This Is Rumour Control

Cyber-psychosis in the cinema

English Bob

Warning! This article contains serious spoilers. The statistically non-existent persons who haven't seen The Terminator, T2, Robocop and Universal Soldier and who don't wish to know anything about the film plots shouldn't read any further. Then again, should you fall into this category, you are so unprobable that normal circumstances don't apply ...

Yes! It is the long awaited return of Bob, formerly Angry, but now new, improved, enhanced, refined, augmented, strengthened, supercharged -- This is Robo-Bob!

As a superenhanced, cybernetic film viewer, where myomar and plastic compounds replace flesh and bones, where silicon out-thinks gray matter by a factor one million to one, where experiencing film via cinema theatres has been replaced by plugging the output signal of a video directly into the visual and audio centres, one cannot concern oneself with the matter of mere mortals. Films must transcend everyday issues, everyday people, everyday lives. It is not sufficient to have human heroes and heroines, it is not even sufficient to have superhuman heroes and heroines. One must seek out truly unhuman heroes and who could be a better role model, a greater idol, a higher ideal, than the man who's latissimus dorsi requires Cinemascope to fit on the screen (not to mention his surname), who gave the word ''typecasting'' a new meaning, a man who has worked his way up from humble Austrian beginnings, married into the Kennedy Clan, become the fitness advisor to the President of the United States, yet who's brain weight in grams, squared, is still numerically inferior to his bicep measurement in centimetres: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arnold is simply in a category of his own. He is just so big that no one else could possibly fit into that same category. If you made it any broader, he would probably just pump iron until he'd swelled out to fill the empty space. Fortunately, Arnold seems to do his best at keeping the category as small as possible. With the exception of a few small sidetracks into comedy -- Twins and Kindergarten Cop -- and historic drama -- (Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer -- he has kept his massive feet firmly planted in the category ''Ultra Violent Dark Future Science Fiction'', subcategory ''Few Spoken Lines''.

It is perhaps because of the presence of the subcategory that the few lines he has uttered have been such compelling and memorable phrases, such as ''Because I'm a teurminadah'' (T2), ''Da moah I am wid peepol, da moah I leurn'' (T2), ''I'll be baahck'' (The Terminator and T2), ''Stick ahrouhnd'' (Predator), ''Considah it a divoahrse'' (Total Recall) and the all time favourite, most quoted courtesy phrase of 1984, ''F?!* you, aahs-hoahl'' (The Terminator). Ingratitude is the reward of hotel cleaning staff.

Nevertheless, Mr S is at his best when portraying the life and fate of that charismatic father figure we've all learned to love, The Terminator. Few people have been able to so convincingly convey the world as seen by a cybernetic machine dedicated to eliminating a potential threat to its existence. The complete and utter assimilation of the role that Mr S manages, leaves the acting performances of people such as Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster, Dustin Hoffman and Anthony Hopkins looking like diffident first time attempts in drama classes.

One starts to wonder about the state of things in the world when a film portraying a half man, half machine, who systematically murders all women by the name of `Sarah Connor' in strict accordance to the order in which they appear in the telephone directory, is not only well received by the audiences of the world, but also starts a cult following. Even given the circumstances that it was released in 1984, an interesting fact on its own, during the height of yuppie-ism, sexism, money talks, ''I'm all right, Jack''-attitudes, hostile corporate take overs and a general climate that made Gibsonesque stories seem like a reasonable prediction of future society, it is more than a little alarming that the reason this film was so well received by audiences was not because the ''bad guy'' got what was coming to him in the end, it was because he was so bad while he was still around.

There was a universal fascination with this character that got shot repeatedly, thrown through windows, run over, blown up, beaten, burned and bruised only to shrug off the dust and get back on his feet. He is the personalization of every man's childhood dream of being able to do exactly whatever you want to, and no one can say or do anything about it. Like an overgrown, mischievous schoolboy he pays absolutely no attention to the shopkeeper who tells him ''You can't do that in here'', only to calmly reply ''Wrong!'' and send him to greener pastures.

However, Hollywood is Hollywood, and much to the dismay of this cinema attendee and others, Mr S is finally squashed into non-existence, or at least into a system shutdown. Mind over matter, or in this case, 400 thousand Newton over a metal alloy skeleton. It would have been so much more poetically just, and cynically correct, to, in the final, suspense filled moments of the factory scene, have the Cyberdyne's Model 101 (800 series) Terminator just catch up with Sarah Connor and pull her into the press with him. That way we might have been spared T2.

The sequel, ''Terminator 2 : Judgment Day'' (no one ever claimed that Americans could spell) or T2 as it is also called was essentially the same film, with more effects and a lamer terminator. Fortunately, Robert Patrick does a marvellous job of portraying the Cyberdyne Systems T-1000 series Terminator, a prototype in mimetic liquid metal, for Mr S's performance in this film is simply wimpy. Having been the meanest, baddest, most single mindedly wicked hunk of muscle and metal to walk this Earth, he is in T2 transformed into a complete wimp. Kind, caring and with a genuine interest in the welfare of humans (or at least one of us). It's as though James Cameron commissioned Disney to develop the T-800 for the second film. All that is needed is a scene where he sings and rabbits flock around the camp fire ...

This is, thankfully, more than compensated for by Robert Patrick's performance and some of the most, if not the most, stunning visual effects seen on film to date. The morphing effects (where one object turns into another object and the intermediate images are calculated and created by computer) are nothing short of stunning. Happily, Cameron has managed to avoid the temptation to use this effect just for the purpose of showing it off. When it is used, there is a reason and because of this it becomes even more delightful. They even find room for a laugh, as in the scene where the T-1000 `floats' through a steel bar gate, only to have his weapon (which doesn't transform into liquid metal) get stuck on the other side of the bars, much to the surprise of the liquid terminator.

As mentioned the T-1000 is a prototype. Much like in Hardware, this is said in passing. When I first saw the film and heard this comment, I expected an unpredictable escape clause, similar to the one in Hardware, to be thrown in to the plot towards the end, thus saving our heroes from violent death. Fortunately though, Cameron has resisted this temptation too and the film follows a fairly reasonable, though far too familiar, story through to the end.

This is also the major shortcoming of an otherwise very good action film. The story is essentially the same as that in The Terminator and many of the scenes in T2 are exact copies of scenes that appeared in the first film, right down to the factory in the end, though the outcome is slightly different. It is a pity that the most stunning action film every made has to resort to a slight rewrite of the plot of its predecessor, when everything else about this film is fresh and new. Then again, we have learned to become disenchanted, to expect nothing new and unusual from Hollywood, so I suppose we should be grateful for the few slip-ups they do perform.

The Terminator and T2 are not the only films to portray the hardships and joy of being a semi-silicon compound over titanium--steel alloy laced into muscle and bone. Robocop is set in the slightly more distant future, borrowing heavily from the Cyberpunk movement in literature for its milieu. It stars Peter Weller as the unfortunate Detroit police officer who is killed in the line of duty and rebuilt by the Omni Consumer Products corporation, who just happen to run the Detroit Police Department. The approach here is slightly different to the one that Cyberdyne Systems used. ''Metal is beautiful'', the reasoning goes, and after extensive design, construction of a metal body, testing of the 1980's IBM PC computer interface it seems to possess (at least judging from the readouts), and a large number of bottles of Chrome Lustre, Robocop is ready for action.

The story in Robocop suffers from predictability. Given the fact that OCP required the former police officer's memory to be completely erased and reprogrammed and that he was killed by one of the more violent and menacing criminals in the city, one tends to be rather unsurprised when his memory slowly starts seeping back into consciousness and he sets off on a personal vendetta to even up the score. However, to keep audiences entertained, things are not as easy as they seem. It turns out that there are rival fractions within OCP (surprise, surprise) and one of these have developed their own robotic police officer. The two meet, a mutual dislike develops and it is time for the battle of the giants. However, executives within OCP, shuttled to and from locations by limousine, riding in elevators and flying by airplanes, have long ago forgotten that the most common form of human transportation is by foot, a fact that is reflected in the operation of their shiny new toy. Before you can run ...

There is, of course, a follow up to Robocop too. Every single copy of this film should be labeled with bright yellow tape, reading ''Police barrier -- Do NOT cross''.

If augmentation is your game, then resorting to metal and hardware is not the only manner in which you can build a better body. With a solid understanding of biology and chemistry, a little experimenting and a few willing subjects, you can go a long way. Jean-Claude van Damme and Dolph Lundgren play adversaries that become willing subjects, which become Universal Soldiers, or the ultimate fighting machine. They fight with the skills of elite soldiers, they are ruthlessly efficient and they follow any order that is issued to them without questioning. Supposedly, at least, for similar to Robocop their minds are wiped before becoming Universal Soldiers and slowly but surely their old memories trickle back into their conscious minds and they embark on the task of settling their differences. What makes this film a memorable experience, apart from the ludicrous price of the cinema ticket, is Dolph Lundgren's sudden development of a Rutger Hauer complex. Following in the style of The Hitcher and Roy Batty, he manages to utter statements such as ''That's the spirit'' with stunning timing.

Unfortunately, all this augmentation costs a great deal of money. So why not spend it on cinema tickets instead? You should be able to get ticket to two or three films for just the price of an arm and a leg. Meanwhile, I'm off down to a net.node I heard of, showing 22nd century remakes of Cyborg that fell through a hole in the space-time continuum. Now, where did I place those 'trodes ...


LSFF:s hemsida