Monday, August 13, 2012

Colossus: the Forbin Project

Directed by
Joseph Sargent
Written by James Bridges, from a novel by D. F. Jones
Starring Eric Braeden, Susan Clark, Gordon Pinsent, William Schallart
IMDB Entry

It’s highly unusual for Hollywood to turn to written science fiction for its science fiction films* and its rare indeed when both the book and the movie are good ones.  There’s A Boy and His Dog, of course, but not many others.  D. F. Jones wrote Colossus in 1966, a good but minor SF novel that was eventually filmed as Colossus:  The Forbin Project.**

The story is an old one:  Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden) is developing a supercomputer, Colossus, to manage all US nuclear weapons system.  But, as soon as its turned on, Colossus comes up with a frightening message:  “There is another.”

The other is Guardian, the Soviet counterpart to Colossus, which has also gone live.  The two computers link to each other, and the worst happens:  the combine and try to run things.  Forbin is the only one who has a chance to stop it, since he’s the only human Colossus will communicate with.

Forbin & friendOne of the nice things about the movie is the way it avoids our expectations.  In nearly all movies with this setup, the hero finds a way to defeat the computer.***  But this isn’t an ordinary computer, and there are some nice subversion of expectations along the way.  One nice touch is how Forbin manages to get a chance to communicate with others without Colossus watching by pretending to have sex and insisting that Colossus doesn’t watch.

The cast is generally made up of TV actors, and director Joseph Sargent has primarily worked in TV.  His best known film is The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.  Eric Braeden as Forbin is still working regularly, but rarely as a star.

The movie got good reviews and did well enough for Jones to write two sequel novels:  The Fall of Colossus and Colossus and the Crab. But the movie was quickly forgotten to anyone now a big fan of SF films. 

*Especially nowadays.  Has any author other than Philip K. Dick have a movie made of his books lately?

**The movie was was originally billed just as The Forbin Project (that’s the title in Vincent Canby’s New York Times review of it), but somehow – perhaps when it came out on video, “Colossus” was added on.

**“I Always Lie®.”


David Pinto said...

Seeing this as a young teenager, I disliked it. Part may be that I saw it on TV, where it was no doubt cut up. Part of it was the era of movies with negative endings, which I really don't like in large doses.

You're the second person who said positive things about the movie lately, so I may need to watch it again.

ZZMike said...

Good point about P. K. Dick. I hadn't thought of that.

One other exception (besides H. Ellsion (who, for some obscure reason, has made his name a Trademark) is Frank Herbert, whose "Dune" was unfortunately butchered on a planetary scale by Lynch and the De Laurentiis[es].

Asmov wrote a few good "computer" stories. One relevant to these days is "Franchise", in which the world's biggest computer (miles and miles of relays and circuits) selects one more-or-less completely average man (always a man), and by questioning him, learns his preferences and then casts the votes for all the offices in the country.

Does "Forbidden Planet" count as a nod to Shakespeare?

Mahatma Randy said...

I love this movie. I consider it a forgotten classic. The direction is extrordinarily good, and I like the unnamed Bobbie Kennedy impersonator playing the not-too-distant-future president (This movie having been made in the very brief period between when he announced he was gonna run and when he was killed). Direction is fantastic for a movie that, with a few exceptions, takes place in about five rooms. Showed it to my son recently, and he thought it was up there with Forbidden Planet. As a kid, the unhappy ending really shocked the crap out of me. As a younger man, it stuck with me because while the good guys lost, they lost by getting EXACTLY what they said they wanted. Colossus' speech at the end echoes the president's speech in the beginning very closely. Just a great film. I can't say enough good things bout it.

Tbone Mankini said...

It was billed as COLLOSSUS:THE FORBIN PROJECT by the time it made network TV only a couple of years later... seem to recall it being on NBC...