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"Technophobia" is a pretty easy word to break down: fear of technology, specifically of advanced computers or other devices and a belief that they will lead to humanity's ruin. Although a technophobe sounds like a neo-Luddite, it actually goes a lot deeper than that. What's more, technophobia pops up in movies far more often than you might think. The easy target when it comes to tech-based movies are those films that show an egregious misunderstanding of how the Internet works, or that show older generations struggling to get along in a digital age. But real technophobia deals with tech gone awry, taking over a person or city or world in order to execute its own lethal agenda. The films below are some of the most technophobic ever made, though some of the titles might surprise you. Next time you're at the movies, keep an eye out for the real villain.
- The Matrix: When The Matrix dropped in 1999 (followed by lamentable sequels in 2003), it was noted mainly for its wire fu, solid action, and camera effects that used some of the oldest tricks in the book. But it's also a hugely technophobic movie, which is pretty common for modern sci-fi. Mankind's fields of PCs gained sentience and took over the world, sending the planet into nuclear winter and using people as living batteries for even more machines. That's not just a creepy (and great) premise for a movie; it's a typically morbid approach to modern tech, one that claims that the sky is falling every day.
- WALL-E: Sure, WALL-E's cute and all. He saves the planet by finding the last green thing on Earth, he gets the girl, and he looks a little like Johnny 5. But WALL-E packs some pretty scathing satire into its kid-friendly 98 minutes. The humans of the future are overfed cows with almost no muscle who rely entirely on the machines they've built to feed and dress them. The entire reason the planet was abandoned was because people grew complacent and tech-dependent. That's a pretty harsh (if somewhat accurate) warning about the dangers of excess and ignorance.
- The Terminator: James Cameron loves making big things go boom. The Terminator was just another cheeseball action classic until Cameron got super serious with the sequel, but the story remains the same: In the future, an artificial intelligence called Skynet decides to exterminate humans by using creepy giant robots. This is actually the part that makes sense, given that the story spins off into time travel and grandfather paradoxes after that, but the point remains that Cameron's movie works so well because he taps into a well-explored fear. Deep down, we're always scared of things we can't explain, and for most people, computers might as well be magic. It's not that hard to imagine one getting really smart and really angry, then deciding to take matters into its own hands. (Cameron mines the same territory in just about every one of his movies; The Abyss is just The Terminator with a slightly benevolent alien race in place of the robots.)
- Frankenstein: A classic warning about the follies of technology and what happens when man takes it upon himself to create life in the laboratory. There have been many film versions of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel; the 1931 edition with Boris Karloff is easily one of the best, though there's something to be said for the 1994 adaptation directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Robert De Niro as the monster. (Of course, there's always Mel Brooks' amazing Young Frankenstein, as well.)
- The Day the Earth Stood Still: Inspired by a 1940 short story, 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still can be read as everything from a call for peace in a paranoid era to a warning about the dangers of arms races. The driving force behind the story is a collective fear of aliens and futuristic technology, and that fear winds up harming the alien visitors that have come to Earth on a mission of mercy. Much like the aliens in the later The Abyss, the humanoid Klaatu warns the people of Earth that their lust for destruction is making the rest of the galaxy antsy, and that if we don't knock it off, they're going to eradicate us for their own safety. This is a beautiful twist on technophobia, one that takes the worry and filters it through the power of a superior race of observers.
- Metropolis: Fritz Lang's classic film from 1927 has only recently been restored to its original glory, meaning viewers can finally see what Lang intended. The sci-fi epic is a penetrating look at what can happen when technology is used to enslave people, with automation turning ranks of workers into faceless laborers. Although some critics initially panned the film, Metropolis has come to be regarded as a staple of its era, as well as a thoughtful exploration of the potential evils of technology.
- Demon Seed: Now this is a messed up movie. Based on a shlocky thriller by Dean Koonts, this overheated 1977 film revolves around a computer run amok that takes over an entire house in order to study mankind. It does this by pinning down a woman (Julie Christie), using her body to create a baby, and then transferring its consciousness to the baby and growing it in an incubator. The child-thing at the end is pretty hokey by today's special effects standards, but the basic premise is still horrifying and weird. This is technophobia at its extreme: convinced that any sufficiently advanced machine will become sentient and begin to rape and murder people in an attempt to understand and control them.
- Jurassic Park: Who says technophobia can't make for a great summer blockbuster? Sure, on one level, Jurassic Park is essentially plotless — people see dinosaurs, people run from dinosaurs, roll credits — but it's centered on the perils of cloning gone wrong. In a way, it's just a slick revamping of Frankenstein, since it hinges on perceived dangers in mankind's attempts to artificially create and manipulate life. Just replace the mutilated zombie with raptors and you're all set.
- Avatar: James Cameron once again rears his silver head. No one's under any illusions that Avatar was any good; it was basically a rehash of Aliens and The Abyss laid over the template of Pocahontas. But the movie does have some good visuals, and it's another dire warning about the problem of letting technology get in the way of humanity. The story is all about how one race's thirst for dominance — materially and militarily — leads to the subjugation of equally important if less advanced species. Technophobia with a blunt moral.
- Star Trek: The Star Trek franchise and its attendant spin-offs don't necessarily come to mind when people think of technophobia; after all, how could a TV and movie series about space exploration be down on technology? Yet many of the episodes of the original and newer series revolve around what happens when advanced technology gets out of hand or is abused by those who don't properly respect it. The original series episode "Space Seed" and the subsequent film The Wrath of Khan saw the crew battling a man who had been genetically bred as a super-soldier. Plus there's the entire Borg race in later series, which is nothing more than an extreme example of technology horribly married with humanity. The multiple series were usually optimistic about the human condition, but not blindly so.