This is especially obvious in the field of means of transport. Who hasn’t dreamed of traveling in the DeLorean from Back to the Future? If time travel is not on the agenda, let’s remember one thing: the fuel for the famous car ends up being… nothing more than a handful of garbage. Visionary? Inspiring, to say the least! Another example is the unmissable Blade Runner, in which the characters use their flying car to crisscross the Los Angeles of… 2019, as imagined by Philip K. Dick.
A fantasy that is not far from becoming a reality, with the flying taxis aiming to link Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport and Saint-Denis for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Airbus, Aéroports de Paris and RATP Group are actively working on developing these airborne vehicles, with vertical takeoff and landing. When you zoom out, a city in its entirety unfolds on the screen. Scary for its gigantic size, like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, dark and pernicious, like the Gotham City of the Batman movies from Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, it is inspired by the fears of the time and feeds our urban imaginations, rich in expectation and revulsion.
And in “real life”? Fictional films, artificial intelligence and urban planning have found a very real meeting point: the Neom project, led by the Saudi Crown Prince, a future megalopolis spanning 26,500 km2 which is due to spring up in 2025. Legend has it that the prince, excited after viewing Guardians of the Galaxy, wanted to include the film’s chief designer and special effects specialists on the team responsible for bringing this gigantic project to life. Announced as the capital of artificial intelligence and entertainment, a global showcase for green tech, Neom is therefore imagined, directed and produced in Los Angeles.
An “ideal, zero-defect” city, in which people and their behavior become mere pieces of data. A project that is creating controversy: digital thinker Daniel Kaplan criticizes this disturbing version of the smart city. According to him, this would erase all the rough edges at the heart of cities’ identities, and lead to each city being a mere replica of another. Another pitfall pointed out by the founder of the Fing: blanket surveillance of citizens. Did someone say science fiction?
The fears linked to the digital revolution and the terrifying duo of big data and Big Brother are extended to living hells, in The Matrix or Minority Report. The emergence of the connected city has, of course, inspired more recent films. There, the path divides into two urban representations with striking contrasts. On the one hand, the peaceful, luminous city which is home to the hero of Her. A permanent connection between the city and nature with its soft transport – right down to the plant decor of an elevator, that we assume to be very fast.
Anticipation of the slightest human expectations via artificial intelligence. This reassuring, refined, ergonomic urban setting, a real cocoon where everything has been thought out and planned, is combined with the absence of any social interaction and the intimate bond that the main character weaves with an artificial intelligence, to ultimately generate a feeling of solitary suffocation.
On the other hand, the dense, organic, informal cities offered by films like District 9 or Elysium, are surprisingly richer in bonding, spontaneity, inventiveness, which emerge from behind the chaos perceived at first glance. Two representations that are poles apart, one under the thumb of data, the other left to its own devices.