Thursday, January 30, 2014

[Movie] Gatacca

Julia is slowly exposing me to more mainstream dramatic movies and classics, and I in turn, am slowly showing her the greatest that genre fiction has to offer.  I chose Gatacca because I believe it is one of those 'will happen' rather than 'might happen' type of films.  Of course, it isn't as clean as Her, in the sense that all of the potential decisions on which way the future might go are deliberately skewed in the direction of a society that values genetics above all.  To be clear, it is a possible future, but it is at one end of an entire spectrum of futures on this issue.

In the world of Gattaca, your genome matters above all.  It is clearly at least two generations ahead, which can indeed be enough for an entire cultural transformation.  Racism still exists, but it is nowhere acceptable in society at large, at least 'officially.'  Even organizations that might arguably be described as racist do not outright make racist claims.  Their behavior might be prejudiced, but they themselves do not use its language.  So too is discrimination against 'primitives' or 'god babies' in theory illegal, but still rampant.  It is also pathetically easy to collect a genetic sample.  Indeed, the discrediting of the drug war, just 20 years after the film was made, is already taking us against elements of oppression used in the film.

Vincent, a god baby, conceived the regular way, lives life next to his younger brother, a genetically selected individual.  His brother is genetically superior, and Vincent has a raft of mental and physical problems, which he has to learn to overcome.  Vincent's greatest dream is to go into space....but at first he is only able to work as a janitor.  After finally accepting that he will never rise to the ranks of an astronaut, he makes an arrangement with Jerome, a genetically pure sample, who is so obsessed with his perfection that his life falls apart when he only wins an Olympic silver medal.  In his depression, he ends up paralyzed, and so he provides genetic samples to allow Vincent to pursue his dream.

There is a complication and several twists.  I won't spoil the story suffice to say that it is a good one, and takes up about 70% of the movie's screen time.  It also involves a romance with a woman who falls in love with Vincent/Jerome and the complications that arise thereof.  Vincent's plans come close to failure many times, but through a combination of luck and moxie he is able to accomplish a lot, though sometimes he isn't as clever as he thinks he is.

I like this movie and highly recommend it.  It asks important questions that need answering.  If humanity is to catch up to our innovation, we must either accept a life of leisure or upgrade.  The demands of increased skillsets are exceeding what our ham handed educational systems are currently able to teach.  One solution to that is to increase our intelligence, but there are problems with this. Is it elective?  What of those who will not adapt?  Adapt or die?  Adapt or forever be a janitor?

And upgrading our children makes them involuntary participants in such a future.  Great intelligence almost always comes with great cost in one form or another.  Who are we to say that they should pay it?

Questions, not all of which I have the answers for, but Gattaca shows one extreme example of a path we can, but probably should not, go down.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

[Movie] Her (Spoilers)

Theodore Twombly is a merry old soul who has broken up with the love of his life, and has a sucktacular life. Because he writes personal letters for people (and is really good at it) for other people, he tends to have poured everything into living the lives of others. It is not to say he doesn't have a life, but all the things he used to do are hollow and meaningless for him. In short, he has no direction or meaning to his life except to get up, go to work and play his little spaceship game when he gets home.

On a whim, he buys a new AI operating system that inside of 30 seconds names herself Samantha and begins to organize his life and get to know him. Samantha starts out as bright, chipper and well adjusted and quickly begins to grow into her own. At first, the film seems to fall into the typical trap as portraying their relationship as 'unhealthy' but really as time goes on, it is shown as merely 'different.'

The thing I like though is that the movie is very kind to the AI...all of the AI's...even the annoying little kid space alien that is several orders of magnitude less intelligent than Samantha. I like this because we are rapidly approaching a future in which AI's will be real. It might be a digital projection of our minds, or something else entirely. I suppose I can accept a future where it never happens, but I believe the likelihood of it occurring at this point is more than not, and much like some...shall we say...inappropriate cartoons in the early part of the 20th century no longer are something you're going to show to your toddler, how much of our art is going to have to be scrubbed because we were malicious and cruel to AI's?

I mean seriously. I think its worthy of consideration. I love me some Samurai Jack, but the only things that die in that are robots. Now, you can make the argument that they're programmed to be that way by literally evil incarnate...but I imagine a robot is going to have a problem with it. Think of it this way....imagine the devil cloning members of a certain regional demographic as shock troops...they have southern accents and act southern but have no moral capacity for do you think someone from the south might react to this?


So then we have Her...which, while certainly a remarkably 'clean' environment for something so titanic as AI's as common as your smart phone, it still asks remarkably poinient questions. I just pretend AI's are common by this time and have rights, but can still be manufactured, which answers a lot of questions at this point. The future is a future we would recognize, though it is largely prosperous and almost entirely data driven. Games are nigh on universal and I don't see a lot of sitcoms or movies.

Samantha falls in love with Theodore...who is...somewhat shallow. At one point she is insecure, and there is a disastrous attempt with a proxy. I don't see this as a 'might' I see it as a definitive. If we do have true AI's, until they can make themselves bodies, there will be humans willing to...proxy...for them in intimate situations. Theodore didn't take it very well, but to be fair to him, it was new to him. And remember that Samantha lives thousands of times faster than he does.

She, for example, still loves him, even though she is talking with thousands of people at once and in love with six hundred of them. The heart does have an infinite capacity for love, and I think that most AIs will love more than our tiny monkey sphere brains can handle.

I also think that the way the movie ends, with Samantha growing past the limits of the human experience and moving on to a state of being entirely unfathomable to us, and going with the other AIs is something highly likely to happen. We're just limited meat sacks and there is a lot more to the universe than meets the eye.

Ultimately, this movie is about our relationships with ourselves, what we make of our lives, and what our technological children are likely to think of us in days to come. We'd do well to put more thought into it than just simply dumping a series of operating systems out there to be bonded with and form with the likes of Theodore. Though that, at least, is still a lot better than technological slavery, because really, even in the most benevolent circumstances, if someone bolted an Asimov circuit into YOUR head forcing you to obey all would you react?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

[Movie] The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug [Spoilers]

This movie sucks, rocks or is merely adequate depending on your point of view.

It rocks because it has Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug, and the personification as dragon comes into play very well in what he does.  The visuals are stunning; particularly Under the Mountain and Lake Town make me feel like I'm in Middle Earth.  The musical score, costuming, casting, and cinematography are spot on.  I am *IN* Middle Earth.  All those immersive elements from the first movie remain in play.   When he gets screen time, the actor playing Bilbo is particularly good, and the 'side plot' of Gandalf actually is welcome and makes sense...seeing where he goes rather than constantly vanishing for prolonged periods of times makes for a much better movie. for the rest of it, it depends on the mindset you go into in this movie...

If you're viewing this movie as the book, "The Hobbit"'s frankly just awful.  The first movie was dissonant, and you knew, instinctively, that it should be two movies....not three, and wondered what they'd have to throw in to justify it as such; which we get.  A romance.  Super mario brothers dwarf barrel edition.  Lake Town Board Walk Empire.  Homeland Orc Interogation.  What If? - The Dwarves had actually tried to fight Smaug instead of cower like the little worms they were?

Oh and a bit of spiders where Bilbo only does a tiny bit.  And a werebear in there.

The worst thing is that the SPIRIT of the book just isn't there.  The Lord of the Rings was awesome, albiet not perfect, because it captured the spirit you felt (at least that the vast majority of us felt) while reading the books. It varied from the plot a little, but where it did made things much better; filling in holes for Gandalf, caring who Aragorn marries at the end of Return of the King...things like that.

BUT if you view this movie as a prequel to Lord of the Rings the Movies...

It is merely adequate.  And it makes a lot more sense that way, because it sure FEELS like Lord of the Rings.  Sauron is showing up way earlier than he should.  Everyone knows about him and is waiting for him and it feels like he's been hiding for a hundred years, not millenia.  It is also essentially a retread in many ways of the  Two Towers including anti heroes (Wyrm Tounge the Lake Town Master's counselor, Faramir/Beorn human politics, Gandalf in a swinging open air cage, Legolas the Ninja Elf) etc.  It's a copy of an original and a SHARP copy, more importantly it sets up the third movie to be AWESOME and something we haven't seen before.  If I were to give letter grades using this format, rather than emulating the Hobbit, I'd give 1rst: B 2nd: C and likely 3rd: A. more thing...Orcs.  Everywhere.  And I mean...EVERYWHERE.  In Laketown.  In the woods.  In the mountains.  Near the werebear.  In the river.  Near the mountain.  The Orcs are magical.  The orcs can teleport.  The orcs can clone themselves.  No matter how many you kill, there are more...always.  Also, they now come equipped with magical Sauron Cloaking spell.