11 March 2011

Colossus: The Forbin Project

I haven't done any research into when this came out in relation to other stories of this kind, but it feels like Colossus: The Forbin Project suffers from a case of undercooked ideas, like maybe it was the first time a computer-taking-over-humanity story had ever been made as a film. Certainly it suffers a little because there's not much more to the story than that simple premise. It's so procedural and direct about its "What would happen if a master computer was put in charge of our nuclear weapons and took its job as Overseer too seriously?" storyline that it lacks any good give-and-take (or even a decent subplot, apart from some chemistry between Forbin and Markham). We see our protagonists, Dr. Forbin and the other pesky humans, reacting to the situation as hostages react to a bank robber with a machine gun, or as any victim of terrorism reacts when capitulating. They stall for time, they adhere to the barest minimum requirements of each demand, and they look for clever ways out of their situation. The implication at the end is a kind of Twilight Zone realization that there's no way out, but to me it seemed like it was only just getting good when the credits rolled.

I know they're remaking this (and I think with Will Smith? oh well) and for my money I'd like to see the entirety of this film compressed into act one, or at the very least make the "You will now comply with me and one day learn to love me" seemingly-dead-end-for-humanity's-agency speech be the act two midpoint. There's a lot more story after this, even if the humans fail to regain control of the planet. Hell, I know this movie doesn't have the following required for such a gambit, but I'd be much more interested in a sequel akin to TRON: Legacy than a straight remake. A modern-day retelling of this would lose almost all of its punch instantly, since there's hardly anything shocking about networked computers, panopticon-esque surveillance, or complicated intertwined technological systems doing most of the decision making for mankind. Plus, we don't have a Cold War, and Cold War stories redesigned as U.S.-versus-Middle East stories always feel cheap and silly to me. But if they left the original as a relic, then leapt ahead 32 years or whatever and showed us an alternate future where Colossus/Guardian was running every little thing and humanity's own interests were being "served" by a sort of mechanized übermensch -- I could get behind that. In fact, you could be really sneaky and show us an alternate future where a giant machine took over the planet in 1969 and now humanity is now a slave to this higher power, and you could show us how this alternate world was almost totally indistinguishable from our own in meaningful and poignant ways, suggesting maybe our real world isn't as much humanity's domain as we think. What with mega-corporate superstructures and media-based cultural and ideological control and decisions being made way over our head and all.

But I digress. The film is decent, fairly tense, does a nice job of showing the fear of losing global and political control (though everyone gave in a little too readily for my taste), but too much of it was talking, and too much of the talking was one-sided (for most of the story Forbin advocated immediate capitulation; those advocating resistance never put up a reasonable fight). I don't want action, but I'd like more visual storytelling and less verbal story telling. Still, not bad. Interesting. Dated. Interesting precursor to a lot of films and stories I enjoy, most notably stuff like WarGames and even TRON.

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