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‘In Search of Tomorrow’ (review)

Decades ago, Joe Dante and John Davison assembled a collection of film footage they called The Movie Orgy that consisted of four to seven hours (There were several edits) of seemingly random, nostalgic film footage, much of it from 1950s science fiction movies.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it was that it wasn’t the least bit boring even at that length.

I was reminded of that when Joe Dante showed up early as a commentator in the new five-hour documentary about 1980s science fiction movies, In Search of Tomorrow.

Remarkably, In Search of Tomorrow is never boring, either. I honestly felt like it ended too soon.

I wasn’t an ’80s kid. I turned 21 in 1980. It was a big decade for me, with my first adult girlfriend, the death of my mother, my first real job, my first VCR, first cable TV, my first time as a paid, published writer, and, toward the end of the decade, meeting the woman I would later marry.

Throughout all that, I found myself with less and less time to go see movies on the big screen. My record had been 82 in one year, set in 1978! Sounds more impressive than it actually was when you consider that movies were still pretty cheap then and you could still find sneak previews as well as double and occasionally triple features.

By the ’80s, though, I did still try to keep up with science fiction movies. Having been a fan all my life and having had that finally validated by the coming of Starlog magazine, followed soon afterward by the phenomenon that was Star Wars, the ’80s was THE time for science fiction movies.

In Search of Tomorrow has no narration but it is loaded with talking heads. These include actors such as Barry Bostwick, Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Adrienne Barbeau, and Ronny Cox as well as the former child stars of Aliens and Flight of the Navigator. Directors such as Randal Kleiser, Peter Hyams, Paul Verhoeven, John Carpenter, and the aforementioned Joe Dante are around, too. The meat of it all, though, comes mainly from the comments of the behind-the-scenes people who made the movies. Many of these artists went from film to film and thus were involved with quite a number of the ’80s sci-fi flicks. Names like Dennis Muren, John Dykstra and Phil Tippett, familiar from old Starlog articles, finally get faces! Appropriately enough, Starlog founder Kerry O’Quinn even appears!

Best of all, what all these folks have to say is endlessly fascinating! Although I consider myself a bit of an aficionado on the subject of science fiction movies of that era, there were numerous revelations new to me!

The format of the film itself is to show a large “wall” of science fiction movie posters and then zoom in on one at a time for discussion. Obviously, even at five hours, not every ’80s sci-fi picture can get coverage but the ones that don’t are probably all seen at least on what looks like a Blockbuster Video wall from back in the day. There are well-chosen clips, quite a few of which come from the original film or home video trailers, which include their own nostalgic narration.

All the major releases are covered. Franchises such as Alien, Mad Max, Superman, Star Trek, and Star Wars get their well-deserved attention but so do one-off movies like Cocoon, The Last Starfighter, Buckaroo Banzai, and even a few lesser-known gems such as Cherry 2000 and Miracle Mile.

All of the movies are dealt with contextually, in order by year, as we go through the decade of the ’80s. With each new segment, we see a few historical bits that defined that decade. There’s also the occasional sidebar on such important points as the Space Shuttle, Cold War nuclear fears, and various trends in pop culture and film.

Negatives? I was not thrilled with the film’s title as In Search of Tomorrow evokes soap operas more than time travel or outer space. Also, the entire thing could easily have been edited into a series, by year, which would have allowed for coverage of even more movies and eliminated its unwieldy length.

Positives? The video and audio quality of both the new segments and the original film clips is stunning. The trailers not so much but that’s to be expected. I think the best compliment that I can give to In Search of Tomorrow is that in spite of its length, it really did leave me wanting more.

If you were around in those days, this documentary is tasty popcorn nostalgia. If you’re a younger fan just getting into science-fiction movies, start here. In Search of Tomorrow is your gateway drug.

Booksteve recommends.

In Search of Tomorrow can be purchased at

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Robin Block Jessica Dwyer Derek Maki James Evans
Written and Directed by David A. Weiner
Featuring John Carpenter, Paul Verhoeven, Shane Black, Jenette Goldstein,
Sam J. Jones, Wil Wheaton, Clancy Brown, Ernie Hudson, Henry Thomas,
Sean Young, Keith David, Carrie Henn, Lance Guest, Deep Roy, John Ratzenberger,
Dee Wallace, Kurtwood Smith, Bill Duke, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Nick Castle,
Alex Winter, Walter Koenig, Mark Rolston, Melody Anderson, Sarah Douglas,
Douglas Trumbull, Joe Dante, Vernon Wells, Bob Gale, Ike Eisenmann,
Tim Thomerson, John Badham, Mario Kassar, Phil Tippett, Peter Hyams,
Nicholas Meyer, Charles Band, Dennis Muren, Steven E. de Souza


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