If the Terminator had the ability to just turn himself into a cruise missile and wipe out Sarah Connor's city, there'd be no movie. In other words, to make sci-fi stories work, the writers often have to add completely arbitrary and pointless limitations to whatever futuristic technology turns up.
But in the name of plot and drama, they sometimes wind up giving the people of the distant future gear that doesn't even work as well as ours does now, in the boring old present. For instance ...
#6. Every Post-Apocalyptic Film -- Bicycles (Seriously)
We've seen it in The Road, Terminator Salvation, Dawn of the Dead, Book of Eli, The Walking Dead, Mad Max, Falling Skies and many, many others. One of the main problems of living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland is that the survivors have to be constantly on the move, because otherwise it would just be two hours of watching people slowly die.
Which, to be fair, is pretty much The Road's plot synopsis.
Whether they're trying to reach some sort of fabled vestige of civilization, looking for resources or simply trying not to be eaten by zombies, the survivors are always moving from point A to point B, and that means either walking over insane stretches of possibly radioactive desolation or fighting other people for gas. That's just the way it is, though, because if the whole world has gone to shit, how else are you gonna get around?
So What's Missing?
How about grabbing a bike? In most of these films, there always seems to be a gap between having a vehicle and gas and being shit out of luck, as if no other possibility existed.
"If only there were some sort of middle ground between cars and easily spooked animals!"
Why don't they ride bikes? Did all the zombies eat them? Did the nukes somehow specifically target bicycles but miss all the cars? Bikes are cheap, fast and easy to maintain, plus they require no fuel and they're freaking everywhere -- literally the only reason we can think of for why they are never used in these films is that they would look kinda ridiculous.
Bikes: Worse than being eaten by a zombie.
In The Road and Book of Eli, the protagonists spend pretty much the whole movie walking across hostile territory and never so much as consider looking for some bikes. It's like they never even existed. And before you tell us that Eli wouldn't be able to ride a bike due to his condition -- if you can aim a bow and arrow and win a machete fight, you can ride a damn bike.
There's blind and then there's Daredevil blind.
Not only are bikes considerably faster than walking -- the average human walking speed is roughly 3 mph, and the same effort applied on a bike is 15 mph -- but they are also much more discreet than cars. In Terminator Salvation, the characters can rarely get into vehicles without attracting giant murder robots, which you'd think would at least make them consider building some bicycles out of Terminator scrap parts.
In The Walking Dead, the Dawn of the Dead remake and pretty much every zombie film ever, the protagonists use motorized vehicles to get around, and they inevitably break down, leaving the characters to run. Again, there is no situation in which traveling by bike or at least keeping one strapped to the roof of the car wouldn't be beneficial.
"Yes. This is absolutely the best plan for this situation."
How It Would Have Changed Things:
In Dawn of the Dead, they actually show a character riding a bike inside the mall, but as soon as the characters are forced to leave the place, they completely forget such a thing exists. Given the traveling speeds we showed you before, using bikes instead of running away by foot would have made them exactly five times less likely to be torn to shreds.
In Terminator Salvation, guess what the young Kyle Reese was doing when he was captured by the robots: arguing over gas. Had Marcus, Kyle and the other kid traveled on bikes (or possibly one of those three-seat tandem deals) there would be no need to stop for gas and it would have been a completely different movie from then on.
"Maybe putting up with those terrible shorts would have been worth it."
The biggest difference would have been made in films like Book of Eli and The Road: Had people thought to utilize bikes, every grueling journey would have been much faster and therefore much easier, and in the case of The Road, much less likely to make the audience want to die.
"All of this is happening because you asked Santa for a PlayStation, son. Remember that."
#5. Aliens, Doom and Event Horizon -- Night-Vision Goggles
You know the drill: some kind of outer space operation suddenly stops transmitting and we have to send our finest marines/salvage crew/the Rock to go find out what happened, only to run into a nightmarish creature lurking inside a series of dark corridors. This appears to be a common problem for future space explorers -- and why wouldn't it be? Space is pretty large, and we can imagine that for every E.T. in the sky there is bound to be a Predator as well.
The space shuttle kept a loaded 12 gauge under the dash for that exact reason.
Movies like Aliens, Doom and Event Horizon have taught us that while sending things like satellites and scientific rovers into space is important, it can't hurt to toss in a few flamethrowers as well (not that it will do much good in the end).
So What's Missing?
You know what else might be helpful out there, future space travelers? Some night-vision goggles. Or, you know, anything more powerful than a bunch of crappy flashlights.
"Hey guys, isn't it amazing that we now have the technology to travel at the speed of light and visit
distant corners of the galaxy and such?" "What? Who said that?"
How many times have we seen the same situation? The crew is walking in the dark with little more than a Game Boy to light the way, then something jumps out of nowhere and fucks them up. But the thing is: Why would they have to walk blind in the first place?
2079: The U.S. military elects to retire its Land Warrior system, citing the fact that "seeing is for sissies."
The reason we bring up Aliens, Doom and Event Horizon is that in each of those films, the space crew knows they're gonna be walking into places where there's possibly no power and a threat to their lives. For some reason, however, these futuristic humans are always way less prepared to fight in the dark than, say, the Taliban. It's as if night-vision technology had never been invented.
In both Aliens and Doom, we're talking about highly trained marines armed to the motherfucking teeth and knowingly going into hostile ground. In Event Horizon, it's a salvage crew specifically trained to work in dark, abandoned ships. It's even worse in Aliens because thanks to Ripley, they know exactly what they're going to find in the death-ridden planet, but apparently she didn't mention how utterly dark it was gonna be.
"Let's leave Paul Reiser home and carry his weight in floodlights."
What's the problem with using night vision? Too bulky? You know what else is bulky, guys? A dead space marine. In Aliens, we actually see them flip down an infrared lens on their helmets in one scene and it doesn't look inconvenient in the least. They scrap using the infrared because they find out that the aliens don't show up on it ... but there's no reason why they wouldn't show up in night vision.
Look, we know these are horror films, but there's a big difference between some teenage girl having to use a small cellphone light because the power went off and a group of trained marines jumping after a mutant into a sewer hole with shitty flashlights taped to their guns.
Two flashlights. This guy must be a general or something.
How It Would Have Changed Things:
First of all, there's the obvious psychological effect of having to deal with the darkness in general. Forget the aliens and ghosts and that shit -- a big dark tomb in space is enough to drive someone up the wall. This would have made the biggest difference in Event Horizon, where the whole film revolves around the characters slowly losing their minds in that depressing, poorly lit ship. Night vision or perhaps even a few lamps here and there would have done wonders to improve the ambience and generally made things more cheerful for the crew.
Except this guy.
In Doom, one character is killed off due a flashlight malfunction, which shouldn't even be an issue. It seems that in both Doom and Aliens, the monsters' entire strategy is based on the idea that their prey can't see shit, often hiding in plain sight and blending in with the walls, probably snickering at the incompetence of their foes. However, if they tried to do that in a well-lit environment, there's no doubt that the tables would be turned.
#4. Avatar -- Unmanned Combat Vehicles
Avatar is set on a distant alien world (Pandora) in 2154. The human technology we do see revolves mostly around military and scientific equipment: big flying ships that spit out little flying ships, cool guns and of course your standard James Cameron giant robot murder suit.
We gotta level with you here, Internet: We don't remember Dances With Wolves having anything like this.
Oh, and then there's the machine that essentially allows people to remotely control large blue warriors (Avatars) for lengthy periods of time. In the film, the humans want to steal Pandora's natural resources, but in the end the native Na'vi manage to kick us out with some help from the few nongreedy earthlings and the planet's mystical forces.
Which include giant bulletproof shark-cows.
So What's Missing?
Actually, the Na'vi won because the humans are idiots. Those giant killbots are pretty cool and all, but they have one glaring design flaw:
That's literally how the evil Colonel Quaritch dies: someone cracks the glass in his robot suit and shoots an arrow in his chest, an eventuality no one could have predicted. Even if they had, why would the humans have to go out into a toxic atmosphere and fight the Na'vi themselves? Why not just send remote-controlled combat drones like, you know, the ones that have existed since 1995? Instead, they're wearing fucking oxygen masks and paying for an army of mercenaries to hyper-sleep all the way to Pandora and fight an enemy whose only hope for victory is getting close enough to stab you.
We can't help but point out that this piece of "ancient" technology is completely arrowproof.
This gets even more ridiculous when you consider that in this future we have the technology to control organic beings from insane distances ... but no one has figured out how to do the same thing with weapons, apparently. Throughout the entire movie, we do see one remote-controlled machine -- but they're using it to cut down a tree.
As for why they didn't send an army of battle-capable Avatars to fight the Na'vi: at one point Colonel Quaritch called them a "bad joke" and the people controlling them a "bunch of limp-dick science majors." Apparently the higher-ups agreed with him, and that's why these powerful warriors appear to be used exclusively for diplomacy and intel-gathering.
"Can't argue with that logic, Colonel. Guess their dicks are pretty limp."
How It Would Have Changed Things:
Basically, the Na'vi would have been massacred and all the unobtainium would have been obtained. In short, a happy ending for mankind.
During the final battle, the human forces are unable to use missile guidance or radar technology due to some magnetic hogwash going on in that particular area of Pandora -- but guess what does work? Those "limp-dick" Avatars. Presumably, remote control and UAV technology would be usable as well ... had the humans thought to use it.
"Robots are always hard."
So, instead of becoming completely useless the moment an arrow hits the soft spot in their chests, the giant robots would have lumbered back up and kept going had they no internal human operator. And even if the Na'vi were somehow able to stop the first attack, the humans would have still walked away alive and able to fight another day because they would have never actually been anywhere near the battle.
What's the point of being in the future if you can't have robots murder backwater natives for you?