Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is staying in tonight, and so is his telepresence.
"What if it all came true?"
What does the future hold? It's a question that has fascinated people since the era of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. It's a question that might get your attention as you pass The Future: A 360° View, a two-disc collection from the Discovery Channel, on display at your local store. It contains episodes from two series, NextWorld and Building the Future. Yes, repackaging of DVDs is in our future.
• "Extreme Tomorrow": The premiere looks at everything from sonic flashlights that provide x-ray vision to time travel.
• "Future Life on Earth": Floating cities, microcomputers running cities, rocket packs, telepresence, water purification, kinetic energy flooring, skyscraper farming, and extending life spans.
• "Future Intelligence": Exoskeletons, artificial intelligence, android doubles, smart contact lenses, a smart bus, cyber cars, and virtual worlds.
• "Future Cars": Wood and new fabrics for car bodies, anti-crash technology, artificial intelligence for the road, steam-powered cars, scuba cars, and lunar vehicles.
• "Future Flight": Planes that drive as easily as cars, a massive flying hotel, satellite navigation, lighter jets, lessons from nature, Virgin Galactic, and Mars exploration.
• "Future Ships": High-speed commuter boats and solar ferries, loading cargo more efficiently, a wave-riding craft, a dolphin-like diving craft, high-tech sailboats, and a solar and wind powered cargo ship.
All of this reminded me of those 1950s film clips of the "Kitchen of Tomorrow." There's a definite gee-whiz optimism here as scientists and entrepreneurs talk about their new creations and their dreams for the future.
Some of it is encouraging. It's good to know someone's working on floating cities as sea levels rise, easier water purification, and feeding cities through farms atop skyscrapers. Elsewhere, it can be scary. I'm not exactly eager for someone to build my robot double, and scientists who talk about "the eventual merger between man and machine" as if it was something to look forward to are downright creepy.
Unfortunately, it's also hyperactive, cramming a lot of topics into an episode to discourage channel flipping, but covering nothing in depth. It can also be repetitive. The first episode's an overview, which means all that stuff will be shown again later in the series. Even in later episodes, there'll be overlap as some gadget falls under two topics. If you're taking in the entire series in two nights as I did, Nextworld eventually gets dull. By the fourth episode, I felt my eyes glazing over.
• "The Energy Solution": Projects involving gas hydrate, wind power, hydrogen fusion, tidal turbines, and solar power show options for meeting energy needs.
• "21st Century Shelter": An amphibious community in the Netherlands, typhoon-resistant skyscraper Taipei 101, a grand new building in Kazakhstan, earthquake-proofing in California, and New York's green One Bryant Park show how homes and buildings can adapt to unusual situations.
• "The Quest for Water": Vancouver's water filtration system, China's work on a man-made river, Oman's search for water, Venice's flood prevention efforts, and a water vapor desalination project help control water.
• "Surviving Natural Disasters": Efforts are made to protect against killer asteroids, Tokyo's typhoons, Mexico City earthquakes, and London floods.
Crises, such as the melting polar icecaps, typhoons and floods, and water shortages, are the framing devices for Building the Future. If you're looking for clips of disasters or environmental trouble in the making, you'll find them here. Even two of the episode titles—"The Quest for Water" and "Surviving Natural Disasters"—have an ominous ring here, hinting that Building the Future could give gloom equal time after the relentlessly upbeat NextWorld.
However, the show turns out to be hopeful, showing projects that actually might do something about disasters, water shortages, energy needs, or global warming. Even if they don't all pan out, seeing experts working on the technological leaps needed to deal with problems is inspiring. Building the Future also takes the time to give viewers a basic understanding of its topics, something NextWorld fails to do. It even puts enough text information on the screen that you could look the projects up and find out more.
There are no extras, but the recent shows are handled well on DVD.
If the topics in Building the Future look interesting to you, you might want to buy or rent this two-disc set. Since it's priced under $25, you can consider Nextworld a bonus feature. It's possible that Discovery did anyway, since IMDb lists 14 episodes of that series and only six are included here.
Not guilty. I'm ready for the future now. Talk to me about it tomorrow.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Discovery Channel
Review content copyright © 2009 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.