Humanity v2.0


Humanity’s inability to accept the things of darkness it has spawned is, of course, old as sin. It’s been the stuff of art even before Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, whose famous “monster” is perhaps the first artificial humanoid (ie “android”) in literary history.

A. I.
(2-disc set)
Directed, written and co-produced by: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, William Hurt, Frances O’Connor.
Running Time: 145 minutes
Special Features: Interviews with Steven Spielberg and cast, Behind-the-Scenes production footage, “Making of” documentary, Trailers, Photos and Concept Art.

A modern retelling of the Pinocchio story of an artificial boy longing to become real, A.I. is Spielberg’s loving and visually sumptuous elegy to buddy Stanley Kubrick. The film is full of signature Spielberg touches and astounding special effects, including a drowned future Manhattan. To his credit, Spielberg has kept faith with Kubrick’s vision, including a visionary and divergent ending almost as hallucinatory as that of Kubrick’s 1968 classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Watch for: The phenomenally talented Haley Joel Osment’s subtle transformation from vacuous robot to loving mecha-child during the “imprinting” scene early on.

(DVD + bonus mini-disc)

Directed by: Rintaro
Written by: Katsuhiro Otomo, based on the comic by Osamu Tezuka
Running Time: 108 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles
Special Features: History of the comic book, “Making Of” featurette, Production notes, Trailers, Interviews.

Japanense anime is the undisputed master of the dystopic future landscape and Osamu Tenzuka, creator of “Astroboy” and “Kimba the White Lion” is widely regarded as the godfather of Japanese anime and manga. So it’s hardly surprising that his 1949 comic based on Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”, would, in the hands of such anime masters as Rintaro (who directed “Astro Boy”) and Otomo (“Akira”) be transfigured into a grand and quintessentially Japanese animation epic, down to the blossoming slo-mo explosions, soaring cityscapes, eye-watering detail and incomprehensibly Zen storyline about the nature of life, love, identity and the universe. The murder of an underground robotics scientist in the retro-futuristic city of Metropolis leads a Japanese investigator and his brave nephew into a greater conspiracy involving coup d’etats, fascist cults and a mysterious female robot child named Tima. This full-length feature is an indulgence of Japanese animation art at its prime and promises to be a classic.

Watch for: The exquisite, hyper-detailed apocalypse of a major urban landmark to the languid sound of “I can’t stop loving you”.

The issue of whether we can create machines that think and feel like humans do has always been secondary to whether we SHOULD do so, as two recent movies, just out on DVD, suggest.

Artificial Intelligence, the Spielberg/Kubrick moviemaking-as-Philosophy 101-essay, raises the “oldest moral question of all” — what responsibility do we have towards the creations we make in our own image.

And in Metropolis, the Jap anime reimagining of Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic, an omnipotent female robot is created merely to further an overweening political agenda.

The history of androids and robots in film is as old as the medium itself. Discerning Sci-Fi movie fans would have figured by now that artificial life and artificial light are inextricably entwined in the popular imagination.

Indeed, “the image of human artifice,” says film scholar Professor J.P. Telotte, “speaks of the interaction between the human and the technological that lie at the very heart of science fiction”.

The vast majority of film robots are expressions of humanity’s darkest instincts made flesh: Mindless, mechanical, heartless brutes steamrolling over all we hold dear. Unstoppable assassins (a la the Terminator) without conscience. Or hyper-intelligent machines who conclude, quite logically, that the human race is something of a stain on planet Earth and proceed to cull the species (think: Matrix).

Earlier films appear to warn of the dangers of unbridled technological progress. But recent films seem to suggest that it is humanity that has lost its own moral certitude – and by extension, its right to remain the dominant species.

What were once considered uniquely, even definitively human virtues — innocence, wonder, loyalty, unconditional love — are most clearly invested, in artificial humanoids created specifically to serve our needs.

In both A.I. and Metropolis, the child-like and virginal android protagonists are created as perfect human simulacra, but possessing of a most inhuman tolerance for emotional and physical abuse. Yet they evoke mankind’s most bestial instincts — jealousy, resentment, fear, exploitation.

Never mind that they did not ask to be created, much less in a world that has been mostly destroyed by human agency (global warming in A.I. and corruption in Metropolis).
And it tends to be disgruntled humans — not machines out of whack — that first run amok.

Taro Rin’s Metropolis reverses the polarity of its German namesake, transforming the central robotic female from Fritz Lang’s hyper-stylised femme fatale Maria, into an utter innocent, Tima. Both creations rebel against their creators, but Tima’s revolt against her human controllers is a moral one, resulting in the sentient liberation of the entire population of robotic workers in the city and the fall of a corrupt political regime.

Artificial creatures are portrayed as outstripping theircreators in human qualities in a whole generation of classic film dystopias such as Blade Runner — where “replicants” struggle for the right to exist in a world stripped to its grimy core by human elites.

And if you think the Star Wars series is exempt, think about the droid-duo (the only characters who will be featured in all six Star Wars films) who are consistently more enduring, humane and funny than most of the 'human' cast, in particular contrast to Darth Vader and his faceless (but human) Stormtroopers.


Assemble your own collection of filmic androids and crack the code to one of mankind’s most enduring scientific moral dilemmas

The Mechanical Statue and the Ingenious Servant (1907)
Dr. Smith’s Automaton (1910)
Metropolis (1927) & (2001)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Silent Running (1971)
Star Wars (1979)
Blade Runner (1982)
The Terminator 1 & 2 (1984) & (1991)
Bicentennial Man (1999)
A.I. (2001)


It’s interesting that Star Wars Episode I and Episode II feature droid armies controlled by the bad guys as well as benign robotic servants, thus encapsulating within one movie franchise universe the entire gamut of traditional robot character types, from bumbling benign sidekicks to sinister terminators.

In one scene from The Empire Strikes Back, C3PO offers to donate a body part in order to revive his master Luke; a heartwarming gesture our young Skywalker neglects to return when C3PO gets shot to bits in Cloud City.

There are pundits who believe the relentless utilitarianism to which humans expose our creations and our world is an essential expression of our limitation as a sentient species. Our neglect, they suggest, is the clearest indication that we will one day be superceded — and ironically, better represented — by our more benign creations.

That is certainly true in A.I., for it is mecha-child David’s survival at the end of the world preserves, ultimately, a loving and intimate account of the human race. Even the assassin-droid in Ridley Scott’s Terminator 2 comes to learn the value of human life; a lesson many human societies appear to have forgotten.

Everything in our current climate of environmental degradation, global terrorism and military brinkmanship affirms the adage that Man’s capacity to create wonders exceeds his ability to practice the good.

Perhaps the promise of artificial life that obsesses us — if only in the flickering electric shadows of the silver screen — is a way of assuring ourselves that humanity might prove ultimately worthy, despite the odds, of our own miraculous sentience and what we dare to call soul. In which case, the collective body of films in which these imagined humanoids were first conceived, might well be our best tribute to humanity’s last stand.