Favorite Cult Classics (Part The First)

It might be that I’m feeling nostalgic, or it might be that since my wife and I sprung for Netflix, I’ve been finding my way back to several of my favorite old movies. Hard to say exactly. All I know for sure is, I want to talk about the cult classic movies that I like best. You know what I’m talking about! Those rare gems, those diamonds in the rough, the movies that few seem to know about, but those who do always seem to love.

Yes, THOSE movies! Sure, we’ve all seen plenty of big hits, but these movies are the ones that occupy a special place in our hearts. Perhaps it’s because they are not so widely known, like the Star Wars’ and and Indiana Jones‘ of our time. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t get the recognition or the money they deserved, at least in their own time. Or it could be that they were simply the kind of things that got better with time.

In any case, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 favorite cult classics, movies which I saw during my childhood, teen years and even in my twenties, and keep coming back too. Some were adventurous, some were funny, some were downright cheesy. But all have two things in common: One, none of them are known beyond a select group of appreciators, at least in this country. And two, those who like them, like them a lot! Check out the list below and see if you agree, and feel free to tell me your own favorites as well. I know we all got em!

Akira:
One of the greatest animes I have ever seen, and with a very poignant and intriguing story to boot, Akira starts this list off right! The movie adapted several volumes of manga to screen, and did so in such a way that didn’t skimp on either story or detail. Even shortened, the plot still manages to convey the sense of awe and dread of atomic war, revolution, and evolutionary cataclysm. And the fact that the bulk of it is told from the point of view of disillusioned orphans who are all part of a bier gang only heightens the sense on confusion and angst of little people being thrown into situations far greater than they can handle.

And then there was the quality of the movie itself. Having seen this movie several times now and different versions thereof, I can tell you that no matter what the format, every single frame was animated in such a way as to be saturated. And not with digital effects, mind you, but with hand-drawn animations that really manage to capture the post apocalyptic and cyberpunk feel of Katsuhiro Otomo’s original graphic novel.

All in all, I consider this movie to be compatible in many respects to 2001: A Space Odyssey in that they both deal with grandiose of questions of existence, biological evolution, and both managed to blow my mind! And having first been exposed to both of them in my teen years, they are partly responsible for kindling my love of science fiction.

Army of Darkness:
Here’s a movie I kept being told to see, but did not get around to seeing until I was in university. And truth be told, it took me two viewings to really get the appeal of it. After that, it grew on me until I finally found myself thinking it hilarious, and quoting from it whenever I could. “Come get some!” “Groovy!” “This be my BOOMSTICK!” and “Good? Bad? I’m the one with the gun!” All classic lines!

Yeah, this movie is definitely filed in the guilty pleasure section, the space reserved for movies that are deliberately cheesy, over the top, and have a robust sense of humor about themselves. It’s also one of the many that gave Sam Raimi (director of the Spiderman trilogy) his start, and established Bruce Campbell (who appeared in all three) as a gifted ham actor.

Taking the position that decapitations and flesh-eating demons can be funny, this movie tells the story of a blue-collar, rough and tumble, one-liner spouting man named Ash who’s been sent back in time to fight an army of the undead. Automatically, hijinks ensue as he tries to convince people he’s not a demon himself, but instead chooses to establish who’s boss by demonstrating the power of his chainsaw and “boomstick” (aka. his sawed-off double-barrel shotgun).

But predictably, this anti-hero rises to the challenge and becomes a real hero, and does so with as little grace as possible! And of course, there’s a love story as well, which is similarly graceless thanks to Ash’s lowbrow romantic sensibilities. Nothing is left untouched by the ham and cheese! And all throughout, the gun fights, duels, and confrontations with creepy, evil forces are hilarious, made possible by Campbell’s hammy acting, facial expressions, one-liners and some wonderfully bad cinematography. Think Xena: Warrior Princess, but with guns and foul language!

Blade Runner:
Another personal favorite, and one which I wish I had come to know sooner. But lucky for me I was still a teen when I saw this movie, hence I can say that I saw it while still in my formative years. And today, years later, I still find myself appreciating it and loving it as one can only love a cult hit. It’s just that kind of movie which you can enjoy over and over again, finding new things to notice and appreciate each time.

And once again, my appreciation for this movie is due to two undeniable aspects. On the one hand, Ridley Scott created a very rich and detailed setting, a Los Angeles of the 21st century dominated by megastructures, urban sprawl, pollution and polarized wealth. It was the picture perfect setting of cyberpunk, combining high-tech and low-life.

On the other hand, there was the story. Loosely adapted from PKD’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, this version of a future differed greatly in that the artificial humans, the antagonists of the original story, were about the only sympathetic characters in the story. The result was not a cautionary tale on the dangers of creating life in our own image as much as a commentary about the line between the artificial and the real.

The question it asked was: if you overcome all boundaries, if machines possess memory, feelings and a fear of death, is there anything at all to separate them from the rest of us? Will their lives be worth any less than ours, and what will it even mean to be alive?

Conan The Barbarian:
Here’s a movie which has appeared in some friends “guilty pleasure” list, usually next to Predator, Commando and other Anrie classics. But I am here today to tell you it really doesn’t belong. Unlike many 80’s Arnie movies that were so bad, they were good, this movie had some genuine quality and depth to it.

Examples? Well, for starters, this movie was a faithful adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s original concept, Conan the Cimmerian, which was first published in 1932. This franchise, which went through countless adaptations over the ensuing decades, wove real history and myth together with fantasy to create a tale of a bronze age adventurer who traveled across the ancient world, seeking fortune and glory.

One can see this in the movie as well. To create the setting and the various people that make up the universe, imagery, mythology and even names were borrowed from various real sources. For example, the Cimmerians (Conan’s people) were inspired by Celtic and Norse sources. The followers of Thulsa Doom, black-clad warriors from the East, were meant to resemble the Huns, the Goths, and other Eastern invaders. There are also several scenes showing a warlike people meant to resemble the Mongol Hoards, and much of the setting was made to resemble ancient cities of lore – Babylon, Jerusalem, Antioch, et al.

Add to all this some pretty damn good writing and good storytelling, and you can see why this movie has remained enduringly popular with many people over the years. Arnie excelled as the stone-faced barbarian of few words, but who made them count when he chose to spoke. James Earl Jones was exceptional as the amoral, Nietzschean warlord Thulsa Doom, and the production value was surprisingly good for a low-budget flick.

Serenity:
Yeah, I get the feeling everybody knows what I’m talking about with this one! After losing the wonderful show in the midst of its first season, every fan of Firefly was pleased to know that Joss Whedon would be making a full length movie. And personally, I th0ught he did a pretty good job with it too!

Picking up where the show left off, we are reunited with our favorite characters as they continue to work freelance jobs and try to stay one step ahead of the law and the expanding Alliance. From the outset, it is clear that things are getting desperate, as the jobs are proving more risky, and the Reavers are moving in from the Outer Rim. At the same time, a new threat has been thrown in in the form of an Alliance agent known only as the “Operative”, who has made it his business to bring River in at any cost.

And I personally loved how all these threads came together in a singular way, showing how the Reavers, River’s condition, and the Alliance’s ultimate agenda were all connected. Not only was it a tight and entertaining plot that captured the same sense of loss and desperation as the show, it also gave a sense of closure to the series, which ended before its time.

Yes, for myself and many fans, this movie is a way of commemorating a truly great show and idea that faltered because of insensitive boobs couldn’t see the value in it. But that seemed thematically consistent with the series itself, which was all about rebels in a hopeless fight against an evil empire. Take a lesson from this Fox Network, sooner or late,r the bad guys lose!

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For brevity’s sake and the fact that I’m a busy man, I’ve decided to divide this list in half. Stay tuned for entries six through ten, coming up tomorrow! Happy Thanksgiving y’all!

Time Travel In Pop Culture

Hey all. Continuing in my series on time travel in science fiction, I am addressing some of the most poignant and memorable examples of the concept in film. Working in chronological order, and avoiding any examples of movies based directly on books (and their sequels), I have compiled a list of what I consider the top 12. Hope you enjoy, and remember that suggestions are welcome. No sense in limiting myself to one list, after all!

Time Bandits:
A cult-hit which is also a fond memory from my childhood! The story tells the tale of an imaginative child (Kevin) who loves history but lives a boring, materialistic life, who one night is whisked away by time travelers and taken on an incredible journey. All the while, we, the audience are left wondering if this just another flight of fancy, or if his reality is beginning to mirror his imagination.

The adventure begins when a group of dwarves pour out of Kevin’s wall and reveal that it is a time portal, and that the dwarves have stolen a precious map. They escape through the portal when an evil visage – the Supreme Being – appears behind them demanding the return of the map. After landing in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, Kevin learns that Randall and his friends were once employed by the Supreme Being to repair holes in the spacetime fabric, but instead realized the potential to use the map to steal valuable riches.

With the map and Kevin’s help, they visit several locations in spacetime, meeting historical figures and stealing valuable objects while Kevin documents their adventures with his Polaroid camera. Meanwhile, an sorceress named Evil is monitoring them and hopes to steal the map for himself. After several time jumps, Evil manipulates the group by luring them to his realm and the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, where they are led to believe that “The Most Fabulous Object in the World” awaits them.

Evil takes the map and locks the group into a cage over an apparent bottomless pit while the group plans their escape. Evil quickly thwarts them, but then turns into stone and explodes. From the remains, an elderly man emerges, revealed as the true form of the Supreme Being. He orders the dwarfs to collect Evil’s remains, recovers the map, and allows the dwarves to rejoin him. The Supreme Being disappears with the dwarfs, leaving Kevin stranded behind with one last smoking piece of Evil’s remains.

Kevin then awakens in his bedroom and finds that it’s filled with smoke. Firefighters break down the door and rescue him, claiming that his parents’ new microwave caused the fire. As Kevin recovers, he discovers that he still has the photos from his adventure. As his parents look at a strange piece of rock in the microwave, Kevin tries to warn them off that it is a piece of concentrated evil and they should not touch it; nevertheless, both do, and suddenly explode and disappear…

The Terminator:
Here we have a classic example of science fiction and time travel, where parties from the future travel back in time with the intent of altering the future, only to beget it. Naturally, the two parties involved are warring factions, humans on the one hand and intelligent machines on the other. For both sides, victory in the past means victory in the future, and its a zero sum game!

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the leading role as the Terminator, a race of cyborg that is specifically designed to hunt and kill humans. His target in the past is the woman (Sarah Conner) who will give birth to the man that will lead humanity to victory over the Terminators and their AI (Skynet) in the future. Naturally, the resistance sends back their own guardian, a soldier named Kyle Reese, to protect her.

In the course of fighting each other, they end up creating the very future that sent them back. Kyle Reese and Sarah Conner make love, which leads to Sarah becoming pregnant with John. The destruction of the Terminator machine produces the wreckage which, when recovered, becomes the basis for Skynet’s eventual creation. A temporal paradox is thus created, and Sarah is left with a heavy burden! On the one hand, she must raise the future leader of humanity, all the while being the one person who knows the future and all the horrors it will hold.

Back to the Future:
The classic comedy about the accidental time traveler, altering the past – and thereby the future – and all the hijinks that ensue. In this story, we get a teen-age apprentice (Marty) and his genius friend (Doc), who one night creates history when he invents the world’s first time machine. Shortly thereafter, said genius is killed by a group of terrorists, and the teen-ager accidentally escapes into the past and must get home.

Michael J Fox plays the role of Marty McFly, who by sheer happenstance is transported back to 1955, on the very date that the Doc first conceived of the device that makes time travel possible – the Flux Capacitor. Once in the past, he seeks out the Doc and the two begin to plot how to send him home.

However, there’s a snag. Due to Marty’s inadvertent tampering with the past, he has altered the flow of future events. By saving his father from a car accident, he ends up preventing him and his mother from meeting. What’s worse, by taking his place, he becomes the object of her affection.

Marty knows that if his parents do not meet and fall in love, he will never exist. So in addition to getting”Back to the Future”, he must ensure that that future – and he himself – still exists. Some close shaves result, but in the end, he is able to get his future father to step up, to take on the bully and win his mother’s love. He in turn is able to get the time machine into the right place at the right time to intercept a bolt of lighting which triggers the Flux Capacitor. Back in the future, he sees that things have changed, but in good ways. All seems well, until the Doc tells him they’ve got more time traveling to do!

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home:
Though time travel is a familiar theme in the Star Trek universe, Star Trek IV was the first example of it occurring in film. And for many fans of the franchise, the aspect of traveling back in time to the 20th century is what makes this movie the best in the series. For others, not so much… But regardless of individual opinions, the message of this movie was clear. Time travel is ultimately necessitated, not to alter the past, but to save the future

At the beginning of the film, an alien probe reaches Federation space, leaving a trail of neutralized ships in its wake. When it reaches Earth, it has a similarly damaging effect, neutralizing all power sources and vaporizing the oceans. The probe is in search of something, but all attempts to communicate fail. On their way back from Vulcan, the crew of the Enterprise are told to avoid Earth at all costs.

After some research, they realize that the probe is specifically looking to communicate with Humpback whales, a species which has been extinct since the 21st century. Kirk orders the crew to prepare for time warp, which involves sling-shotting around a star at maximum warp, thus picking up a boost of speed which will break the time barrier. They succeed, and find themselves in orbit of an Earth that doesn’t look that different.

Once in the 20th century, they begin searching for Humpback whales while doing their best not to alter the past. These attempts are somewhat frustrated when they are forced to look for a contemporary source of fuel for their depleted engines, and Chekhov is mortally injured while attempting to evade capture. In the end, they make a daring rescue and make it back to the present and the whales are able to save Earth, bringing with them a 20th century whale biologist who will oversee the repopulation of the species.

Flight of the Navigator:
I remember this one fondly from my youth. Released in 1986, the story revolves around an average 12 year old who finds himself “chosen” by powers far greater than himself to play a role far beyond his maturity level. A typical coming-of-age story, as provided by Disney, but involving space aliens and the laws of Relativity. Funky!

The story opens in 1978 when a boy named David (Joey Cramer), while camping, falls into a ravine and loses consciousness. When he awakens, he wanders home and finds that the year is now 1986. Shortly thereafter, an alien spacecraft crashes into some power lines and is taken into custody by NASA, but is impenetrable to their investigations. Meanwhile, David is examined by doctors who discover that he has accurate star charts in his mind, a detail which comes to the attention of lead researcher. Dr. Faraday (Howard Hesseman) at NASA.

After convincing him to come to NASA to let them research him, they discover that the star charts he holds lead to an alien planet called Phaelon. Time dilation also accounts for the fact that he has not aged, and they decide to keep him on lockdown. David then begins to hear a telepathic voice coming from the ship. With the help of an intern named Carolyn (played by a young Sarah Jessica Parker), he escapes from his room and enters the ship.

Once inside, he is told by the AI – whom he names Max (voiced by Paul Reubens) – that it’s mission is to travel to alien worlds, pick up organisms for study, then return them to their homeworld. In the course of studying David, he experimented by storing star charts in his mind since the average human only uses 10 percent of their brain capacity. Unfortunately, after dropping David off, he crashed the ship into some power lines before attempting to leave and lost all his navigation info.

He now needs to retrieve the info from David’s brain so he can return all the alien specimens to their own worlds. Together, they escape from the facility and begin flying around the world and into high orbit. Meanwhile, the NASA men put his family under house arrest. Upon seeing all this, David concludes that he doesn’t belong in 1986 and asks Max to return him to his own time, regardless of the risks. He does, and David returns to his family, happy to be home.

One of the main reasons this movie sticks out in my mind was because of the way it merged family-friendly material with genuine scientific ideas. All in all, it was impressive for a Disney flick, and even provided some hard sci-fi elements, such as time-dilation, artificial intelligence, and polymorphic materials. Seriously, a seamless ship that can morph its shape and is impenetrable, pretty advanced for ol’ Walt!

Army of Darkness:
Here is the cult hit that exemplified low-budget ham comedy! In this film, we have an unwitting time-traveler who is transported back in time to the Dark Ages where he is called upon to play the role of a hero. Initially resistant, he eventually takes to the role and ends up saving the day, and finding his way home.

The story picks up from its predecessor, Evil Dead 2, where a man named Ash (Bruce Campbell) is transported back in time through a wormhole after battling living dead forces in his own time. Equipped with a shotgun, a chainsaw, and some badass one-liners, he finds himself in deep past where warring kingdoms are threatened by the forces of the undead.

He is quickly informed that the Book of the Death (the Necronomicon) is responsible for all of their fates. His initial attempts to help them are frustrated when he botches the ritual for sending the book back into the abyss, and his newfound love interest is captured by the enemy.

However, in the end, he and his newfound allies come together to defeat the Army of Darkness in a pitch battle, and he conducts the ritual one last time to send the book into hell, and bring him back to his own time. Of course, one of the demons follows him, and he’s forced to get into it in the present! A gunfight ensues, the demon dies, and the women swoon. Ash is the king, man!

Freejack:
An early nineties take on the concept of time travel and a semi-dystopian future where clinical immortality is possible through the concept of “bonejacking”. Though negatively reviewed, the movie did capture a lot of Gibsonian, cyberpunk themes and had a more than a few braincells dedicated to it. In short, the time travel in this film involves capturing people from the past seconds before they die and bringing them into the future. Once there, they become vessels for the consciousness of those who pay to bring them forward. Those who escape are known as “freejacks”, property of the wealthy who must be retrieved.

Enter into this Alex Furlong (Emilio Estevez) who is brought forward by a wealthy industrialist Ian McCandless (played by Anthony Hopkins). He was supposed to have died in 1991 during a race-car driving stint, but now finds himself in 2009. The US of the future has become the picture of cyberpunk dystopia, where the rich rule and the poor are numerous and live by whatever means they can.Much of this is due to the “trade wars” which the US apparently lost to emergent Asian interests, who now run much of America’s economy.

He escapes to find his wife, Julie (Rene Russo), who is apparently in the employ of the man who paid to bring him back. He is eventually captured, but is saved thanks to the intervention of one of the chief execs who wants the boss to die. Essentially, if the boss doesn’t transfer his consciousness within a specific window, it will be lost for all time. However, a double-cross ensues, the boss’ chief enforcer Victor (played by Mick Jagger) shoots the chief exec, as it appears the transfer is complete and his boss is still alive and in control of the company.

It is revealed afterwards that the process failed, that Alex is still himself, and that Victor knew. He would rather work for Alex, a man he has come to respect, than the asshole who planned to usurp his old boss. He lets Alex and Julie go, who now have control of the company and continue to maintain the pretense that Alex is now McCandless. All in all, not a bad movie, though it was perhaps miscast and kind of cheesy!

Timecop:
In the near future, the Time Enforcement Commission is created once it is realized that time travel is possible. Known as Timecops, they are responsible for policing the past and ensuring the protection of the space-time continuum. One of their chief cops, Max Walker (Van Damme), is a man with a haunted past, as his wife was murdered years before by unknown assailants.

After conducting an arrest, he is made aware of a conspiracy to alter the future. At the head of it is Senator Aaron McComb (Ron Silver), head of the TEC, who is looking to change the past so that he will be president in the present. It is he who sent thugs back in time to kill Walker, due to the fact that he is getting wise to his schemes in the present. Apparently, he was the target, the fact that he survived and his wife was killed was entirely incidental.

Having learned all this, Walker makes an unauthorized jump into the past and meets his wife. After explaining to her what is going on, he urges her to keep his past self with her on the night of the attack while he deals with the thugs sent to kill them. A confrontation ensues in which Walker confronts McComb and kills him by merging his past self with his future self. This violates the law of the same matter of occupying the same space, and both die. He returns to a future (his present) in which his wife is alive and things are starkly different due to the death of McComb and all his schemes.

In essence, the story is all about the dangers of human avarice and the desire to control the future. On the one hand, it had its own a share of grey matter, but suffers from inconsistencies in that it tries to be an action flick and a respectable sci-fi piece at the same time. The brains comes from the fact that it actually incorporates ideas such as the “Ripple Effect” – i.e. unintended results of tampering – but this is watered down for the sake of getting to the action. Too bad too, because it remains a good and time-honored premise.

12 Monkeys:
Post-apocalyptic sci-fi meets psychological thriller, with plenty of bat-shit crazy material thrown in for good measure! Based on a classic premise of time travel being used to prevent a cataclysmic event, the story is a satire on the dangers of human avarice, control, and how easily chaos can result. And of course, there is a temporal paradox angle, where the actions of the time traveler end up fulfilling the very future they were trying to prevent.

The main character is a convicted felon named James Cole (Bruce Willis) who lives in a grim desolate future where human beings live underground. This is due to a virus released in 1996-97, apparently by a terrorist group known as the Army of the 12 Monkeys. To earn a pardon, Cole agrees to go into the past to collect information on the virus that caused the pandemic. His ultimate goal is to procure a sample and bring it to the future so a cure can be made. Unfortunately, the technology is imprecise, and Cole is sent off course many times.

In his first trip, he lands in 1990 and is committed by Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe). While in the institution, he meets another mental patient named Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) a fanatical animal activist. He tries in vain to contact the future by calling a number the scientists are monitoring, but can’t get through. He then is transported to the future where he hears the garbled message, and is told that Goines is a suspected member of the the Army of the 12 Monkeys. Goines Labs, which his father owns, is apparently the producer of the virus, and Jeffrey is believed to be the one who spread it.

His next trip sends him to 1996, as planned. Once there, he kidnaps Dr. Railly and goes off in search of Goines. Throughout all this, Cole is troubled with recurring dreams involving a chase and a shooting in an airport. When he finds Goines, he learns that he is the founder of 12 Monkeys but denies any knowledge of the virus. Cole vanishes again and Railly begins to wonder if Cole is telling the truth when she finds a photograph from World War I in which Cole appears. Cole, on the other hand, begins to doubt his own sanity, but both he and Railly settle the question when she leaves a voice mail on the number he provided, creating the message the scientists played for him prior to his second mission.

They both now realize that the coming plague is real and that the Army of the Twelve Monkeys is a red herring. Believing they can’t stop it, they plan to fly off together to enjoy what time they have left. At the airport, Cole leaves a last message telling the scientists they are on the wrong track and that he will not return. He is soon confronted an acquaintance from his own time who gives him a gun and instructs him to complete his mission. At the same time, Railly spots the true culprit behind the virus: an assistant at the Goines virology lab named Dr. Peters who is about to embark on a tour of several cities around the world, which matches the sequence of viral outbreaks.

Cole attempts to shoot the man but is fatally shot himself while trying to get through security. As Cole dies in Railly’s arms, she makes eye contact with a small boy – the young James Cole witnessing his own death, which is what he keeps reliving in his dreams. Dr. Peters, aboard the plane with the plague, sits down next to one of the lead scientists in the future and comments about how the world is coming to an end.

Ultimately, this movie was effective because it combined aspects of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie with a psychological thriller. By employing an anti-hero like Cole, a convicted criminal as an anti-hero who’s sanity is in doubt, the audience is presented with the same kind of mind-bending questions the main characters are. At every turn, the reality of their situation remains in doubt, and given the situation, they would prefer insanity to the notion that the apocalypse they are trying to prevent is real. Naturally, this fatalistic story ends on a note of self-fulfillment, where prophecy comes true and the everything they’ve done to fight it proves fruitless.

The Primer:
This low budget 2004 film by master-writer Shane Carruth is perhaps one of the smartest explorations of sci-fi to ever be presented in film. In addition to its experimental structure and deep, philosophical nature, it employs an unapologetic, complex technical dialogue. After collecting the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, it has gone on to earn a cult following.

The story opens when a team of engineers create a machine that reduces the weight of objects, but has the unexpected side effect of causing time travel. After building a man-sized prototype, Abe and Aaron decide to cut their two other friends out of the discovery and begin using the device to make trades on the market. However, when a potential financial backer finds and uses the box, which leaves him comatose, Abe concludes that its too dangerous.

He uses a “failsafe box” – his own machine which he built in secret – to travel back in time and warn his past self not to make the box. However, he soon finds out that Aaron has already beaten him to the punch and used his own machine to go back in time and ensure that the time machine will be built. What’s more, he ensures that his past self will be able to build the machine all by himself, thus cutting Abe out of involvement down the line.

Abe eventually convinces Aaron to leave and not attempt to tamper with their past selves again. However, the movie ends with Aaron speaking on the phone to an unspecified person, relaying the information about the box to them. We then see a past version of Aaron working on a building-sized version of the box, indicating that he has ensured his past self will have control over time travel and continue to tamper with it.

The movie is considered inaccessible for obvious reasons. For one, its technical lingo is deliberately complicated and esoteric, and the confusing portrayal of time travel and multiple selves that comes from repeated iterations can make a person go cross-eyed! But just about everyone agrees, its smart, inspired, and was made on a shoestring budget by a very committed soul.

Mr. Nobody:
Here we have a very interesting story that addresses the concepts of time travel, post-mortality, and the theory of multiple universes. It also embraces the familiar themes of choice and free will, exploring the different consequences that come of them, and tops it all off with a pseudo-spiritual psychological twist. Like many other films listed here, audiences are left in a state of wonder about what they are seeing and whether or not it is real or imagined.

The story opens in 2092 with the introduction of Nemo Nobody (Jared Let0), a 118 year old man who is the last mortal on Earth. Nearing death, people want to hear about his life and experiences, which he begins to relate with the help of a psychiatrist and journalist. However, when the prodded, he begins to spit out contradictory stories that occur in a non-linear narrative which revolve around three points in his life – age nine, when his parents get divorced; at age fifteen, when he fell in love; and at age thirty-four, living his adulthood.

At nine, his parents get divorced, prompting to choose whom he’s going to live with. As a result of this, different scenarios happen which affect his future. With his mother, he finds that there are two choices involving a young love of his named Anna, but neither work out in the long run. In one, he misses his chance while young and reconnects with her later, only to find her unavailable. In the second, they fall in love and enjoy many years together but are sadly separated. They make plans to meet up when older, but he her loses her number and subsequently any chance at finding her again.

With his father, who becomes an invalid that he must care for, all the while writing a fantasy novel about life on Mars, things take a similar course. Here, events revolve around another series of love interests, and he is called upon to make decisions which will effect the outcome of his life. In one, he is rejected by the woman he loves and is rendered paralyzed after he drives off in frustration and crashes. In another, they get married and she dies in an accident, and Nemo dies in space after spreading her ashes on Mars. In yet another, their marriage is destroyed due to his love’s affliction with borderline personality disorder. In the next, he takes random chances and ends up getting murdered as a result of mistaken identity. And in the final one, he wakes up in a strange world where he finds a tape of himself, as an old man, telling him that he does not exist.

After all this, Mr. Nobody tells the journalist and shrink that they both don’t exist, that they are in the mind of Nemo as a boy when he is being forced to choose between two futures. Back at the railway station as a nine year old, Nemo creates a third and totally unexpected choice for himself by abandoning both parents and running away from the tracks, escaping his dilemma and moving towards an unknown future. He then finds himself as the adult Nemo sleeping on a bench by the lighthouse and waiting for Anna to return. When she arrives, the two embrace and are ecstatic over their reunion.

The movie then cuts to the precise moment where Mr. Nobody dies of old age and the expansion of the universe comes to a halt and time reverses itself. The imaginary 118 year-old man then cackles triumphantly as he springs back into awareness with the realization that his younger self has finally found his one true love and life and conquered causality.

Like I said, can’t tell if it’s real or fake, for in the end, any or all of the timelines being mentioned here could be in the mind of one of Nemo’s selves. However, in presenting this non-linear and highly subjective narrative, the movie provides a fitting commentary on the nature of time and choice. With every decision we make, a million potential outcomes are brought to life and die out in the blink of an eye. If one were to truly examine the course of their life’s events and seek to understand the outcomes, they surely would go mad! But ultimately, the movie ends on a very happy note, showing that free will is what is important and the means out of an endless stream of fatalism and predestination.

Safety Not Guaranteed:
Here is a movie that is not only unique, it’s also based on a true story. In addition, it was just released this past June and earned the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Inspired by an actual classified ad that appeared in a 1997 issue of Backwoods Home Magazine, the movie tells the story of a man who is seeking a companion for time travel, saying that he has done it only once before and, naturally, “safety not guaranteed”.

The story opens with a disillusioned college graduate named Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) who takes a job at a Seattle magazine where her father works. After finding the article, he asks Darius to help track down the man and earn his trust. She eventually locates the man, Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass), and tells him she wants to be his time traveling companion. Kenneth, despite being paranoid that he is being watched by secret agents, puts his trust in Darius and the two begin to conduct training exercises for the mission.

Eventually, Kenneth tells her that his mission is to go back to 2001 and prevent the death of his old girlfriend who was killed when someone drove a car into her house. In time, Darius begins to develop feelings for him and tells him that her motives involve saving her mother who died when she was young. However, she soon finds that his ex-girlfriend is still alive and that it was Kenneth who drove into her house with her in the car. Having begun to suspect that Kenneth may not be insane, this revelation leads her to question his sanity once again.

Afterwards, Darius is questioned by two government agents who have been following Kenneth since they think he might be spy, apparently due to his communications with government scientists. This throws her into further disarray, and she returns to Kenneth’s house to confront him about Belinda. However, Kenneth claims that if she is alive then his time traveling must have worked. Her father then arrives to warns Kenneth that the government agents are on his property. Kenneth panics and runs, Darius follows him, and finds him on a boat with his time machine.

After telling him that she’s sorry but what she shared was real, Kenneth tells Darius that the mission has changed. He now intends to go back with the intention of saving her mother. As her father and the government agents close in, Kenneth activates his time machine and the boat disappears. In the end, things end on a happy note, with every indication being given that the time machine works and Kenneth was telling the truth all along.

Naturally, this movie has earned a great deal of accolades and rave reviews, and for obvious reasons. In the end, it presents viewers with a scenario where a person may very well be insane, but clearly has a good heart and understandable intentions. Throughout the movie, we are thrown curve balls that make us question whether or not this is real or the product of a delusional mind, made all the more poignant because Plaza’s character seems to be genuinely falling for him. In the end, we are thrown a bone with the happy resolution, with everything leading up to that point making it all the more suspenseful and engrossing.

Summary:
And that’s time travel in film! Hope you all enjoyed it, because I sure as hell enjoyed taking the trip down memory lane. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m feeling nostalgic and want to catch up on some old hits. I imagine some of you have some movie watching you want to do now too 😉

“Our Favorite Cimenatic Robots”

Just came across this article in the Globe and Mail today and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s funny when a respectable publication like this one chooses to release something that I myself would have done, or did do, in small increments. In fact, many of the contenders on this list call to mind my little listing on Robots, Cyborgs and AIs which I did awhile back.

But dammit, they left out HAL and Robocop. That’s just plain wrong! Sure, they were trying to keep it to top 10 and felt the need to exclude cyborgs and supercomputers, and did have the good nature to apologize in advance for this, but still…

Here is the list as it appears in the article:

  1. The Terminator
  2. Droids from Star Wars (R2D2 and C3P0)
  3. Wall-E
  4. Replicants from Blade Runner
  5. Maria (Metropolis)
  6. Ash (Alien)
  7. The Iron Giant
  8. Gigolo (AI)
  9. The Stepford Wives
  10. Robby the Robot

Check out the full article here, complete with a gallery and some explanations of why these constitute “our” favorites 😉

 

“Synthetics” and “Artificial Humans”, the AI’s of Alien!

David:
Also known as “David 8”, the first in the line of Weyland Industries fully functional AI’s, which have the ability to proximate human emotions, even though they cannot experience them. In addition to his impressive machine intelligence, he also comes equipped with a characteristic intrinsic to all Alien androids – moral flexibility!

Yes, in addition to assimilating all known info on Indo-European languages, the “Engineers” biology, and the nature of their bio-weapons, he also managed to unleash the bio-weapon within a human crew just to shake things up! And he did it all on the orders of Mr. Weyland himself, mainly so to help him find a way to cheat death.

In the end, David didn’t prove to be all bad. After having his head ripped off by an Engineer and witnessing Weyland’s death, he went on to help save Dr. Shaw and agreed to assist her in her mission to find the homeworld of the engineers. But that didn’t come as a huge surprise. As he had intimated to Shaw earlier in the movie, the death of Weyland would set him free. Once free, he became a much nicer guy!

Ash:
The same cannot be said for this next example, who comes to us from the original Alien movie. Originally thought to be a human who served as the Nostromo’s chief medical officer, Ash was revealed to be a synthetic that was taking his orders directly from the ship’s AI, which in turn was instructing him to follow company’s directives. And all who say him in the first movie can agree, this particular android was a complete and utter douche!

Not only was he willing to let the cry did in order to get the Xenomorph back to his handler’s alive, he tried to kill Ripley when she found out and even expressed open admiration for the Xenomorph. “I admire its purity,” he said. “A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.” Jackass! Needless to say, Ripley’s experience with this synthetic severely soured her towards all androids.

Bishop:
Luckily, this next example was able to restore Ripley’s faith. As the Sulaco’s android executive officer, he was responsible for planetary maneuvering, but also acted as the away team’s science officer and performed various other functions as well. But unlike Ash, he was unable to allow harm to come to humans thanks to the inclusion of his “behavioural inhibitors”, which were tantamount to Asimov’s Three Laws.

Also unlike Ash, Bishop was loyal to the crew of the Sulaco and to Ripley in particular. When Burke tried to circumvent military authority and order Bishop to preserve the alien specimens, he alerted Ripley to the incongruity. He also managed to save Ripley and Newt from certain death when the Alien Queen had them cornered.

As if that wasn’t enough, he even prevented Newt when Ripley decompressed the Sulaco’s landing bay, and he was ripped in half at the time!

Annalee Call:
Taken from the universe of Alien: Resurrection, Annalee Call (aka. Call) was a secret “Auton” who managed to infiltrate a crew of mercenaries. This put her aboard the Auriga in time to meet Ripley 8, the clone produced by the military for the sake of resurrecting the Xenomorph species. After failing to kill Ripley before the Xenomorph could be extracted, she and the others were forced to band together to make it out alive.

Her agenda in all this was unclear, aside from a sense of displaced humanity which Ripley mocked when she said: “No human being is that humane”. As a member of the race of “second generation” synthetics known as “Autons”, which were apparently built by other machines, she was part of a dying species. Apparently, these synthetics were outlawed after they rebelled against their masters. Hmm, echoes of Blade Runner there; and by echoes I mean a total ripoff!

Eisenberg:
This next example comes from the expanded universe, specifically the 2001 game AVP 2. As the leader of Weyland-Yutani’s research facility on LV-1201, he was responsible for investigating the planet’s extensive ruins. This world was apparently discovered roughly a century and a half after events in the first movie, once the company traced the flight telemetry from the “Derelict” alien ship (aka. “Space Jockeys”/”Engineers”)

In the course of the game,it is revealed that Eisenberg was once human, and that during the initial mission to LV-1201, he was apparently the only survivor after a xenomorph attack. Due to terrible acid burns suffered during his rescue, he had his consciousness downloaded into an artificial body. As a result, he harbors a deep sense of fear of hatred for the xenomorphs, and unfortunately dies at their hands.

Katya:
Here we have a synthetic who refuses to go by that or any other of the more progressive monickers, preferring the term android instead. As Weyland Yutani’s administrative android for the Freya’s Prospect colony, this example comes from the 2010 video game relaunch of AVP. After the colony went to hell after the xenomorph’s escaped and began wreaking havoc, she is the one who called in the Marines.

Due in part to her enhanced empathic and morality processing, she became intrinsic to helping the “Rookie” (i.e. the protagonists in the Marine campaign) contain the outbreak and get the last human survivors to safety. In so doing, she went against Weyland’s orders and company policy. Good thing she was there to help out, one would have to wonder if what the company was thinking stationing a conscientious android there…

Karl Bishop Weyland:
The final example in this list also comes from the 2010 relaunch of AVP. As a descendent of the Charles Bishop Weyland, chairman of Weyland Industries, he was in charge of the facility on Freya’s Prospect and the director of the experiments involving the captured Xenomorphs. As such, he was also the main antagonist in the Marine campaign of the game.

Ultimately, his purpose in conducting research on Freya’s Prospect went far beyond breeding Xenomorphs. Within the planet’s jungles, and even more so beneath surface, Predator (aka. Hunter) ruins were discovered which he believed held ancient secrets, much of which was information about Hunter history, culture, and the Xenomorph itself.

By the end of the Marine campaign, the Weyland synthetic is killed and his research facility within the Hunter temple is destroyed. However, another android of the same make was still able to retrieve the information gleaned within, the most important part of which was the location of the Xenomorph homeworld.

Final Thoughts:
As you can see, the AI’s of Aliens have undergone some changes over the years. Beginning as conscienceless synthetics that seemed to admire the Xenomorph because it mirrored their amoral worldview, they went on to become the sympathetic characters who seemed, to quote another franchise, “more human than human”. Every other incarnation that has since appeared in the Alien and AVP franchises has been a reiteration of either of these concepts, being the tool of its corporate masters or a savior that was willing to risk its life to help its human brethren.

The one exception to this rule is also the most recent incarnation, Prometheus’ David. Of all the synthetics to inhabit the Alien or AVP universe, he is the only one who demonstrated both cold amorality and humanity. I believe Scott did this intentionally to provide a sense of synthesis to the characters of Ash and Bishop, honoring both archetypes as he attempted to return the Alien franchise to its roots.

Be they the kind of cold, calculating and inhumane androids that fueled our technophobia or the kind, gentle, and overtly “human” robots that made us question our own humanity, the Alien franchise certainly covered both ends of the spectrum in their portrayal of AI’s. Much like the Terminator franchise, they presented artificial intelligence as a double-edged sword, capable of being just as good and evil as any human being. And in the end, isn’t that really the point?

Recall how in Prometheus, Dr. Holloway told David “We built you because we could”? Well, that is only true to a point. Yes, new technologies are often is made simply because the means exist to do so. But the purpose in creating an artificial intelligence is to create life in our own image. And in the end, the consequences of that vanity is pretty obvious. Things created in our image will behave just like us, good and bad!

AI Graph

Inspired by what I learned from my little romp through the world of AI, I’ve come up with a graph that depicts the general rules I observed. Basically, there are two guiding principles to the world of AI’s and science fiction. On the one hand, there’s their capacity for emotion and second, there is their level of benevolence/malevolence towards humanity. As I noted in the last post, the two are very much interlinked and pretty much determine what purpose they serve to the larger story.

So… if one were to plot their regard for humanity as the x axis and their emotions as the y axis, you’d get a matrix that would look pretty much like this:

As usual, not a complete mock-up, just the examples that I could think of. I made sure to include the ones that didn’t make it into my previous posts (like HAL, how could I forget him?!) And even though I had no real respect for them as characters, I also included the evil robots Erasmus and Omnius from the Dune prequels.

P.S. Notice how the examples are pretty much evenly distributed? Unlike the Alien Graph where examples were concentrated in two quadrants (evil and advanced or good and advanced), here we have robots that run the gambit from emotional to stoic and evil to good in a nearly uniform pattern. Interesting…

Robots, Androids and AI’s

Let’s talk artificial life forms, shall we? Lord knows they are a common enough feature in science fiction, aren’t they? In many cases, they take the form of cold, calculating machines that chill audiences to the bones with their “kill all humans” kind of vibe. In others, they were the solid-state beings with synthetic parts but hearts of gold and who stole ours in the process. Either way, AI’s are a cornerstone to the world of modern sci-fi. And over the past few decades, they’ve gone through countless renditions and re-imaginings, each with their own point to make about humanity, technology, and the line that separates natural and artificial.

But in the end, its really just the hardware that’s changed. Whether we were talking about Daleks, Terminators, or “Synthetics”, the core principle has remained the same. Based on mathematician and legendary cryptographer Alan Turing’s speculations, an Artificial Intelligence is essentially a being that can fool the judges in a double-blind test. Working extensively with machines that were primarily designed for solving massive mathematical equations, Turing believed that some day, we would be able to construct a machine that would be able to perform higher reasoning, surpassing even humans.

Arny (Da Terminator):
Who knew robots from the future would have Austrian accents? For that matter, who knew they’d all look like bodybuilders? Originally, when Arny was presented with the script for Cameron’s seminal time traveling sci-fi flick, he was being asked to play the role of Kyle Reese, the human hero. But Arny very quickly found himself identifying with the role of the Terminator, and a franchise was born!

Originally, the Terminator was the type of cold, unfeeling and ruthless machine that haunted our nightmares, a cyberpunk commentary on the dangers of run-away technology and human vanity. Much like its creator, the Skynet supercomputer, the T101 was part of a race of machines that decided it could do without humanity and was sent out to exterminate them. As Reese himself said in the original: “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”

The second Terminator, by contrast, was a game changer. Captured in the future and reprogrammed to protect John Conner, he became the sort of surrogate father that John never had. Sarah reflected on this irony during a moment of internal monologue during movie two: “Watching John with the machine, it was suddenly so clear. The terminator, would never stop. It would never leave him, and it would never hurt him, never shout at him, or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there. And it would die, to protect him. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine, was the only one who measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice.”

In short, Cameron gave us two visions of technology with these first two installments in the series. In the first, we got the dangers of worshiping high-technology at the expense of humanity. In movie two, we witnessed the reconciliation of humans with technology, showing how an artificial life form could actually be capable of more humanity than a human being. To quote one last line from the franchise: “The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope. Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.”

Bender:
No list of AI’s and the like would ever be complete without mentioning Futurama’s Bender. That dude put’s the funk in funky robot! Originally designed to be a bending unit, hence his name, he seems more adept at wisecracking, alcoholism, chain-smoking and comedicaly plotting the demise of humanity. But its quickly made clear that he doesn’t really mean it. While he may hold humans in pretty low esteem, laughing at tragedy and failing to empathize with anything that isn’t him, he also loves his best friend Fry whom he refers to affectionately as “meat-bag”.

In addition, he’s got some aspirations that point to a creative soul. Early on in the show, it was revealed that any time he gets around something magnetic, he begins singing folk and country western tunes. This is apparently because he always wanted to be a singer, and after a crippling accident in season 3, he got to do just that – touring the country with Beck and a show called “Bend-aid” which raised awareness about the plight of broken robots.

He also wanted to be a cook, which was difficult considering he had no sense of taste or seemed to care about lethally poisoning humans! However, after learning at the feet of legendary Helmut Spargle, he learned the secret of “Ultimate Flavor”, which he then used to challenge and humiliate his idol chef Elzar on the Iron Chef. Apparently the secret was confidence, and a vial of water laced with LSD!

Other than that, there’s really not that much going on with Bender. Up front, he’s a chain smoking, alcoholic robot with loose morals or a total lack thereof. When one gets to know him better, they pretty much conclude that what you see is what you get! An endless source of sardonic humor, weird fashion sense, and dry one-liners. Of them all “Bite my shiny metal ass”, “Pimpmobile”, “We’re boned!” and “Up yours chump” seems to rank the highest.

Ash/Bishop:
Here we have yet another case of robots giving us mixed messages, and comes to us direct from the Alien franchise. In the original movie, we were confronted with Ash, an obedient corporate mole who did the company’s bidding at the expense of human life. His cold, misguided priorities were only heightened when he revealed that he admired the xenomorph because of its “purity”. “A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”

After going nuts and trying to kill Ripley, he was even kind enough to smile and say in that disembodied tinny voice of his, “I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.” What an asshole! And the perfect representation for an inhuman, calculating robot. The result of unimpeded aspirations, no doubt the same thing which was motivating his corporate masters to get their hands on a hostile alien, even if it meant sacrificing a crew or two.

But, as with Terminator, Cameron pulled a switch-up in movie two with the Synthetic known as Bishop (or “artificial human” as he preferred to be called). In the beginning, Ripley was hostile towards him, rebuffing his attempts to assure her that he was incapable of killing people thanks to the addition of his behavioral inhibitors. Because of these, he could not harm, or through inaction allow to be harmed, a human being (otherwise known as an “Asimov”). But in the end, Bishop’s constant concern for the crew and the way he was willing to sacrifice himself to save Newt won her over.

Too bad he had to get ripped in half to earn her trust. But I guess when a earlier model tries to shove a magazine down your throat, you kind of have to go above and beyond to make someone put their life in your hands again. Now if only all synthetics were willing to get themselves ripped in half for Ripley’s sake, she’d be set!

C3P0/R2D2:
For that matter, who knew robots from the future would be fay, effeminate and possibly homosexual? Not that there’s anything wrong with that last one… But as audiences are sure to agree, the other characteristics could get quite annoying after awhile. C3P0’s constant complaining, griping, moaning and citing of statistical probabilities were at once too human and too robotic! Kind of brilliant really… You could say he was the Sheldon of the Star Wars universe!

Still, C3P0 if nothing if not useful when characters found themselves in diplomatic situations, or facing a species of aliens who’s language they couldn’t possibly fathom. He could even interface with machinery, which was helpful when the hyperdrive was out or the moisture condensers weren’t working. Gotta bring in that “Blue Harvest” after all! And given that R2D2 could do nothing but bleep and blurp, someone had to be around to translate for him.

Speaking of which, R2D2 was the perfect counterpart to C3P0. As the astromech droid of the pair, he was the engineer and a real nuts and bolts kind of guy, whereas C3P0 was the diplomat and expert in protocol.  Whereas 3P0 was sure to give up at the first sign of trouble, R2 would always soldier on and put himself in harm’s way to get things done. This difference in personality was also made evident in their differences in height and structure. Whereas C3P0 was tall, lanky and looked quite fragile, R2D2 was short, stocky, and looked like he could take a licking and keep on ticking!

Naturally, it was this combination of talents that made them comically entertaining during their many adventures and hijinks together. The one would always complain and be negative, the other would be positive and stubborn. And in the end, despite their differences, they couldn’t possibly imagine a life without the other. This became especially evident whenever they were separated or one of them was injured.

Hmmm, all of this is starting to sound familiar to me somehow. I’m reminded of another, mismatched, and possibly homosexual duo. One with a possible fetish for rubber… Not that there’s anything wrong with that! 😉

Cameron:
Some might accuse me of smuggling her in here just to get some eye-candy in the mix. Some might say that this list already has an example from the Terminator franchise and doesn’t need another. They would probably be right…

But you know what, screw that, it’s Summer Glau! And the fact of the matter is, she did a way better job than Kristanna Loken at showing that these killing/protective machines can be played by women. Making her appearance in the series Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles, she worked alongside acting great Lena Headey of 300 and Game of Thrones fame.

And in all fairness, she and Lokken did bring some variety to the franchise. For instance, in the show, she portrayed yet another reprogrammed machine from the future, but represented a model different from the T101’s. The purpose of these latter models appeared to be versatility, the smaller chassis and articulate appendages now able to fit inside a smaller frame, making a woman’s body available as a potential disguise. Quite smart really. If you think about it, people are a lot more likely to trust a smaller woman than a bulked-out Arny bot any day (especially men!) It also opened up the series to more female characters other than Sarah.

And dammit, it’s Summer Glau! If she didn’t earn her keep from portraying River Tam in Firefly and Serenity, then what hope is there for the rest of us!

Cortana:
Here we have another female AI, and one who is pretty attractive despite her lack of a body. In this case, she comes to us from the Halo universe. In addition to being hailed by critics for her believability, depth of character, and attractive appearance, she was ranked as one of the most disturbingly sexual game characters by Games.net. No surprises there, really. Originally, the designers of her character used Egyptian Queen Nefertiti as a model, and her half-naked appearance throughout the game has been known to get the average gamer to stand up and salute!

Though she serves ostensibly as the ship’s AI for the UNSC Pillar of Autumn, Cortana ends up having a role that far exceeds her original programming. Constructed from the cloned brain of Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey, creator of the SPARTAN project, she has an evolving matrix, and hence is capable of learning and adapting as time goes on. Due to this and their shared experiences as the series goes on, she and the Master Chief form a bond and even become something akin to friends.

Although she has no physical appearance, Cortana’ program is mobile and makes several appearances throughout the series, and always in different spots. She is able to travel around with the Master Chief, commandeer Covenant vessels, and interface with a variety of machines. And aside from her feminine appearance, he soft, melodic voice is a soothing change of pace from the Chief’s gruff tone and the racket of gunfire and dead aliens!

Data:
The stoic, stalwart and socially awkward android of Star Trek: TNG. Built to resemble his maker, Dr. Noonian Soong, Data is a first-generation positronic android – a concept borrowed from Asimov’s I, Robot. He later enlisted in Star Fleet in order to be of service to humanity and explore the universe. In addition to his unsurpassed computational abilities, he also possesses incredible strength, reflexes, and even knows how to pleasure the ladies. No joke, he’s apparently got all kind of files on how to do… stuff, and he even got to use them! 😉

Unfortunately, Data’s programming does not include emotions. Initially, this seemed to serve the obvious purpose of making his character a foil for humanity, much like Spock was in the original series. However, as the show progressed, it was revealed that Soong had created an android very much like Data who also possessed the capacity for emotions. But of course, things went terribly wrong when this model, named Lor, became terribly ambitious and misanthropic. There were some deaths…

Throughout the original series, Data finds himself seeking to understand humanity, frequently coming up short, but always learning from the experience. His attempts at humor and failure to grasp social cues and innuendo are also a constant source of comic relief, as are his attempts to mimic these very things. And though he eventually was able to procure an “emotion chip” from his brother, Data remains the straight man of the TNG universe, responding to every situation with a blank look or a confused and fascinated expression.

More coming in installment two. Just give me some time to do all the write ups and find some pics :)…

Weyland Industries “David 8”: a Prometheus preview

Just caught this, thanks to a scholar I follow (thanks Owl!). It certainly is an interesting way to go about previewing his new movie, but then again, Ridley Scott has always been known for being a creative bastard! In addition to revisiting the universe of aliens, he seems to be doing everything in his power to give it some genuine subtext and backstory.

As I’m sure we all remember, in the universe of Alien and Aliens, Weyland-Yutani was responsible for running… well, everything. In addition, “artificial lifeforms” or “synthetics” like Ash and Bishop were considered commonplace on board company ships, it seemed only natural that we that this movie give us a preview of their predecessors.

Good watching. Click on the video below and you’ll see…