[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]
by Rosemary Benton
The complex range of anger, fear, acceptance and love that characterize the relationship humans have with robotic life is hardly new ground for science fiction. You have stories that explore societies controlled by artificial intelligence like in Jack Williamson’s With Folded Hands, stories in which robotic life works in service to their human superiors in accordance with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, and stories that span every possible combination.
The newest addition to the science fiction sub-genre dealing with the evolution of humanity and its integration with robots came out this month in the form of the movie The Creation of the Humanoids. Following its premier in Los Angeles on July 3rd, this intriguing film made its way into theaters across America, including the theater in my city. It suffers from several weaknesses, but more than makes up for them with solid dialogue, interesting characters and a plot that makes the audience think.
I first and foremost have to congratulate the screenplay writer, Jay Simms. The story he told was both philosophically intense and well paced with each scene effectively written to expand upon the post nuclear war world in which the film takes place. In the first series of short scenes the audience is made aware of the progression of robot technology, the concern some humans have with human-looking robots, as well as a robot led movement to advance artificial life to the point of near complete human replication. In short order we are told of a fellow by the name of Dr. Raven, a brilliant scientist who is responsible for the technology being used to replicate robotic versions of deceased humans and implanting them with the personality and memories of said humans. When his lab is discovered Dr. Raven orders the synthetic human he was working on to kill him, thus instigating the first instance of a robot murdering a human and showing that their prime directive can be overwritten.
From this point the story closely follows the work of Captain Kenneth Cragis, a high ranking member of the quasi-racist anti synthetic human organization: The Order of Flesh and Blood. We see him conversing with an assembly of the Order as they discuss the discovery of Dr. Raven’s highly advanced humanoid model, whereupon we learn that, when confronted with the fact that he is not physically human any longer, the model shut itself down. After the assembly Cragis pays a visit to his sister who serves as a representation of how accepting, or complacent in Cragis’ opinion, the human race has become living side by side or even in love with humanoids. He is then introduced to her friend Maxine who works at a news agency. Despite a rather awkward and fast romance the two of them fall in love that evening. They want to start a relationship, but Cragis expresses concern that he won’t be able to give Maxine any viable offspring due to the radiation left over from the war. Despite his concern Maxine persists, and we see that Cragis is beginning to consider it.
The final act of the film contains some of the best dialogue, but also suffers from the most issues. Two low level humanoids approach Maxine and Cragis as they are walking through the streets discussing their future together, and then suddenly the scene shifts to the city’s main recharge building for the humanoids, or “temple” as they call it. Maxine and Cragis are standing stock still in clear plastic tubes as they mechanically answer questions posed to them by the three humanoid we see at the beginning of the film. The change is so sudden and without explanation that it takes a while to understand what is happening. Maxine and Cragis, as it turns out, are relaying information that they have gathered in their other lives amongst the general population. Unbeknownst to them, they are deceased humans who have been brought back to life in advanced humanoid bodies curtesy of Dr. Raven.
Deciding that their usefulness as double agents has been used up, the humanoids tell Maxine and Cragis about their true origins – that Cragis died of a brain aneurism one night in his lab, and that Maxine was accidentally killed by a bomb which, ironically, Cragis and the Order planted at her work place to harm the humanoids working in the mail room. Dr. Raven, now inhabiting an advanced humanoid body himself, explains that their souls are as much a part of their new bodies as they were in their originals. Everything that made them themselves – their memories, experiences, motivations and emotions – are still present, but in a new vessel. With a few further modifications they will even be able to reproduce. Maxine and Cragis come to accept their situation and approve of the technology being spread to the rest of the dwindling human population. Annoyingly, the movie ends with Dr. Raven turning to the camera and breaking the fourth wall by saying, “Of course, the operation was a success…or you wouldn’t be here.”
The production of The Creation of the Humanoids is impressive given what most movies of this nature are given to work with. Beautiful matte paintings and well placed sleek yet simplistic furnishings really drove home the aesthetic of the world. The color of the film is bright and crisp and frankly a welcome change from the more common black and white color scheme. Seasoned makeup artist Jack Pierce, who perhaps most famously created Boris Karloff’s iconic monster design in the 1931 movie Frankenstein, did an incredible job on the application of the grease paint and bald masks worn by the actors playing low level humanoids. The metallic scleral contact lenses that he crafted for the humanoids are especially effective and creepy.
Another well known Hollywood name that I was surprised, yet delighted, to see on the credits was Academy Award winning cinematographer Hal Mohr. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe his work on The Creation of the Humanoids to be one of his more memorable projects, but you can pick out his characteristic style of framing especially in the first encounter the story has with Dr. Raven. I have no doubt that without Mohr’s contribution to the project The Creation of the Humanoids would have been a far more static movie, especially since so much of the script is dedicated to people sitting or standing around talking.
Aside from some issues with transitions between scenes, and a weak conclusion to what would otherwise have been a powerful message on the means to the end of human mortality, The Creation of the Humanoids was a very fun movie that managed to be engaging and enthralling. The characters are written to be multilayered and well informed on their individual philosophies, the world in which they walk was distinct and believable, and the moral conundrums that they faced were not handled in a ham fisted manner. I would highly recommend this movie, even if the execution was lacking at times. Happily I give it four stars for creativity.
(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.! We’ll be talking Summer Blockbusters and you’ll have a chance to win a prize!)