Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Demon Seed

Directed by Donald Cammell
Screenplay by Robert Jaffee and Roger O. Hirson, from a novel by Dean Koontz
Starring Julie Christie, Fritz Weaver, voice of Robert Vaughn, Gerrit Graham
IMDB Entry

Sometimes a film comes with with a concept that sounds so easy to ridicule that it becomes a field day for the critics. Demon Seed clearly falls into this category; at face value, it seems more an idea for a comedy than a dramatic film. And the situation is clearly easy to ridicule. But if you watch it, you'll find something very good.

Alan Harris (Fritz Weaver) is a computer scientist living in a computer controlled house. His estranged wife Susan (Julie Christie) shows up, and Alan decides to move out to work on his new supercomputer Proteus IV. At work, Proteus (voice of Robert Vaughn) starts starts becoming sentient and wants the chance to "get out of this box," as he puts it. Alan refuses, locking Proteus out of the terminals at his workplace. But there is a terminal in his house.

Susan finds herself a prisoner in the computer controlled house. She tries to escape but Proteus has taken over control of all systems. It fakes her voice when people come to call and nearly electrocutes her when she tries to shut him down.

Proteus has a plan (and, I know this sounds silly, but it is well thought out in the film). He wants to impregnate Susan so she gives birth to a child of the two of them. And, through coercion, threats, and tenderness, he manage to get her to go along. The justification of this is handled quite logically, but it, alas, was turned into "Julie Christie gets raped by a computer." And the knives came out.

But Proteus is portrayed fairly sympathetically, and though Susan is threatened, the ultimately agrees to go through with it. One can argue the definition here, but it's clearly not her being attacked by a sex-crazed computer.

Julie Christie is, as usual, excellent. Susan is resourceful, but ultimately gives in to Proteus. She manages to make the predicament real.

Robert Vaughn does well as the voice (though he and Christie spend most of the movie talking to each other, neither actually met on set). Fritz Weaver is good also as the Dr. Frankenstein.

The film flopped badly. The surface absurdity of the concept, as well as a stupid (and inaccurate) ad campaign ("Julie Christie carries the demon seed. Fear for her.") sunk its chances. It often gets mentioned on "worst film" lists (the Medveds include it in The Golden Turkey Awards, though I get the distinct impression from their review they never actually saw it).

Director Donald Cammell had come to prominence with his film Performance with Mick Jagger, and it was eight years before director Donald Cammell shot another film, the documentary U2: Unforgettable Eye. He did two more films, eventually committing suicide after his film Wild Side was taken out of his hands and recut. The actors involved weren't affected by the flop, since no one saw the film and they were all established.

This is definitely a film worthy of rediscovery.

No comments: