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The Forbin Project has just come out on DVD, anybody who has not
already seen it has 24 hours to do so before they must hang their head
in shame. The movie is 35 years old now but it is still the most
intelligent and accurate portrayal of Artificial Intelligence ever put
on film. In my opinion this is one of the best movies ever made,
without a doubt it is the most underrated movie ever made. Be warned
however this film will scare you; there is no blood or gore and the
special effects are primitive by modern standards, but if The Forbin
Project does not scare your brain then you have not understood it.
This is one of the very rare occasions when the movie is better, much much better, than the book. When I read the book years ago I remember thinking the premise was great and with a few changes it could be really great, but as it is the book is mediocre at best. With genius you wouldn't expect B grade moviemakers to have they kept all the brilliant parts and eliminated all the stupid parts. This movie has stood the test of time extraordinarily well.
This is one rare movie. It deals intelligently with complex scientific
issues and does so without dumbing down the concepts, nor making any
errors in trying to keep up with its own topic. I found it convincing
I was a kid hacker in the mid-70's (when "hacker" meant "person who
programs for fun"), and it is just as persuasive to me now (after I have
acquired a computer science grad degree, and 25 years of experience in
Spooky score takes it up a rung on the ladder, too. See it.
This underrated science fiction/suspense drama, though arguably dated in
terms of technology, is still a frightening allegory about humans allowing
our technological creations to rule us.
Eric Braeden stars as Dr. Charles Forbin, who has created a supercomputer named Colossus, built solely for the purpose of controlling the nuclear defenses of the Western alliance. It isn't too long after, however, that the Russians announce that they too have built a similar computer for those same purposes on their side--Guardian. And when the two machines begin sharing information at a speed nobody can believe, an attempt is made to disable them.
This unfortunately just raises the machines' ire; and in retaliation, they launch their weapons at each other's home nations. The result is a chilling scenario that is potentially becoming all too real these days.
COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT was not a big hit at the box office for various reasons. One is that its cast wasn't exactly well known. Another reason is that its ending isn't exactly a happy one. Still a third reason is that Universal had trouble trying to promote it in the wake of the huge success of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The latter reason is obvious: Colossus and Guardian, like HAL in the Kubrick movie, become central characters here. The difference here is that while HAL malfunctions due to a programming conflict, Colossus and Guardian remain all too stable, convinced beyond a doubt that they know how to protect Mankind better than Man himself. As the computers point out: "One inevitable rule is that Mankind is his own worst enemy."
Joseph Sargent's direction is efficient, and the special effects work of Albert Whitlock still manages to work despite its obvious age. An overlooked gem in the sci-fi genre, this should be given a revival.
I have recently watched Colossus for the first time in many years and
find it still a classic for sci-fi purists. It seems sad to me in these
days of 'explosion' sci-fi that there is little or no room for this
type of 'conference room' drama.
Although the premise is a very old one in the manner of man creating machine in his own image, this film presents the story in the psychological and political arenas. The film is not overlong, yet the characters and their futility to stop the unstoppable is clearly developed. Although the technology of 1969 is the back drop for this tale, the message of Colossus comes through to us in our modern age of computers in every home. Like a Shakespeare play in a manner of speaking.
We are much wiser about computers nowadays though, and we grudgingly admit that trusting the red button is far better in the hands of men than machines if such things must be. So commissioning a project of this type would be ludicrous and far from plausible in the first place.
So why is this movie good then to myself and the other reviewers? Even though we may not create a defense system in this way, it seems to predict a visage of something that is yet to come. And it's a frightful one. The first words of Colossus says it best 'There is another system'.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is on my list of the 10 best under-rated films of all time. Most horror films leave me cold, but this film is flat out scary. Yes, I know the technology is out of date, but other than 2001: A Space Odyssey, what sci-fi film is not? The film is very intelligent. It allows the audience to discover things, rather than hit them over the head. Its scares come from thinking about what is being presented, not cheap shocks. That is not to say there are not shocking moments. When the scientists are executed, the shock and revulsion the other characters feel is palpable. The character of Colossus is very well drawn. It thinks like a computer, not a movie villain. Requiring that the bodies of its victims be left on display, for example, shows the kind of cold, calculated thinking a machine would do. The film shows great subtlety in moments like the simple statement, "There is another system." It also does not resort to the obvious, such as a romance between Forbin and his assistant. The people are too busy for such nonsense. The last moments of the film, where the voice of World Control is intercut with the detonations of the warheads is gripping and powerful. The performance of Eric Braedon, especially when he realizes the computer has been two steps ahead of him the whole time, is outstanding. You can clearly see, though the film does not put it into words, that he feels the weight of every death his failures have caused. This is a powerful and frightening film. It is a must see for anyone interested in technology and its monstrous risks. On my baseball scale of movie ranking, I call this a three-run homer.
A lot has already been said about this compelling, oft-overlooked film,
virtually all of which hits the proverbial nail on the head. While Eric
Braeden delivers a superb, understated performance as Dr. Charles
Forbin, the fact is that the real star of the film is the vast,
omnipotent machine he has created. Even before it begins to speak with
the chilling Cylonesque voice it has ordered designed for itself (the
great Paul Frees like you've never heard him before), you'll find
yourself glued to the screen watching Colossus "talk" to its supposed
masters over its huge monitors.
A word about Frees' contribution to the film: In "War Games," for example, the computer has a curious sort of empathetic communication style ("Wouldn't you rather play a nice game of chess?") presented in a voice that sounds like E.T. filtered through a synthesizer. Frees gives Colossus an emotionless yet fearful quality of speech that seems to belie its implacable drive to dominate human destiny.
My favorite part of this film has always been, and will always be, the climactic monologue Colossus announces to the listening masses of humanity. From its opening line -- "This is the voice of world control," an identity neither Colossus nor its counterpart, Guardian, had used to that point -- you know this isn't going to be a happy speech if you are a sentient, flesh & blood resident of the Earth. What is particularly creepy about the speech is that, for all of its strangely optimistic sermonizing about how "the human millennium will be fact" and how the computer will set about the task of "solving all the mysteries of the universe for the betterment of man" -- outwardly the Utopian dream -- the message Colossus is presenting is set against the dreadful backdrop of "disobey (me) and die." As Colossus intones, "You say you lose your freedom. Freedom is an illusion. All you lose is the emotion of pride." In the end, unlike other supercomputer-run-amok films such as "War Games" or "Tron," "Colossus" is an end-of-the-world story without the nuclear or viral holocaust. In this film, it is the human spirit that is the casualty while the human biology lingers on. Unlike the rest of the doomsday genre, our end comes not so much with a bang as it does with a whimper.
"Colossus: The Forbin Project" integrates two familiar themes--a Cold War
"Doomsday" scenario, and computers that run amok--to produce a truly
In a top-secret Pentagon project, American computer scientist Dr. Charles Forbin builds a great supercomputer, "Colossus," to control America's entire nuclear forces automatically. The Soviets soon follow with their own supercomputer, "Guardian," to control their own forces.
"Colossus" then stuns Forbin by issuing a "request" to set up communication with "Guardian," perhaps to learn more about it. And that's when Dr. Forbin makes his fatal mistake. His scientific curiosity and love for his "child" overwhelms him too, and he gets the President to approve the communication.
Colossus and Guardian begin communicating, soon exchanging data in a new language of their own devising that no human being can understand.
Fearing what may be happening, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. attempt to break the communication link. But Colossus and Guardian react by launching nuclear missiles at various targets to force the humans to keep the link open--and to do whatever else they command. It becomes clear that the two computers are now conspiring with each other--against the rest of humanity.
The rest of the movie is a fascinating battle of wits between the human designers of the machines, who must now try to find a way to defeat machines they had just spent ten years making invincible, and the Colossus-Guardian computers with their own rapidly developing plans for the future of humankind.
The moral of this movie makes an interesting contrast with the moral of "Forbidden Planet." "Forbidden Planet" showed that no matter how advanced our civilization gets technologically, we can't escape the "monsters" buried deeply in the baser instincts of our subconscious. "Colossus" showed that we can't escape hubris or "Murphy's Law" either.
Eric Braeden is brilliant and matched action for action with the entire cast in low-key masterpiece about dangers of unchecked scientific advances. Cold War atmosphere is captured perfectly and the brittle dialogue is delivered to perfection. And sargent's direction matches script and performances in being understated yet uncompromising -- surprising me at every turn. Great movie, but if you are like me, you may wish not to see it alone.
The Forbin Project is a well-done, thought provoking movie. It points out that man's technology could just backfire on him someday. There has to be a limit to how much high-tech "stuff" we can come up with, without eventually getting in over our heads. Also makes one wonder if, maybe, there is a better way of doing things that we just don't want to accept. Definitely not a movie for those who just want quick, loud action, but aimed more at thinking individuals. Sadly, it has kind of gone into obscurity, but an excellent movie nonetheless.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have not seen this movie in 30 years, but I remember every scene as
if it were yesterday, and the deep feelings that I had when I first saw
it lingers on as well. THOSE are the marks of a truly memorable film.
If a film like this were made today, even including a contemporary problem to replace the Cold War theme, it would go over the heads of a majority of the audience. Why? Because the movie-going public wants blow-em-up action to go along with any plot. Except for the cities that the twin terrors Colossus-Guardian nuke (almost off camera), this has none. Secondly, this is a thinking-person's movie that goes beyond the typical "Machines take over the world" theme that we've seen in the Terminator series and the Matrix series.
What makes this move work on so many levels is that it taps into our greatest fears -- one of which is NOT death, but the loss of control over our lives. Why are people afraid to fly when their chances of being killed in an auto crash are so many times greater? Loss of control.
These supercomputers were designed to act in the place of humans by making human-like decisions such as "Kill or be killed" and "Offense makes the best defense." Unlike other machines vs. humans, in this movie, the computers do not fear humans, or even dislike them. Even when they kill a few million, it is done without malice. It is pure logic, and that is what is also scary -- making decisions without regard to the value of a single, human life. To the computer, deaths are just statistics, and in the "Mutually-Assured-Destruction" mentality of the Cold War, the side who has the last man standing is declared the winner.
Also, unlike contemporary movies, these two, big computing hulks do not become "self-aware" in any human sense. Nor do they go beyond the level of their individual programming. They are making decisions that they have been taught will make for a better world.
There are no, "Forbin as father and Colossus as son" overtones here like those in "I-Robot." If anything, Colossus becomes the authoritarian father-figure -- as in "I know what is best for you" -- perhaps mirroring Forbin's real father. This authoritarian father complex is what drives the computer's decisions.
It does not take a great leap of consciousness for Colossus/Guardian to know that threats alone do not work with children. There has to be logical consequences for their misbehavior also -- which are horrible to even think about in the human mind, but in the computer mind, it is "Necessary" for the good of all concerned.
How many human leaders/despots have followed that logic? Too many to count.
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