Robocop Then and Now

robocop-2014-wallpaper-robocop-movie-wallpapers1Recently, I took the plunge and watched some of the reboots I had been avoiding. These included the reboot of Robocop, an updated take on the 1987 Paul Verhoeven gorefest about a police officer who is brutally murdered and brought back as a cyborg. The movie was officially released in February of 2014 after being pushed back from its original August 2013 release, and received mixed reviews.

In any case, upon viewing the film, I totally saw what all the mixed reviews were all about. Whereas the new movie does score some points for updated special effects, technology, and has some decent casting, it lacked the social satire, edginess and macabre sensibilities of the first. So while it had some entertainment value, it really suffered from a sense of ambivalence, as if the makers themselves were wondering what the point of the remake was.

To put it in perspective, here’s a rundown on the original and what made it work…

Robocop (1987):
https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/50/Robocop_film.jpgSet in the near-future, the film opens on a Detroit that has become a cesspool of crime, corruption and corporate greed. Having gone bankrupt, the city has signed a deal with Omni Consumer Products (OCP) to run the underfunded police department in exchange for demolishing Old Detroit and building a new metropolis – Delta City – that will renew the city and provide employment.

To remedy the crime situation, OCP plans to deploy the ED-209 enforcement droid. But after a demonstration leads to the death of a junior exec, an alternate plan is considered from the cybernetics division. This involves placing a recently-deceased police officer inside a machine that is armored, has superior firepower, and runs on programming based on three simple directives:

1. Serve the public trust
2. Protect the innocent
3. Uphold the law

https://i1.wp.com/www.joblo.com/images_arrownews/robocop%204.jpgTo get a “volunteer”, OCP transfers officers to more crime-ridden districts, one of which is officer Alexander Murphy. A dedicated officer, he and his new partner run into criminal kingpin Clarence Boddicker and his gang during their first patrol. After pursuing them to an abandoned steel mill, Murphy is isolated and gunned down. Pronounced dead, his body is then used to create Robocop.

His deployment results in an immediate drop in crime, but problems quickly ensue. At OCP, the creation of Robocop leads to an internal power struggle between senior president Dick Jones and Bob Morton – the young exec behind the Robocop program. Boddicker, it is revealed, has been working with Jones for some time, using his crime connections to advance OCPs agenda of taking over Detroit. Jones orders Boddicker to kill Morton, and promises him exclusive control over all vice in Delta City.

https://i0.wp.com/normalguysnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/robocop.gifMeanwhile, Murphy begins to remember his old life and begins hunting for Boddicker and his gang. After capturing him, he learns of Boddicker’s relationship with Jones and attempts to arrest him, but is stopped by a secret Fourth Directive, which prevents him from arresting an executive of OCP. He narrowly escapes OCP headquarters with the help of Lewis, his old partner, and flees to an abandoned factory to recuperate.

Meanwhile, Boddicker is given advanced weaponry by Jones and a tracking device to go and kill Murphy. In a showdown at the abandoned plant, Murphy and Lewis kill all members of his gang, including Boddicker himself. He then goes to OCP headquarters and presents a video of Jones confessing to ordering Morton’s death. Jones attempts to take the head of OCP chairman, but he fires Jones, giving Robocop freedom to kill him.

http://nureviews.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/robocop-without-helmet.jpgThe movie ends with the chairman asking Robocop if he has a name, to which he replied: “Yes. Murphy”.

Summary:
For many reasons, the movie remains a cult classic and an iconic genre film. Though the franchise didn’t do so well after two sequels, the original remains popular with fans decades after the fact because of the way it pulled no punches and delivered on a message. Set in a future Detroit characterized by rampant crime and urban collapse, the movie showcased a very real problem that was apparent by the late 80s in America, and people certainly noticed.

Thought it was brutal and shocking at times, the over-the-top nature of the violence played into the social satire of the film. As he would demonstrate with later films – Total Recall, Starship Troopers – Verhoeven was known for using graphic violence to parody America’s preoccupation with violence in media. And in this context, it provided a sense or urgency to the plot – with police, politicians, and common folk feeling helpless in the face of it, and corporate execs being indifferent and using it to further their agendas.

In short, the hard-R rating of the movie worked in its favor. And the exploration of issues relating to identity and humanity in an age of man-machine interface were also well rendered. Now as for the reboot…

Robocop (2014):
https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b1/Robocop_poster.jpgThe year is 2028, and robotics and automated military systems are now commonplace around the world, enforcing US military policy in places like Iran. Looking to expand, Omnicorp contemplates ways that they will be able to make robots palatable to the American masses, where the Dreyfus Act currently forbids their deployment. All they need is a critically injured policeman to put inside the machine.

Meanwhile, detective Alexander Murphy and his partner are trying to take down crime boss Antoine Vallon, who has contacts within the police department. A car bomb nearly kills Murphy, and Omnicorp roboticist Dr. Dennett Norton convinces his wife to let them use him in the program. What is left or Murphy is placed inside a full-body prosthetic, and he is awakened.

robocop-2014-1Initially, Murphy is shocked to see what has become of him and tries to escape. But Norton manages to convince him to stay and do his job, if for nothing else for the sake of his family. He begins undergoing testing to see how combat effective he will be, and proves to be inferior to a fully-automated robot. Pressured to make him work, Norton then alters Murphy’s brain so that behavioral software is control of his actions, even though he still thinks he is in control.

This leads to the confirmation of the Robocop program and the company prepares to unveil it to the public. But his first demonstration, Murphy experiences a seizure when they attempt to upload tons of information and video feeds to his brain. Norton and his team then alter his emotional responses again, leading him to coldly enact his protocols before the public and arrest a criminal in the crowd. The arrest is a PR success, and Robocop’s performance begins to reduce crime and convince the public to rescind the Dreyfus Act.

https://i1.wp.com/www.robocop.com/media/images/gallery-2.jpgMurphy’s wife confronts him in the street, which triggers Murphy’s memories and leads him to begin investigating his own death. He tracks down Vallon and destroys his gang in an intense shootout, and then confronts the members of the police department who were supplying him. Seeing this, Omnicorp shuts Murphy’s systems down before he can arrest the police chief and begin to rethink his existence.

They decide to circulate a news story that he died of complications, while plotting to shut him down permanently. With the help of Doctor Norton, Murphy escapes the Omnicorps facility where he is kept and goes to the headquarters to confront the CEO. With the help of his old partner, he is able to fight his way in and narrowly kill the CEO, who is holding his wife hostage.

Murphy is then rebuild in Norton’s lab, the President of the US vetoed the repeal of the Dreyfus Act based on the testimony of Norton, who confesses everything OmniCorp has done, and Murphy goes back to work and living with his family.

Summary:
Compared to the original, the reboot suffered from multiple problems. In addition to being toned down and less violent, as evidenced by its PG-13 rating, it was c0mparatively confused and muddled in terms of its message. Whereas the original was a hard-hitting movie about corporate greed, corruption, crime, and the fight to retain humanity in inhuman circumstances, the new movie was a rather bland commentary on the morality of robotics and autonomous machines in today’s world.

https://i0.wp.com/blogs-images.forbes.com/scottmendelson/files/2014/03/robo.jpgWhile these issues are certainly very relevant, the way the movie went about presented them seemed at once too subtle and heavy-handed. This is best illustrated by the character of news pundit Pat Novak (played by Samuel L. Jackson), a clear parody of Bill O’Reilly and a slew of other Fox News commentators. In addition to being loud, extremely biased and a corporate shill, he completely hands the message to the audience within the last few seconds of the movie:

Now I know some of you may think that this kind of thinking is dangerous and these machines violate your civil liberties. Some of you even believe that the use of these drones overseas makes us the same kind of bullying imperialists that our forefathers were trying to escape. To you, I say… Stop whining! America is now and always will be the greatest country on the face of the Earth! 

The way his scenes are shot, he’s even addressing the viewing audience. So he’s effectively breaking the Fourth Wall when he says this. It was honestly the most obvious scene and message I’ve watched in some time!

Another odd aspect of the movie was Murphy’s sense of self, which was a key aspect of the original. After having his remains dismembered and placed into a “full-body prosthetic”, Murphy’s memory was erased to prevent any semblance of his old personality from coming through. This was to ensure that Robocop would function perfectly and not experience complications due to things like anger, sadness, trauma, or an attachment to his old life.

https://i0.wp.com/cephuscorner.jadedragononline.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Making-of-RoboCop-3.jpgBut in this movie, he wakes up inside the machine remembering everything that happened to him and has trouble performing on par with automated robots. To remedy this, they have to go through a convoluted process whereby he’s no longer in control, but thinks he is thanks to the magic of brain-altering software. All of this seemed unnecessary, clunky, and took away from the story. It also begged the question, why not simply erase his memory and avoid all this?

But above all, the decision to go this route also robbed the movie of its most central theme – i.e. the Jesus allegory of death and ressurection! Murphy does not rise from the dead at all in this movie, but is simply put in a body to keep him alive. So ultimately, his transformation – dying and coming back to life as something completely different – is something that’s very watered down and ineffective by comparison.

robocop_concept_art_walkerThis all seemed weak when they could have simply gone with what they did in the first movie and erased Murphy’s memory, which would have worked way better for the plot. That was one of the most important aspects of the old film and how it exposed OCPs corruption and delved into the whole issue of man vs. machine and what it is to be human. Not only was OCP looking for an automaton, Murphy’s recovery of his past self got the audience emotionally involved.

To boot, the bad guys were very underdeveloped in this film. Vallon was no match for Boddicker, having little screen time and no sense of motivation compared to Kurtwood Smith. His allies in the police department were also afterthoughts, who seemed to be nothing more than bride-taking cops who betrayed Murphy because he was too dedicated. And Michael Keaton is poorly cast as the crooked CEO of Omnicorps, which in this movie falls far short of the cold, indifferent corporate crooks of the first one.

Robocop_concept_art_UAVTo be fair, some casting choices weren’t bad. Joel Kinnaman wasn’t bad in the lead role, Gary Oldman played his role ably, and Samuel L. Jackson (though not very well scripted) certainly delivered on his portrayal of a loudmouthed, angry, horribly-slanted media pundit. But compared to Peter Weller, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith and Miguel Ferrer, the guys were just eating crumbs off the table.

All of this leaves me wondering, what was the point of this remake? The idea was to relaunch the franchise for a new generation by focusing on modern issues, updated technologies, and a fresh take on the whole cybernetics thing. And in all of these respects, save for the technology aspect, they failed. Too bad, because their certainly was potential, given the range of issues that could have been explored better.

Between the highly contentious issue of UAVs, killer robots, and their effect on foreign and domestic policy, this movie could have really been something. Instead, it was a confused, half-hearted and obvious effort. And this is really too bad, because it’s likely to lead to yet another relaunch in a few years time. Don’t believe me, just look at Terminator: Salvation!

But regardless of what any reboots or relaunches attempt to do, Detroit still loves Robocop! As evidenced by their commissioning a massive statute of the guy. And Peter Weller and Kurtwood Smith… still the men!

robocop-statue-2

The Future is Here: Google Glass for the Battlefield

q-warrior see through displayWearing a Google Glass headset in public may get you called a “hipster”, “poser”, and (my personal favorite) “glasshole”. But not surprisingly, armies around the world are looking to turn portable displays into a reality. Combined with powered armor, and computer-assisted aiming, display glasses are part of just about every advanced nation’s Future Soldier program.

Q-Warrior is one such example, the latest version of helmet-mounted display technology from BAE Systems’ Q-Sight line. The 3D heads-up display provides full-color, high resolution images and overlays data and a video stream over the soldier’s view of the real world. In short, it is designed to provide soldiers in the field with rapid, real-time “situational awareness”.

q-warrior1The Q-Warrior also includes enhanced night vision, waypoints and routing information, the ability to identify hostile and non-hostile forces, track personnel and assets, and coordinate small unit actions. As Paul Wright, the soldier systems business development lead at BAE Systems’ Electronic Systems, said in a recent statement:

Q-Warrior increases the user’s situational awareness by providing the potential to display ‘eyes-out’ information to the user, including textual information, warnings and threats. The biggest demand, in the short term at least, will be in roles where the early adoption of situational awareness technology offers a defined advantage.

The display is being considered for use as part of the Army Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) system, a powered exoskeleton with liquid armor capable of stopping bullets and the ability to apply wound-sealing foam that is currently under development.

q-warrior2As Lt. Col. Karl Borjes, a U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) science adviser, said in a statement:

[The] requirement is a comprehensive family of systems in a combat armor suit where we bring together an exoskeleton with innovative armor, displays for power monitoring, health monitoring, and integrating a weapon into that — a whole bunch of stuff that RDECOM is playing heavily in.

The device is likely to be used by non-traditional military units with reconnaissance roles, such as Forward Air Controllers/Joint Tactical Aircraft Controllers (JTACS) or with Special Forces during counter terrorist tasks. The next level of adoption could be light role troops such as airborne forces or marines, where technical systems and aggression help to overcome their lighter equipment.

iron_man_HUDMore and more, the life in the military is beginning to imitate art – in this case, Iron Man or Starship Troopers (the novel, not the movie). In addition to powered exoskeletons and heads-up-displays, concepts that are currently in development include battlefield robots, autonomous aircraft and ships, and even direct-energy weapons.

And of course, BAE Systems was sure to make a promotional video, showcasing the concept and technology behind it. And be sure to go by the company’s website for additional footage, photos and descriptions of the Q-Warrior system. Check it out below:


Sources: wired.com, baesystems.com

The Future is Here: “Ironman” Spec-Ops Suit

 

ironman3Army researchers have been working for years to incorporate powered armor, exoskeletons, and high-tech weaponry into the arsenal of next-generation soldiers. And this latest development from DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research wing of the US Army – is being hailed as the closest thing there is to a real-life “Iron Man” suit to date.

Its known as the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) and is designed to deliver “superhuman strength with greater ballistic protection”. Named in honor of the Greek automaton made of bronze that Zeus assigned to protect his lover Europa, this suit incorporates a powered exoskeleton, liquid armor, built-in computers and night vision, and the ability to monitor vital signs and apply wound-sealing foam.

DARPA-Warrior-Web-660x495Put together, the capabilities would make the already elite Special Operation Forces nearly invincible in the field, according to the Army. As Lt. Col. Karl Borjes, a U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) science adviser, said in a statement:

[The] requirement is a comprehensive family of systems in a combat armor suit where we bring together an exoskeleton with innovative armor, displays for power monitoring, health monitoring, and integrating a weapon into that — a whole bunch of stuff that RDECOM is playing heavily in.

For the sake of the suit’s design and high-tech features, DARPA reached out to engineers from MIT, who are currently working to produce the liquid body armor that is perhaps the most advanced feature of the suit. Composed of magnetorheological fluids, this armor will “transform from liquid to solid in milliseconds when a magnetic field or electrical current is applied.”

TALOS_Future_Army_Soldier_WideThe suit is expected to make a first-generation appearance some time next year. Because of the high number of highly integrated technical challenges with advanced specifications, the Army is also drawing on a broad range of collaborators from multiple fields to complete the design in time. And as Jim Geurts, USSOCOM acquisition executive, in a statement:

USSOCOM is interested in receiving white papers from a wide variety of sources, not just traditional military industry but also from academia, entrepreneurs, and laboratories capable of providing the design, construction, and testing of TALOS related technologies. The intent is to accelerate the delivery of innovative TALOS capabilities to the SOF operator.

US_Army_powered_armorFor some time now, the concept of advanced powered suits of armor has been a feature of science fiction. Examples abound from literary references, such as E.E. Smith’s Lensman series and Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, to RPGs like BattleTech and Warhammer 40k, and to the gaming world with the HALO and Fallout series’. And much like lightsabers, there has scarcely been a geek alive who didn’t want one!

Now it seems that something very close might be realizable within a year’s time. I don’t know about you, but I feel both inspired and more than a little jealous. Damn SOCOM, always getting the coolest gear first! And of course, there’s a video:


Sources:
wired.com, dailytech.com
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Total Recall: The Original

Wow, it seems that I have Mars on the brain today! How else am I to explain the constant deluge of Mars-related news and my insistence on publishing Mars-related posts? Not to mention the fact that a few nights back, my wife and I finally sat down and watched Total Recall together. the original, not the remake. And interestingly enough, the whole reason we watched it, aside from my insistence that it was a classic, was the fact that she expressed some desire to see the new one.

As for myself, I had little interest paying theater prices to  see the remake. But I figure I’ll have to catch on DVD (or download) sooner or later, if only so that I can provide a comparative review. My compromise with on this with el wifey was that she watch the original first, just so she’d know what she was missing when we finally did get around to seeing it 😉

Word around the camp fire is that the remake has made its share of money (it’s purpose from the get-go) but that the critical response has been pretty iffy. In fact, it received a 29% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.com and was generally panned for lacking all the elements that made the original a hit. Of my friends and fellow armchair critics, the consensus seemed to be that it boasted cool action sequences, but lacked originality and depth.

So to be fair, and in preparation for my eventual exposure to the remake, I thought I’d give the original movie an official review. I mean, you have to know what makes an original movie awesome before you say that a remake fails to deliver right? Of course you do! And I apologize in advance for all the terrible puns, but this is an Anry movie dammit! They are to be expected. Okay, here goes. Cue the Arny noises:

“HLALALALALAL!”

Total Recall (1990):
Loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, the story deals with the subject of false memories, identity, and free will. Although Dick’s original story did not take place on Mars, much of the plot had to do with Mars, Martians, and the fact that the main character was a hero who was in possession of secrets even he didn’t… (ahem) recall. In the end, the movie adaptation was faithful to the spirit of the story, if not the letter, and managed to expand on it greatly.

The film was a box office success, grossing over 250 million dollars and receiving largely positive reviews. In addition to its classic sci-fi themes and motifs, it boasted some very cool and cunning set designs, special effects, and action sequences. Plus, it possessed that rare and awesome Anry quality, where everything had a certain comical, cheesy element to it, even the somewhat gratuitous violence.  but of course, much of this was due to the directorial style of Paul Verhoeven, director of such gory over-the-top cinematic splatter fests as Robocop, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls!

Plot Synopsis:
The story opens on the apartment of a blue collar worker named Douglas Quaid (Arny) who is unhappy with his workaday life. At night, he dreams of being on Mars with a strange woman he doesn’t recognize, and interprets this as a latent desire to move there and become something more than he is.He asks his wife about moving to Mars, which she promptly shoots down given the violence between a mutant resistance faction and the Mars government, which is led by a man named Cohaagen (Ronny Cox).

Eventually, his desire to experience a trip to Mars leads him to seek out a company called Rekal, an organization that specializes in false memories. After hearing the sales pitch, he decides he wants to live out a fantasy where he is a secret agent who is sent to Mars, a scenario which resonates with him for some reason. Unfortunately, things go awry when Quaid begins his “implant procedure”, as it seems that he begins acting out his fantasy even before its been implanted in his mind. Naturally, the company is frightened and decides to dump Quaid in a cab and erase all traces of his visit from their computers.

When he returns home, a work friend finds him and asks about his visit, which he does not (ugh!) recall. The conversation then turns ugly as thugs grab him and his friend pulls a gun, telling him he must die because he “blabbed about Mars”. Quaid has no idea what he’s talking about, but quickly kills him and all the thugs with ease. Running back to his apartment, he tells his wife Lori (Sharon Stone) about what happened, insisting that it’s not a delusion. After washing the blood from his hands, he is shocked to find that another gunman is trying to kill him. This time it’s his wife!

After disarming Lori, he learns the truth. His name is not Douglas Quaid, and he and Lori were never married. His true identity was erased for reasons she does not know and she was to keep an eye on him, posing as his wife. When he realizes she is stalling and men are on the way to get him, he knocks her out and runs. He is pursued by an agent named Richter (Michael Ironside) who is apparently Lori’s boyfriend and works for Cohaagan. He is determined to kill Quaid, something which Cohaagan doesn’t want. He reveals that he is the one who erased Quaid’s memory and dumped him on Earth, and asks that he be returned to him alive.

After escaping, Quaid ends up in a dingy hotel and is contact by a man claiming to be his contact from Mars. He warns him that he has a trace bug in his skull, and tells him how he can muffle the signal. He then leaves Quaid a case with various items, such as money, ID cards, a device for removing the bug in his nose, and holographic device which projects a mirror image of himself. On top of all that, there is a laptop-like device that contains a recording which he made for himself, which begins to explain the situation…

Turns out his real name is Hauser, and that he was working for Cohaagen up until a few months ago. Then, he defected and joined the resistance, a move which prompted Cohaagen to erase his mind and dump him on Earth. The recording tells him to go to Mars and find the resistance, and that his mind contains enough info to ruin Cohaagen forever. Quaid escapes mere seconds before Richter and his men show up, and does as the recording tells him and gets his ass to Mars!

Once there, he has a bit trouble getting through security, as the disguise he brought begins to malfunction. Richter is in the vicinity and realizes it is Quaid, and a firefight begins. Quaid narrowly escapes thanks to a stray shot which shatters the dome, causing decompression. When the emergency doors begins to close, he manages to slide underneath one and make it away.

He then travels to the Hilton Hauser told him to seek out, where he finds a message in a safety deposit box written in his own hand. It tells him to go to a club called “The Last Resort” in the red light district (“Venusville”) and ask for a woman named Melina. A newfound friend named Benny, a cab driver with “five kids to feed”, picks him up in the midst of a resistance attack and explains that this is commonplace. Once in the “Last Resort”, which appears to be a front for the resistance, Quaid meets Melina; who as it turns out, is the woman from his dreams. They have a brief reunion, in which she slaps him and tells him they thought Cohaagen killed him. He replies that he doesn’t remember who he is, to which she replies that he was only ever using her to “get inside” and kicks him out.

Back at his hotel, Quaid receives some strange visitors: Rekall’s President, Dr. Edgemar, and his wife, Lori. He explains to Quaid that he is dreaming his experiences and never left Rekal, which makes some sense since everything that has happened to him is what he specified in his travel package. He offers him a way out by presenting a pill, which he claims is a symbol that will allow him to wake up from his self-sustaining dream. Quaid is about to comply, but notices that Edgemar is sweating and shoots him. Lori then attacks him with the help of some more thugs, and Quaid is beaten to near-unconsciousness.

However, Melina shows up to rescue him, and the two kill the thugs, shoot Lori, and then make a getaway. Once again, Richter shows up and is unable to capture them before they slip away. They run to the Last Resort and escape through a series of underground tunnels which lead to the resistance headquarters. Meanwhile, Richter and his men attack the club, but are told to pull back by Cohaagen. He then shuts down the ventilation shafts, slowly depriving Venusville and the mutant population of air.

In the resistance HQ, Quaid is taken before Kuato, leader of the resistance, who apparently lives within the stomach of one of his lieutenants. He helps Quaid to remember what he saw that made Cohaagen erase him memory, which turns out to be an underground reactor built by aliens millions of years before. He wakes up to discover that Cohaagen’s forces have found them and are coming through the walls. They escape into a airlock, but Benny betrays them and shoots Kuato’s host dead. With his final words, Kuato tells Quaid to start the reactor.

Captured, Quaid and Melina are brought to Cohaagen’s facility where he tells them the last of the story. It turns out Hauser was not a double agent at all, but a loyal member of Cohaagen’s inner circle who volunteered for the memory implant procedure so he could get close to Kuato and lead their forces to his lair. They knew that Hauser would not be able to fool Kuato unless he sincerely believed himself to be a double-agent, hence the implanted memories and feigned cover up. Quaid does not believe it, until Cohaagen shows him another recording where Hauser tells him himself that he’s been played.

Cohaagen orders them both placed in memory-implant chairs where Hauser will be restored and Melina will be turned into a willing supplicant of his. He then leaves with Richter, and Quaid manages to break his bonds and kill the scientists before the procedure can take effect. He pulls Melina out, who also appears unaffected, and they begin to fight their way to the reactor. Benny tries to take them out using a drilling machine, but Quaid manages to disable the machine and kill him with a drill!

Once they reach the reactor assembly, Richter attempts to stop them with a small army. But relying on the holographic device and some kick-ass shooting, Quaid and Melina manage to take them out. Richter tries to escape using the underground lift, but Quaid jumps aboard the and the two fight it out. Quaid manages to overpower Richter and tosses him over the edge. Richter grabs hold of Quaids arms and threatens to take him with him, but he loses his arms when they are crushed against the shaft, and he falls to his death.

Quaid reaches the reactor room where Cohaagen tries to stop him, telling him that the reactor will detonate the planet’s precious minerals. However, Quaid doesn’t believe him, and Melina arrives shortly thereafter to shoot Cohaagen. However, Cohaagen indicates that he has planeted a bomb on the device, which Quaid narrowly manages to toss down a shaft before it goes off. Once it explodes, it breaches the room’s seals, causing decompression and sucking Cohaagen out onto the surface where he dies of asphyxiation. Quaid manages to activate it mere seconds before he and Melina are sucked out as well and begin to suffocate.

The reactor fires up and begins to plunge a series of red hot rods into Mars’ core. This causes the ice core at the heart of the planet to melt and explode in plumes of air to the surface. This air leads to the creation of an atmosphere and a blue sky within seconds, saving Melina and Quaid from asphyxiation and destroying all pressure domes on the surface. The Red Planet has now become a habitable world, which is apparently what the Martian aliens had intended all along.

Quaid and Melina walk up to the nearest hilltop and look out at the sky. Quaid wonders aloud if he is in fact dreaming, to which Melina replies that he had better kiss her before he wakes up. The movie ends with the sunshine becoming a blinding flash of light, leaving viewers to wonder if it was all a dream, or actually happened.

Summary:
To cut straight to the chase, I really liked this movie. I saw it back when I was a surly teen, and appreciated it for what it offered – action, guns, and plenty of creative nudity! Remember that scene in the Last Resort with the three-breasted hooker? Scarcely a boy who grew up in the 80’s doesn’t know about her! But as I got older, I came to see the plot as something rather creative and complicated, which inevitably drew me back to the story again and again over the years.

Of course, the number of twists and explanations might seem a bit contrived, and even I thought so for awhile. But that was before I saw it again recently and actually thought them through. Basically, Hauser was himself when he found the resistance and posed as a defector. But Melina didn’t let him in, thinking his intentions weren’t pure. It was Cohaagen’s attempt to remedy this by staging his capture, circulating rumors of his torture and death, and then planting false memories and dumping him on Earth and setting him up to find his way to Mars and the resistance. It was only in this way that his sincerity could be seen as genuine, and the psychic Kuato wouldn’t be able to detect his true intentions. For all intents and purposes, he was Quaid when he met him, and his desire to learn the truth and help the resistance was genuine.

Sure, the overall twists, turns, and explanations for them all still present some degree of confusion, but that’s part of what’s good about this movie. Even after multiple viewings, audiences still debate whether or not everything was just a dream or real. They cite various tidbits of evidence, like the fact that Dr. Edgemar was sweating, that the story was exactly what Quaid asked for, that this coincidence was due to the fact that Quaid was looking to reclaim the life he lost, or that he had dreams of Melina before he went to Rekal. It all makes for a cool debate.

The plot also managed to make some rather cool commentary on the nature of identity, memory, false consciousness and free will. If it were possible to implant memories in a human being, then would they really cease to be who they were and become someone else? Would this be a possible remedy to the problems of criminal behavior and psychosis? Kuato offers a resolution to all this when he says to Quaid, “a man is defined by his actions, not his memories.” This is then thrown for a loop when Quaid discovers that his true and original self was an agent of Cohaagen’s, but he responds to this by embracing his new identity and fighting to free Mars.

And of course, the special effects and sets were all very well done. Sure, there are plenty of people who would say that they looked cheesy, especially the animatronic heads that were used for the asphyxiation, robotic head, and bug-removing scenes, but they were pretty state of the art for the time. The mutants were also very well done, molded plastic imitating the effects of radiation quite well. And the animatronic limb that Benny showed and Kuato’s body-within-a-body was also pretty convincing! And this was done without the benefit of any CGI.

What’s more, it was original, which is a claim the remake can’t possibly make. though I have yet to see the movie, one thing that I hear from just about everyone is how the sets and effects seemed very much borrowed. The robot forces look like Storm Troopers and droids, the flying cars look like something out of Minority Report, and the cityscape seemed ripped from Blade Runner. In the case of the original, there was a latent cyberpunk 80’s feel to much of it, but nothing had been copied or borrowed, much as I can tell.

It was also well cast and ably acted. Cox and Ironside brought their usual awesomeness to their villain characters, Stone was convincing as the assassin/seductress, and the supporting cast was pretty solid. And let’s not forget, it was an Arny movie, which meant that it was automatically fun, cheesy, and full of hilarious one liners and his signatures “Hlalalalalalal!” And seriously, some of the lines he said: “Consider that a divorce”, “You blew my covah!”, and “See ya at the party, Richter!”. They rank right up there with “Get to tha choppa!”

The only real weaknesses were the many cheesy scientific implausibilities. For one, the scene where he removes the bug from his nose was impossible, as it would have broken his nose. Second, there’s no way anyone could create an atmosphere on Mars by simply evaporating water. Sure, it might be a good step in the right direction, but there’s no guarantee it would work, and it would take centuries, not mere seconds. Last, if you were already asphyxiating due to exposure to near-vacuum, you wouldn’t be instantly saved once breathable oxygen started pouring out. But of course, all of this could be dismissed by saying that it was all a dream. Or it can be simply written off as part of the cheese factor.

Overall, I’d say this movie deserves to be placed in the sci-fi classics section, between guilty pleasure movies and the films that actually have something to say and will make you think a little. If you haven’t seen it, then do so! And if you’re planning on seeing the remake, or already have, then get your ass to the video store and ask for Total Recall! And until next time, here’s a three-breasted hooker to keep you company! See ya at the party! Halalalalalalal!

Starship Troopers: Invasion!

Fans of Starship Troopers must be sharing a collective “yahoo!” somewhere. It seems that Casper Van Diem – the actor who starred as Johnny Rico in the original movie and its horrid third installment – has decided to produce the fourth installment in the series. Like the second and third movies – both of which sucked hard ass! – this one will be straight to DVD.

But unlike the other two, this one will be an animated CGI feature, calling to mind the short-lived but decidedly unsucky animated series Roughnecks: The Starship Trooper Chronicles. The movie is schedules for release on August 28th, 2012, and in anticipation of this occasion, the studio has released a full-length, bad-ass trailer!

And judging from this little preview, this installment looks pretty good, combining the best elements from the original movie with a hardcore Halo feel! According to the studio, this movie takes place many years after the original, with all the characters from that movie (except for Dizzy Flores who died) reprising their roles. Carmen Ibanez is now Captain of her own battleships, Carl Jenkins is now Minister of Paranormal Warfare, and Johnny Rico is a general who comes out of retirement to command the Roughnecks for one last mission!

In fact, this sort of thing could be just what’s needed to help reboot the series. In spite of an adaptation that was big on flashy and low on substance, two sequels that were so atrocious they aren’t worth getting to, and an animated series that was terribly short on gore, this franchise actually has some potential. Bring on the bugs and automatic weapons fire!

Via Blastr.com

Of Faster-Than-Light Travel

It’s a popular concept, the fictional technology that could help us break that tricky light barrier. And it’s not hard to see why. The universe is a really, really, REALLY big place! And if we ever want to begin exploring and colonizing our tiny corner of it – and not have to deal with all the relativistic effects of time dilation and long, long waits – we better find a way to move faster.

And this is where various franchises come up with their more creative take on physics and the natural universe. Others, they just present it as a given and avoid any difficult, farfetched, or clumsy explanations. And in the end, we the viewers go along because we know that without it, space travel is going to be one long, tedious, and mind-bendingly complex journey!

Alcubierre Drive:
Proposed by Miguel Alcubierre as a way of resolving Einstein’s field equations, the Alcubierre Drive is an untested by possible way to achieve FTL travel. As opposed to Warp, Foldspace, or most other proposed means of FTL that involve some kind of internal propulsion of jump drive, the Alcubierre Drive is based on the idea of generating a wave that a ship would then “surf” in order to travel.

The creation of this wave would cause the fabric of space ahead of the spacecraft to contract and the space behind it to expand. The ship would then ride this wave inside a region of flat space known as a warp bubble and be carried along as the region itself moves through space. As a result, conventional relativistic effects such as time dilation would not apply in the same way as if the ship itself were moving.

The Alcubierre drive is featured in a few different science fiction genres, mainly those of the “hard” variety. This includes Stephen Baxter’s Ark, M. John Harrison’s novel Light, Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran’s Orbiter, and Ian Douglas’s Star Carrier where it is the primary means of transport.

FTL Drive:
The primary means of interstellar travel in the Battlestar Galactica universe, where every ship larger than a in-system transport is equipped with an FTL drive. How it works is never really explained, but it is clear that the technology is complex and involves a great deal of calculation. This is not only to ensureolve n accurate relocation through space-time, but also to make sure they don’t up jumping too close to a planet, star, or worse, right in the middle of either.

Whereas Colonial ships use their own computers to calculate jumps, Cylon ships rely on the Hybrid. These “machines” are essentially semi-organic computers, and represent the first step in Cylon evolution from pure machines to organic beings. Apparently, the hybrids were more sophisticated than Colonial computers, especially the aging Galactica. Hence, they were able to calculate jumps more quickly and accurately.

Holtzman Drive:
This FTL drive system comes to us from the Dune universe, and is otherwise known as a “Foldspace Engine”. Relying on principles that are not entirely clear to those in the Dune universe, the system involves depositing a ship from one point in space-time to another instantaneously. Though the workings of the drive are never really explained, it is intimated in Chapterhouse: Dune that tachyons are involved.

Another key component in the system is a Guild Navigator, a mutant who has been given natural prescient abilities thanks to constant exposure to spice. Using this prescience, the Navigator “sees” a path through space-time in order to guide the ship safely through. But in time, the Ixians invented a machine that was capable of doing this job as well, thus making the entire process automated and breaking the Guild’s monopoly on spacing.

Hyperspace:
Like the Warp drive, the terms hyperspace and hyperdrive have become staples withing the science fiction community. It’s most popular usage comes from Star Wars where it is the principle means of interstellar travel. Though it is never explained how a hyperdrive works, it is made abundantly clear through a series of visuals in the first and subsequent movies that it involves speeds in excess of the speed of light.

In addition, Han Solo indicated in the original movie that the Falcon’s top speed was “point five past light-speed”, indicating that it can travel 1.5 c. All other references to hyperspace speed factors in the franchise are similar, with velocities given in terms of a decimal point value. As a fast ship, the Falcon can reach point five, whereas most of the larger Imperial and Rebel ships can make only point three or four at most.

Though Star Wars is the most popular example of hyperspace, it is by no means the earliest. The first recorded example was in John Campbell’s “Islands of Space,” which appeared in Amazing Stories in 1931. Arthur C. Clarke’s also mentioned hyperspace in his 1950 story Technical Error. However, the most enduring example comes from Asimov’s Foundation universe, where hyperspace is the principal means of travel in the Galactic Republic. In I, Robot, the invention of the “hyperspatial drive” is the basis of one of the short stories, and was meant to provide a sense of continuity with his earlier Foundation series.

Other franchises that feature the concept of hyperspace include Babylon 5, Homeworld, Macross/Robotech, and Stargate. Combined with Star Wars and the Foundation series, it is the most popular – albeit the most ill-defined -form of FTL in the realm of science fiction.

Infinite Probability Drive:
The perfect mixture of irreverence and science: the Infinite Probability Drive from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. This FTL concept is based on a particular perception of quantum theory which states that a subatomic particle is most likely to be in a particular place, such as near the nucleus of an atom, but there is also a small probability of it being found very far from its point of origin.

Thus, a body could travel from place to place without passing through the intervening space if you had sufficient control of probability. According to the Guide, in this way the drive “passes through every conceivable point in every conceivable universe almost simultaneously,” meaning the traveller is “never sure where they’ll end up or even what species they’ll be when they get there” and therefore it’s important to dress accordingly!

Subspace Jump Drive:
Here we have an FTL concept which comes from one of my favorite games of all time, Descent Freespace. Subspace jumps, relying on the drive system of the same name, represent a very quick method of interstellar travel. By relying on subspace “corridors” that run from one point in space-time to another, a ship is able to move quickly from one star system to the next.

The only drawback to this concept is the fact that travel must occur along officially designated “nodes”. These nodes usually pass between large gravitational sources (i.e. between stars systems) but also can exist within a system itself. Virtually all nodes are unstable, existing for mere seconds or minutes at a time. However, nodes which will last for centuries or longer are designated as “stable” and used for transit.

Another favorite franchise which uses a similar concept is the Wing Commander universe. In all versions of the game, particularly Wing Commander: Privateer, interstellar travel comes down to plotting jumps from predesignated points in space. One cannot simply jump from one spot to another provided accurate calculations are made, they have to use the mapped out points or no jump is possible. This, as opposed to hyperspace travel, posits that subspace is a reality that exists only in certain areas of space-time and must be explored before it can be used.

TARDIS:
Officially, the Time and Relative Dimension in Space is a time machine and spacecraft that comes to us from British science fiction television program Doctor Who and its associated spin-offs. Produced by the advanced race known as the Time Lords, an extraterrestrial civilization to which the Doctor belongs, this device that makes his adventures possible.

Basically, a TARDIS gives its pilot the ability to travel to any point in time and any place in the universe. Based on a form of biotechnology which is grown, not assembled, they draw their power primarily from an artificial singularity (i.e. a black hole) known as the “Eye of Harmony”. Other sources of fuel include mercury, specialized crystals and a form of temporal energy.

Each TARDIS is primed with the biological imprint of a Time Lord so that only they can use it. Should anyone else try to commandeer one, it undergoes molecular disintegration and is lots. The interior of a TARDIS is much larger than its exterior, which can blend in with its surroundings using the ship’s “chameleon circuit”. Hence why it appears to outsiders as a phone booth in the series.

Warp Drive:
Possibly the best known form of FTL travel which comes to us from the original Star Trek and its many spinoffs. In addition to being a prime example of fictional FTL travel, it is also perhaps the best explained example.Though said explanation has evolved over time, with contributions being made in the original series, TNG, and the Star Trek technical manual, the basic concept remains the same.

By using a matter/antimatter reactor to create plasma, and by sending this plasma through warp coils, a ship is able to create a warp bubble that will move the craft into subspace and hence exceed the speed of light. Later explanations would go on to add that an anti-matter/matter reaction which powers the two separate nacelles of the ship are what create the displacement field (the aforementioned “bubble”) that allows for warp.

Apparently, Warp 10 is the threshold for warp speed, meaning that it is the point at which a ship reaches infinite speed. Though several mentions are made of ships exceeding this threshold, this was later explained as being the result of different scales. Officially, it is part of the Star Trek canon that no ship is capable of exceeding Warp 10 without outside help. When that occurs, extreme time dilation, such as anti-time, occurs, which can be disastrous for the crew!

In addition to Star Trek, several other franchises have made mention of the Warp Drive. This includes StarCraft, Mass Effect, Starship Troopers, and Doctor Who.

Final Thoughts:
Having looked through all these examples, several things become clear. In fact, it puts me in mind of a clip produced by the Space Network many years ago. Essentially, Space explored the differences between FTL in past and present franchises, connecting them to developments in real science. Whereas Warp and Hyperspace tended to be the earliest examples, based on the idea of simply exceeding the speed of light, thereby breaking the law of physics, later ideas focused on the idea of circumventing them. This required that writers come up with fictional ideas that either relied on astrophysics and quantum theory or exploited the holes within them.

One such way was to use the idea of “wormholes” in space-time, a hypothetical theory that suggests that space is permeated by topological holes that could act as “shortcuts” through space-time. A similar theory is that of subspace, a fictional universe where the normal rules of physics do not apply. Finally, and also in the same vein, is the concept of a controlled singularity, an artificial black hole that can open a rift through space-time and allow a ship to pass from one point in the universe to another.

Explanations as to how these systems would work remains entirely hypothetical and based on shaky science. As always, the purpose here is to allow for interstellar travel and communications that doesn’t take decades or even centuries. Whether or not the physics of it all works is besides the point. Which brings me to two tentative conclusions.

  1. Explanations Need Not Apply: Given the implausible (or at the very least, inexplicable) nature of most FTL concepts, the best sci-fi is likely to be the stuff that doesn’t seek to explain how its FTL system of choice works. I’st simply there and does the job. People hit a button, push a lever, do some calculations, or fly into a jump gate. Then boom! seconds later (or days and weeks) and they find themselves on the other side, light years away and ready to do their mission!
  2. That’s Hard: Given how any story that involves relativistic space travel, where both time dilation and confusing time jumps are necessarily incorporated into the story, only the hardest of hard sci-fi can ever expect to do without warp drives, hyperspace, jump or FTL drives. Any other kind of sci-fi that is looking to be accessible, and therefore commercially successful, will have to involve some kind of FTL or face extinction.

Well, that’s all I got for the time being. In the meantime, keep your eyes on the skies and don’t stop dreaming about how we’re one day going to get out there. For even if we start sending ships beyond our solar system in the near future, it’s going to be well into the distant future before they get anywhere and we start hearing back from them. At least until someone figures out how to get around Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, damn bloody genius! Until then, I’d like to sign off with a tagline:

This has been Matt Williams with another conceptual post. Good night, and happy spacing!

The Alien Graph

The Alien Graph

Behold! After a few days of contemplating what I said in the Ancient Aliens post – you know, about how alien’s technology and moral capacity are often interrelated in sci-fi – I realized I needed to put it into graphic form. And as I said in that post, if we are to consider technological advancement as one axis and level of benevolence as another, then the outcome would look something like this:

click to enlarge

The design is based on the Zombie graph that’s been floating around the internet for some time. There, the designer placed different Zombie movies based on two criteria: intelligence and speed. In much the same way, I’ve designed a graph for aliens that is based on two similar criteria: technological advancement and level of friendliness.

I selected aliens that I thought best represented the range of development and behavior in the sci-fi genre. I also included as many franchises as I could think of, just off the top of my head. I certainly wasn’t scientific about it, just relative and to the best of my abilities. And when I was done, I noticed an interesting pattern…

Hostile/Advanced Aliens Rule!:
For example, notice how the vast majority of races from your well-known franchises (Star Trek, B5, Stargate, Star Craft, AvP, Halo, etc) fall into the upper left quadrant. This is the area where malevolence and technological sophistication combine in varying degrees. By contrast, the second largest concentration of races occurs in the advanced/benevolent quadrant, again to varying degrees. Almost no races fall into the nascent (i.e. primitive) quadrants, be they hostile or gentle.

On the one hand, the Xenomorph from Alien and the Arachnids from Starship Troopers both fell into the technologically backward category (technically), and were both classified as malevolent because of their innate hostility to foreign organisms. The Na’vi, from Avatar, were the only alien race that fit the bill for technologically nascent and benevolent. I’m sure there are plenty of examples that could stack this analysis in a different way, but like I said, this was off the top of my head.

The Zerg, I have to admit, were a bit of a conundrum for me. While they are technically a race that does not employ technology per se, they are highly advanced in terms of their biological evolution, to the point where they rely on specialized creatures in the same way that humans rely on machinery. But then again, that’s all for the sake of ensuring that the different factions in the video game are evenly matched. It’s not meant to be a realistic assessment. Much the same is true of the Xenomorphs. While they do not employ tools, fly around in spaceships, or use guns, they are nevertheless an extremely evolved organism that is capable of besting humanity in any contest.

And just to be clear, the middle point of the graph (0,0, where the axes meet) is where humanity stands now in terms of moral behavior and technological development. Sure, some say we’d fall into the evil quadrant, but I tend to believe that humanity is morally ambiguous, neither too good or too evil. Where aliens fall into the spectrum in most sci-fi franchises is meant to reflect this. Much the same is true of technological prowess, where aliens are classified as “advanced” or “primitive” solely in comparison to ourselves.

This all might sound anthropocentric, but that’s the point, isn’t it? These are stories written by human beings for other human beings. All the references, symbols and measuring sticks come from inside us. So in the end, aliens themselves, as represented in our best science fiction, also come from inside ourselves. Their values, their tools, and even their appearances are all constructs of what is familiar and accessible to us. In short, they are merely tools with which we measure ourselves, both morally and technically.

Conclusions:
Well, right off the cuff I’d say the reason we prefer our aliens hostile and advanced is because it makes them seem more threatening and scary that way. Clearly, this makes for a more interesting story. While an alien race that is kind, innocent and backwards can make for an effective tale about the evils of colonialism and imperialism and how one can easily find themselves on the side of evil, these seem to be fewer and farther between. I’d say this is most likely because moral allegories are less intriguing than action dramas. Or maybe just prefer to think of ourselves as the good guys. Let someone else serve as the allegory for evil, selfish and runaway imperialistic behavior!

In addition, there’s the very real possibility that humanity will be making contact with an intelligent life form at some point in the future. And when we do, it’s likely to be the most awe-inspiring and frightening of experiences. When it comes to the unknown, ignorance begets fear and we prefer to err on the side of caution. So it would make sense that whenever we think of aliens, even if its just for the sake of fiction, we would naturally prefer to think of them as both learned and potentially hostile. If indeed aliens serve as a sort of projection for humanity’s own thoughts on itself, than pitching them as potentially hostile beings with advanced technology represents our own fear of the unknown.

In any case, if there is life out there, all these questions will be resolved in the distant future. Hell, maybe even the near-future. If some theorists are to be believed, aliens have already made contact with us and might even be walking among us right now. Granted, most of these people are hanging around the 7/11 with tin foil hats on, but they can’t all be crazy, right?