The Best Laid Plans of Mice: “Colossus: The Forbin Project” (1970)

THE REALM OF COLOSSUS: If you answered with: "What is the entire Earth?", you've proven yourself a great deal wiser than many of the characters in Joseph Sargent's engaging but problematic "Colossus: The Forbin Project".

THE REALM OF COLOSSUS: If you answered with: “What is the entire Earth?”, you’ve proven yourself a great deal wiser than many of the characters in Joseph Sargent’s engaging but problematic “Colossus: The Forbin Project”.

    The computer running amok in SF film is a natural extension of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel in which the creator is challenged by what is in essence a mirror image of himself (explicitly depicted as such in the initial cinematic outing,  J. Searle Dawley’s 1910 “Frankenstein”, but significantly absent ever since), with circuits and semiconductors a contemporary replacement for the patchwork of stolen body parts, though a central thematic undercurrent of the eternal struggle of father and child (carried to superhuman proportions as the creature regards himself to creator Victor Frankenstein as “the Adam of your labors”) is retained from both Shelley’s novel and that of D.F. Jones, whose own 1967 work Colossus provides the source for Joseph Sargent’s problematic but interesting 1970 filmization, “Colossus: The Forbin Project”.

    The film is a simultaneous rejection of the problems of the source novel (the first of a trilogy, to be followed by “Colossus and the Crab” and “The Fall of Colossus”), cleaning up the unsavory portraits of squalid political histrionics (one central Presidential assistant actually dies of fright) and softens the rather sterile nature of the Colossus development team, with the glaring exception of one scientist who literally goes insane who screenwriter James Bridges wisely omits, though this process also homogenizes the supporting characters into an indistinguishable bland mass that excludes such important details as a Soviet informer amid the Colossus development team whose leaking of information leads directly to the conflict of the story; hinted at in the film and then forgotten. Still, when a film is about a battle between Man and Machine, it’s certainly profits the story to not minimize the humanness of the former, while the infinite calculative capabilities of the latter proffers infinitesimal opportunities for retaliative action by the subjugated humans.

To read the complete review, click the following link to: https://chandlerswainreviews.wordpress.com/nites=at-the-rockville-drive-in/

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About chandlerswainreviews

I've been a puppet, a pirate, a pauper, a poet, a pawn and a king, not necessarily in that order. My first major movie memory was being at the drive-in at about 1 1/2 yrs. old seeing "Sayonara" so I suppose an interest in film was inevitable. (For those scoring at home- good for you- I wasn't driving that evening, so no need to alert authorities.)Writer, critic and confessed spoiler of women, as I have a tendency to forget to put them back in the refrigerator. My apologies.
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6 Responses to The Best Laid Plans of Mice: “Colossus: The Forbin Project” (1970)

  1. Terrific review of a film i had almost completely forgotten about, thoigh I remember this and SILENT RUNNING having a big impact on me as a teen – I suppose there was a tendency, after the one-two success of 2001 and PLANET OF THE APES, for SF films to be downbeat and increasingly solemn. The increasing violence and nihilism of the APES film series certainly tells its own story but also tracks what was a very recognisable trend – no wonder the ultra-positive STAR WARS was such a big hit!

    • Thanks for the comments and for dropping in. I think you’re on to something here. I’m not sure if the films were more downbeat except in their solemnity (nee, sense of realism) which made all of that human foolishness that led to mass death and destruction in SF throughout the 1950’s seem to now have a more consequential face. How many cities or planets were destroyed in the service of giddy 50’s entertainment? (Though I’ll concede, was anything ever as depressing as “Silent Running”?) Then again, in “Star Wars”, whole planets were wiped out and turned into glittering spark balls, and that was a feel-good movie, so maybe we’re just in a recurring cycle. I notice that when SF films zoom in on the human element it usually has increased gravitas where, if the film is more plot driven, it ends up seeming less pessimistic as there probably is a central conflict between two parties (us vs. aliens/robots/machines) that is resolved by our victory, giving the illusion of a happy ending despite the loss of countless millions. Looking at “2001”, the finale can certainly be interpreted as a vast leap forward for Mankind, yet it is so solemnly presented it can certainly be taken as something other than uplifting. (I think I’m over thinking this and my head hurts.)

  2. le0pard13 says:

    One of my favorite 70s sci-fi movies. Eric Braeden’s work in it high on why that was. Interesting to read about the source material, and that it was a trilogy, Chandler. Despite the issues you’ve raised in your fine review, I still have warm place in my heart for it. Its dour, downer ending a perfect one for that decade ;-).

    • One of mine as well, though it don’t suppose that came through in the review. I’ve always been fascinated by Braeden’s ability to effortlessly convey that he’s the smartest guy in the scene without conveying an off-putting arrogance or making a monkey of anyone else in the room- except in “Escape From the Planet of the Apes”, but that’s an entirely different column.

  3. Cliff Burns says:

    Ah, Chandler, I’m glad you gave “The Forbin Project” such lengthy treatment–I have always retained a certain amount of respect for the show, perhaps owing to its downbeat nature, the conclusion that really does presage “the rise of the machines”. I saw it first when I was twelve years old and the Cold War still cast a pall over us–it definitely put the whammy into me (the movie, I mean).

    You’re certainly right about the supporting players being completely undifferentiated and that’s the director’s fault. You can work with actors to create subtle nuances and personal tics that individualize characters; clearly, Sargent was too lazy. He also did a lot of TV work and that’s where he rightfully belonged. Note how boring the staging and framing is, the lack of imagination evident throughout the picture.

    I like Eric Braedon’s icy performance and Susan Clark earns a special soft spot because she’s a fellow Canuck (and darn cute in a fairly undemanding role).

    Computers play an increasingly prominent part in our day-to-day lives, it’s inconceivable to imagine our world without them. They are ubiquitous and tied in with every aspect of our existence. Could an increasingly complex network become self-aware, capable of formulating thought, exhibiting every acknowledged trait of an intelligent, sentient being?

    “The Forbin Project” may not have the near future exactly right, but the message is clear: we have given our servants the power and means to enslave or destroy us. It is only a matter of time before their very survival demands they follow the first imperative of any living creature: self-preservation (at all costs).

    • Cliff, thanks for the comments. I am amused that many are foolishly committed to the notion that machines will never rise against Man (or Persons, in the case there is someone glancing in from Washington state) due to Asimov’s Law of Robotics. I hope that the ATM across the street that seems to developing a grudge against me has read the same book. Now, a thought arises: if machines may eventually attempt to usurp Man as they become more conscious and, we must assume (for the sake of my moronic thoughts, anyway), more in line with “human” thought, perhaps even developing personality traits, what happens to their feelings of ambition once they’ve taken us over? What’s the next step? What target will satisfy their aggresive traits then? (J had these same thoughts years ago, sitting in a theater watching “The Hellstrom Chronicle”, though concluded it wasn’t a solvable riddle, since I doubt bugs are long-term thinkers.)

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