on 22 April 2006
I cannot recommend this film enough. It is a gripping, well crafted and intelligent tale that is as relevant today as it was almost forty years ago.
The supercomputer 'Colossus' is activated, bringing all of the United States' nuclear arsenal under its control. Shortly after coming on line, Colossus detects the Russian's very own supercomputer, named Guardian.
As the two computers begin to 'communicate' and learn at an alarming rate, the American and Russian governments attempt to sever contact. As a result Colossus launches a missile attack against Russia and demands that its creator, Dr. Charles Forbin be put under its surveillance.
As Forbin plots to destroy his creation, Colossus makes its plans for the future of the human race...
The conclusion of "Colossus" is as chilling as it is unfogettable. I wonder if James Cameron was influenced by this movie (along with "Westworld") when he came up with the concept for "The Terminator"?
My only gripe is not with the film itself but with the DVD. For some incomprehensible reason, the pan and scan format is still popular with the American market. Although it doesn't ruin the viewing experience too much, it would have been great to have seen this in its proper widescreen format.
In the age of widescreen televisions and anamorphic widescreen DVD transfers there really is no excuse!
Regardless, I urge you to buy this film, it is simply too good to slip under the radar and thus it gets full marks.
on 10 August 2010
Sometime in the early 80s (possibly 1983) BBC2 ran a season of sci-fi films, which were shown on Tuesdays (or possibly Wednesdays) around tea time. I remember watching "War Of The Worlds" (starring Gene Barry & Ann Robinson) and "The Day The Earth Stood Still" (Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal, who has sadly just passed away) among many others, including "Colossus: The Forbin Project". To my knowledge it was never shown on television again after BBC2's season of sci-fi films. Maybe Alex Cox presented it on Moviedrome one year but if he did then I must have been on holiday! Nevertheless this obscure film made a strong impression on me. I wasn't even 10 years old and yet this very talky, cerebral and slow paced drama remained in my thoughts for years after. But no one else seemed to know anything about it. After a while I even began to consider that I had dreamed it up until John Brosnan mentioned it in his fantastic book "The Primal Screen" (1991). I was relieved to discover that the film wasn't a figment of my imagination. Once I started reading the synopsis the film came flooding back to me. A few years ago I purchased it on DVD in the only version that was then available - a dreadful pan and scan edition. At least it was cheap!
I quickly overlooked the terrible picture and thoroughly enjoyed watching the film again after such a long time. Eric Braeden is superb as the genius inventor/father of Colossus. He is charming, witty, cool and handsome - not your typical movie scientist. (Braeden would go on to play another scientist in "Escape From The Planet Of The Apes" but using the intelligence, charm, logic and good looks of Forbin to create a far more chilling and cold-blooded character. Such a shame that this versatile actor has been so woefully under used. He made 2 excellent appearances in "Mission: Impossible" in the 1960s, both of which showcase his ability to be charming and a total bastard). The supporting cast in "Colossus" fared a little better and will be familiar to most viewers. Susan Clark is excellent as Forbin's assistant, Dr Cleo Malcolm, before plot developments transform her into Forbin's lover. This could have been crude but her sudden change from scientist to love interest is handled with wit and humour. Look carefully and you'll also spot among the supporting cast Marion Ross, who went on to play Mrs Cunningham in "Happy Days", Georg Stanford Brown (veteran of many films and television shows, including "Roots", formerly married to Tyne Daly) and Martin Brooks, who will be familiar to fans of "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "Bionic Woman" as the third actor to play Dr Rudy Wells). Best of all is Gordon Pinsent as the American President. Pinsent is best known outside Canada for his recurring role as Benton Fraser's father in "Due South". His President is intelligent and shrewd as well as decisive.
I re-purchased "Colossus" on DVD when the picture was finally upgraded to 16:9 so it was a pleasure to finally see the whole film. This new edition is well priced and also includes a commentary by veteran director Joseph Sargent, who recalls the making of the film with a great deal of affection. Some of his revelations beggar belief - was Susan Clark really wearing a body suit during the nude scenes? Maybe that explains why BBC2 didn't cut these scenes when the film was broadcast because I definitely remember being a little shocked by the nudity the first time I saw the film, especially as it was being shown at tea time.
The film is not without flaws. It is slow, the dialogue banal and much of the science is laughable in light of today's technology. Dated as it is, the film remains a charming time capsule of the Cold War era and the beginning of the computer age. The film's excitement and suspense is largely down to how the super computer achieves its dominance over mankind. For me the film retains its power by focusing on how Forbin the inventor/father is meticulously imprisoned by his creation - physically and mentally. Colossus is a terrifying villain and its takeover of the world is believable and complete. The film makers bravely stay faithful to the source novel by DF Jones so there is no pat happy ending, despite Colossus' promise of a new era of peace. A gem of a movie.
on 16 October 2008
Joseph Sargent directed this, still one of the few films to make computer science exciting, as well as another notable film The Taking Of Pelham 123 (1974) before disappearing off into television. By all accounts The Forbin Project, intended in some way to capitalise on the recent success of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), was not a success at the box office - due perhaps to the bleak ending, as well as the plot's relatively cerebral nature. Like Kubrick's masterpiece, Sargant's film also features a deadly computer, and is ultimately concerned with what makes men, men. However unlike HAL, Colossus is not malfunctioning; it is programmed to end war and to make its own exponential judgements to further that aim, being "self-sufficient, self protecting, self-generating", a mechanical genius which "no human can touch." What Colossus offers mankind has none of HAL's self-centredness, more a ruthless determination to make us do what is better for all whether we like it or not. And where Kubrick's film suggests the reformation of a species though mind-blowing optics and some enigmatic symbolism, Forbin's project is one where ultimately it is one man who is 'reworked,' not all - though the fate of millions remains in the balance.
As Forbin emerges from the tomb-like Colossus processing installation within the Rockies, (scenes vaguely reminiscent of the final sealing of the pyramid in Hawk's Land Of The Pharaohs, 1955) we feel that he has leaving a part of himself behind. And as we learn more about our central character, it is clear that in fact he lacks a good deal - most specifically any sign of real emotion. Forbin, "world expert on computer systems," is as cold and as calm as the machines he idolises, a characteristic emphasised by the excellent performance of Braeden. This aloofness is emphasised by the actor's slight German accent, helped incidentally by the fact that he was obliged to re-dub his part after shooting had finished. By the end of the film he will be transformed by events he has initiated, and Forbin's impending change gives the film added interest.
Colossus' startling announcement that "There is another system" is what precipitates the main crisis, a bald statement open to a number of intriguing interpretations. First and foremost, the participants take it literally as the discovery of Guardian, Colossus' Soviet equivalent. This film was made at the height of the Cold War, which makes the relatively liberal treatment of the Russians struggling with their own dilemma, as well as the cordial nature between the two heads of state, slightly surprising. Apart from the abrupt elimination of their chief scientist (and this ordered by Guardian) the Russians emerge just as perplexed, honest and concerned as the Americans. This reminds us that the 'other system' can also be taken as political rather than mechanical. It's the abrupt reminder of another social order, announced aptly in midst of a smug Presidential reference to Roosevelt. Finally, and most intriguing, is what the Colossus' announcement slyly suggests in personal terms. As previously observed, Forbin's own emotional 'system' is essentially passionless (his surname even suggests that of Fortran, a genuine computer language). By the end of the film, the two super computers will have united, using their own newly developed machine language to communicate. Moreover the world will be (presumably) united too by the dire threat facing it. And, dominated by his creation, Forbin will have rejoined humanity, a process indicated through his increasing displays of belated emotion.
Once Colossus and Guardian have joined forces, they soon start making demands of the world, enforcing orders by punitive missile launches. Mankind is forced to comply. Forbin, as creator of Colossus, is granted a unique status by the machine, liaising between it and the world. But Colossus fears he may conspire, so in scenes that recall those in Demon Seed (1977), the doctor is placed under 24/7 surveillance, leading to the most interesting part of the film. For Forbin decides to convince the machine that he needs all human comforts to function properly - including time alone with a newly invented mistress, fellow scientist Doctor Cleo Markham (Susan Clarke). The plan is then to utilise their time together to plot. Forbin's sheepish admittal to the machine that he needs sex four times a week, as well as his inevitable romance with his 'mistress' are the first real sign of his humanity. More amusingly, the following dialogue ensues as the two are tucked up in bed together, Dr Markham making her initial report, the air filled with sexual static: "The hardware problem is negative... (we) are still studying a way to get into the thing." In a film singularly bereft of real humour, this double entendre is particularly striking - and is in stark contrast to Forbin's previous concern to get his language exactly accurate for communicating with his machine properly. Meanwhile, Colossus has become the "first electronic peeping tom," seemingly just as concerned with the love life of its creator as in world domination. Until Forbin's final, shocking outburst of "You Bastard!" so is the viewer. This is when, after bedding Dr Markham for real, he throws a stool at a computer screen in a rage at Colossus' repressive agenda. It's confirmed then that he's finally rejoined the (doomed?) human race with a vengeance, and has acquired traits of stubbornness and yes, perhaps heroism along the way.
The Forbin Project benefits greatly from a suitably cool style and restrained performances - entirely apt given the subject matter. It also has a standout score, one that frequently mimics the clatter of electronic activity, adding greatly to the atmosphere. As one would expect, the computer hardware on show is dated, (no doubt most of Colossus' vaunted brain would fit in a hatbox these days), but modern viewers, used to the concepts of 'cross-platforming', the Internet and so on, will find interesting echoes of these developments here. Add in an unfashionably downbeat ending, as well as the working out of Forbin's folly, and it emerges as considerably more than the SF curio one might expect.
on 26 November 2009
Do not waste your money on this USA (R1) DVD - it is a cropped 4:3 version of a Panavision (2.35:1) film.
Instead, buy either the UK R2 Fabulous Films edition Colossus - The Forbin Project  [DVD] or the "budget label" UK R2 In2film release Colossus - The Forbin Project [DVD] , whichever is cheaper. Their specifications are identical: 2.35:1 original aspect ratio, 16:9 enhanced, and with a director's commentary. (I own the R1 and the R2 In2film editions, so I'm writing from experience!)
This is an absolutely brilliant film, having grown up in the hayday of the Terminator films (which in my opinion began with the second feature) the idea of self-aware machines becoming hostile towards their creators is not a new one but I was never aware of the cinematic precursors and I certainly was not aware of this movie.
The technology featured in this film is contradictory, I am sure the aim is to appear futuristic but it is only partially successful. On the one hand there are "video phones" which are something akin to a laptop with webcam but set in what looks like a TV in a desk but on the other the computer AI communicates through a kind of digital ticker tape system, at least initially.
This is part of the joy of watching such features as this, we live in the director's "tommorrow" and can consider how wide of the mark some predictions can be and it is often the smaller, workaday details which are surprising.
The AI is pretty primitive, appearing even less quick witted than the clunky Terminators of the later Arnie films which dealt with the same idea. The AIs of the rival Russian and American nations do usurp mankinds control and power in the world. There then plays out a kind of game of nerves between the creator and created, which is not really completely explained besides the machine's assumption that he is head of project and therefore of special importance. The surveillance techniques used from this point on made me think of another later film/sci fi story, Dark Seed, and the ways in which the humans seek to outwit it are unconvincing, assuming a degree of compromise on the part of the AI which I did not find credible.
The film concludes with the advent of the AIs new world order and it does feel like a real cliff hanger. It could lead, and would appear to leave little option to mankind, other than capitulation but I suppose escalation has featured in other sci films since. Very much worth a watch.
Although it didn't trouble the box-office much in 1970 and is now rarely revived, Colossus: The Forbin Project is one of the best and most disturbingly convincing sci-fi thrillers ever made. It's a lean film, beautifully constructed with an increasingly relentless momentum as the press conference and congratulations following the implementation of a massive computer system that will analyse all intelligence and military data and control America's defences without any fear of human error suddenly starts thinking for itself. And not just thinking for itself, but communicating with the Russians' rival computer system and coming to a logical agreement that will guarantee world peace - so long as the world does what it dictates. This is no comic-book monster computer but a coldly logical, ruthlessly rational machine that isn't malfunctioning but simply executing its original programming all too well, and, having decided that man is his own worst enemy, the dictatorship it creates is all too believable. Rather than death rays or super powers it simply relies on the threat of launching nuclear missiles to persuade governments to execute anyone who is a threat. Not that its creators are much of a threat - having endowed it with greater thinking power than the greatest genius could ever amass in a lifetime, it can outthink their every attempt to circumvent the failsafe security measures protecting it...
Although novelist D. F. Jones' subsequent two sequels went off in increasingly fantastic directions, this is far more grounded in potential reality. China Syndrome director James Bridges' excellent screenplay gets straight down to business without getting lost in jargon and technobabble and Joseph Sargent's direction plays it chillingly for real: if Costa-Gavras had made a sci-fi film in the 70s, this would have been it, its power plays and summary executions handled almost like reportage despite the late-60s/early-70s look to much of the film. The little-known cast, headed by Eric Braeden and Susan Clark, helps immensely, taking away the illusion that it's only a movie and that the star will save the day as events escalate and freedom diminishes in direct proportion. And it's not exactly comforting to note that the fictional Colossus (named after the WW2 code-breaking computer at Bletchley Park) was simply a more advanced version of the real NORAD nuclear defence computer.
Although the US DVD is panned-and-scanned, the UK DVD is in the original Scope ratio with a director's audio commentary. And if some of those shots of the vast corridors filled with Colossus' databanks in the opening sequences might look familiar, that's because Universal reused them in the pilot episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man.
Thinking this will prevent war; the US government gives an impenetrable supercomputer total control over launching nuclear missiles. But what the computer does with the power is unimaginable to its creators.
The film is based upon the 1966 science fiction book of the same name Colossus, by Dennis Feltham Jones about a massive American defence supercomputer, named Colossus, becoming sentient after being activated, and the resultant consequences. This is one relatively uncommon movie. It deals judiciously with multifaceted scientific concerns and does so without dumbing down perceptions, nor making any painful errors in trying to keep up with its own narrative. This is a film that shows how Mankind is given the stark choice between the "peace of plenty" or one of "unburied dead".
Turning to the players of piece; the choice Eric Braeden, as Dir. Charles A. Forbin, was excellent he really brings presence to the screen. He does not suffer fools, even if it is the United States President. His co-star Susan Clark as (Dir. Cleo Markham) makes for an intelligent love interest, and their on screen chemistry is very good. As for Colossus, it is at its spooky best when the viewer reads his short to the point Q and A. When Colossus gains a voice I feel it detracts from the overall menace of “sentient behaviour”.
I first saw this movie as child, and really had impact on me – if anything I found it a scary concept. I believe, if it is not already the case, then this film should be a Cult classic. Lastly it’s interesting to note the computers shown were not mock ups, but the real thing. A film worthy of a good five stars.
on 25 August 2010
The film starts with a press conference followed by big celebrations as the American President and Dr Charles Forbin unveil their new defence system, a huge, self operating computer called Colossus. The celebrations end abruptly however, when Colossus sends a message on the screen of a terminal, warning of the presence of another defence system. Colossus is correct, as there is such a system, Guardian, located somewhere in Russia. Soon the two computers are doing their bit for East/West relations, transmitting binary codes to eachother, eventually creating a new language. Forbin and his team begin to realise what a dangerous situation they find themselves in, especially after the two computers launch missiles towards eachothers countries after an order from Colossus is ignored.
This is a film that I watched as a young lad, and it's also a film that largely passed me by at the time. Therefore, I'm so very glad that this dvd is available, so I could watch it again. It's a quite marvellous film, a chilling reminder of man's over reliance on technology, and a film that also investigates the possibility of artificial intelligence. Demon Seed was another 70's science fiction film that dealt with 'mad' computers, but whilst that film concentrated on the invasion into the home of technology, this has loftier issues to face.
Whilst there is a whiff of cold war politics in the air, especially during the scene where Forbin's meeting with Russian scientist Dr Kuprin is cut brutally short, the main focus of the film is the sheer impotence of mankind once the all seeing artificial eye becomes king. In fact, the human players become as insignificant as tiny ants on a huge desert tapestry, as Colossus unveils its chilling plans for humanity. This culminates in a blood curdling speech that Colossus broadcasts worldwide following the development of a voicebox. No happy endings to be found in this film.
Whilst a couple of aspects of the film may now seem a little dated, the film did chillingly forecast President Reagan's Star Wars programme. You could almost imagine old Ron, in one of his more lucid moments, sitting down watching this great film and creating foreign policy out of it. The sets in the film are also perfect amalgamations of past, present and future. Finally, a couple of performances of note to mention include Eric Braeden's professional turn as Forbin, and William Schallert also impresses as a wisecracking C.I.A agent.
A very welcome release of a film that I can appreciate a lot more now, watching it through adult eyes. The pick of the extras on the disc is the commentary by director Sargent. Highly recommended. 5 out of 5
on 8 May 2008
In my opinion, this SF classic is one of the grittiest and most gripping of the 60s technothrillers. For several years, I've owned an indifferent "pan & scan" DVD, cursing the non-availability of a proper widescreen version.
I'm looking forward very much to this release! All the main actors - Eric Braeden, Susan Clark, Georg Stanford Brown, Gordon Pinsent, William Schallert - do a fine and believable job.
Most similar films of the period can make modern people yawn or smile indulgently at how crude the hardware looks and acts. However, the main surprise for me is that the super-clunky computer visualisation, with chattering teletypes, Nixie tubes, oscilloscopes, dot matrix displays and tape drives, doesn't really date the film. Even in its pre-voice display-only mode, Colossus is truly cold and frightening in its utterly machinelike pragmatism. The addition of a metallic voice just adds to the spookiness.
A great film that I watch frequently. It'll be even better now with the whole screen restored!
on 29 May 2008
Not sure what the poster below is going on about. Have just received my copy and I think the whole presentation is first class. Yes there are some artefacts here and there but to see this film in it's original aspect ratio is a real joy.. There are some extras on it as well including commentary track from the 82 year director of the film! If you have been waiting for this film as long as I have then I would say buy with confidence..