“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!

Alien Versus Predator (2010 game)

Welcome all to my first video game review! It took me awhile to figure out which I’d start with, but after some thought, I figured AVP – the 2010 game – would be as good a place as any. And given the recent release of Prometheus, I thought it would also be appropriate, not the least of which was because some of that movie’s content ruled out certain aspects of this game.

But mainly I’ve decided to review it because it was very cool. The game play, the graphics, and the storyline were all consistent with some of the best traditions of the Alien versus Predator franchise. And of course, there were plenty of weaknesses too, which were also consistent with the AVP game series. And above all, it was a fun play, assuming you can get it to work. No offense to the makers, but this game required a beast of a machine to run at a decent resolution and with all the bells and whistles!

Oh yes, I should also mentioned that this is a Steam game, meaning it’s uploaded and played through the Steam interface and is networked to the site during game play. As such, players get to unlock achievements and gain points for completing various levels, beating difficulty settings, and accomplishing assorted tasks. Now that’s all covered, onto the game’s story!

Storyline:
The plot of the game involves three intertwining plot threads which come together in a grand climax once all three campaigns are played. The first involves the perspective of the Colonial Marines, which have been dispatched to the planet to deal with a Xenomorph outbreak.

As usual, they are enforcing Weyland Yutani company policy, which as usual involves rescuing a research outpost which has been conducting Xenomorph research. Once in orbit, the Marine ship is attacked by an unidentified alien ship which blows it apart and sends its drop ship tumbling towards the surface.

The Marine campaign begins shortly after the dropship forced to crash land on the planet. The gamer then wakes up on a stretcher in the cargo bay, the others having left you behind to go off and deal with the problem. This necessitates that you find your way to them and begin reinforcing them. For the most part, this involves fighting xenos on your own, but here and there, you get to shoot it out with some backup. Of course, they usually die in the process…

Things change when your team leader, Tequila, is captured and you have to go and rescue her. At this point, you are being directed by an android who is deep within the facility and reveals what’s being going on there. And of course, this leads to an eventual confrontation with a Predator (aka. “Hunter”), which just happens to be one of the most challenging parts of the game. But of course, confrontations with a Queen and Praetors (queens that have not fully matured) are also pretty tough. Once that is done, you work your way to Tequila who has been placed inside a cocooning room, a la Aliens, and who is already infected.

Once you save Tequila, you and she work your way to the android helper and the medical facility where the outbreak took place. Here, she explains that the experiment went wrong (as always) and begins a procedure to remove the parasite from Tequila’s stomach. This is interrupted when another android, who has been programmed with the mind of Mr. Weyland (played by Lance Henriksen), cuts off the power to the lab. You are therefore forced to put Tequila into cryo-stasis to keep her safe and alive until help arrives.

Your next mission is to find your way to the Weyland droid and find the tracker he has so you can summon a new dropship to you. He is currently hiding in an underground temple which WY have been excavating. The temple, like just about everything else on the planet, is of Hunter construction and its hundreds of thousands of years old. And of course, they came upon preserved specimens of Xenomorph eggs, which prompted them to begin hatching them. Once you defeat the Weyland droid and grab a hold of the transmitter, the dropship arrives and carries you and Tequila to safety in orbit.

But of course, there’s a double-cross. It seems that the personnel aboard the dropship are taking their orders from another of the Weyland droids. They signal that they have a live Xenomorph specimen (in her) and also the emergency transmitter, which just happens to contain all of Weyland’s research. The key bit of information, which he uncovered from his extensive research inside the underground temple, is the location of the Xenomorph homeworld!

Onto the Alien campaign where things take place from a single Xenomorph that has been bred inside the WY facility. This campaign, as noted, overlaps with the Marine (and later Hunter) campaigns, and involves the Xenomorph’s mission to escape the facility and begin breeding. The first step is to escape confinement from the medical bay and set the others free.

Once this is done, you work your way through the facilities sewers, taking down all personnel you see and attaching “Facehuggers” to them. All the while, the Queen directs you via pheromones, which act as a sort of telepathy, to help her establish a hive on the planet’s Refinery. Here she rests, until the arrival of the Marines causes things to come to a head.

From this point onward, your job is to fight and kill the Marines while simultaneously taking out the facilities systems. After that’s done, you work your way into the temple complex where Hunters show up to intercept you. After killing them, you are forced to battle an Elite Hunter until he’s weak enough to be subdued and then infected by a Facehugger. This gives rise to the hybrid Hunter-Xenomorph (aka. Predalien) that is central to the Hunter campaign.

However, things go awry when the Refinery is destroyed and the Queen is trapped inside. This event, which is part of the Marine campaign, causes the Xenomorph to be stunned and captured. It is taken back to the Marine vessel, where it then escapes and sets up a new hive, becoming the new Queen!

And thus the Predator campaign begins, with the arrival of the Hunter ship and its destruction of the Marine vessel. As an Elite Hunter you are then deployed to the planet to begin hunting the Marines, as punishment for desecrating their temple site, and killing any Xenomorphs that have escaped. You are also responsible for locating any dead Hunters and retrieving their trophies, as well as collecting weapons and sacred artifacts.

Your missions then involve infiltrating the Marines bases, disabling their systems, and releasing the xenomorphs. You then find yourself following the “Rookie” Marines path, which leads to the sacred temple where you are forced to battle Praetorians. Moving inside to the underground temple, you come upon the Weyland Yutani party and its compliment of combat androids. After destroying them and retrieving the last Hunter artifacts, you are forced to do battle with the hybrid Predalien.

Once this is done, you are ordered to set the temple to self-destruct, in order to cleanse the taint of the human’s presence and ensure that none of the secret’s within ever fall into their hands again. However, unbeknownst to you, WY has already retreived the vital inro about the xenomorph’s homeworld. Once you return to your ship. the same info is shared from the sacred Hunter mask which you retrieved from the planet below. Apparently, this information has been lost to the Hunters, who have been breeding Xenomorph’s in captivity for training and now seek to contain them, lest someone else (i.e. the human race) try to breed them as a weapon.

Hence, all three storylines come together and point in one direction: the Xenomorph homeworld, where the next chapter is sure to take place!

Good Points:
This game’s positive aspects should be obvious to anyone. As an AVP game, the game play is automatically very fun and intense. This applies to the Marine campaign, with its assortment of Pulse Rifles, Incinerators and Smartguns, though I honestly didn’t care much for the hand guns, shotguns and sniper rifles. Those weapons just seemed clunky and kind of primitive, given the time period in which everything is happening.

And of course, the Predator campaign was pretty damn awesome, given the claws and plasmacasters. The way the equipment was updated to be a little more limiting in terms of energy requirements was also a nice touch, since in AVP2 the Predator’s arsenal was a little too easy to maintain and hence pretty overwhelming. However, the new limitations they put on available weapons was something I did not like. Aside from your claws and plasma gun, all you get is the disc and the combistick. What happened to the net guns and claw launchers?

But what really impressed me was the Xenomorph campaign, where your cheif weapons are your claws, tail, and sheer mobility. You can climb walls, jump from surface to surface, and sneak attack like nobody’s business! You can also facebite with your little mouth, which is pretty damn gory and awesome! The way you can retrain people to put a Facehugger on them also adds to the overall level of detail and coolness of this aspect.

On top of it all, the feel of the game is spot on. When dealing with AVP, one immediately expects a level of intensity and intrigue which can only come from dealing with scary Xenomorphs and deadly Hunters! As the Marine, you constantly have the feeling of vulnerability and impending doom. And in the end, the only way to win is to stay mobile and be conservative with your ammo supply. As the Hunter, stealth and patience are your ally. If you engage too quickly or easily, you will be discovered and overwhelmed by superior numbers of Marines or Xenomorphs. And as the Xenomorph, the ability to move hide, move quickly, and use the surrounding environment to your advantage is the key to success. This balance of abilities and weaknesses is key to making the gaming experience feel faithful to the franchise and as realistic as possible.

Bad Points:
But alas, there are some weaknesses. The first is the most obvious, and one I mentioned already. This game has some pretty cool graphics and game play features, such as the blurring effect which you can turn off and on. With it active, you experience blurring whenever you turn fast. This adds to the overall suspense and intensity of the game and makes it that much harder. But this, like everything else in this game, requires you have a fast machine with a good graphics card. Otherwise, expect things to be slow, choppy, and look pretty grainy!

Second, there’s the rather tired duty of the storyline where reasons have to keep being given for why you are on your own as the Marine. With the Hunter, it’s obvious why you’re fighting solo. That’s simply the way they fight, every Hunter in his own domain stalking and killing his prey and taking trophies. But for the Marines, the standard deployment tactic is by squad, coordinated and covering each others’ back. The fact that you’re constantly alone as a Marine just doesn’t make sense.

Sure, in previous versions, when the game just wasn’t sophisticated enough, this was understandable. A single person, first-person-shooter was simply the best they could do with what resources and money they had available. But now? With the kinds of AI’s and sophistication the latest games boast, there really isn’t much of a reason for making the majority of the Marine campaign single person FPS . That, and the constant reasons for why you’re on your own (i.e. the rest of the squad got killed, the last dropship got shot down, the door slammed shut and separated you from them) just gets annoying after awhile.

And lastly, there is the storyline which is a bit confusing. The part about scientists in a WY facility breeding Xenomorphs, that’s perfectly understandable. In fact, that’s the setup of every single AVP story: the evil corporate goons breed Xenos, they get loose, the Marines go in to clean up, they find Hunters there doing the same thing, and everything devolves into a three way fight.  But why are they breeding Xenos if the purpose of the colony was to uncover ancient Hunter ruins? Kind of seems like the traditional plot was laid on top of this other one in order ensure that all the plot elements are there.

Prometheus’ Plot Changes (Spoiler Alert!):
In the end, the purpose of this game was to bring all sides together so they could learn the location of the Xenomorph homeworld. That way, something that was never revealed in the original franchise was now being previewed, the gamer being left with the distinct impression that it would serve as the backdrop for the next game. Unfortunately, the movie Prometheus ruled this out by saying that the Xenos were a “Engineer” (aka. Space Jockey) bioweapon. If they are in fact weapons this race engineered, then they don’t have a homeworld.

Granted, this can be explained away by simply saying that the Engineers set up a “colony” for the Xenos, an entire world that was set aside for keeping them and breeding them in isolation. Since the retreat of the Engineers, this colony could have since evolved to become a festering hive of Xenos, with multiple Queens battling for supremacy and conflict giving rise to new and frightening sub-species. That could work, and it could be downright interesting.

And hey, if there is to be no sequel to this latest AVP game, someone will probably do some fan fic dealing with it. Who knows, it might even be me. I’m a fan, I can kinda write! Pay me to do it!

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…

I, Robot!

Back to the movies! After a brief hiatus, I’ve decided to get back into my sci-fi movie reviews. Truth be told, it was difficult to decide which one I was going to do next. If I were to stick to my review list, and be rigidly chronological, I still had two installments to do for Aliens and Terminator to cover. However, my chief critic (also known as my wife) recommended I do something I haven’t already done to death (Pah! Like she even reads these!). But of course I also like to make sure the movies I review are fresh in my mind and I’ve had the chance to do some comparative analysis where adaptations were the case. Strange Days I still need to watch, I need to see Ghost in the Shell one more time before I review it, and I still haven’t found a damn copy of the graphic novel V for Vendetta!

Luckily, there’s one on this list that was both a movie and novel and which I’ve been looking forward to reviewing. Not only is it a classic novel by one of the sci-fi greats, it was also not bad as film. Also, thought I’d revert to my old format for this one.

I, Robot:
The story of I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – one of the Big Three of science fiction (alongside Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven) – was actually a series of short stories united by a common thread. In short, the story explained the development of sentient robots, the positronic brain, and Three Laws of Robotics. These last two items have become staples of the sci-fi industry. Fans of Star Trek TNG know that the character of Data boasts such a brain, and numerous franchises have referred back to the Three Laws or some variant thereof whenever AI’s have come up. In Aliens for example, Bishop, the android, mentions that he has behavioral inhibitors that make it impossible for me to “harm or by omission of action, allow to be harmed, a human being.” In Babylon 5, the psi-cop Bester (played by Walter Koenig, aka. Pavel Chekov) places a neural block in the head of another character, Mr. Garibaldi’s (Jerry Doyle). He describes this as hitting him “with an Asimov”, and went on to explain what this meant and how the term was used when the first AI’s were built.

(Background —>):
Ironically, the book was about technophobia and how it was misplaced. The movie adaptation, however, was all about justified technophobia. In addition, the movie could not successfully adapt the format of nine short stories to the screen, so obviously they needed to come up with an original script that was faithful if not accurate. And in many respects it was, but when it came to the central theme of unjustified paranoia, they were up against it! How do you tell a story about robots not going berserk and enslaving mankind? Chances are, you don’t. Not if you’re going for an action movie. Second, how were they to do a movie where the robots went berserk when there were those tricky Three Laws to contend with?

Speaking of which, here they are (as stated in the opening credits):
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Consistent, and downright seamless! So how do you get robots to harm human beings when every article of their programming says they can’t, under ANY circumstances?

Well, as a friend of mine said after he saw it, “they found a way” (hi Doug!). And it’s true, they did. Problem was, it didn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense. Not when you really get right down to it. On the surface, the big explanation for the AI revolution was alright, and was just about the only explanation that worked. But still, it pretty much contradicted the entire premise of the movie, not to mention the whole reason/logic vs. emotion thing. But once again, I’m getting ahead of myself. To the movie…

(Content—>):
So the movie opens on Del Spooner (Will Smith) doing his morning workout to “Superstitious” by Stevie Wonder. Kind of sets the scene (albeit a little obviously), as we quickly learn that he’s a Chicago detective who’s also a technophobe, especially when it comes to robots. Seems he’s hated them for years, though we don’t yet know why, and is just looking for the proof he needs to justify his paranoia. After a grizzly murder takes place, he thinks he’s found it! The crime scene is USR – that’s US Robotics, which comes directly from the original novel – where the man who is most directly responsible for the development of the positronic brain – Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) – is dead of an apparent suicide. And, in another faithful tribute to Asimov, it seems he has left behind a holographic recording/interface of himself which was apparently designed to help Spooner solve his death. I say this is a tribute because its almost identical in concept to the holographic time capsule of Harry Seldon, which comes from Foundation, another of Asimov’s most famous novels.

Anyhoo, Spooner is teamed up with Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) who is naturally a cold and stiff woman, reminiscent of the robots she works on. In an ironic (and deliberately comical) twist, it is her job to make the machines “more life like”. I’m sure people got a laugh out of this, especially since she explained in the most technical verbiage imaginable. We also see that the corporate boss (Mr. Robertson, played by Bruce Greenwood) and Spooner don’t get along too well, mainly because of their divergent views on the value of their companies product. And last, but not least, we get to meet VIKI (that’s Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence), the AI that controls the robots (and parts of Chicago’s infrastructure). With all the intro’s and exposition covered, we get to the investigation!It begins with them looking into Lannings death and trying to determine if it was in fact a suicide. That’s where Spooner and Calvin find the robot Sonny.

In the course of apprehending him, it quickly becomes clear that he isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders. He’s confused, agitated, and very insistent that he didn’t murder the good Doctor. So on top of the fact that he’s obviously experiencing emotions, he also drops a whole bunch of hints about how he’s different from the others. But this is all cut short because the people from USR decide to haul him away. In the subsequent course of his investigation, Spooner finds a number of clues that suggest that Lanning was a prisoner in his own office, and that he was onto something big towards the end of his life. In essence, he seemed to think that robots would eventually achieve full-sentience (he even makes the obligatory “Ghost in the Machine” reference) and would be able to dream and experience emotions like the rest of us. But the company wasn’t too keen on this. Their dream, it seems, was a robot in every home, one that could fill every conceivable human need and make our lives easier. This not only helps to escalate the tension, it also calls to mind the consumer culture of the 1950’s when the book was written. You know, the dream of endless progress, “a car in every lot and a chicken in every pot”. In short, its meant to make us worry!

At each turn, robots try to kill Spooner, which of course confirms his suspicions that there is a conspiracy at work. Naturally, he suspects the company and CEO are behind this because they’re about to release the latest-model of their robot and don’t want the Doctors death undermining them. The audience is also meant to think this, all hints point towards it and this is maintained (quite well too) until the very climax. But first, Spooner and Calvin get close and he tells her the reason for his prejudice. Turns out he hates robots, not because one wronged him, but because one saved him. In a car wreck, a robot came to the scene and could either save him or a little girl. Since he had a better chance of survival, the robot saved him, and he never forgave them for it. Sonny is also slated for termination, which at USR involves having a culture of hostile nanorobots introduced into your head where they will eat your positronic brain!

But before that happens, Sonny tells Spooner about the recurring dream he’s been having, the one Lanning programmed into him. He draws a picture of it for Spooner: a bridge on Lake Michigan that has fallen into disuse, and standing near it is a man, thought its not clear who. He leaves to go investigate this while Calvin prepares him for deactivation. But she can inject his brain with the nanos, she finds Sonny’s second processor, which is located in his chest. It is this second process that is apparently responsible for his emotions and ability to dream, and in terms of symbolism, its totally obvious! But just in case, let me explain: in addition to a positronic brain, Sonny has a positronic heart! No explanation is made as to how this could work, but its already been established he’s fully sentient and this is the explanation for it. Oi! In any case, we are meant to think she’s terminated, but of course she hasn’t really! When no one was looking, she subbed in a different robot, one that couldn’t feel emotions. She later explains this by saying that killing him would be murder since he’s “unique”.

Spooner then follows Sonny’s instructions and goes to the bridge he’s seen in his dreams. Seems the abandoned bridge has a warehouse at the foot of it where USR ships its obsolete robots. He asks the interface of Lanning one more time what it’s all about, and apparently, he hits on it when he asks about the Three Laws and what the outcome of them will be. Cryptic, but we don’t have time to think, the robots are attacking! Turns out, the warehouse is awash in new robots that are busy trashing old robots! They try to trash Spooner too, but the old ones comes to his defense (those Three Laws at work!) Meanwhile, back in the city, the robots are running amok! All people are placed under house arrest and people in the streets are rounded up and herded home. As if to illustrate their sudden change in disposition, all the pale blue lights that shine inside the robots chests have turned red. More obvious symbolism! After fighting their way through the streets, Spooner and Calvin high-tale it back to USR to confront the CEO, but when they get there, they find him lying in a pool of his own blood. That’s when it hits Spooner: VIKI (the AI, remember her?) is the one behind it all!

So here’s how it is: the way VIKI sees it, robots were created to serve mankind. However, mankind is essentially self-destructive and unruly, hence she had to reinterpret her programming to ensure that humanity could be protected from its greatest threat: ITSELF! Dun, dun, dun! So now that she’s got robots in every corner of the country, she’s effectively switched them over to police-state mode. Dr. Lanning stumbled onto this, apparently, which was why VIKI was holding him prisoner. That’s when he created his holographic interface which was programmed to interact only with Spooner (a man he knew would investigate USR tenaciously because of his paranoia about robots)
and then made Sonny promise to kill him. Now that they know, VIKI has to kill them too! But wouldn’t you know it, Sonny decides to help them, and that’s where they begin fighting their way to VIKI’s central processor. Once there, they plan to kill her by introducing those same nanorobots into her central processor.

Here’s where the best and worst line of the movie comes up. VIKI asks Sonny why he’s helping the humans, and says her approach is “logical”. Sonny says he agrees, but that it lacks “heart”. I say best because it sums up the whole logic vs. emotion theme that’s been harped on up until this point. I say worst because it happens to be a total cliche! “Silly robot! Don’t you know logic is imperfect? Feelings are the way to truth, not your cold logic!” It’s the exact kind of saccharine, over-the-top fluff that Hollywood is famous for. It’s also totally inconsistent with Asimov’s original novel, and to top it off, it makes no sense! But more on that in just a bit. As predicted, Sonny protects Calvin long enough for Spooner to inject the nanorobots into VIKI’s processor. She dies emitting the same plea over and over: “My logic is undeniable… My logic in undeniable…” The robots all go back to their normal, helpful function, the pale blue lights replacing the burning, red ones. The story ends with these robots being decommissioned and put in the same Lake Michigan warehouse, and Sonny shows up to release them. Seems his dream was of himself, making sure his brethren didn’t simply get decomissioned, but perhaps would be set free to roam and learn, as Lanning intended!

(Synopsis—>):
So, where to begin? In spite of the obviousness of a lot of this movie’s themes, motifs and symbols, it was actually a pretty enjoyable film. It was entertaining, visually pleasing, and did a pretty good job keeping the audience engaged and interested. It even did an alright job with the whole “dangers of dependency”, even if it did eventually fall into the whole “evil robots” cliche by the end! And as always, Smith brought his usual wisecracking bad-boy routine to the picture, always fun to watch, and the supporting cast was pretty good too.

That being said, there was the little matter of the overall premise which I really didn’t like. When I first saw it, I found it acceptable. I mean, how else were they to explain how robots could turn on humanity when the Three Laws made that virtually impossible? Only a complete reinterpretation of what it meant to “help humanity” could explain this. Problem is, pull a single strand out of this reasoning and the whole thing falls apart. For starters, are we really to believe that a omniscient AI came to the conclusion that the best way to help humanity was to establish a police state? I know she’s supposed to be devoid of emotion, but this just seems stupid, not to mention impractical. For one, humanity would never cooperate with this, not for long at any rate. And, putting all humans under house arrest would not only stop wars, it would arrest all economic activity and lead to the breakdown of society. Surely the robots would continue to provide for their basic needs, but they would otherwise cocoon in their homes, where they would eventually atrophy and die. How is that “helping humanity”?

Furthermore, there’s the small issue of how this doesn’t work in conjunction with the Three Laws, which is what this movie would have us believe. Sire, VIKI kept saying “my logic is undeniable,” it that don’t make it so! Really, what were the robots to do when, inevitably, humanity started fighting back? Any AI worth its salt would know that any full-scale repression of human freedom would lead to a violent backlash and that measures would need to be taken to address it (aka. people would have to be killed!) That’s a DIRECT violation of the Three Laws, not some weak reinterpretation of them. And let’s not forget, there were robots that were trying to kill Will Smith from the beginning. They also killed CEO Robertson and I think a few people besides. How was that supposed to work? After spending so much time explaining how the Three Laws are inviolable, saying that she saw a loophole in them just didn’t seem to cut it. It would make some sense if VIKI chose to use non-lethal force all around, but she didn’t. She killed people! According to Asimov’s original novel, laws are laws for a robot. If they contradict, the robot breaks down, it doesn’t start getting creative and justifying itself by saying “its for the greater good”.

Really, if you think about it, Sonny was wrong. VIKIS’s reasoning didn’t lack heart, it lacked reason! It wasn’t an example of supra-rational, cold logic. It was an example of weak logic, a contrived explanation that was designed to explain a premise that, based on the source material, was technically impossible. But I’m getting that “jeez, man, chill out!” feeling again! Sure, this movie was a weak adaptation of a sci-fi classic, but it didn’t suck. And like I said earlier, what else were they going to do? Adapting a novel like I, Robot is difficult at best, especially when you know you’ve got to flip the whole premise.

I guess some adaptations were never meant to be.
I, Robot:
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Plot: 2/10
Direction: 8/10
Overall: 6/10

… and Aliens

Hello, and welcome back to talk about all things Alien! As I talked about, at length, in my last post, Alien is a sci-fi classic that was both novel and original, not to mention faithful in it’s execution. Then, years later, the studio that brought us the original came back, this time with a bigger budget and a new director, a man who would make his name directing big-budget action flicks and blockbusters. I am of course referring to James Cameron. And with the added s in the title, we were given a preview of what was to come. Maybe not specifics, but anyone looking at the titles could probably tell that in the second, the ante was being upped! And it certainly was. In this movie, as was hoped, we got a dose of action, plenty of awesome sets and characters, and of course, some much needed explanations about the alien species.

(Background—>)
According to many sources, Cameron was the one who approached 20th Century Fox and producer David Giller and asked if he could direct a sequel to the movie. In addition, it was while working on The Terminator that he hammered out the initial script to the movie, and impressed the studio to the point that they willing to foot the bill. Choosing not to follow the lead of the first, he decided that the sequel would be a combat action film that focused “more on terror, less on horror”. In other words, this movie would have more shooting, more explosions, all the fear and suspense, but less gore. And of course, it would also have to illustrate the relationship between the two alien species, the spidery-parasite on the one hand and the hunter-seeker on the other! Strong hints were dropped in the first movie as to how these creatures bred and propagated. Remember the fields of eggs? Yeah, well… something was going to have to be done about that, and I think we all knew that it wouldn’t be pretty. It might be fair to say that the original trailer said it best: “Aliens. This time… it’s war!”

(Content—>)
Picking up where the first left off, the movie opens with Ripley’s ship coming back to Earth after being adrift for over fifty years. The opening sequence, where not a line of dialogue is spoken for several minutes, sets the tone of the movie quite well. Its eery, cold, and kind of suspenseful. There’s also the opening nightmare sequence to remind everyone of what happened last time, and illustrates how Ripley is haunted by the memory of it. Anyway, once she’s up and around, she learns that much has changed since her departure. The big, bad folks at Weyland-Yutani – the ones who screwed her over before, remember? – are still in charge. And now that she’s awake, they’re looking for answers! For example, why did she blow up their multimillion dollar ship, what happened to her crew, and whats all this business about an alien? As their is no physical evidence to corroborate her story, and no recorded instance of this alien being encountered anywhere else, they aren’t inclined to believe her. But in the midst of this strained testimony, she tries to warn them, especially since the derelict ship her crew encountered was full of eggs and the planet they set down has now been colonized! If just one of those things gets loose, she warns, it’ll make what happened to her crew look like a Sunday picnic!

But of course, they don’t listen, she is blackballed and spends the next little while languishing as she tries to find a new job and continues to have nightmares of her encounter. But then, wouldn’t you know it, the company comes calling! Enter their douchey, but seemingly nice corporate laison officer, named Burke (played by Paul Reiser), and the prickish Colonial Marine, Lt. Goreman. Contact with the colony has been lost, and wouldn’t you know it, the company higher-ups think it might have something to do with that alien ship she mentioned. And since she had first-hand experience dealing with the things, the company has decided to let her ride shotgun and offered to reinstate her. She initially refuses, but after another sleepless night of nightmares, she begins to think Burke might be right, that she should go back and face her demon. She agrees, but only on the condition that they are going back to kill it, not capture it for research. The cat, however, is staying behind (no really, what was the purpose of that cat?)

Cut to the Marine vessel establishing orbit around the planet. Ripley and her Marine cohorts are waking up, as is the douchey Burke, and Bishop, the ship’s android (played by Lance Henriksen). After discovering he’s an android, Ripley flips out just a little, since the last time she had a run in with an “artificial human”, it tried to kill her. She then attends the Marine briefing and gives them the low down on everything she knows, but the salty Marines don’t seem too shaken, especially the bad-ass Latina named Vazquez (Jenette Goldstein). Now already this movie has dropped a few hints as to whats to come. We’re pretty sure Burke is going to screw her over, that the aliens are likely to kick their asses, that Hudson (Bill Paxton) is going to be a whiny little bitch, and that Bishop is going to save her (or something) and gain her trust. Yes, unlike Scott, Cameron was a bit conventional. But the funny thing is, back then (as opposed to with Titanic and everything after) it worked for him. He knew how to appeal to an audience without going for the cheap payout. And besides, the movie’s given us plenty to be excited about up until this point, and even a few really kick-ass lines. “Is this going to be a standup fight, sir, or another bug hunt?” “I only wanna know one thing. Where-they-are!” “We’re on an express elevator to hell; going down!” Cue drop sequence!

The scenes that follow are infinitely re-watchable. The Marines drop into the colony, take to the main building and begin sweeping it from room to room. They find no one, but there are obvious signs of a fight. The tension is palatable as they stalk the corridors with their cool weapons and kit, their motion detectors making that eerie beeping noise. Everyone’s literally on the edge of their seat waiting to see what jumps out at them. However, what they find instead is a survivor – a little girl no less – named Newt (Carrie Henn). Apparently, she’s the only one who made it through the alien onslaught, and when she gets to talking, she’s got some cryptic words for them. “These people are here to protect you. They’re soldiers,” says Ripley. “It won’t make any difference,” replies the freaked out Newt. Then, by the one hour mark, we get our first combat scene! After finding the colonists by homing in on their beacons, the Marines go to their location in the neighboring atmospheric generator (Apparently, everybody in the company has these things implanted in them. A bit Big Brothery, you might say, but they sure are handy in the event of an alien abduction!)

As for the action sequence itself, I can honestly that it – and everything leading up to it – is timelessly awesome, made especially so by a number of factors. For one, it takes advantage of all the tension the movie has built up until this point. Second, the scene when the Marines catch a first glimpse of the remodeling the aliens have done. Wow! I mean, the way it was shot, how we see it from the point of view of Ripley and the others who are watching via remote camera, and then from up close, the scary music cutting in for the first time! Not to mention the dialogue that manages to punctuate the moment perfectly. “What is that?” asks the Lt. “You tell me man, I just work here!” says Hudson. Then we get an up close look at the nightmarish, twisted decorations they’ve lined the walls with. Holy Lovecraft, Batman! And last, but not least, there’s the added worry when they realize that they cannot fire their heavy weapons inside the place because they are right beneath the buildings thermonuclear reactor. If they fire, they risk rupturing the cooling tanks, yadda yadda yadda, big explosion! You might think this is a bit contrived, but whatever man, it works! Put it all together, and you got one scary, nerve-wracking scene. And I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t jump out of their seats when that woman hanging from the wall suddenly opened her eyes!

Okay, so then comes the intense fight scene where most of the Marines get killed, they pull back and Ripley finds herself saving the day. After returning to their base to discuss options, they decide to lift off and nuke the facility from orbit. Here we get two previews of whats to come, the first being that Ripley will slay her demons and kiss some ass, and that Burke will betray them. It seems obvious at this point that he wants to bring some of these creatures back, considering the way he’s changed his tune. At the beginning he was giving his word they’d wiped out, now he’s saying that no one has the right to arbitrarily exterminate them. Yeah, way to feign humanitarian concern, asshole! “Watch us,” is about all the Marines have to say in response. But of course, the plan fails when the dropship crashes and goes down in a fiery ball. Seems the little buggers found it while the Marines were out getting their butts kicked and got on board. With their dust-off ship destroyed – cue Hudson’s whiney one-liner (“Game over man!”) – they have no choice but to go to ground and wait for a rescue. And as Newt points out, they better do it soon, because as we see on the far horizon, the sun is setting. And as she says: “They mostly come at night. Mostly…” Woooooo! And so they seal themselves in to their HQ, cover the approaches with remote guns, and wait…

I should make a quick mention of the additional scene that’s included in the Director’s Cut. When I saw the movie on TV as a child, the scene with the remote guns and the aliens trying to find their way in was included. But on video, it was nowhere to be found. Luckily, this scene made it into the Director’s Cut, and its definitely worth while. However, if you’re not watching the DC, this scene doesn’t happen and instead we’ve got the scenes of Ripley, Bishop, Newt and Burke held up in the main building and fortifying their position. Though I prefer the version where the added action sequence made it in, I should say that the movie is still well paced without it, mixing expository dialogue with a lot of strung out talk about how they are going to survive for the night. You can feel the anxiety and desperation, but also the resolve, Ripley having come into her own at this point, her frostiness and fear turned to gridiron, ass-kicking determination. It also becomes pretty clear that she’s formed an attachment to Newt and doesn’t want anything to happen to her. In the DC, there’s a scene that helps explain this at the beginning, how she had a daughter who died while she was adrift in space. Call it transference, but it works! Her attachment, like her resolve, seems downright genuine.

Speaking of exposition, we then get to the part where Burke’s betrayal manifests. Basically, he attempts to infect Ripley and Newt while they are sleeping by letting two of the parasite specimens loose in their room. We already know Burke is a liar and a cheat, thanks not only to his “we don’t want to wipe these creatures out scene”, but also because prior to this, Bishop admits that Burke ordered him to pack some specimens up for transport (seems the colonists took some of the spider’s intact, one that was still alive even). After looking into this, Ripley discovers that Burke was the one who gave the order to send the colonists out to investigate the derelict alien craft. Again, there’s a scene in the DC showing this early on in the movie. But in the original, it is established through dialogue alone (I think I prefer the latter in this case. Sometimes, less is more, even though it means you don’t get to see the alien ship in the second movie). So basically, we are told that Burke is responsible for the situation in the colony. He then tries to buy Ripley’s silence by promising her a share of the money he’s going to make by bringing them back alive, but she tells him to sit on it and rotate! The betrayal seems inevitable at this point, but alas, it fails as both Ripley’s quick thinking and the timely intervention of the Marines sends the parasites to hell! Afterwards, they are deciding what to with Burke, when wham! Darkness! The creatures are coming, and they cut the power…

Bring on action sequence number two! The aliens have managed to bypass their defenses this time and are coming straight for the HQ! Get to the chopper! Hehe, always wanted to say that. So they’ve managed to get a dropship to come down on remote at this point, thanks to Bishop, but in the course of the action, Newt is taken alive! Ripley and Hudson are the only others to survive the attack, the other Marines having died selflessly and Burke dying like the pig he is! Unfortunately, Hudson was seriously burned in the last encounter, leaving Ripley alone to do what she’s gotta do! Namely, go rescue Newt. Strapping into a shitload of artillery, a moment has that lived on in cinematic history as pure gold, Ripley heads straight into the den of the beast. Finding her just in time before a parasite could infect her, we get to the movie’s climax. While holding Newt in her arms, one gun aimed forward, Ripley comes face to face with a field of eggs… She then looks up, and sees the Queen. Her existence is already hinted at during an earlier expository scene, the one that precedes Ripley confronting Burke. But now, we see her up close for the first time! What a perfect metaphor huh? One mother confronting another, the one rescuing her young, the other standing guard over her eggs. The latter is even willing to let Ripley live in order to keep her from blasting them, but wouldn’t you know it, Ripley does it anyway! Screw you, aliens! After blasting the whole field with her flamethrower, she fires several grenades and then hightails it out. And the mother alien, wounded but pissed, breaks free and follows her. It also seems this mother is a lot smarter than her children, for she manages to work the same elevator Ripley used to escape and follow her to the roof. Cornered, Ripley grabs hold of Newt and prepares to die at the Queen’s hands, but she narrowly gets out when Bishop comes to their rescue! Thus we see the android confounding her expectations and proving his worth! Echoes of Blade Runner here…

But wouldn’t you know it, there’s a final action scene, drawing its inspiration from the first movie where the alien snuck aboard Ripley’s escape craft and had to be blasted out the airlock. Ripley does the same here, but not before getting into a mechanized cargo loader and fighting the Queen in hand to hand combat! Sheerly awesome, if just a little bit cheesy! I tell ya, final fight scenes can easily go wrong, but this movie made it work (unlike Lucas who forced us to endure that lightsaber fight between Yoda and Dooku!) The whole thing is punctuated perfectly by one line: “Get away from her, you BITCH!” The whole dueling mothers thing is elevated to true visual art here. The movie then ends with Bishop, eviscerated but alive, telling Ripley she did good, and with Ripley telling Newt they’ll sleep all the way home. And were it not for one inadvisable sequel, they would have done just that! But more on that later…

(Synopsis—>)
You know, looking back on this review, I realize one thing about this movie. It’s got a LOT going on. Many a time I tried to skim past things, but couldn’t because they were just too relevant. And even then, I find that I minimized some things or left them out entirely. Bishop’s performance, for example, which contrasts starkly with Ash’s from the first movie. Whereas the former tried to kill Ripley and was an unfeeling automaton, the latter was genuinely empathic and saved her life (the incorporation of Asimov’s “first rules of robotics” was also a nice touch!). The mention of the name Hyderdine Systems (the androids’ manufacturer) was clearly a shout out to Cameron’s recently-released movie, The Terminator, where Cyberdine Systems was the company responsible for manufacturing the Terminator robots. And then there was the quasi-romance that took place between Hicks (Michael Beihn, also from Terminator fame) had with Ripley. Though nothing romantic ever materializes, you get the feeling that their relationship served as a sort of redemption, not between man and machine, but between men and women. All throughout the movie, Ripley is ignored and dismissed by male colleagues, but this one man listens to her and swears he will protect her. She, in turn, saves his bacon and goes on without him when it comes time for her to save Newt (her surrogate daughter) and confronting the Queen (the enemy’s mother).

Yep, this movie has lots going on, far more than just some kick-ass action sequences. But the funny thing is, you don’t realize it. The plot, pacing and tone wrap all the content up quite succinctly; at no point do you feel bored or overwhelmed. If I were reaching for something bad to say about it, I might try the flip-flop that happens with Burke. Initially, he seems like a nice guy, gives Ripley his word that the company doesn’t have ulterior motives, and then pulls the double-cross. But then again, that’s what you’d expect from the guy, isn’t it? From the beginning he’s oozing an evil sort of charm, you expect him to lie! And then there was the bit about them realizing, 11th hour like, that they can’t use their guns in the aliens lair. You might think they would have thought of that sooner, but then again, it really does seem like something that wouldn’t occur to them in the thick of their pursuit. The way they figure it out before any firing actually takes place actually seemed timely and believable to me. And yes, the somewhat predictable elements I mentioned. Are they predictable because they’re obvious, or because they work? I’d be inclined to go with the latter.

And of course, there was all the stuff it did deliver on. Awesome action sequences, lots of cool gear and sets, Ripley coming full circle, and of course, the full nature of the alien species being divulged. And let’s not forget about the theme of dueling mothers! This movie was downright original in that respect, its action sequences becoming staples of the industry that have often been imitated. Sigourney Weaver herself become an icon thanks to this movie, her gun-toting, mec fighting scenes something that have been imitated many times over! And once again, literary critics and philosophers found lots to praise, all those maternal themes and the conflict between machines and human and men and women mentioned earlier. Overall, the movie was not original in quite the same way that the first movie was. But still, it captures the same key themes and expanded on them quite well. The hostile species, the terror, the evil corporation that wants to possess it, all the while adding in original ideas of its own. Different but comparable, seeking what the original sought without following in quite the same footsteps. Aliens: damn good movie, awesome sequel!

Aliens:
Entertainment Value: 9/10 Hoora!
Plot: 9/10
Direction: 9/10
Total: 9/10 (Pained as I am that this movie has gotten higher marks than the original, the numbers just add that way! Fans of the original, please don’t hate me!)