1970's Colossus: the Forbin Project is more relevant than ever 

The Colossus of Sci-fi Clout

click to enlarge Couch potatoes may better know Dr. Forbin as The young & the Restless' Victor Newman


Couch potatoes may better know Dr. Forbin as The young & the Restless' Victor Newman

Cinema history is littered with films about computers being the cause of misery. While some, like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey and SkyNet of the Terminator franchise, were more popular supporting characters, an unsung few were the main characters from the outset. Enter Colossus: the Forbin Project.

I can honestly say that my awareness of the film was ziltch until I saw a reference to it in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring the 1983 post-apocalyptic Italio B-movie Warriors Of The Lost World. Later that day, I proceeded to surf the information superhighway to find out what a Forbin Project was, assuming it was another bit of history that my South Carolina education forgot to hook me up with. A few weeks later, I rented the film under the specious reasoning that if MST3K referenced it, it must be good in some way, shape, or form. It was.

As the film begins, a man, Dr. Charles A. Forbin (Eric Braeden, better known as the mustachioed Victor Newman from The Young And The Restless) walks through what seems like an underground lair turning on a lot of blinky buttony things. The walls illuminate with tape reels and pulsing lights whirring throughout the antiseptic corridor.

When Dr. Forbin emerges, he and a very Kennedy-esque president (Gordon Pinsent from Away From Her and, more importantly, Blacula) declare that Forbin's creation — a super computer designed to meld with and control America's huge military defense system — is like no other. Not only will it control the far-reaching swaths of missiles but it has unlimited potential thanks to the artificial intelligence Forbin has planted within the system, including human cognition, adaptability, curiosity, and glimmers of emotion. As many films since its release have taught us, this will not end well.

Within minutes the super-computer, Colossus, declares on its news ticker: "There is another system." That system is Guardian, a similar Soviet defense system. Despite feeble attempts by the Americans and the Soviets, Colossus and Guardian become linked, communicating with each other in their own complex mathematical language. And after each attempt to destabilize the computer's connections, the machines quickly adapt like roaches to repellent, making this now globally linked super-super computer impervious to any form of attack. The two mega-puters guarantee this imperviousness by launching a nuke at a Soviet oil field. The lesson becomes clear that it isn't wise to mess with these A.I.

When Forbin's Soviet counterpart is assassinated, Forbin scrambles to regain control of his creation. What vain attempts he makes are thwarted when Colossus orders Forbin to be placed under the computer's 24-hour surveillance. What was initially an attempt to take the control of nukes away from the fallible, emotional hands of Man has become a scary clusterfudge.

There are no massive on-screen explosions to dazzle the eyeballs, no shaky cam footage to give the viewer an adrenaline rush, and no pummeling sounds to remind you how dire the situation is. This 1970 artifact communicates to you dryly with minimal locations and cold machinery. It could easily operate well as a claustrophobic stage play.

Whereas 2001, Alien, The Terminator, and other sci-fi films paint grim pictures accompanied by the imaginative spectacle of robots, monsters, and dystopian landscapes, Joseph Sargent's film is scarily tangible. This is likely the reason why Colossus is so underrated. Sure the idea of a little cyber girl, The Red Queen in Resident Evil, causing a zombie apocalypse or a cyber-Schwarzenegger pumping out endless bullets and tossing out one-liners is appealing in its own youthful way. But the idea of a machine with wide-reaching tentacles controlling not only our every move but our very fate has become an adult reality with each successive year.

Recently, upon entering the wormhole, I found out Colossus was referenced in many movies and TV shows. From the Terminator series to, not surprisingly, an episode of Futurama. Like many under-appreciated films of the late '60s and early '70s, Colossus made an impression on pop culture, albeit a more quiet one. Director Sargent continued to make films until his passing in 2009, but it's frustrating to know that he is known better for Burt Reynolds' flick White Lightning and MST3K-worthy shark movie, Jaws: The Revenge.


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