on this epic journey aboard the In Search of Tomorrow Enterprise are 70+ (!) actors, directors, writers, producers, artists, historians and more. The cast is a dream list of speakers including Wil Wheaton (The Last Starfighter), Adrienne Barbeau (Escape from New York), Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), Billy Dee Williams (Empire Strikes Back), Jenette Goldstein (Aliens), Nancy Allen (Robocop), Shane Black (Predator), Joe Dante (Innerspace), Phil Tippett (Robocop)…the list goes on, and on, and on. In Search of Tomorrow is loaded with fun, fascinating commentary from some of the genre’s best. There’s nothing quite like listening to Peter Weller question what the hell Buckaroo Bonzai is actually about, or listening to John Carpenter debate who would win in a fight, Snake Plissken, Jack Burton or R.J. Macready. It isn’t all just laughs and jaw-dropping facts, either. Remarks like Dee Wallace viewing her role in E.T. as a tribute to her mother are the kind that touch the soul.
Watching In Search of Tomorrow, I often found myself tearing up, either in awe at the wonder of these movies or because of the stories of the people behind them. And that’s what’s so special about a documentary like this. With In Search of Tomorrow, Weiner takes us on an intimate journey through the 80s exploring the fearless nature of filmmakers at the time and the innovative imaginations that shaped an entire generation. From the moment the film takes off, there is a constant sense of magic at play. Like the movies being discussed, Weiner’s film takes a cue from Tron and sucks you into a world of limitless possibilities. In Search of Tomorrow is a testament to the imagination of human beings and our wonder at the world around us and beyond.
If there’s any flaw with In Search of Tomorrow, it’s only that, despite the runtime, the discussion around each film ultimately feels like a taste of something more. You might want to hear more about Michael J. Fox replacing Eric Stoltz in Back to the Future, or the disaster that was the original creature design for Predator, but that’s the catch with covering an entire decade of movies in one film; You only have so much time, and fans seeking more in depth conversations probably aren’t going to learn much they didn’t already know. This is more like a beginner’s guide to other topics of interest, but the film still acknowledges plenty of behind the scenes elements such as world building, special effects and the impact of a good orchestral score as well as short history lessons on the events that were shaping the world of sci-fi and the future at the time.
Some of you are going to gawk at the five-hour runtime, but In Search of Tomorrow doesn’t waste one second of it. Five hours may seem like forever, but like the Star Destroyer, what is intimidating in length is just as captivating and awe-inspiring. You’ll want to make sure you have five free hours when you hit play on In Search of Tomorrow, because once you start, you won’t want to stop. And if you’re like me, you’ll wish there was even more once the credits roll.
As actor Sam Jones advises when discussing Flash Gordon, “Just sit back and enjoy being transported”.
You can pre-order In Search of Tomorrow here.
By Matt Konopka