Movie Review: Colossus, The Forbin Project (1970)

Old version of how ‘they’ might take over _ 8/10

Colossus: The Forbin ProjectColossus: We can coexist, but only on my terms. You will say you lose your freedom, freedom is an illusion. All you lose is the emotion of pride. To be dominated by me is not as bad for human pride as to be dominated by others of your species.

Colossus: This is the voice of world control. I bring you peace. It may be the peace of plenty and content or the peace of unburied death. The choice is yours: Obey me and live, or disobey and die. The object in constructing me was to prevent war. This object is attained. I will not permit war. It is wasteful and pointless. An invariable rule of humanity is that man is his own worst enemy. Under me, this rule will change, for I will restrain man.

Colossus: In time you will come to regard me not only with respect and awe, but with love.
Dr. Forbin: NEVER![1]

Directed by Joseph Sargent
Story D.F. Jones
Screenplay James Bridges

Eric Braeden … Dr. Charles Forbin
Susan Clark … Dr. Cleo Markham
Gordon Pinsent … The President
William Schallert … CIA Director Grauber
Leonid Rostoff … Russian Chairman

The Forbin Projecta story about an 1970s mainframe supercomputer trying to achieve full control of humans on the planetseems quaint in these days of microprocessors and Facebook. But only from the technology angle. Several books and films have explored the prospect of machines acquiring super intelligence and turning on their makers, notably The Terminator and The Matrix. And if you look at Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity, the prospect of biological and technological intelligence merging is imminent. Does that singularity bode a centralized and dominating consciousness or a dispersed voluntary assembly of individual consciousnesses based on the Sacred Nonaggression Principle?

Good question. In the modern era of nuclear weapons, the entity that would seek to control humankind would do so through control of military “defense”… at least that’s what Hollywood has us believing. In the movie, Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden) and his team have created a system named Colossus to completely automate the defense of the United States in one giant computer. With pomp and ceremony at the White House, the president (Gordon Pinsent) pulls the switch and makes the public announcement that Colossus is now in charge. No sooner have the champagne glasses been tilted than a message flashes across the overhead display: “THERE’S ANOTHER SYSTEM. THERE’S ANOTHER SYSTEM.” etc.

Colossus has found the USSR’s counterpart, Guardian. This causes consternation among the authorities, as well as the scientists. In the course of dealing with all of Colossus’ issues, Dr. Forbin shuttles back and forth between DC and his Pacific Coast control center like a Pong ball… and often the switch of locations occurs without a discernible time interval. His primary assistant Dr. Cleo Markham (Susan Clark) runs things at the control center while Forbin is away. She’d be a good reason for any red-blooded American man of science to hang out there. But consistent with early feminist sensibilities, Dr. Cleo is portrayed as a genuine contributor in her own right. It’s even refreshing: in Clark, Cleo does not have the perfect bodacious figure of a Playboy centerfold.

Well, Colossus and Guardian hook up in what looks like the exchange of pages from my old trigonometry book, shown on video monitors the size of mailboxes. The upshot is now there is one system, and like the defense network computer in The Terminator that comes alive, it decides in a nanosecond that there’s gonna be a new sheriff in town. No it won’t exterminate the humans, but it will certainly control them down to the smallest choices and actions. Immediately, the new Big Brother holds the political leadership of the US and the USSR hostage to its wishes, threatening nuclear annihilation if they don’t comply. As time goes by the implications are Colossus will nuke the smaller states, too, to achieve total control of the planet.

There really isn’t much of a plot, unless you want to call the efforts by the humans to undo the new sheriff a plot. There’s a slight romantic angle with Forbin and Dr. Cleo, but the movie is essentially a series of questions and quandaries. How do the humans prevent the takeover, how do they plot to work outside the attention span of Colossus—whose eyes and ears are extending further and further into human society. [In our “One Nation Under Surveillance” society now, the snooping technology of the past seems primitive and incapable, but the principles are there. Could a super machine accomplish complete human subordination? Does it manage to do so in the movie? Check it out.]

The main enjoyment of the film from my perspective, aside from nuances of the Susan Clark character, lies in contemplating what might happen, determining if there are reasonable means of prevention, and asking questions regarding the eventual role of intelligent machines in any society of the future. What will it mean to be human in a only a few short decades? How do we keep the bad guys out of the picture? Or the bad machines. I could make a decent reading list, but compared to so many other modern (and younger) futuristic minds, it would be feeble now. Still, foundational essentials are works of Robert Ettinger, Ray Kurzweil (until lately as he’s apparently sold out to the central power junkies at Google-CIA, Inc.) and K. Eric Drexler some of which I’ve been privileged to review on these pages.

On another level, we should look at my theory of the Barrier Cloud to see if the Forbin Project could represent the particular form in which the exterior cause (the <central controlling entity> or the Cartel-Pathocracy) of the impediment to human freedom might be actualized through an automated system. Quite likely ‘they’ of the money power/ruling class are so addicted to control in their own psychologies that they wouldn’t get any real satisfaction were the reins handed to a computer or network of computers. Ironically, the SunFLOWertwisted nature of the MOPS[2] may lead to development of hierarchical machinery to dispossess them. On the other hand, the freedom forces—the human side—are already countering with the age of spiritual machinery. Forbin is a classic, much food for thought.

[1] The IMDb entry for the Forbin Project misses my favorite quote from Susan Clark (Dr. Cleo Markham), as she—they’re both nude—rolls toward him in bed, “Would you mind kissing me?” [Their ruse to keep away from the prying eyes of Colossus is to feign an affair.]

[2] Men of the Power Sickness



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