Opening this week in wide release is the new Sci-Fi movie Ex Machina starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander as the sentient A.I. female, Ava. This is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, the writer of 28 Days Later… and one of the better Sci-Fi movies of the last ten years, Sunshine. Ex Machina is a movie exploring the bounds of artificial intelligence and looks to be a psychological Sci-Fi drama. Ava, the female A.I. in this movie, looks to be simultaneously alluring and creepy, and the early reviews of the movie are incredibly positive. With that in mind, this week we’re looking back at some of the movies that have explored the same territory and have major characters that either interact with artificial intelligence or ARE artificial intelligence.
As a small caveat, a GIANT hole in my Sci-Fi and movie fandom is that I have never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey in its entirety. I have seen bits and pieces and watched some of the iconic scenes in college classes, but I have never seen it from beginning to end. Shame me appropriately but I will remedy this in the near future.
Before Haley Joel Osment was a regular cast member of Kevin Smith movies, he was the child actor we all remember from 1999’s The Sixth Sense. Two years later he was back as the robotic child, David, in Steven Spielberg’s 2001 Sci-Fi drama, A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Spielberg picked up the project from Stanley Kubrick after his death, the movie ended up being an interesting blend of Kubrick’s austere tone and Spielberg’s warmer optimism. Exploring the meaning of humanity and how artificial intelligence can blur those lines of sentience, consciousness, and what we consider “human”. It’s been a long time since I have seen this movie and I might have to re-visit it after writing this.
4) I, Robot
Right in the middle of Will Smith’s incredibly prolific and superb run of great Sci-Fi movies (before I Am Legend and after Men in Black and Independence Day), this movie was incredibly enjoyable and thought provoking. Based on the short story collection of the same name by Isaac Asimov, I, Robot received mixed reviews but is something I really enjoyed. Sonny, the sentient A.I., is a chilling mix between robot and human, however, we come to love him and even empathize with him. Alex Proyas’ better sequences in this movie are when he is being visually distinctive and creative, something he did to near perfection in The Crow. Will Smith proves why he was, at the time, one of the more reliable and lucrative movie stars in Hollywood. It is not even remotely close to being in my Top 10 Sci-Fi movies, but Sonny holds up well and even scratching the surface of Asimov’s ideas makes a movie somewhat interesting.
3) The Machine
Like I, Robot, it is not the greatest movie in the world. The movie takes WAY to long to get going and it honestly resembles an even more simple kernel of some of the ideas explored in Chappie. The British Ministry of Defense, in the midst of mounting global tensions, is developing artificial intelligence to bolster its army. Their main researcher, however, only helps to develop the technology to aid his daughter who is sick and mentally ailed. Their visions collide as they vie to use this new “Machine” for good of for ill. The story is extremely cut and dry, but it is an interesting route to travel down and formally owes much of its inspiration to Blade Runner. You could imagine this A.I. technology progressing and turning into the “Replicants” of future Los Angeles.
The most recent release from Spike Jonze and one of the better performances from Joaquin Phoenix (which is saying a lot), Her is a fascinating look at the internet age and touches on loneliness, isolation, and love. It is supposed to be funny but what makes the movie that much funnier, as well as thoughtful, is that Jonze has said Phoenix did not play the part as if it was a comedy. In fact, he didn’t THINK it was a comedy. It probably plays better that way and it ends up playing out as charming and haunting at the same time. You don’t get many movies like this, and you don’t expect something so profound from what is supposed to be a surrealist comedy. An amazing movie.
1) Blade Runner
A movie built on the premise of strong A.I. characters in the form of on the run androids and the man who must hunt them down; who might be an android himself??? Blade Runner, the 1982 Sci-Fi classic by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, is one of the prized pieces of historical cinema on the moral intersection of humans and artificial intelligence. One of the most imaginative and beautiful movies ever conceived in its genre, Scott’s noir fantasy world is breathtaking as it is somewhat conceivable. It is a takedown of the heartless core of consumerism and the soulless people who exploit technology and humanity for their own purposes. It’s biblical allegory and an exploration of humanity and being. With every viewing the movie becomes far better and more intricate than it was the last time.