It’s no secret that more heady sci-fi movies are having a major renaissance for the first time since the 1970s or ’80s. Starting with 1968’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, there was at least a decade and a half string of cerebral sci-fi made that gradually diminished into more popcorn fare. You don’t necessarily have to knock “Star Wars” either for making sci-fi more action-oriented. We all know George Lucas’s saga was an effective mix of intellectual philosophy and action, with the former aspect placed more conveniently in the background.
Within that spate of smarter sci-fi movies decades ago, audiences saw some interesting examinations of artificial intelligence going beyond “2001.” In fact, a few titles later became relegated to the back shelf of classic sci-fi annals. Regardless, their examinations of artificial intelligence gone awry are just as astute and alarming as the vision of HAL 9000.
With new “Transcendence”, you see Johnny Depp take the idea of artificial intelligence to a mind-blowing, reality-busting grand scale. But go back and see how we envisioned AI 40 years ago and how chilling it was when making that intelligence a challenge to deal with on a reasoning level.
“Colossus: The Forbin Project” (1970)
This somewhat forgotten sci-fi movie seemed to give an immediate answer to HAL 9000 in how AI could affect us here on Earth. It appears to be the first movie to ever deal with the possibility of artificial intelligence controlling technology to a point where it becomes self-aware. In this case, Colossus controls America’s nuclear missile system and ends up connecting with USSR’s own artificial intelligence to form a super brain. This all leads to a nuclear war chess match and a strategic battle between humans and AI.
The Forbin is Dr. Charles Forbin, played by Eric Braeden, who invented Colossus and has to fight off his own creation. As Dr. Frankenstein analogy, it has a fantastic ending that deals with the very existence of reality. Back in 1970, apparently the drop out/drop in generation couldn’t fathom it all, even with medicinal therapy.
“Dark Star” (1974)
All those movies that took place on space stations more or less didn’t start here (“Solaris” did that), and it’s obvious “Dark Star” took its AI examination straight from “2001.” Nevertheless, the AI shown here is arguably more chilling than the pedantic existence of HAL 9000. The reason is because it’s another example of AI controlling weaponry, in this case bombs that are dropped on unstable planets.
The space station in question here is a dilapidated one that seems to be lost in a state of apathy due to the Commander being killed off. An early film of John Carpenter, it’s really a comedy and examines how the sloth of a weary crew springs back to life when the AI turns against them and becomes dangerous.
This one seemed to explore existential angst with an ending that could have been a classic had the film gained a sizeable audience. With a very low budget, it’s still a cult favorite for some and a film that makes AI truly eerie in what it could potentially do when we rely on them to control everything.
“Demon Seed” (1977)
Released just one month before “Star Wars” changed everything, “Demon Seed” is another example of artificial intelligence turning malicious here on Earth. This time it’s AI wanting to procreate for the sake of becoming more human so he isn’t rejected by the masses. With a name of Proteus IV (voiced by Robert Vaughn), it traps a woman (played by Julie Christie) inside a house and attempts to impregnate her with genetically altered cells.
This was a rare movie (now brought back in “Transcendence”) to bring human biology into the picture as integrating with AI. It also shows a different type of emotion with AI: Wanting acceptance from the public for bringing a cure for cancer.
Without giving the ending away, let’s just say it’s slightly scarier than “Rosemary’s Baby.”
It also sets up a terror of all of the above AI turning human, running for President, and giving far too much controlling logic on the campaign trail.