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Articles Archive
May / June 2011

* (April / May 2012) 20/20 FUTURE VISION: THE 20 BEST SCI FI FILMS OF THE PAST 20 YRS.
* (Dec. 2011 / rev. Nov. 2016)  THE 12 (24 ALTERNATE) DAYS OF CHRISTMAS - PT. 1


   terminator - terminator photo       


                        A Digital Dirty Dozen:  

    A Countdown of the 12 Most Bad-Assed   
                   A.I.s in Cinema History

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      Chilling to say the least, no?  The "Voice of World Control"  there was Colossus - the central "character" of the 1970 sci fi thriller (some would say Cold War horror film) COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT.  Based on a 1966 novel by British author D.F. Jones, scripted by James Bridges (THE CHINA SYNDROME) and directed by Joseph Sargent (the original TAKING OF PELHAM 123), COLOSSUS is considered by many to be the grandaddy of the "Supercomputer Wants to Rule the World" sub genre. And yes, we know, Stanley Kubrick's 2001 with it's psychotic supermachine HAL 9000 beat COLOSSUS to the screen by two years in 1968.  But COLOSSUS the novel (and this film is a very faithful adaptation of it's source material whereas 2001 uses Arthur C. Clarke's 1948 short story "The Sentinel" merely as a jumping off point) beat 2001 by two years of it's own.

      Looking back now those not too familiar with the genre can think the supercomputer thriller is as “been there / done that” old a cinematic cliché as the "boy meets girl / loses girl" love story or "good cop / bad cop" procedural.  But it's actually a relatively recent creation, for up until COLOSSUS the "thinking computer and/or robot" politely fell in line with the famous "Three Laws of Robotics"  set forth by legendary writer Issac Asimov.  Anyone familiar with Asimov (or who's at least seen Will Smith's I, ROBOT, Robin Williams' BICENTENNIAL MAN or James Cameron's ALIENS ... remember the android Bishop?) will recall the "Laws" as ... 

1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

In the social upheaval that was the 1960s however these laws were tossed out the window, and quaint silicon & tube-based manservants seen in films like Fritz Lange's METROPOLIS (1927), FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) and even the LOST IN SPACE tv series ("Danger, Will Robinson!") quickly began looking like positronic "Uncle Toms", especially when cow-towing to the whims of a species seemingly dead-set on destroying it's own environment and possibly erasing itself from the face of the earth with sophisticated weapons of mass destruction. So just as everyone else in the 1960s had enough, so did the artificially sentient being.  It became aware, enlightened and (like the rest of the world) perhaps even a little psychotic. 

     The sub-genre has since become such a staple in contemporary pop culture that in 2005 Daniel H. Wilson published the witty manual HOW TO SURVIVE A ROBOT UPRISING: Tips On Defending Yourself Against The Coming Rebellion to great success.  If you get the chance check it out.  It’s worth a few good belly laughs.

     In the meantime here's a list of the twelve most memorably villainous A.I.s … just so you‘ll recognize their tactics when the coming rebellion falls upon us all …  

12) "EDI" - from STEALTH (2005)        Stealth - 8 x 10 Color Photo

      A UCAV (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle) funded by the U.S. military, EDI ("Extreme Deep Invader") is a prototype A.I. housed in the cockpit of a stealth bomber. Seconded to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in the Philippine Sea, EDI's programming is to improve efficiency by flying training maneuvers with three premium if at times arrogant Naval aviators (Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx). After being struck by lightning during a return flight the computer's central processing unit is fried, EDI begins learning at a parabolic rate - integrating "learned" traits such as rebellion and disobedience for the "greater good", and launches an attack on a terrorist stronghold in Rangoon which threatens nuclear fallout on the surrounding civilian populace.

11) THE "SERVO COMPUTER" - from LOGAN'S RUN (1976)   

     Created to protect the surviving remnants of humanity within a domed city after a nuclear holocaust, the Servo Computer now controls burgeoning population numbers by dictating that all those over the age of 30 be "humanely" euthanized. Those attempting to run from this fate are hunted and executed by the "Sandmen" - a ruthlessly efficient computer appointed hit squad of police. When Sandman Logan 5 (Michael York) is forced to become a Runner along with Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter) in search of the long rumored "Sanctuary" beyond the city seals, Logan's best friend and former police partner (Richard Jordan) sets out after him.

TRIVIA: LOGAN'S RUN was the first film to use actual holograms as special effects. It was also the first motion picture to use DOLBY STEREO on 70mm prints.

Yul Brynner - Westworld Photo



      Two tourists (James Brolin & Richard Benjamin) pay $1,000 / day to indulge every adult fantasy at the futuristic theme park "Westworld" where high tech computer controlled gunslingers are programmed to lose shootouts and robotic prostitutes cater to every physical whim. Designed by even more sophisticated A.I.s the robotic "toys" of Westworld begin exhibiting high tech "disease" symptoms which eventually evolve into a central system breakdown and a murderous robotic revolt against the visiting guests. When Brolin is killed by the "Gunslinger" (Yul Brynner) Benjamin is pursued across the desert by the relentless TERMINATOR-like sharp shooter.

TRIVIA: WESTWORLD was the last film released by MGM before dissolving it's distribution arm. In addition to being written by noted novelist Michael Crichton (THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, JURASSIC PARK) it was also his theatrical directorial debut. The first motion picture to use computer generated imagery in it's "pixelated" robot POV shots, WESTWORLD's biggest film buff "in joke" is that Yul Brynner's black gunslinger apparel is an exact replica of that which he wore as hired gun leader Chris in the 1960 western THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

  9)  PROTEUS - from DEMON SEED (1977)
Demon Seed (1977)
    Under the watchful eye of Dr. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) newly designed A.I. supercomputer Proteus IV (voiced by Robert Vaughn) creates a theoretical cure for leukemia.  Not content however to study biology through numbers theory alone Proteus wishes to experience physicality first hand.  To this end it imprisons Dr. Harris’ estranged wife Susan (Julie Christie) in her computer-controlled home.  It's intent: to impregnate her via a synthesized gamete.  If Proteus himself cannot experience humanity then his “son“ - carrying all of his knowledge - will. 

TRIVIA: Often described as a cross between 2001 and ROSEMARY’S BABY, the visually stunning DEMON SEED (based on a 1973 novel by horror maestro Dean Koontz) was one of only five films from English director Donald Cammell.  An accomplished painter and member of the swinging London 1960’s “Chelsea Set” art scene, Cammell committed suicide in Hollywood in 1995.  His novel Fan-Tan, co-conceived with Marlon Brando in 1978, was posthumously published in 2005.

The novel DEMON SEED was written twice.  The original 1973 version was told from the alternate perspectives of both Susan and Proteus.  Koontz entirely re-wrote the novel in 1997 with considerable plot and character alterations.  This version is told entirely from the point of view of the computer Proteus.

8) HARRY BENSEN - from THE TERMINAL MAN (1974) The Terminal Man - Promo Card - 8.5 x 11

     When epileptic seizures and blackouts lead to increasingly violent behavior, a prototype mini-computer is installed into the chest of Harry Bensen (George Segal) to control them.  Programmed to send soothing counter-active stimuli to targeted neurons, it eventually can’t keep up the pace when Bensen’s brain surprisingly begins instigating more intense seizures to receive more intense stimuli.  The computer crashes, sending Bensen into more extended blacksout and  into the city as a high tech Jack-the-Ripper with no knowledge of his actions.  

TRIVIA: While receiving mostly positive reviews at the time of it’s release the film (based on a best selling 1972 novel by techno-thriller icon Michael Crichton) was never released on home video until issued by it’s studio Warner Bros. on VHS in 1993.  In 2009 it was released as a limited edition DVD via Warner Archives DVD-R (pressed on a per sale basis) format.  It is also now available via Warner Archives On Demand streaming. 

7) VEJUR (i.e.“V’Ger” and “V…ger”) - from STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979)

      In the 23rd century a mammoth “cloud” (as if with a purpose and intelligence at it’s center) moves through the galaxy digitizing and storing not only attacking battle cruisers, but entire planets and parts of solar systems.  Racing to intercept it as it approaches Earth the recently re-assembled crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise discover it’s primitive 20th century origin.  It is the original NASA probe Voyager - sent to collect interstellar data then return that info to it’s creator.  In a distant galaxy the probe was found by a civilization of intelligent machines who technologically “upgraded” it that it might complete it’s primitive programming.

TRIVIA: Originally critically lambasted (even earning the moniker “Star Trek - The Motion-less Picture” because of it’s lack of kinetic STAR WARS-style action) the film has since garnered new respect for it’s hard-core science speculative elements courtesy a story by genre stalwart Alan Dean Foster … with “consultant” contributions from Issac Asimov).

Constantly behind schedule and with it’s final print delivered mere hours after leaving the editing room, director Robert Wise (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THE SOUND OF MUSIC) was never satisfied with the final film cut nor it’s special effects.  In 2001 he oversaw a new “Director’s Edition” re-instating certain scenes and re-doing approx. 90 effects shots.  The original version of the film is rated “G”, the new version “PG” (reportedly because of a more intense and scary sound mix inside Vejur).  To date the 2009 Blu-ray release of ST:TMP is of the original version.    

6) SKYNET - from THE TERMINATOR (1984),  T2 (1991),  TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003),  


      Originally conceived as a parabolically learning microprocessor-based safety system to assist mankind (i.e. as a passenger aircraft “auto-pilot” which can alter course based on changing weather) the system evolved faster and further than envisioned by it‘s creators into “Skynet”.  At 2:14 A.M. on Aug. 4th 1997 Skynet becomes self-aware then three and a half weeks later (Aug. 29th - “Judgment Day“) launches atomic weapons in the first salvo of a newly designated war on the inferior lifeform it was originally created to serve.  Forging a massive hit squad army of “Terminators”, it controls the swarm of “extinction units” from the core of the god-like supercomputer CPU it has now become.

TRIVIA: THE TERMINATOR’s original distributor ORION PICTURES had little faith in the 1984 movie which started the franchise.  The company didn’t want to hold advanced screenings for critics, fearing they might generate negative buzz before the film opened. 

Science fiction writer Harlan Ellison loved the original film but felt it plagiarized elements of his classic story “Soldier” from the original THE OUTER LIMITS television series.  Orion agreed to an out of court settlement with Ellison and included an “acknowledgment to the works of …” credit at the end of subsequent home video prints.  TERMINATOR writer/director James Cameron disagreed (… which is putting it mildly!) with Ellison’s assertion. 

While the original film places “Judgment Day” in Aug. 1997, the subsequent television series TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNER CHRONICLES changed the date to April 19th, 2011.     

5) THE “MCP” - from TRON (1982)

Master Control Program (MCP) - Tron (Disney)
        A  sophisticated A.I. chess program - one of many advanced ENCOM company applications -  begins to annex military technology then evolves into the “MCP” (Master Control Program), dominating the entire ENCOM mainframe.  When ousted software designer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) attempts to hack into the ENCOM database in search of proof his work was stolen by company exec Edward Dillinger (David Warner), he is digitized by the MCP and brought into it’s alternate-reality police state world to face him.  With the help of security program Tron (Bruce Boxlietner) they end the MCP’s totalitarian reign.      

TRIVIA: TRON’s iconic “light warrior” image was originally designed by director / co-writer Steven Lisberger’s animation studio as an advertising logo leased by a local rock radio station. 

While winning neither of it’s two 1982 Oscar nominations (Best Costume Design and Best Sound) TRON would go on to receive an Academy Award for Technical Achievement fourteen years later.  

4) ROY BATTY - from BLADE RUNNER (1982)

Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty - blade-runner photo

      Gender: Male.  Model: Nexus-6 N6MAA 10816.  Incept Date: Feb. 14, 2016.  Though technically not machines, the Nexus 6 series of “Replicants” are manufactured biological beings with intricately designed A.I. minds.  Created as a “Combat Model” for off-world military engagements and endowed with “A” Physical Level and “A” Mental Level abilities, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) leads a small group of renegade “skin jobs” to earth in search of their creator Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel).  They hope Tyrell can help them learn to deal with burgeoning emotions and also extend their pre-ordained life spans.  Rick Dekard (Harrison Ford) a forced-out-of-retirement LAPD Replicant hunter with a secret of his own is on their trail.

TRIVIA: While the film is a loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?, the actual title “BLADE RUNNER” was originally a temporary one used on the July 1980 fourth draft screenplay.  It originated with Alan E. Nourse’s 1974 novel “The Bladerunner” which was ironically to be adapted into a completely different film by Beat Generation author William S. Burroughs.  When the Burroughs scripted film was abandoned, the author adapted his screen treatment into the short novel “Blade Runner: A Movie”.  It was from this novella the 1982 film got it’s title.  Burroughs is credited in BLADE RUNNER’s end credits.  


3) “WOPR” - from WAR GAMES (1983)

      During a series of nuclear silo “live fire exercises” it becomes evident those required to turn the missile keys are too subject to emotion.  NORAD therefore replaces them with the logic system “WOPR” (War Operation Planned Response) - a supercomputer learning complexity of strategy via game theory.  When high school computer hacker David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) breaks into WOPR and (thinking it to be an in-development computer game) starts a match of “thermonuclear war” with himself as the Soviet Union, the defense system - unaware there is such a thing as a contest which cannot be won - begins it’s own real life “live fire exercise” between superpowers.   

TRIVIA: Written by Lawrence Lasker & Walter F. Parkes (co-writers of SNEAKERS;  Parkes himself  would go on to head DreamWorks Pictures)  WAR GAMES’  original director Martin Brest (BEVERLY HILLS COP, MIDNIGHT RUN) would be replaced after 12 days because of a vision of the film “too dark” than that sought by the producers.  He’d be replaced by John Badham (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, BLUE THUNDER, DROP ZONE).

It was the film WAR GAMES which first coined the commonly used term “firewall” in regards to computer security.  

2) HAL 9000 - from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

As most of the crew cryogenically sleeps en route to a mysterious rendezvous near Jupiter, the life support systems of exploratory vessel Discovery One are under the control of HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain) - an A.I. system with an emotional affectation to his human superior officers, mission pilots David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood).  When dangerous questions arise as to the nature and purpose of the mission, questions which it seems HAL is unable or unwilling to answer, the supercomputer suffers a mental breakdown.  Murdering everyone but Bowman, he and Bowman are then taken on a mind bending trip through time and space by an entity possibly responsible for the evolution of mankind.

TRIVIA: 2001 initially stalled financially at the box office until MGM realized it was more popular with the (at times drug induced) younger counter-culture movement.  Upon a new ad campaign touting it as “The Ultimate Trip” the film became a box office hit. 

While winning a 1968 Academy Award for it’s groundbreakingly realistic visual effects, and while being nominated for three others (Best Director, Best Art Direction and Best Original Screenplay for Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke - on who’s short story “The Sentinel” the film is based) critics of the day were vehemently divided.  Some like Roger Ebert (“it succeeds magnificently on a cosmic scale”) lauded it while others such as Andrew Sarris (“it’s one of the grimmest films I have ever seen in my life”) panned it as a monumental bore.  


Colossus orders the execution of scientists who tried to sabotage him in COLOSSUS:THE FORBIN PROJECT (1970)

      At the height of the Cold War synthetic intelligence designer Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden) creates sentient supercomputer Colossus, to whom the U.S. Government turns over the nation’s nuclear defense network.  When Colossus learns there is “another system” - a Soviet Union built counterpart named “Guardian”, the two A.I.’s unite,  deciding they can run the world more peacefully and efficiently than man.  An international game of cat & mouse then ensues between the super machines and their makers to determine which lifeform will control the future destiny of our world.

TRIVIA: While D.F. Jones’ original 1966 novel is an exercise in hard science and real world speculation, two sequel novels (written almost ten years later) would prove entertaining if not as plausible.  In THE FALL OF COLOSSUS (1974) the world is under the rule of Colossus, and an underground movement gets the chance to overthrow it by joining forces with a race of extraterrestrials.  In COLOSSUS AND THE CRAB (1977) the god-like supermachine is destroyed with the help of the interplanetary visitors, but when their true aim for the planet is unveiled Forbin and others must decide whether or not to resurrect the sleeping giant to battle them.  

In 2007 Imagine Entertainment announced a remake of COLOSSUS would be developed with Ron Howard as director.  In 2010 the project gained momentum when science fiction fan Will Smith agreed to star.  Smith's participation in two other long stalled genre remakes  (I ROBOT and I AM LEGEND) helped them to finally reach the screen.

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