DNDF: Killer Robots

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

DNDF: Killer Robots

R.U.R. is a 1920 science fiction play in the Czech language by Karel Čapek.  R.U.R. stands for Rossum's Universal Robots, an English phrase used as the subtitle in the Czech original.  It premiered in 1921 and introduced the word "robot" to the English language and to science fiction as a whole.
R.U.R. quickly became famous and was influential early in the history of its publication.  By 1923, it had been translated into thirty languages.

The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people, made of synthetic organic matter, called "robots."  Unlike the modern usage of the term, these creatures are closer to the modern idea of cyborgs or even clones, as they can be mistaken for humans and can think for themselves.  They seem happy to work for humans, although that changes, and a hostile robot rebellion leads to the extinction of the human race.  Čapek later took a different approach to the same theme in War with the Newts, in which non-humans become a servant class in human society.

R.U.R is dark but not without hope, and was successful in its day in both Europe and the United States.  John Clute has lauded R.U.R. as "a play of exorbitant wit and almost demonic energy" and lists the play as one of the "classic titles" of inter-war science fiction.

The word robot can refer to both physical robots and virtual software agents, but the latter are usually referred to as bots.  There is no consensus on which machines qualify as robots but there is general agreement among experts, and the public, that robots tend to do some or all of the following: move around, operate a mechanical limb, sense and manipulate their environment, and exhibit intelligent behavior — especially behavior which mimics humans or other animals.
There is no one definition of robot that satisfies everyone and many people have their own.  For example Joseph Engelberger, a pioneer in industrial robotics, once remarked: "I can't define a robot, but I know one when I see one." 

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica a robot is "any automatically operated machine that replaces human effort, though it may not resemble human beings in appearance or perform functions in a humanlike manner."  Merriam-Webster describes a robot as a "machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human being", or a "device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks", or a "mechanism guided by automatic controls".  In practical terms, "robot" usually refers to a machine which can be electronically programmed to carry out a variety of physical tasks or actions.

Death Machine (1994)

  • Genre: Action – Horror – Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Stephen Norrington
  • Produced:
    • Dominic Anciano 
    • Jim Beach 
    • Ray Burdis 
    • Nigel Green 
    • Matthew Justice 
    • Heidi Lester 
    • Teruhiko Noguchi 
    • Stephen Norrington 
    • Stuart St. Paul
  • Written: Stephen Norrington
  • Starring: Brad Dourif, Ely Pouget, William Hootkins, John Sharian, Martin McDougall
  • Music: Crispin Merrell
  • Cinematography: John de Borman
  • Editing: Paul Endacott
  • Studio: Fugitive Features
  • Distributed:
    • Lions Gate Films Home Entertainment  
    • Trimark Pictures  
    • Vidmark Entertainment
  • Rated:
  • Release Date:
    • 26 May 1995 (UK) 
    • 14 November 1995 (US)
  • Running Time: 120 minutes
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Language: English
Death Machine is set in the near future of 2003.  The film opens in a demolished roadside diner, everyone inside has been slaughtered by a malfunctioning secret project codenamed Hardman.  It was manufactured by Chaank, a megacorporation that produces military hardware.  Public outcry ensues and Cale is introduced as the company's investigating Chief Executive.

Ridley, head of the board of directors, tries to cover things up.  Cale demands immediate and full public disclosure. She also wants Dante, who developed Project Hardman, fired.  No one seems to care about the situation, besides Dante himself, who takes an eerie interest in Cale.  He confronts her on a few occasions with knowledge about her finances, childhood and other personal information.  At the same time a trio of stoner pacifist eco-warriors are planning to infiltrate the company's headquarters in order to destroy its digitally stored assets and put Chaank out of business.

Meanwhile, Cale wants to know what Dante is secretly working on in Vault 10.  He never submits progress reports and is far from cooperative.  Ridley, who is scared of Dante, refuses to help.  He tells Cale that her recently deceased predecessor took interest in Dante's work and soon had a deadly accident at the corporate headquarters.  During the conversation she lifts his access card so she can investigate on her own.  Somehow, Dante finds out that Cale has his card and confronts Ridley about it.  He later kills the CEO with a mysterious invention.
Carpenter calls Cale after finding Ridley's mutilated body which had an implanted life-sign transmitter.  She investigates and finds out that whatever killed him came from the infamous vault 10.  Taking matters in her own hands, she terminates Dante's employment and seals the vault.  Dante is about to shoot her when the eco-warriors show up and take everyone hostage.

The eco-warriors demand access to the building's secure area in order to destroy the company's digital bonds, but Cale refuses to cooperate.  Raimi, the leader of the gang, goes to their alternate plan to cut through the bulkhead leading to the containment area.  Dante, sensing his chance, "helps" them by suggesting they cut through one of the vaults surrounding the containment instead, suggesting they start at vault 10.

Once the vault is open, Dante jumps in and activates his invention, called The Warbeast (or Frontline Morale Destroyer), which promptly kills one of the eco-warriors.  Raimi flees, meeting up with Yutani and the subdued Cale and Carpenter.  Dante broadcasts his demands over the monitor system, demanding that his employment be reinstated, and that Cale will be "interfacing with him on a regular basis".  Raimi and Yutani cancel the operation and attempt to get out of the building, along with Carpenter and Cale.

Death Machine is considered rather controversial.  The director himself was never satisfied with the final cut, leading to four different versions being released; An 85 minute version, the 99 minute version marketed in North America, a 128 minute version, and the 111 minute director's cut.  The Board of Film Censors accused the film of excessive violence and drug use, and was banned in several countries, including Iraq, China and Australia.  Brad Dourif's character Jack Dante was accused of exhibiting acute violent psychosis, profanity, lewd behavior, and in one scene attempts to rape the protagonist.  Some countries also censored a controversial scene involving dead babies.

Evolver (1995)

  • Genre: Action – Horror – Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Mark Rosman
  • Produced:
    • Mark Amin 
    • Henry Seggerman
  • Written: Mark Rosman
  • Starring: Ethan Randall, Cassidy Rae, Nassira Nicola, Chance Quinn, Cindy Pickett, John de Lancie, Paul Dooley, William H. Macy
  • Music: Unknown
  • Cinematography: Daniel C. Pearl
  • Editing: Daniel C. Pearl
  • Studio: Trimark Pictures
  • Distributed: Lions Gate Films Home Entertainment
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: March 1995
  • Running Time: 95 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
Meet Evolver, the ultimate toy for the Cyberpunk generation, a virtual-reality game brought to fierce, three-dimensional life.  With each battle, Evolver lives up to his name.  He becomes faster, smarter and deadlier.  Meet Kyle Baxter (Ethan Randall) the teenage video game whiz who wins the first ever Evolver robot.  Suddenly, some fatal accidents begin to happen.  With help from Jamie Saunders (Cassidy Rae), a beautiful rival game player, Kyle digs up a terrifying missing link: Evo was created from a scrapped U.S. Defense Robotics Department.  Designed to infiltrate enemy encampments, he has the capacity to adapt to any situation, and he's programmed to leave no survivors.  By the time Kyle and Jamie discover this, Evo has evolved to his most advanced and dangerous state and will stop at nothing until he annihilates the young man who is his one undefeated opponent.

At its heart, Evolver is a movie about the fear of technology, the paranoia that we’ll create something smarter than us that we’ll have to battle for survival — sort of like Terminator, if the Terminator was a cross between Paulie’s robot from Rocky IV and R.O.B. for the NES instead of a conspicuously Austrian bodybuilder.  It’s a fascinating topic for exploration that’s been at the heart of speculative fiction for decades, largely because it’s such a huge shift in the way the world works that it’s impossible to predict what will change if and when it actually happens.  For most writers, anyway. Writer/director Mark Rosman seems to have come to the conclusion that the Singularity will bump into a coffee table, fall into a swimming pool and be ultimately defeated by the star of Can’t Hardly Wait.

I think it bears repeating that the actual premise of this movie isn’t just that the government creates a robotic super-soldier that’s capable of learning and evolving in response to changing conditions on the battlefield and cancels it when it starts mowing down generals in a blatant rip-off of the ED-209 scene from Robocop, but that the scientist behind the project decides it’d be a swell idea to swap a missile launcher out for a paintball gun and give it to a kid who is only sort of good at video games.  Unless they wanted to figure out how Evolver would deal with complex tasks like throwing high school bullies down stairs (exceeds expectations) and snapping pictures in the girls’ locker room (disappointing), I cannot fathom why anyone thought this was a good idea.

What We Learned

  1. You can trap someone in a cage made of beams of focused light so powerful that anything that touches them catches fire by shoving a laser pointer into a kaleidoscope.
  2. Nerf guns can be easily modified to fire steak knives instead of foam darts, with enough force to embed them into a wall.  Step one: Put steak knives into a Nerf gun.  There is no step two.
  3. If you’re building a robotic toy for children to play with out of an indestructible murderbot, go ahead and leave the flamethrower in there.  Who knows?  It might come in handy.

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