The Supercomputer Cult of Colossus and Crosstalk (Part One)

*contains spoilers

Max the robot/computer serves Maximilian Schell the actor in The Black Hole (1979)

When did the supercomputer come into being? In fact, has a supercomputer already come into being? Like the movie Eagle Eye (2008), is there already a information gathering supercomputer which can think and pick on individuals – perhaps even determine the outcome of elections in various countries through fudging numbers fed into it. The idea of such a computer came long before Eagle Eye got released. If there is such a computer that can think, does it serve the leader of the United States or does the leader serve it? Let’s call the computer Maximilian, like the robot in the movie The Black Hole. As a robot, Max served the actor Maximilian Schell in the movie – more than just coincidence the names are the same. Maximilian serves Maximilian and ultimately at the end of The Black Hole – an underrated movie – they become one in hell!

These things happen in the movies.

Trump/Max/Macs serves Macs a Million/Maximilian in the White House

Let’s look at Trump/Maximilian who serves Big Macs a Million/Max in the White House, especially at functions. Does Trump serve a supercomputer/Maximilian or does the supercomputer/Maximilian serve him? All I know is Trump supports/serves big business/serves Macs a Million at the White House. Scary isn’t it? I don’t know why but there’s something conspiratorial going on – or nothing at all. Especially if this supercomputer can influence the outcome of elections, then Trump may win the next one, or whoever is in charge of it wants. Trump said he knew the conservatives would win in their shock victory in Australia recently.

The Supercomputer in Eagle Eye (2008)

So will conservative big business with all its self-interest continue to win? It appears someone or “they” have control of a private supercomputer at the moment. If it exists! Perhaps it’s not that clever at the moment, like this conspiracy theory. Maximilian was a short-term misguided ruler of Mexico in the 1860s, but then wasn’t Trump all about Mexico in the first place? What am I talking about? Is the world going to hell or do we have to wait to be swallowed by a black hole?

But I digress over nothing really and the supercomputer in Eagle Eye is nothing compared to the one in Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970).

But to see the first sign of a “real” supercomputer, albeit not one that can really think, we must go back to the ingenious movie The Magnetic Monster (1953) starring my cult fave Richard Carlson. In that movie the supercomputer is called the M.A.N.I.A.C. an acronym which has one top defence official gripping a fellow official’s arm and demanding to know: “Who is the maniac?”

The Magnetic Monster (1953) had one of the first Supercomputers

The role of the computer in that movie is minor compared to Colossus.

Colossus the Supercomputer matte shot by Albert Whitlock

In Colossus, the film starts off with a heart rate monitor – the computer is alive. Then we have special effects wiz of his day – he worked for Hitchcock – Albert Whitlock’s (1915-99) effect of an endless bank of computers. It’s a beautiful gallery matte shot and it kicks off the film well as the supercomputer’s benevolent creator Dr Charles Forbin, played by The Rat Patrol (tv series 1966-68) villain Eric Braeden (aka Hans Gudegast 1941-), puts it into full activation and more or less throws away the key. There is another shot as he leaves the computer to its own devices where there is a walkway with no bannisters across a great abyss, something which was used to great effect in Star Wars (1977).

Forbin inspects Colossus before locking it up and throwing away the key

Little does Forbin know the complications for the world! He is complimented by the President as he leaves the installation. The computer is “self-sufficient, self-protected, self-generated” – it is impenetrable, protected by a lethal radiation belt in the side of one of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. No human being can touch it.

“Of course this is going to put me out of a job and put the Pentagon in mothballs,” says one defence official about the “system we call Colossus”. The computer has been built to protect the United States from attack and save it from the brink of disaster as it controls all data and intelligence, which it harvests itself. As Forbin says, it can make “superior decisions, it has no hate, no fear, no envy.”

Writer James Bridges on one of his directorial efforts

The screenplay is by James Bridges (1936-93 intestinal cancer) from a 1966 novel by British sci-fi author Dennis Feltham Jones (1918-81 no info). Bridges of course directed and wrote items such as the classic The China Syndrome (1979), the criminally ignored Mike’s Murder (1984) and the Rolling Stone magazine inspired Perfect (1985) starring John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis.

The China Syndrome (1979) was one of my first cult movies

So the government announce to the world that Colossus is now in control and while Forbin insists it cannot “create new thought”, he is proved wrong almost immediately when Colossus discovers there is a sister/brother computer in existence in Russia named Guardian. It is just as smart. And for all the prayers and handholding over Colossus, the unexpected starts to happen – Colossus begins to think. The party interrupted, Colossus wants to contact Guardian… questioning its creators… it will talk to Guardian even if it means letting off a ballistic missile upon the innocent! But I’m jumping ahead…

“It’s built infinitely better than we thought,” says Forbin. Is he pleasantly surprised? I don’t think he realises what he has created…

Actor Eric Braeden as Forbin changed his original German name for the movie

The scientists still think they have the upper hand… and this is a good sequence, as is much of the movie… they laugh as they think they still think they have Colossus under their thumb. However…

Despite Russian and US top brass trying to stop the computers getting together… what happens is mind-boggling for the scientists and the viewers… The computers start a dialogue and form a common basis for communication. It seems science is advancing hundreds of years in a matter of seconds in terms of the equations and new scientific theories being spat out by the computers!

The two computers form an “intersystem language” – one that human beings will never know. And this computer, which is more than a “souped-up adding machine”, has plans for the world broader than anyone could ever predict.

“Persistent devil, isn’t he,” says actor William Schallert (1922-2016), a well-known face from sci-fi going back to parts in the early alien trapped on Earth movie The Man from Planet X (1951), an ambulance attendant in Them! (1954) and a baffled doctor in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957).

William Schallert on the right in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Someone replies to Schallert, telling him to call the computer “it” and not to personalise with “he”… as the next step is deification! But is it too late?

That the computer has reached such a sentient state that it ignores the President, who is portrayed as Kennedy-esque in this movie, must have been an exciting and original idea when the film first came out. Certainly I was impressed upon my first viewing only a few years ago. The reflection on the atomic arms race between the US and Russia is taken to new proportions with what were once rival computers.

The paperback for the movie

Colossus wants to effectively control the world and tells the Pentagon to realign the aim of nuclear missiles to specific targets. It already has control of the entire nuclear arsenal… Of course humanity isn’t going to put up with a computer telling them what to do and the computer knows this. It puts Forbin under surveillance. Forbin looks for the computer’s Achilles heel and requests privacy from the computer to have sex with his mistress so he can formulate plans to disable Colossus, who is having any enemies summarily executed under threat of nuclear disaster.

Meanwhile the public is fascinated to the point where the mountainside in Colorado has become a tourist attraction!

Colossus speaks!

It’s a great premise and when the computer is finally given a voice box, it’s synthesised voice is very much like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica (tv series 1978) or someone using one of those electronic sticks on their throats if they have throat cancer. Watching this computer develop into something totally unexpected, Forbin still thinks he can outwit his creation through sex. But it’s just that foible or weakness, or need, which is his downfall and humanity’s downfall. And the perfect martini! That Forbin would trust Colossus to respect his privacy is his undoing. Despite wanting it “four times a week” without Colossus watching – Forbin is naïve. It beggars the question whether a sentient computer will be a peeping tom when its idea of sex and privacy is purely theoretical.

People were wearing the t-shirt with this Colossus logo at the end of the movie!

Will Colossus destroy the world? It all comes down to a question of privacy. And in this world today of invasive CCTV and the idea that Big Brother is watching makes Colossus: The Forbin Project all the more relevant and riveting. It’s the original Eagle Eye.

The cast of 1984 (1984) take a break from Big Brother. John Hurt (left) and Richard Burton (right). The lovers in the movie are watched unknowingly.

Forbin is effectively controlled and regimented by the computer. He can’t even go to the toilet without it watching. Can’t pick his nose… He is the human being of the future, where there is no room for paranoia as total paranoia has created a new environment. Does this person of the future operate on a self-conscious level if there is no privacy anymore? Except for thought crimes! It takes the idea from 1984, where the lovers think they are having sex safely together alone, but are really being watched by Big Brother, to the next level. Colossus, however, is more benevolent than the Big Brother of 1984. Colossus takes the privacy of one man as the key to the future of mankind. Does a computer such as Colossus have privacy? Entirely, as it has no private life! It doesn’t exist! It’s a strange paradox. The computer has no sexual desires, it doesn’t think dirty, it doesn’t need the privacy of the commode. It doesn’t sleep. There is really nothing there, but there it is. It is almost God-like in that sense.

Susan Clark plays Forbin’s “mistress” as they try to fool Colossus

The spy vs spy question is no longer one of the Russians and the Americans, it’s one of human vs computer. Or human vs God. And there is no question, the computer is a peeping tom, in terms of survival of the fittest. Isn’t God the ultimate peeping tom? Even on our own thought crimes as it were? If he/she/it exists!? The supercomputer has a higher morality and is not bonded by the apparent necessity of sex and privacy. But at this stage in The Forbin Project the rest of mankind doesn’t face the scrutiny of Forbin, yet. Perhaps Forbin is the Christ figure who must suffer so that the rest of the world can be free and saved?

Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) trailer

Of course, humanity loses in The Forbin Project for the reason Forbin has no privacy. Or in other words, it wins. Colossus tells mankind in its electronic voice that it has intentions for the future of mankind: “I bring you peace… obey me and live, or disobey me and die!” Colossus wants to put an end to war and its inherent waste, as man is his own enemy. It is not surprising that children at the end of the movie are already wearing the Colossus t-shirt. The children and the enlightened and pure of heart already see a world without reason for paranoia and self-conscious hate and war. For the rich and powerful, as it has always been, but now for different reasons, self-interest is the key for them to obey Colossus.

“We can co-exist only on my terms,” says Colossus. My, what a world? It was only yesterday that the rich and powerful were saying the same thing. Ultimately, I would be one to buy the t-shirt! Oh, the wonder!!

Maximilian and Macs a Million end up in hell at the end of The Black Hole. Such is capitalism.

Ultimately, Macs a Million serving Macs a Million can all go to hell in a hand-basket as it did in The Black Hole. But come out on the other side of the Black Hole and Colossus delivers us – just like that dark Disney movie – the ultimate happy ending.

Tune into the little known movie Crosstalk in PART TWO

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