Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Weekly Top Ten: Top Ten Computer Movies

Computers play an important role in pretty much everyone's life, so this week, I decided to look at the best computer movies ever made. I must say, that I do not think any of them are all that fond of computers - viewing them as a threat to humanity in way form or another. But let's just get to the list.

10. Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995)
One of the most famous anime films is also one of the very best. The plot is way too complex to try and describe here, except to say that in the future, hackers are no longer simply hacking into computers, but directly into people’s brains, and using this to control them. The ghost is essentially a person’s soul, and the body has simply become the shell that houses this “ghost”. When a robot shows up, that is completely inorganic, but seems to still have a “ghost”; it raises strange, scary questions. Ghost in the Shell is really about the dangers of relying too heavily on technology, and how if we do, we stand to lose ourselves – our souls, our identities, into a vast network of computers. After all, in order to hack into someone’s brain, we all have to be on a vast network ourselves, right?

9. Tron (Steve Lisberger, 1982)
Okay, so by today’s standards, Tron may seem pretty corny, and the special effects are no longer revolutionary, but when you consider that the film was made in 1982, the films achievement is pretty impressive. A gifted programmer, who makes great videogames, is double crossed by his friend who presents the work as his own, and then tries to cover his tracks by making a program to keep hackers out. But the program becomes too powerful to control, as it decides on its own to try and hack into government computers to run things, because it will be more effective. Then the good guy gets digitized and sent into the computer to try and bring down the program. Tron is cheesy, sure, but it is also quite entertaining – even viewed today. The film is a cult favorite, and soon we can look forward to a sequel!

8. Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is about a future society that is being slowly crushed by a senseless bureaucracy, and an overdependence on unreliable technology. Henry Buttle is arrested because the bureaucracy of the computer system has mistaken him for Henry Tuttle, a renegade air conditioner repairman played by Robert DeNiro. Sam (Jonathan Pryce), is the film’s main character who tries to help the girl of his dreams (literally), as she gets identified as a terrorist for point out the system’s mistake in arresting Buttle. Meanwhile, Sam’s mother undergoes countless plastic surgeries to try and make herself appear younger and younger. The film, about technology’s increasing role in the running of the world, is a cautionary tale in the vein on 1984, but told in Gilliam’s characteristic surreal, goofy style. Yet the film as the film progresses, it grows much darker. Brazil is a forerunner to films like The Matrix, and is every bit as brilliant.

7. Wargames (John Badham, 1983)
Wargames tells the story of what could happen if nuclear missile codes were turned over to a computer system instead of a human being. Matthew Broderick plays a young computer hacker, who in the search for new computer games, accidentally hacks his way into NORAD’s new WOPR system, which to him looks much like a computer game, and sets in motion a sequence of events that could lead to a nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union. The computer, who now has the power to launch the missiles itself, does not understand the difference between the game, and reality, and all it wants to do is win. Wargames is an intelligent thriller, well made, well written and well acted, and it ends on perhaps the most logical note of any film on this list.

6. The Matrix (Andy & Larry Wachowski, 1999)
What if reality is just a giant computer program, and really, human beings are being grown and harvested by giant machines as their fuel source? That is the reality that computer hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) is awoken to by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), another hacker. They need Neo to help overcome the machines, as he could in fact be the “chosen one”. The movie starts out as uncommonly intelligent science fiction, and even if it devolves into an action movie by the end, it is at least a great action movie. Like many of the films on this list, The Matrix is really a cautionary tale, wrapped up in special effects and bullets.

5. eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999)
David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ came out the same year as The Matrix, dealt with similar issues and was superior to the other film, but has almost been completely forgotten about. In the film, Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Allegra Geller, a game designer, who has just finished her latest game that requires an “umbrycord” to be inserted into a “bioport” that has been drilled into the small of the game players back. Yes, Cronenberg once again has made a movie full of weird sex (the MPAA cannot really object when Jude Law licks Leigh’s bioport, and then sticks the “umbrycord” inside, because really, there is no nudity, but we all know what is going on – genius). Once you are inside Geller’s game, you cannot tell the game from reality. Cronenberg’s film is filled with gooey special effects, where organic material is mixed with machines, to form some sort of weird, sexual hybrid of reality. This film is one of the most interesting science fiction films of recent years, one that makes you squirm at the melding of human and technology.

4. Office Space (Mike Judge, 1999)
Unlike the other films on this list, Office Space is not really about computers, but instead is about the soul crushing, endless drudgery that comes along with working on computers all day. Ron Livingstone plays an office drone whose job is to convert thousands of lines of code before Y2K comes along, and he is miserable. His two friends, in the programming department, are just as miserable, and in perhaps the films most memorable scene, the three of them take out their aggression on a printer that has been a thorn in their sides for years. My job, and most likely yours, is not as soul crushingly Kafkaesque as the drones in Office Space, but likely you have felt the same way as these do sometimes.

3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron, 1991)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day was essentially The Matrix, before The Matrix was. Like that film, this is a film about machines created by humans to help humanity, who eventually rebel against their makers, and try to wipe them off the face of the year. Skynet, the computer system created by programmer Joe Morton, is the real villain of the movie, as it is becoming increasingly powerful, even before the war has been declared. But Terminator 2 is superior to The Matrix, and the original Terminator for that matter, because the characters in the film feel like real people. Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is both tough as nails, and yet fragilely human, and Edward Furlogh remains the best John Connor, the smart kid who uses technology, yet still loves humanity. The cyborg characters – played by Arnold Schwarzenegger as the “good robot” and Robert Patrick as the “bad robot” feel just like they are supposed – unfeeling, logical machines (unlike say the Agents in the Matrix who feel too human at times). I do not think I would ever use this word to describe any other action movie sequel, but Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a masterpiece.

2. Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
In a very real way, the computer who runs the spaceship in Wall-E, Pixar’s best film, is not all that unlike The Matrix or Skynet. All of these powerful computers seek to enslave humanity, but the computer in Wall-E comes the closest to succeeding, solely because it does not try to do so by killing humans. Instead, it makes human irrelevant by giving them everything they could ever want. Trapped on a huge spaceship, humans have gradually become fatter and lazier over several hundred years, to the point where they do nothing anymore. They stay in their chairs, interact solely with computers and grow fatter and fatter. The computer is even responsible for human reproduction. Even the Captain of the ship is a mere figurehead with no actual power. Ironically, technology created to make human’s life easier has done its job too well – life is not so easy, you can hardly even describe it as life anymore. Even more ironic, is that it is too robots – the title character and his “girlfriend” Eve – who are the most “human” characters in the film – and they save the humans not only from the computer, but themselves. For an animated film aimed at children, Wall-E is amazingly intelligent.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
How could I possibly choose anything other than 2001 as the greatest computer movie of all time? Kubrick’s masterpiece is undoubtedly the greatest science fiction of all time, and arguably one of the 10 best films ever made. A large reason for that (although certainly not the only one), is HAL 9000, the onboard computer in the spaceship taking the astronauts to Mars and beyond. Like many of the other computers on this list, HAL was designed to make life for the astronauts easily, but HAL is unfortunately too much like his makers – humans. HAL grows paranoid and insecure, and starts plotting on ways to save himself, even if that means killing the crew members he was designed to help. With little more than a blinking red light and Douglas Rain creepily calm voice, Kubrick created one of cinema’s greatest, yet somehow most sympathetic, screen villains. The scene were Dave has to “kill” HAL is among the most memorable “death” scenes ever recorded on film. A true masterwork.

No comments:

Post a Comment