Saturday, 11 February 2012

Colossus: The Forbin Project

Year:  1969
Director:  Joseph Sargent
Screenplay:  James Bridges, based on the novel Colossus by Dennis Feltham Jones
Starring:  Eric Braeden, Susan Clark, Gordon Pinsent, William Schallert
Running Time:  100 minutes
Genre:  Drama, thriller, science-fiction

This film is an adaptation of a 1966 techno-thriller novel called Colossus by Dennis Felthan Jones.  The story revolves around Doctor Charles Forbin (Braeden) who creates a giant super-computer, named "Colossus", in a fortified bunker beneath the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  The purpose of Colossus is to take complete control of the entire United States defence network, ostensibly to eliminate the possibility of human error, but seemingly it's because it's just too much darn hassle for the President (Pinsent).  You don't need me to tell you that it all goes horribly wrong.  As soon as it's switched on, Colossus detects a similar computer in the Soviet Union, and they start communicating.  Before long, Colossus develops so much that it achieves independent thought, and decides that the best thing for humanity would be to accept it as the complete and unquestioned master of the world.  Or else.

This is a strong, slow-burning thriller which has a memorably bleak and ambiguous ending.  It's notable for films of it's time in showing the United States and the Soviet Union co-operating as equals (remember this was the period of the Cold War).  Obviously the film hasn't aged well in some aspects, but that is inevitable.  In many respects this is representative of the paranoid conspiracy thriller style that was so popular at the time, as the humans race around trying desperately to outwit the omniscient computer.  There are also some moments of humour.  The whole thing is played admirably straight and the film benefits enormously from a measured low-key style. 

Thje special effects are effective, and the production design is good (the futuristic exterior of the Colossus control centre was in reality the Lawrence Hall of Science Museum at the University of California, Berkeley).  As with a lot of computer centred movies of the period there is a lot of whirring reel-to-reel tape players, flashing lights, clattering ticker-tape and glowing circuit boards, which all looks a lot more dramatic than a modern laptop. 

This is a fun movie that provides plenty of thrills and some genuine chills.  Well worth checking out and a definite cut above the usual computer on the rampage movie.

"I bring you peace.  It may be the Peace of Plenty and Content or the Peace of Unburied Death."
- The fine art of diplomacy according to Colossus    

Eric Braeden and Susan Clark in Colossus:  The Forbin Project

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