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Speculative Documentary

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"The result is speculation built on fact. What I offer is not a firm prediction - more an exploration of possibilities."
Dougal Dixon, After Man: A Zoology of the Future, Author's Introduction
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This genre openly combines elements of traditional documentaries with Speculative Fiction. While the pure Documentary is entirely based on fact, the Speculative Documentary adds elements which are either an interpretation of actual events based on a combination of speculation and extrapolation from known science, or completely fictional. While a Speculative Documentary can also be Hard SF, a Documentary of Lies, or Mockumentary, the Speculative Documentary takes a very scientific approach to asking "what if" that differentiates it from other fiction. While Hard Science-Fiction places at least some importance on characters, plots and justifying fantastical elements, and the Mockumentary uses a documentary style to tell a dramatic or comedic fictional story, the Speculative Documentary handwaves any fantastical elements and downplays characters and plots to focus on implications and educating viewers about real science. Most dinosaur documentaries fall into this category, due to how little we know about their paleobiology.

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This often overlaps with Speculative Biology in the case of documentaries dealing with alternate evolution or alien worlds.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Envisioning the Distant Past 

    Envisioning the Distant Future 

    Envisioning Alien Worlds 
  • Alien Worlds (2020): A minseries using imagined alien lifeforms as a means to describe ecology, biology and the future of humanity.
  • Barlowes Guide To Extraterrestrials: A portrayal of the more imaginative aliens of science fiction in the form of an animal field guide.
  • Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan, while not entirely one of these, has a sequence depicting life on a gas giant planet.
  • Expedition: An early and pioneering attempt to model and envision a truly alien ecosystem. Adapted as the Discovery Channel documentary "Alien Planet" in 2005.
  • Extraterrestrial (2005): A National Geographic miniseries describing wildlife on two alien worlds.
  • Snaiad: A description of lots of vividly imagined alien vertebrates from an Earth-like planet.
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    Envisioning Alternate Realities 
  • Aftermath: A series of documentaries exploring the effects of apocalyptic events, such as the sudden disappearance of humanity, the world suddenly stopping spinning, humanity running out of oil, and others.
  • C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America: A historical mockumentary created in an alternate universe where the Confederacy won the American Civil War.
  • Death of a President conjectures the consequences to the United States of America if George W. Bush had been assassinated.
  • Ivory Extraordinaire: Deadly safaris on an alternate Earth where elephants out-competed all other big herbivores, and carnivores have grown larger to keep up.
  • The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution: An attempt to describe what Earth life might be like if dinosaurs never went extinct.
  • Specworld: A collaborative project modeling what life might be like if dinosaurs never went extinct.

    Reverse Engineering Fantasy using Real Science 
  • Batman Tech
  • The Science of Doctor Who
  • The Science of Harry Potter.
  • The Science of Star Trek
  • The Science of Star Wars
  • Star Wars Tech
  • The World of Kong: A Natural History Of Skull Island is an illustrated coffee-table book released as a follow up to King Kong (2005). It's ostensibly a compilation of discoveries by several research expeditions that took place in the wake of Kong's demise, before the island sank into the ocean and its Lost World ecosystem vanished forever.

    Mockumentary supported by real science 
  • After Armageddon: Follows the survivors of a deadly global pandemic.
  • The Age Of Stupid portrays Earth in the year 2055 after runaway climate change ravages the planet. The film is shown from the viewpoint of an unnamed Archivist — the last surviving human on Earth — who laments "why didn't we save ourselves when we had the chance?" and plays back real documentary footage from 2008, when the film was made.
  • The Day Britain Stopped: Explores the aftermath of the collapse of British transportation systems.
  • Earth 2100 details the events that led to the creation of the After the End Crapsack World that the protagonist, Lucy, lives in on June 2nd, 2100.
  • Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real: An attempt to model dragons as biologically possible creatures.
  • Mermaids: The Body Found: Despite its gratuitous use of CG, this fooled a lot of people into believing it was real thanks to only having a very hard to spot disclaimer during the credits.
  • Prehistoric Park: A minseries describing a zoo for extinct animals retrieved from the past.
  • Smallpox 2002, although it's somewhat off-base about smallpox specifically, it gets the action of a pandemic largely right.
  • Supervolcano: Follows the eruption of the Yellowstone caldera as it might happen in real life.
  • Threads: Explores the aftermath of a nuclear war.

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