Movies have always pushed the technology envelope. From Star Wars to Back To The Future, innovation and creativity transported us into a world of tomorrow. Their worlds were painstakingly crafted to demonstrate the desire and capacity to do more with our personal devices. Like theirs, our world has evolved similar challenges and has sought the efficiency and flare of prop wearables. Many of these examples have come into modern existence in various forms, and more still are being developed or pondered and pursued. There is no end to the gadgets that have shown up on screen, but some have left a profound mark on the characteristics of our modern devices.
Since the 1950s, movies have employed subtle or outlandish predictions of future technology. It was refined to it’s peak by the late 1970s, when Star Wars introduced the world to a galaxy far, far away. Lando Calrissian has a smartwatch capable of voice calls and file transfer, Luke has a fully integrated prosthetic hand and Darth Vader is basically a collection of full-coverage wearables. It inspired a generation of world-builders to push the limit of technology in film. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), George Lucas’s special effects house, would play a defining role throughout the 1980s, designing the Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, and even the Back To The Future (BttF) franchises.
After their success with Star Wars Episodes 4 & 5, ILM made due with a smaller budget on Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. While debuting the first ever fully CG movie sequence, they didn’t forget the gadgets. Beside the iconic communicator, keen viewers noticed a cog-like icon worn behind the shoulder on the uniform strap. Speculators believe them to be a RFID/NFC concept, allowing the unique badge to identify the wearer for security and access purposes. Like mobile pay services, mobile devices continue to strive for capacities like this, integrating and enabling our home and local networks.
Of course, subtle communicators and watches are not what come to mind when thinking about iconic on-screen wearables. The best example of a movie must-have is the double shot of Nike MAGs and Mattel Hoverboard from BttF2. While Nike has released a dozen of different versions, it wasn’t until 2015 that they came fully equipped with self-lacing and lights, though a special edition and limited production run. Prices are exorbitant and generally only accessible by wealthy collectors, but Nike hinted at a larger run in the future at the time of release. Thankfully, another iconic component of his outfit, the color-changing lenticular hat, can be picked up from a few manufacturers at a reasonable price.
Given the time it took to develop a relatively simple movie shoe, the industry hasn’t been holding it’s breath for the Hoverboard. Mattel has long since dismissed all but visual adaptations, but a few enterprising individuals and companies have shown interest. Obviously, the “Hoverboard” that dominates beach boardwalks and YouTube is of the two-wheel variety and only simulates the feeling. However, a few boards have been created by the likes of Lexus that go further. They use super-cooled magnets to float above a metal floor, or a metal-lined shallow pool (just like the movie!). Limited to this arena, they haven’t become commercially viable, but it may only be an investment away from Hover-dromes and parks.
One thing that BttF2 definitely got right, was the “TV Glasses” Marty Jr. is seen wearing in scenes at the dinner table. Looking suspiciously like modern day VR systems, it allowed the user to watch television and conduct video calls on screens mere centimetres from their eyes. It wouldn’t be foolish to suggest this blockbuster from 1989 left the young minds of future inventors excited. As technology advanced, engineering finally caught up with desire and birthed the Oculus Rift 17 years later. Within the decade, no doubt our VR glasses will be no less stylish and capable as Marty’s.