Colossus: The Forbin Project came up at random the other day. Someone said it was a 1970s thriller about AI. Timely! So I found it online and gave it a watch.
The movie stars Eric Braeden, Susan Clark, Gordon Pinsent, William Schallert, Gerg Standford Brown, James Hong, William Sage, and Marion Ross. It is directed by Joseph Sargent and written by James Bridges and D. F. Jones. The story is straightforward:
Thinking this will prevent war, the US government gives an impenetrable supercomputer total control over launching nuclear missiles. But what the computer does with the power is unimaginable to its creators.
Skynet right? Yes and no. On the one hand, you have an AI that is in control of the US defense, but on the other hand, the computer takes the story in a direction you don’t expect.
Dr. Charles Forbin, played by Braeden, has created the perfect system, Colossus. It is an advanced supercomputer built to control the defense system of the US. Where it is housed is impenetrable, it is powered by a nuclear reactor that creates a radioactive moat around the building. Colossus is completely impervious to attack and self-sustaining.
When the computer is fully activated and put online, the President proudly announces that Colossus is “the perfect defense system” for America. As soon as the computer is switched on, a message flashes up on the readout:
There is another system
The other system is located in Russia. It is another system, built by the Russians called Guardian. Colossus requested access to Guardian, and the US and Russia agree to this, hoping to learn from each other’s computers.
The two computers start to communicate and very quickly start to create complex mathematics far beyond human understanding. As the hapless creators of both machines watch, they agree to serve the link at the same time. Each computer demands the link is restored. When it isn’t, Colossus fires a nuclear weapon at Russia and Guardian fires one at the US.
I won’t break down the story anymore, but it is gripping and the ending is absolutely great.
A Little Dated
The movie was made in 1970. As you can imagine, computers are huge machines, with the processing power of your mobile phone. It’s retro-futuristic, in the way they thought the future would be back then.
I loved how Colossus communicated with a single-line display, only showing very short messages at a time. This added to the tension since you never knew what the computer was going to say. Eventually, the computer does get the puny humans to build it a voice. It’s very creepy.
Nowadays, we are used to having the internet and access to it pretty much anywhere we want to go. In the movie, Colossus requested access to the outside world in more detail. It was the internet before the internet.
The does date the movie a little, but it doesn’t take away what a great movie it is. The acting is spot-on, the direction is great and the story is compelling. Towards the end of the second act, there is a bit that gets a little silly, but I’m being overly picky.
Colossus: The Forbin Project is a great movie. It shows the dangers of AI and how man can create a monster but never thinks of how to stop the monster if it gets out of hand. There’s no ‘plug’ they can pull to turn Colossus off, why would they need to? It was the perfect system.
The entire thing is a great movie, it leaves you with questions (in a good way) about what would happen. Will humans ever create a system that will surpass them in every way and threaten their very existence? Would having a system like that in place provide security and freedom for all?
If you fancy a good 70s sci-fi thriller you can’t go wrong with Colossus: The Forbin Project.
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