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Future Shock – Being Cryogenically Frozen Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Among the many socially awkward aspects of being a certified sci-fi geek is a penchant for publicly marveling at fantastic futuristic movie settings. You know what I mean: irrepressible expressions of delight like that sharp intake of breath when you first saw the opening sequence of Star Wars. But for me that awestruck feeling goes hand in hand with sadness: I’ll never experience such marvels firsthand, never walk on another planet or see the skies filled with flying cars.

Unless, of course, one of sci-fi’s most popular subjects — the successful cryogenic freezing of a human being — becomes a reality sometime in the near future. We’re already partly there, but it turns out that while freezing people isn’t all that difficult — take one person, add cold — the reviving is a tough nut to crack. And even if that obstacle can be overcome, do we really want to live past the era of our normal lives? If sci-fi movies are to trusted — and who doesn’t look to sci-fi for advice? — the answer is probably no. Why not?

Future Governments May Not Be So Much Fun
That future you’re so eager to see is bound to have cool technology, but the governments — especially those totalitarian ones — could be a drag. Unless, of course, you’re talking about Sleeper, Woody Allen’s 1973 satirical take on future society. Allen’s Miles, a health-food-store owner by day and jazz musician by night, is frozen in the swinging seventies and awakened 200 years later, in an America whose dictator keeps oppressed citizens firmly under his thumb and sex is quite literally mechanical, thanks to the orgasmatron. In any event, the future political climate is bound to be drastically different from what you’re used to. Which leads us to…

Bans on Indecency
Let’s say you were framed for murder by a psychotic criminal and society’s answer is cryogenic rehabilitation. That’s what happens to John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) of Demolition Man, the cop who got too close for comfort to killer Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes). Phoenix was subsequently captured and put on ice as well, setting the stage for a reunion somewhere down the timeline. Sure enough, Phoenix is thawed out for a parole hearing 36 years later and promptly escapes into the crimeless future, where no one has the skills to deal with him — except Spartan. The obvious solution is a win-win for him: Spartan is thawed out to catch Phoenix, providing him with the opportunity to clear his name, be a hero, and live out the rest of his life in the not-too-distant future. But Phoenix really doesn’t want to be caught, and Spartan isn’t crazy about the kinder, gentler future’s rules. Who wants to get fined for dropping the occasional F-word? Or, for that matter, live in a place where colorful language like that in The Big Lebowski and Reservoir Dogs gets movies banned?

Even the Best-Laid Plans Can Be Messed Up
You cannot predict the future. In Forever Young, Mel Gibson turns to suspended animation after his lover slips into a coma. But he awakens later than intended and becomes the target of a government hunt, as well as the victim of a cryogenic side effect: rapid aging. The whole point of living in the future is so that you can enjoy what it has to offer, but there isn’t much opportunity to enjoy yourself when time and a pack of government agents are hot on your heels.

Fish-Out-of-Water Syndrome
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery offers another lesson in what the future may hold: fish-out-of-water syndrome. Superspy Powers (Mike Myers) is frozen in the sixties so he can wait out the cryonic suspension of his archenemy, Dr. Evil (also Myers). What Powers finds two decades later is a world in which the free-love attitude of his heyday is woefully outdated. Dr. Evil gets a crash course in relationship payback from his sullen son and just can’t wrap his head around adjusting his ransom demands for inflation or rethinking outmoded plans for world conquest. Could Austin Powers be sending a subliminal message that progress isn’t always for the better?

Um, Side Effects!
I already mentioned the rapid aging Mel Gibson experienced in Forever Young, but this issue is important enough to get its own entry. Remember, even aspirin has side effects, so being placed in cryogenic suspension is guaranteed to come with collateral consequences. In the sci-fi-horror picture Pandorum, the undesirable side effect is, yes, pandorum, a fancy future term for a total psychotic meltdown. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going through trouble and expense to become a meat Popsicle — come on, you know it’s going to be pricey — the last thing I want is to end up in some futuristic padded cell.

In fact, given all the warnings sci-fi movies offer, I’m starting to rethink this whole “seeing the future” thing. Maybe there’s a good reason we puny humans come with a built-in expiration date.

Check out Demolition Man on AMC, playing Sun., Mar. 20, at 1AM | midnight.

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