Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970): The Wrong Path to Peace

colossus_poster

Throughout science fiction across most genres be they books, films or games…the idea of the evil computer is a common trope that is more often than not, used to critique us and our ideals. What does it mean to be a Sentient A.I.? What makes an A.I. go bad? Has it gone bad? Within this we see those like HAL or GLADos (of the “Portal Series”) whose goal is to complete their missions. Which for them is furthering science in different ways. Colossus is similar in some ways, and different than others as his aim was built primarily around politics and defense. I’ll get into more of what I mean in the assessment, but for me, Colossus was a big reason why I enjoyed this film. The concept was also ahead of it’s time in regards to A.I. and matters of surveillance in regards to the State.

“Colossus: The Forbin Project” was directed by Joseph Sargent, written by James Bridges, produced by Stanley Chase and based off the book Colossus by Dennis Feltham Jones.

The premise is that Colossus is made public by the President of the United States as all control of America’s  defenses have been given over to the computer, and the computer was made to adapt if there was any attempt made to destroy it as to stop the Russians. We soon learn from Colossus that there is another computer that the scientist Forbin (Eric Braeden) wants Colossus to make contact with. It is a USSR AI similar to Colossus and they link. Worried about the threat this may pose the Soviet Union and United States cut the connection, which leads to both computers sending warning nukes out. Colossus stops one but Guardian does not stop the other. After they reconnect again they become one and begin their takeover as Forbin and his fellow scientists work against stopping the monster they’ve created.

The Pros: The Premise – I like the idea of a super computer developing intelligence and the world having to deal with this new organism. If there had been more of that and Colossus intentions never fully being known, or being less outright fascist I would have rated this movie higher. The premise really is awesome and is a great analogue of how the Cold War bunker mentality is our own worst enemy as it was that fear that created Colossus in the first place.

Dr. Corbin – Corbin is the idealistic scientist in the end who goes along with Colossus willingly at first, until the nuke hits the Russia and he works with the Russian scientist to find a solution and later his science team and Dr. Markham. He isn’t successful and is full of regret as he was the one who created the monster that is now taking control of humanity. Eric Braeden does a good job.

Dr. Markham – Dr. Markham is Corbin’s assistant and later love interest as she goes undercover as Corbin’s mistress after Colossus has Corbin trapped in the lab taking care of IT and being it’s connection to the outside world (The Russian scientist was killed because it was seen as redundant). She is a great fighter though and I felt bad for her failed plan with Corbin to stop ColIossus, hopefully she’ll lead the new resistance against the tyranny of Colossus. I liked Susan Clark.

Colossus – Colossus is the AI that was made to defend the United States against all threats. From here it evolved to figure out the best way to end all threats as a whole after it linked with the Russian AI Guardian and they became one and came to see people as the threat that needed to be dealt with. It was from here Colossus sought to bring all under it’s rule and destroy those who tried to destroy it. It’s programming of protecting people and safeguarding humanity had turned into that at all costs and breeding a new generation that would honor it and no longer fight among people. The computer becomes Skynet from the “Terminator” franchise, except bent on subjugation rather than genocide of humanity.

The Message – Fear breeds are own worst enemies was the big thing I got from the film and peace at all costs can be worse than war, as well as if you’re going to create something, fully know what you are doing so you don’t end up creating a monster. The fear breeding weapons that could be out of our control (especially with the modern automated information age) it was powerful. The fact that our heroes don’t win in the end was good too, it really shows how the idea of peace at all costs can turn to tyranny and terror as Colossus had Corbin under constant surveillance and killed those who tried to resist it.

Okay: The Scientists – Most are nameless and they are largely faces of resistance. They are a diverse group at least.

The President – He reminds me of John F. Kennedy with the voice of Shatner, so his voice was the most memorable thing about him beyond his personal connection to Corbin who he treated as a friend. He was also really reasonable with the USSR when they were dealing with the threat of Colossus and Guardian.

The Ending – Colossus wins and takes control of the Earth! This was unexpected, but his desire for peace and control didn’t seem fully fleshed out given how willing the AI was to use nukes. This seemed to contradict that so I was left wondering if it had another agenda or like Ultron just wanted to eliminate humanity all together.

The Cons: The Russians – We don’t get to know any of them and they mostly just do what the United Stats does, with the exception of them killing the Russian scientist who had created Guardian.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10. I liked it but felt that most of the human characters were not as fleshed out as they could be, the only one I felt that I really got to know was Forbin which wasn’t enough given how many characters looked interesting but just didn’t get development.

Pacific Rim (2013): Giant Robots, Monsters and a Fantastic World

Pacific Rim Poster

     What a way to kick off the new year with one of my favorite films, that still holds up now, even after 3 viewings. This was an interesting time to watch it as the first time I missed a lot of what was great about it but only enjoyed on a viserol level versus the second time where I caught the little details Del Toro put in that made his world spectacular and on the third viewing the issues I had through the first two really came up to the surface. This is still a favorite movie mind you, and I’ll explain why in the review, but though it is a favorite, it is in no way perfect.

   “Pacific Rim” was directed by Guillermo del Toro who also was one of the writers of the screenplay and a producer. The other writer was Travis Beachan who wrote the original story and the other producers were Thomas Tull, Mary Parent and John Jashni.

    The story begins with setting the stage. We expected alien life to come from the stars, but instead it came from a rift beneath the ocean. The creatures were the Kaiju and the only way humanity figured out how to fight them was constructing giant Jaegers (Robots) to defeat them. Humanity begins winning but things change when Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother fight a Kaiju and Raleigh’s brother is killed. This leads to him going into hiding and the Jaeger program declining, to the point that when Raleigh is pulled back into the war against the Kaiju, the Jaigers and their pilots lead by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) are nothing more than a resistance.

The Pros: The Premise and World – The idea of giant monsters coming from an alternate dimension and choosing to fight them with giant robots is a cool one. What is especially cool is how desperate and lived in the world feels like. We see tons of people from all over the world forced to live in cramped spaces because all along the coasts Kaiju are forcing people to run and move and when rebuilding happens it is usually around the remains of a Kaiju. This world feels lived in and it’s all the better for it.

The Soundtrack – Ramin Dwajadi did a fantastic job with this soundtrack. It has a large epic feel and is great at adding tension and action to the fight sequences between the Kaiju and Jaegers, as well as being reflective when it has to be as well. I hope he does the soundtrack in the sequel.

Cinematography – Visually this movie is a beautiful and has some of the best CGI I have seen in any film. You tell how much Del Toro is a fan boy of giant monsters and robots and it comes out in the designs of both the Jaegers and Kaiju are unique and a joy to see on screen.

The Kaiju – The Kaiju are like the Zerg in that they are a hive mind that adapt and shape themselves to deal with whatever weapons the Jaegers and humanity has. We see this when Otachi can fly and has a long tale that functions as an arm, as well as Leatherback having an EMP charge to shut down Jaegers too. They are a great threat and I really liked their designs which were aquatic and at the same time reptilian.

The Jaeger Teams – There is the Crimson Typhoon with a team of Chinese triplets, a Father and son Australian Team with Striker Eureka, a Russian Married Couple Team with their jaeger Cherno Alpha and Mako and Raleigh in Gipsy Danger. Sadly Otachi and Leatherback destroy most of them in the coolest battle in the film. We do see them all get a chance to shine though, even if it is only briefly. Of the Jaeger’s outside of Gipsy Danger, my favorite one is Crimson Typhoon.

Hercules Hansen – This guy is a minor character who is actually pretty cool. He served with Raleigh and Pentecost and is constantly dealing with his angry and unstable son. They have a pretty strong connection though, which in the EU exists because they are survivors of a Kaiju attack where Hercules lost his wife and Chuck lost his mother. They have some great moments, though I attribute that more to Herc who is truly an interesting character who should have got more screentime. Max Martini  did a great job.

Hannibal Chau – It’s one-eyed Ron Pearlman wearing sunglasses, a red suit and golden shoes while running Hong Kong’s blackmarket. There is nothing not to like here.

Stacker Pentecost – If this movie had only had Idris Elba to carry it, it would have been a good film. Not a great film since so much of everything else elevates the rather poor script further but Elba is by far the best actor on the screen. His character is complex having adopted the orphan Mako when she lost her parents in a Kaiju attack and he never stops fighting for the survival of humanity. He is the character who make Raleigh finally give a damn and is the one who fights off the Kaiju in order so that Raleigh and Mako can close the rift. He never stops being a compelling character and I wish he’d been the one going through an arc rather than Raleigh who is really forgettable. He goes out fighting though and is my favorite character in the film.

Mako Mori – Mako is the rookie pilot who deals with the trauma she faced as an orphan both in her mentorship and adopted by Pentecost and through her becoming partner with Raleigh. She has a great arc and personalized Gipsy Danger in great ways, giving it a sword for example, which it never had before. You can tell she loves the Jaegers and revenge is a great drive for her against the Kaiju. She is also one of the more reserved characters and much of her action is watching or in subtle ways advocating for herself. I’m really curious where they’re going to take her arc in the sequel, cause I hope she returns. Rinku Kikuchi is wonderful and her character is one of the more compelling characters in the film.

Gipsy Danger AI – Ellen McLain who you may know as the voice of GLADos from the “Portal” videogame series voices the AI! What an awesome decision. She does a great job and adds elements of humor to things as especially early on, Mako and Raleigh are messing up big time on drifting together. I hope she returns for the sequel.

Newton and Hermann – These two together have some great banter as Hermann is the scientist obsessed with numbers and theory while Newton is obsessed with Kaiju. Over the course of the film they come together and end up drifting with the Kaiju which in turn helps humanity defeat the Kaiju. Charlie Day as Newton is one of my favorite characters in the film and Burn Gorman owns it as the prim and proper British gentleman scientist who is opposite in personality to Newt.

Okay: Raleigh – The main character is pretty forgettable and could have been played by anyone. He isn’t a bad actor but I can’t really mention anything unique about the actors performance or what defined the character. This is a shame as even some of the minor Jaeger teams have more personality going on.

The Script – There is quite a lot of telling and some lines are pretty simple. It’s okay though since it reads like a comic book, but it’s not great dialogue.

The Cons: Chuck Hansen – This guy was an unstable prick for most of the series and I could never care about his story. It took learning about the loss of his mother after the film to give any sort of damn about this guy.

The Council of World Leaders – These guy are idiots and once they shutdown the Jaeger program and go for the wall that is useless at keeping back Kaiju, we never hear from them again. So much for humanity’s resistance being lead by the world’s leaders.

        “Pacific Rim” remains a favorite and a movie I’d recommend to anyone who appreciates Giant Monster movies and robot mechs in television or cinema. This film is solid all the way through, with a diverse cast and character arcs and a genuine love of what is being done with the story. There is hope and loss, there battles that mean something, and it is all presented in a visually stunning way to boot. If Michael Bay’s “Transformers” or “Ninja Turtles” franchises were like this film in any way they’d actually be elevated to the level of good. Sadly, you will not find that quality there that Del Toro brings to his projects and the passions of his childhood. Definitely check it out.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. Not higher because of script issues and how forgettable the main character is.