Sunday, June 26, 2016

Let's talk about sci-fi

As some of you may be aware, I have a card that lets me watch films in a certain major cinema chain as much as I want for a monthly fee and a minimum 12 month contract. As such, I am seeing most of the latest big films as they come out, or a little later to avoid the big rush. There's something that's been bothering me for a long time, and I'm reminded of it more than ever lately with seeing lots of examples in the cinema:

Cinema's view on robots and aliens.

Okay so hear me out on this. A huge number of films out there, particularly the more famous ones, are all about how either A) aliens want to invade and/or wipe out/enslave the human race/etc, or B) same as above but with robots, or C) both (wait, has that actually happened? I dunno, but probably). The big thing is for films to have something threaten humans, then the humans destroy it and we all live happily ever after. Occasionally, the film will throw in a "aww but we need to feel sorry for some of them", but it's usually like 1 or 2?

Imagine, if you will, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) receives a transmission of a video of some aliens killing humans. You'd panic and think they're coming to kill you, when it's actually just a fictional product and a form of entertainment. Works the other way around. The way aliens are almost exclusively portrayed as "the baddies" would certainly put me off visiting the planet. Of course, I'm pretty sure that the world's governments would want to weaponize anything they could get their hands on if an alien actually turned up, so they probably wouldn't want to turn up for that too (and that would be a real issue, not a movie issue).

I don't think we'll ever get to meet aliens if we keep portraying them in this way. I also worry for how people would react if one turned up. If your only experiences with aliens was through fictional media, and then you met one, you'd panic, maybe even attack it, etc. Certainly if films are anything to go by, most governments will just attack aliens without considering any peaceful methods.

While I don't "know" there's aliens out there, there's a moment in the film Contact where the main character played by Jodie Foster is asked if there's aliens out there in space. The response is a line I will always stand by: "if it's really just us, it seems like an awful waste of space". Incidentally, Contact is probably one of my favourite films of all time and also one that treats aliens far more appropriately than most big films do.

Let's talk about robots.

For similar reasons as aliens, we seem to have a fear of artificial intelligence taking over from us or killing all humans as we're inferior, etc. While, yes, humans are definitely inferior to robots in countless ways, we do seem to obsess over it and think that's a reason for robots to kill us. As long as we don't pose a threat, they won't really care. But similarly, if we want to get along with robots with advanced AI, then we have to treat them right. I highly recommend watching the two episodes of The Animatrix called "The Second Renaissance" which revolves around humans using robots with AI as slaves and then steadily destroying themselves as they refuse to treat the robots properly.

When you make a robot more human, the robot is not a robot, it is an electrical human. Treat electrical humans like biological humans.

Cinema has started getting better with robots, much more than aliens. There are two types of robots shown in films, though. The ones with robots indistinguishable from humans (such as Time of Eve, AI Artificial Intelligence, Terminator) and the ones that are visually non-human, but are often mentally very human (such as Chappie, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Wall-E). Whether there's a disconnect between the viewer and the character is a very important thing depending on what you end up doing with them. I've found that movies with humanoid characters are more likely to make you feel bad for the robot as part of the film than those without, though that's not to say films don't try. Chappie and Wall-E both make the audience feel for their respective robots and draw hatred towards the humans instead, though Chappie is a little more balanced with you feeling for some of the humans too.

As part of my cinema going shenanigans for the past few months, I went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey presented in the original theatrical format, complete with 10 minute intermission. It wasn't my first time seeing the film, but it had been quite a few years. Now, for the majority of viewers, I don't think anyone would really be feeling sorry for HAL, but I genuinely felt the slow "death" of HAL to be heart-wrenching. I do still blame the humans somewhat for jumping straight to considering turning off HAL as a solution for one mistake, so HAL acting in self-defence was fairly justified.

Oh would you look at that? It's past 2am. I should probably sleep. Anyway, basically I want to cuddle robots and aliens and we can be friends. More movies about cuddly robots and aliens please.