The Ideal Film AI

Posted in film on February 18th, 2015 by Samuel Kenyon

This is prompted by Ben Bogart‘s question “What do you consider the most seminal representations of AI in cinema of all time?”

I think the best is yet to come. Ideally an AI (Artificial Intelligence) in a film would have two elements:

  1. The alien aspect: It’s not a human or some other animal (although it can be very similar).
  2. Some connection with humans (or a human), e.g. humanity created them for a job, or this particular human created this particular AI for some reason, etc. This is the difference between the screen character being just another sci-fi alien (extraterrestrial, previously-unknown terrestrial monster, et cetera).
cropped_Automata-crossing-the-river-of-time

Autómata (dir. Gabe Ibáñez)

 

Automata and Tron: Legacy both make meager attempts to show AI emerging and evolving and trying to figure out their own way that’s not quite the same as for humans.

The robot R2D2 (Star Wars) superficially meets these ideals: we know it’s intelligent, yet it doesn’t speak English or get subtitles. Its connection with humans however is not really used in any interesting way in the film (we don’t analyze the slavery of robots in Star Wars …at least I don’t). And if the history stories are true, R2D2 and C3PO are just metal copies of the peasants from Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress.

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The Hidden Fortress (dir. Akira Kurosawa)

 

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The World’s End: Change and Consequences

Posted in culture on August 26th, 2013 by Samuel Kenyon

It has been said that true science fiction requires a story in which the world is changed—and never goes back to the way it was (I don’t remember the source of this definition). By this definition, techno-thrillers such as everything by Michael Crichton are not science fiction, since the world is returned to normal after some disaster strikes. You might notice that a lot of science fiction films, especially the more mainstream ones, conclude with humanity returning to business as usual. The knots are untied. Loose ends are taken care of. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, as it is the normal way to adhere to standard dramatic structure. And the dynamics of the characters might outshine the background world anyway.

The World's End

The World’s End

Warning, Spoilers Ahead

I am happy to report that the film The World’s End involves not only major character development, but also major world changes that do not revert at the end. I don’t want to reveal too much here specifically, so I won’t say much. (And if you haven’t seen a recent trailer, don’t! Just go see the movie without ruining the surprises.)

It is obviously tempting to compare The World’s End to the previous two films in the “Blood and Icecream” trilogy of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. The first Blood and Icecream entry, Shaun of the Dead, which on the more obvious layer is a parody of horror films (especially zombie flicks), essentially concluded with a UK returned to normal after a zombie outbreak, with the minor adjustment to allow some remaining zombies to live on in a controlled manner. The second Blood and Icecream film, Hot Fuzz, which on one layer is a parody of action films, has the typical solving of a case and elimination of a criminal element. The World’s End, however, far surpasses the conclusions of the previous two films.

Somerville Theater

Somerville Theater

I watched The World’s End on opening weekend in Somerville Theater, where I predicted accurately that it would be very popular. In fact, we actually had to form a line outside. Passer-bys gave us funny looks; one queried what event had drawn us into this odd queue—I responded that we were there for the end of the world. The stranger commented that he “didn’t realize that was a thing.” After this thrilling wait in Davis Square, my girlfriend and I were finally were admitted into the main theater. The downside to this crowd was that everything was laugh-out-loud funny. Some scenes invoked applause. In my opinion the jokes weren’t any better than Shaun or Hot Fuzz, but being as good is still pretty damn good. The climax was not excellent, and was mostly held together with more jokes. The dénouement, however, was top-notch.

But surely, somebody will argue, this is merely a comedy. What can it say about humankind, science, and technology?

Oh, but it can say so much. In fact, parody is a necessary part of civilized societies. And these Edgard Wright films are not just parody but also human drama stories. And they meet the requirements of their respective genres. The World’s End does all this…and literally ends the world as we know it.

Some questions asked in The World’s End are very important: Does it make sense to stay the same instead of growing into a new form that has comprised to some degree with a society? Both the main characters and Earth itself are posed with this problem in the film. The consequences are shown.


Image credit: Somerville Theater – Mark Andrew

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