Colossus: The Forbin Project
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Colossus: The Forbin Project

Many people have grown up in the computer age not fully aware of what life was like before the silicone age. The last forty years has been witnessed to the most significant changes in technology and subsequently the fabric of our society and very foundation of our culture. People younger than thirty never knew an existence devoid of a personal computer, high definition video, and devices that serve as a movie camera, video library, computer and mobile phone that fit easily in the palm of your hand. Those of us with a few more summers behind us can appreciate taking a moment to look back at the early transitional technology. Younger members of the audience may look at these primitive devices or the dated special effects deployed in television and films but for us baby boomers it is a nostalgic consideration show us how far we came in a relatively brief time. One of the best examples of this amazing progress is a little film from 1970, ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project.’ This movie was on the films that helped to define a generation of technologically based cinema. Not only did this move require special effects still in their infancy but it was one of the first movies to refined technology as the antagonist. There was nothing new to using the cutting edge of technology as the villain to a story, but ‘Forbin’ focused the attention on the newfangled computer. In the Edwardian period stories like ‘Frankenstein’ looked at electricity as playing with power reserved for God.’ The fifties looked beyond our planet to the stars as science put spaceships within the realm of reality. Even now we continue this perennial trend with genetics and quantum physics taking center stage in the public’s concern. "The Forbin Project takes us back in time to when computers were still something found only in the rarified environments of academia or government research facilities. The concept that every home would have several computerized devices had not yet intruded on the collective consciousness of our society. Fans of seventies television, particularly science fiction show, will readily recognize the profound influence ‘The Forbin Project’ had in the look and feel that defined the decade. It is certain that as you watch these movie recollections of some of your favorite TV shows will come rushing back.

The story begins with the press in a frenzy over an announcement by the President of the United States (Gordon Pinsent). We are about to enter a new age of peace and prosperity thanks to a technological breakthrough. The decisions over the deployment of nuclear weapons are far too important to leave us flawed human beings. The solution was to give the important decisions to a new computer, Colossus. The President introduces the author of this brand new world, the creator of Colossus, Dr. Charles A. Forbin (Eric Braeden). Everything looks great now that humanity has been removed from the war equation until Colossus discovers another supercomputer online in the U.S.S.R. Colossus requests a communication link be with its counterpart, Guardian. They begin their communication with simple arithmetic but rapidly moves on past advanced mathematics until the two computers communicate using their unique language. When the two governments realize they can no longer monitor the communication the order is given to break the line, initially Colossus request, is reestablished and when denied the request becomes a demand. To punctuate the point missiles the computer launches missiles against targets in the U.S. and U.S.S.R., it is clear that the machines are now in complete control. The computers demand Corbin assist in designing the next generation of computers and make him a prisoner in the Colossus control facility. His only contact with the resistance is through his assistant, Dr. Cleo Markham (Susan Clark). To trick the computer into giving him a few unmonitored moments Corbin tells Colossus she is his mistress and the monitoring must be off while they have sex.

Admittedly this movie readily dates itself. The terminals for Guardian and Colossus are huge, about the size of vintage video game console. The queries are typed in on an old round key keyboard with responses displayed on a rolling ribbon light and a now vintage teletype. It is fairly certain that you have more computing power and storage capacity within five feet of where you are how than what is shown cumulatively in the film. It bears noting that what might have seemed to be empty boxes festooned with Christmas lights, were actual computers of that time. Data processing Corporation, Control Data Corporation, provided the hardware to ensure a realistic look to the film. The corporate logo was seen nut within the context established here the letters stood for ‘Colossus data control.’ Originally, the use of actual contemporary computer equipment added an eerie sense of reality but now forty years later it stands as a point frozen in time giving a visual record of what computers used to look like not that long ago. The blinking lights and the classic seventies sound effects and music make this classic movie the forerunner of such things as ‘The Six Million Dollar Man.’ The themes this film explored were groundbreaking at the time paving the way for such remarkable film villains as Sky Net and Judgment day. Many technological phobic movies followed but this way the first. Like every horror story, a current concern is taken to an extreme to weave a plot that will chill the audience down to their core. In 1970 the cold war was still brewing, and the Communists were a clear and immediate threat to our God-fearing American way of life. America depicted here would give overall control to a machine in hopes of derailing their insidious plot to control the world. Colossus and Guardian offered a way for us to preserve our way of life. The story concludes with a dystopia when the computers calculate the great threat humanity needs protection from is our predilection to wage war. In this way, the film is an extremely effective anti-war film typical of the decade.

After a long wait, fans have received a remastered, high definition release of this film. It is evident that some aficionados of classic, period science fiction may feel that such an upgraded only wastes the benefits of the enhanced resolution or that they ruin the vintage look of the movie. Neither complaint should matter to a reasonable cinephine. This observation is primarily intended for those of us sufficiently seasoned to have experienced the movie durin its original theatrical run, the video clarity and robust audio better emulates the quality observed in a reasonablyly well equipped theater. Allowing for the outdated technology increased technical specifications translates to a better viewing experience which maximizes the enjoyment. Details includng the texture of the scenery and clothing as well better appreciation of details like facial expressions or otherwise inconsequential details to the sets combine to contribute to a realistic environment for the story to unfold. In recent years this film has gained importance due to theme that has become increasing frightening in real life. This is one of the first films to address what is currently refred to as the ‘singularity’. Science fiction has always taken a fear currently embraced by the public and pushed it past what was then feasible for dramatic effect. In the nineteenth century electricity was still relatively unknown and for many the potential for uncontrollable damaged threatened to outweigh any potential benefits.. in the fifties the devastation made real by the advent of nuclear weapons made radioactivity the fearsome genie released on an unsuspecting public. This was frequent combined with grave concerns over the nascent steps to explore outer space. That was followed by stories featuring the potential for misuse of genetic manipulation threatening to conclude humanity's tenure as dominate lifer form. Re have reached the point where the technology predicted in this story is feasible. An increasing number of films are concerned with the point when technology becomes poised to overtake natural, organic systems, the singularity. When this film was produced artificial intelligence and the idea of a machine achieving sentience, self awareness sufficent to conclude humanity is extraneous, was entirely In the team of fiction. Now, each day brings us closer to the existence of these capabilities. In any case, this is a classic of the genre that is more relevant now than when it was a initially released.

Posted 08/15/11            03/15/2018

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