In the past few weeks I’ve covered over a dozen examples of A.I. in film. They’ve ranged from simplistic, overly fantastical, stories of 8-bit computers achieving sentience and emotional beach-balls causing national disasters to serious, cerebral explorations of what the true meaning of intelligence, life and existence really is.
For each movie that I covered, there are a dozen more that I neglected. To close on a high-note, then, I’d like to touch on a handful of classic personal favorites that have helped to mold the genre.
After starting it, I was instantly convinced that I would love this movie. I also instantly regretted waiting so long to see it. In some cases my initial reaction is wrong. The movie squanders it, tosses it away, and I feel betrayed. In this case it somehow just kept getting better.
While technology remains incapable of creating anything resembling true artificial intelligence, the topic has been popular amongst philosophers and futurists for well over a century. One of the most debated questions is deceptively simple: how can we tell if something is really intelligent and not just faking it? This is the question of the film.
Not all explorations of A.I. need to be long, bladder-testing epics (I’m looking at you, misters Spielberg and Kubrick). Sometimes all you need is a few minutes. The following five shorts are all less than 10 minutes long, yet each deftly explores major themes of artificial intelligence and would give any feature film a run for its money.
Despite it seemingly being tailor-fit to my taste, this completely failed to register on my radar when it was released. It was only when I started researching movies to include in this Month of A.I. that I discovered it.
A.I. has provided filmmakers with a wonderful tool to explore the human condition. We can guiltlessly examine the absolute best and worst aspects of ourselves in a safe and approachable way. The reflective interaction between man and machine has produced some of the most iconic moments ever set to film.
Then there are other times. Times where A.I. is introduced and your only reasonable reaction has to be “What the fuck?” Here are two of those times.
Getting 1984’s The Terminator [IMDB] made was a struggle for sophomore writer/director James Cameron [IMDB]. It was finally completed on a modest budget after collecting a small herd of backers. It was a massively unexpected success. Cameron followed it in 1991 with Terminator 2: Judgement Day [IMDB]. Enjoying a budget over 15 times higher than its predecessor this was a lavish, complex production that pushed the limits of filmmaking.
The 80’s was a great time for A.I. in film. We had reached a point, technologically, where the idea of smart machines seemed more inevitable than fantastical. Crucially, filmmakers could also assume their audiences were computer literate enough to understand more advanced concepts. Just as importantly, they knew that the audience wasn’t too savvy. A flurry of technobabble could make ridiculous claims sound reasonable and in the 80’s we got a lot of technobabble.
I continue my month of A.I. with one of the absolute strangest movies in the genre. This movie is bizarre on a multiplicity of levels. It was Audy Kaufman’s [IMDB] first (and only) leading role in a film. Its budget was nearly double that of its contemporary, Escape From New York [IMDB]. Stan Winston [IMDB] did the effects! John Williams [IMDB] did the score! This was going to be a huge film!
I start off my month of A.I. with one of the movies I was most looking forward to. Neill Blomkamp [IMDB] , despite having a name that sounds like an expensive sex act, has brought us some of the best, most thought provoking science fiction of the past decade. That said, he’s not the most subtle, or even the most original, writer. District 9 [IMDB] was an incisive, if blunt, commentary on the inherent disaster of institutionalized inequality. Elysium’s [IMDB] Haves-versus-Have-Nots theme was even less elegant, but effectively timeless regardless.