lizanim.gif (10346 bytes)

Home | Index

COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT (1969)
[aka The Day The World Changed Hands]

translittler.GIF (807 bytes)
"I think your mother was right. I think "Frankenstein" ought to be required reading for all scientists."
translittler.GIF (807 bytes)

Colossus

Director: James Sargent

Starring: Eric Braeden, Susan Clark, Gordon Pinsent, William Schallert, Alex Rodine, Leonid Rostoff

Screenplay: James Bridges, based upon the novel by D.F. Jones

translittler.GIF (807 bytes)

Synopsis: Colossus, a massive computer designed and built by Dr Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden), is given the task of controlling the defense systems of the United States. The President (Gordon Pinsent) informs the public of Colossus’ existence, explaining that it is programmed to react to any form of outside aggression. Colossus has only been activated for a short time when it announces that there is "another system", a message that Forbin and his team do not understand. A phone-call to the President from the USSR reveals that the Soviets, too, have developed a defense computer, known as Guardian. Colossus requests that a communication link be set up between it and Guardian. The President and CIA Director Grauber (William Schallert), both angry and dismayed by Guardian’s existence, are concerned that Colossus may pass classified information to the Soviets. However, Forbin argues that if sensitive information begins to be exchanged, the link can be cut off. The two computers link and begin a frenzy of data exchange, at the end of which Colossus announces that it and Guardian have developed a new language in which to communicate. Realising this means it will not be possible to monitor the computers’ exchanges, Forbin and his Soviet counterpart, Dr Kuprin (Alex Rodine) agree to sever the link. When informed that the link will not be re-established, Colossus launches a missile towards the USSR. A call from the Soviets reveals that Guardian has taken similar action. Forced to capitulate and re-set the connection, both the Americans and the Soviets must face the fact that humankind is at the mercy of their computers, both designed to be impregnable and to react to any form of attack.

Comments: It is entirely possible to be too clever for your own good, and this is demonstrated with a vengeance in Colossus: The Forbin Project. The grim tone and downbeat ending of James Sargent’s cautionary tale upset its production company, Universal, so much that the the completed film was shelved for over a year. Colossus was not released until after the success of 2001, by which time a great deal its thunder had been stolen by Stanley Kubrick’s depiction of a computer turning on those meant to be its masters. As a result, Colossus is nowhere near as well known as it deserves to be. As a technological nightmare, the film easily outdoes its more famous descendant, Demon Seed (1977), because its storyline is as coldly and brutally logical as Colossus itself, and because it has the courage to follow its premise through to the end without once pulling its punches. Whereas Demon Seed’s rebel computer speaks impeccable English, carries on philosophical debates, and ultimately rapes a woman in order to produce a half-human, half-cybernetic offspring, Colossus adopts an electronic speaking voice purely in order to facilitate issuing its orders, and shows no interest in becoming humanoid, let alone human. Why should it? It’s infinitely superior to anything human, and knows it. The computer’s attitude towards mankind is beautifully encapsulated in the film’s final scene. When Charles Forbin reacts to the outlining of man’s future as willing servants of the computer with a defiant, "Never!" Colossus doesn’t even bother to respond, but simply goes on about its business of taking over the entire world. Earlier, the computer had demonstrated its contempt for its human subjects by allowing them to think that their attempts at sabotage had succeeded, then crushing the puny rebellions at the last moment. Through all this darkness shine two tiny rays of sunshine, and although they do little to dispel the gloom, they are all the film has to offer by way of hope for the future. The first, on a individual level, lies in the relationship of Charles Forbin and Cleo Markham who, while pretending to be lovers for Colossus’ benefit, begin to fall in love for real. The other, perhaps mankind’s only salvation, is the recognition that if the computers are ever to be defeated, former enemies will have to co-operate and – since Colossus and Guardian control all forms of electronic communication – actually have to talk to one another. Like the very best science fiction, Colossus is a film of ideas, not of flashy set pieces and special effects. Consequently, it is not an actor’s film either, but the performances given, though low-key, are uniformly excellent. As Charles Forbin, an impossibly young Eric Braeden successfully communicates the horror and despair of the scientist who realises that he has quite literally created a monster, and whose greatest fear is that the computer’s ruthlessness is somehow a reflection of himself, its designer. Braeden is well supported by the rest of the cast, particularly Susan Clark as Forbin’s colleague and supposed mistress. Clark has one marvellous scene when, having gone through the ordeal of convincing Colossus that she and Forbin are lovers, she then breaks down into uncontrollable giggles. William Schallert and Gordon Pinsent are also good in roles that are surprisingly cynical for a pre-Watergate film. When Pinsent’s President, who has Kennedy hair and Nixon instincts, thinks they have successfully sabotaged Colossus, his response is not, "We’ve saved the world!" but "The people need never know!" The film’s darkness is very much a product of the time it was made. By 1968, the Summer of Love was well and truly over. In the era of Vietnam, race riots and the Cold War, Stanley Kubrick may have been looking towards the stars for help, but other filmmakers were more pessimistic. Colossus takes its place beside Night Of The Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby, Targets, Pretty Poison and The Planet Of The Apes in a body of work that reflected the very dark state of the nation.