Director: joseph Sargent
2001 wasn’t the only film released at the end of the sixties that featured a passive-agressive computer running amok and threatening mankind. Colossus: The Forbin Project to give it its somewhat confusing name, was made before 2001 but its ending was so downbeat the studio dithered over its release, enabling HAL to steal all of Colossus’ thunder. Made with a fraction of Kubrick’s budget, Colossus is a smart studio sci-fi pic that looks forward to some of the best of seventies set-bound sci-fi such as Westworld, Logan’s Run and Soylent Green, and back to apocalypse flicks such as Dr Strangelove. I would also say that James Cameron sat down and wrote The Terminator not long after seeing Forbin as Skynet is basically a Colossus running Windows 84. Daft Punk and Kraftwerk may have well loved the ice-cold vocoder’d voice of Colossus, very different from HAL’s soothing tones.
At the start of the film a new supercomputer installed beneath the Rockies is brought online to provide super-fast and infallible control of the US nuclear arsenal. Working its way through algorhythms faster than the humans can keep up, it contacts a similar computer in Russia and they soon decide that mankind’s fate is better off in their mechanical hands.
The script gives Colossus all the best lines, and remains amazingly fresh in its themes if you can look past the punch-cards and whirring magnetic tape. In one startling CCTV-enabled let’s-play-house sequence Colossus and its Bowman-esque creator Forbin make a pact that the computer can watch Forbin’s every move, except when he has sex. At least HAL never criticised your sex drive, or your martini-mixing skills.
It has lots of fun with the impotence of the President, the CIA and the generals when faced with something that only responds to pure reason and won’t bow down to the chain of command. Amidst the sixties sets and the somewhat dated acting there are many nice touches – not least the interface of Colossus which looks like nothing so much as the ticker tapes that convey the rise and fall of stock prices. At just over ninety minutes Colossus never outstays its welcome and delivers a surprising grim ending.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
Soylent Green, Silent Running, Logans Run, 2001, Westword – and their spiritual descendants the ‘ideas sci-fi’ of today from Duncan Jones to Looper.