Top 10 Movie Portrayals of Artificial Intelligence (Video Edition)
Wally Pfister's TRANSCENDENCE opens today and offers a disturbing look at a not too distant future and the threat that artificial intelligence could have on all of humanity. While A.I. has often been used as a plot device or villain in movies since the invention of the medium, there are several that stand out as better than the rest. Here are our picks for the Top 10 interpretations of artificial intelligence in movies. If your favorite didn't make the list, feel free to add it to the talk backs below.
Loosely based on a Stephen King story of the same name, THE LAWNMOWER MAN was one of the early films to use virtual reality and CGI as a significant plot device. While the movie may not be all that great, it is definitely an artifact of how different things looked related to video games and the Internet just twenty years ago.
Between Ash in ALIEN, Bishop in ALIENS, Call in ALIEN RESURRECTION, or David in PROMETHEUS, the ALIEN series has a consistent view of androids and their self-sufficient intelligence. The original ALIEN films presented the androids as being almost human and just a part of the world at large, but it was with PROMETHEUS that we learned the background of their creation by Peter Weyland. All four actors (Ian Holm, Lance Henriksen, Winona Ryder, and Michael Fassbender) are in sync with their portrayals making these the most surreally life-life takes on A.I. on film.
Duncan Jones' brilliant scifi film is highlighted by an excellent performance from Sam Rockwell and a great twist ending. But, it is the classic voice of Kevin Spacey that brings the A.I. system called GERTY to life. Much like HAL from 2001, GERTY is a monotone computer that punctuates his statements with emoticons, adding a layer to the character that could otherwise have been a non-factor in the film.
You know you have done something special when your voice role is buzzed as a possible Oscar contending performance and that is exactly what Scarlett Johansson did in Spike Jonze's HER. Taking the concept of A.I. and turning it around to reflect our real world reliance on computers and operating systems, HER's Samantha is eerily realistic and not at all far-fetched.
What could be more frightening than a sentient computer coming to life and not complying? The cold nature of HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece has influenced countless A.I. beings since 1968 including Auto from WALL-E. HAL has a mission and will not deviate based on intuition or emotion making it a cold-blooded killer without any need for a body. All he has to do is not open the pod bay doors and you know there is zero chance to survive.
Paul Bettany's role as J.A.R.V.I.S. cannot be overshadowed as a mere voice performance as his A.I. is not only a confidant and close "friend" to Tony Stark but also a unique take on the comic character. No longer a human butler as he was in the pages of Marvel Comics, the A.I. version of J.A.R.V.I.S. provides moments of comic relief and gives a personality to offset Stark when he is within his suit. Soon, Bettany will be playing The Vision in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON which may be an offshoot of this same A.I.
Steven Spielberg's Peter Pan-esque scifi flick was originally set to be made by Stanley Kubrick before he died. The movie definitely skews towards Kubrick's filmmaking style with a hopeful undercurrent of classic Spielberg. The final product is a memorable film with Haley Joel Osment delivering a great performance as the robot boy who wanted to be real. Jude Law also turns in a great supporting turn as Gigolo Joe, another android. Haunting and disturbing, A.I. is also brilliantly realistic.
While we may all love the lightsaber battles and epic space war elements of the STAR WARS films, there is no doubt how iconic the Droids are. C3PO and R2D2 are not just the comic relief but also the audience gateway to the galaxy far, far away. It just wouldn't be STAR WARS without these two suffering through the trials and tribulations alongside their human counterparts. But, Droids pervade George Lucas' universe from being peons, slaves, to even warriors like General Grievous. One of the most lasting ideas of A.I. on film. Hell, we even have cell phones named after them.
While I could have just named Data from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION as an iconic A.I., the terrifying Borg and their Queen in STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT take the cake. A combination of organic and mechanical, The Borg are a horrible and virtually unstoppable foe. There are few creations in scifi as intimidating as The Borg and FIRST CONTACT proves that point. For those who think STAR TREK is the candy-coated lesser of the major franchises, all you have to do is think of the giant space cubes of doom and you may reconsider.
THE MATRIX is all about the A.I. that doomed humanity and now enslaves all. The personification of The Matrix itself are the Agents who patrol the dream-like interface humans are plugged into. Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) leads the Kafka-esque police force that evolves through the trilogy from being a sadistic and mindless opponent to an omnipotent enemy that must be destroyed by free-thinking humanity. Regardless of how you feel about the movies themselves, you have to admit the concept of the Agents is pretty damn cool.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's portrayal of the T-800 has two very distinct sides. In James Cameron's original, he is an unstoppable killing machine. In T2, young John Connor (Edward Furlong) teaches the reprogrammed robot how to be more human. As the franchise progresses and we see the T-1000 and other iterations of SkyNet's army, we see a fully fleshed out race of beings that run the gamut from scary to almost human. This clearly makes THE TERMINATOR the kind of all A.I. on the big screen.