I got suckered into watching Babylon A.D. yesterday evening. Just when I thought I might lose interest, Toorop, played by Vin Diesel, goes back to his padlocked apartment (the car door hanging from a metal frame in the living room brought a fresh touch to the obligatory urban decay of the interior) and switches on the TV while he prepares his dinner. Although the sequence in which he skins, dismembers and chops up a deer was visceral, it was the layout of the TV screen that caught my eye:
I learned from George Simon, on whose blog I found this image, that it’s a Google TV animation.
After noticing this, I decided to stick with the film to see what other interesting technologies might appear. Anyway, I kind of like Vin Diesel, so it was a good excuse. I wasn’t disappointed.
When Toorop accepts a job to escort a young girl to New York, he is taken to the convent where she lives in Kyrgyzstan. As he waits for her and her protective Sister, portrayed by Michelle Yeoh, best known for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs Of A Geisha, to join him in the car, he opens the trunk to stow her bags and finds a rather interesting map in a briefcase that’s been left inside. Having missed the opening scenes, I hadn’t realized that the action takes place several decades in the future, and I was surprised to see that the map was interactive!
Here’s a clip from Motion Designer Frédérique Bourque on Vimeo:
When I saw it, I thought of the Editis eBook video Possible Ou Probable? . Upon rewatching that video, however, I realized that the map treatment there was essentially that of Google Maps. Toorop’s map is different. There are some inconsistencies in the gestures and the graphics, but it’s an interesting combination of a physical object with integrated virtual applications.
Had I seen the film when it was released two years ago, I would have found that scene very interesting, but I might have missed something important. It took me a while to figure out what it was that struck me as odd about film’s technological vision: there aren’t any smartphones! None of the main characters have one, and the scenes involving calls are limited to an earpiece and a large screen video conference.
It seems strange to imagine a future without a personal device like a smartphone, although as individual objects are able to communicate directly with each other, perhaps there will be less need for a single all-purpose device. I find that unlikely, but it’s certainly true that direct object-to-object communication would eliminate much of the need to rely on cloud services, as well as the security and privacy concerns that come with them.
When electronic paper becomes a reality, will it still be actually, you know, paper? Will we still be using pinch and zoom multi-touch gestures? Will physical media objects be dedicated to individual applications, or will we have electronic paper that can become anything we want it to be: a book, a map, a magazine or a TV?
Overall, the film was disappointing. The scenario was confusing and somewhat incoherent. According to Wikipedia, the movie is based on the novel Babylon Babies by French/Canadian science fiction writer Maurice G. Dantec. It was published in 1999, which might excuse the absence of smartphones in the story. I don’t know how faithfully the film followed the book, but I’m interested in reading it now to better understand the story and discover more of the vision that Dantec has about the future.