For decades, big studio films and major TV shows have tried to make back some of their huge budgets with product placements from businesses. Every James Bond film is basically a huge ad for products like Omega watches and Aston Martin cars. Microsoft is not immune to putting products like Surface tablets and Xbox games in films and TV shows. We sometimes think that the doctors at the fictional Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital in ABC's Grey's Anatomy have bought half of all the Surface tablets that Microsoft has shipped.
I think it's more interesting to see Microsoft's product placement in sci-fi films. Today, movie audiences will get to see the old Zune media player used by Peter "Star Lord" Quill in the new Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. However, we have seen Microsoft's software and hardware product in the "future" with three films.
I happen to love The Island. The 2005 sci-fi film is, in my opinion, one of director Michael Bay's underrated movies. It has an interesting and thought-provoking premise (which I will not ruin here) combined with Bay's fast-paced action, stunts and explosions. It's set in the "future" of 2019, and in two sequences we get to see Microsoft's predictions that didn't materialize.
The first is when the characters played by Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are fighting in brutal hand-to-hand combat. As it turns out. they are playing an Xbox-labeled video game where they control 3D holographic versions of themselves. They use their whole bodies to manipulate their avatars. We wonder how much input Microsoft had with this sequence. Honestly, it looks like what the company wanted their Kinect Xbox add-on to morph into 14 years in the future.
Unfortunately, the second bit of Microsoft's future product placement doesn't age quite as well. On the run in future "2019" Los Angeles, McGregor and Johansson's characters try to find someone with an MSN Search directory that looks like a phone booth. They even have to use a credit card to use it. We will skip the fact that MSN Search would morph into Bing a few years after The Island was released. The simple fact is that this movie did not predict the rise of smartphones that would basically turn nearly all phone booths absolute, let alone an internet directory booth.
The 2014 Robocop remake of the classic 1987 original is... ok. It's not a bad movie, and it has some good performances from folks like Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman. Unfortunately, it's also a by-the-numbers sci-fi action film with very little of the satirical and violent greatness that was found in the original.
Microsoft was a big advisor when it came to using the 2028 future version of its Bing search engine. We wrote about it when the film was first released. Microsoft said that people would speak to Bing to get the info they needed, Microsoft said at the time:
The solution was to have elements continuously scrolling in and search results updating in a living animated way. We also envisioned a 3D display with the most important things in the foreground. As we know that digital data is going to continue to explode at an exponential rate, we called for the search results tally to be constantly updating as new information arrives.
Nine years later, it's ironic that the new Bing Chat is taking Microsoft's search plans in a whole new direction, using text prompts to create detailed search results by chatting with a generative AI chatbot.
Ready Player One
Ready Player One, the 2018 adaptation of the best-selling novel, and directed by Steven Spielberg, has both its fans and detractors. However, there are certainly some cool visuals in the VR world that is set in 2045.
The movie has tons of pop culture figures, including video games and their characters. At one point we see a few seconds of a Minecraft World. We also get to see some kind of Halo station in that world, and in the final battle, we see Master Chief, some other Spartans soldiers, and even a Covenant soldier on the virtual battlefield. They look better than anything in that recent Halo TV series. Since we are still over 20 years away, perhaps something close to this fictional future might still happen (hopefully without all those environmental issues).
Which of these "futures" would you like to live in if you had the choice?
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