Film: Colossus – The Forbin Project

Here’s an obscure little science fiction nightmare for you: Colossus – The Forbin Project (1970), a campy but mostly talky AI-takes-over-the-world story oozing with nuclear dread and Cold War paranoia. The insanely suave Eric Braeden stars as Dr. Charles Forbin, a technological genius who revolutionizes homeland security by developing a massive defense supercomputer called Colossus. Shortly after launch, however, the computer sends a cryptic message: THERE IS ANOTHER SYSTEM. Turns out the Soviets have their own supercomputer, Guardian. The two computers spontaneously initiate communications, and shortly thereafter start dictating terms to their supposed human masters.

If you were to throw all the components of a “spontaneous artificial intelligence goes rogue” film into a generic screenplay generator (circa 1970) you’d probably get Colossus – The Forbin Project. Dated now, it’s an earnest  thought experiment that I suspect lodged in people’s minds at the time of release, a precursor to stuff like Demon Seed and War Games. Sadly, the bemused incompetence of Colossus’ minders undermines the film’s credibility throughout, and it goes exactly where you expect it to go, right up to its inevitable, sort-of chilling non-resolution. I suspect most people will find it moderately interesting at best, colossally dull at worst. But I kind of appreciated its chilly Cold War ambience, its understated style, and Braeden’s sly, subdued performance as a scientist simultaneously fascinated and appalled by his runaway creation. So yeah, it’s not that good, or at least it hasn’t stood the test of time all that well, but I kinda liked it anyway.

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