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Future Is Coming Soon To A Theater Near You

Science fiction fans may one day remember 1995 as the year Hollywood went futuristic. Near, not-so-near and distant tomorrows are increasingly cropping up as settings for movies inspired by the approaching millennium and advances in computer technology.

No fewer than seven features with futuristic themes are scheduled for release this year. They include “Tank Girl,” a comic-book look at a postapocalyptic world in which there is no water, and “Waterworld,” Kevin Costner’s phenomenally expensive foray into a post-apocalyptic world in which there is only water.

Costner, who wears fins to play “Waterworld’s” mutant antihero, is not the only big name who is spending time in the future. In “Virtuosity,” Denzel Washington will play an ex-cop dealing with virtual reality run amok, and in director Terry Gilliam’s “Twelve Monkeys,” Bruce Willis will star as a time-traveling convict from 2035. For “Johnny Mnemonic,” Keanu Reeves will portray a 21st-century “bioenhanced, silicon chip-implanted courier” who carries information he loads into his brain. And Sylvester Stallone will play the title role in “Judge Dredd,” a genetically altered 22nd-century jurist.

“There is a little bit of millennium fever going on, and ‘95 is a key part of that, because we are no longer looking back,” says director Brett Leonard, whose “Virtuosity” is set in 1997. “It is very rich for storytellers in the context of creating cautionary tales.”

Cautionary indeed. The coming crop of films, which have more in common with cult classics like “Blade Runner” than with space adventures like “Star Trek,” all share a sense of foreboding about the course of human affairs.

The threat to humanity posed by computer technology shows up in “Virtuosity,” “Johnny Mnemonic” and “Strange Days,” which features Ralph Fiennes as another ex-cop fighting an out-of-control machine. Washington’s “Virtuosity” character must chase down a computergenerated criminal who has escaped from a police virtual-reality simulator. The hero of “Johnny Mnemonic” literally finds his life endangered by information overload when two scientists give him stolen corporate secrets to deliver.

“I think this movie is a view of today, taken from a short distance into the future,” says “Johnny Mnemonic” director Robert Longo. “It uses the future to criticize what is happening now.”

In movies such as “Waterworld,” “Tank Girl,” “Judge Dredd” and “Twelve Monkeys,” urban decay and scarcity of resources are the chief villains. Natural disasters - earthquakes, deadly comets, lethal viruses and global warming - have abandoned the planet to all but a few hardy survivors who must battle the time-honored forces of evil.