Inventory: “I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That”: 17 Dangerous Cinematic Computers

2. Colossus, Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
Film in the 1970s had an oddly awestruck notion of the power that computers might hold over our daily lives, with much hand-wringing and nightmares over the potential loss of our free will to cold, unfeeling machines. That played into the era’s Cold War fears as well, of course, since computer control was increasingly part of the strategy of both superpowers’ nuclear arsenals. Human error might send a nuke to kill millions by accident or insane design, but could computers really be trusted not to make their own mistakes? The 1970 thriller Colossus: The Forbin Project imagines the horrifying consequences of abrogating human responsibility over our own fate, as the all-too-foolproof computer system Colossus develops its own sinister agenda almost immediately after the U.S. missile system is placed in its control. Developing an alliance with the Soviets’ computer, Colossus decides that humans cannot be trusted to manage their own affairs, and takes over the world by threatening nuclear annihilation if its demands aren’t met. Though the movie is frustratingly slow, like a Twilight Zone episode padded to 90 minutes, Colossus’ malevolent pronouncements are truly chilling, proclaiming its new world order in a way worthy of a Bond villain: “I bring you peace. It may be the peace of plenty and content, or the peace of unburied death. The choice is yours. Obey me and live. Disobey and die.”

Originally published on Aug. 20, 2007 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the section on Colossus: The Forbin Project. Read the complete article.

Comics panel: Fletcher Hanks, I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets!

Fletcher Hanks, I Shall Destroy All The Civilized PlanetsThe nearly forgotten early comic-book artist Fletcher Hanks is rescued from obscurity with I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets (Fantagraphics), which collects 15 of the stories he wrote and illustrated during a brief career in the lower echelons of comics publishing from 1939 to 1941. Hanks’ work reads as if David Lynch, Daniel Johnston, and Ed Wood sat down to collaborate on a superhero comic—the exploits of Stardust the Super Wizard and jungle queen Fantomah are childlike in their endearingly naï storytelling style and bizarrely imaginative, brutal revenge fantasies. For all his simplistic repetition, Hanks had a real gift for surreal imagery. Giant flaming maroon disembodied hands maul African lions; gangsters turn off gravity, causing billions to float helplessly into the stratosphere; 50,000 giant panthers are set loose on the streets of New York. These stories have the feel of great outsider art, which is only intensified by what little is known about Hanks’ rather sad life—in an afterword, editor Paul Karasik paints a picture of an abusive drunk who froze to death on a park bench, ironically living more like one of his villains than his creepily virtuous heroes… A-

Originally published on Aug. 16, 2007 as part of a group-written roundup. Read the complete article.

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