Forbin is the designer of an incredibly sophisticated computer that will run all of America's nuclear defenses. Shortly after being turned on, it detects the existence of Guardian, the Soviet counterpart, previously unknown to US Planners. Both computers insist that they be linked, and after taking safeguards to preserve confidential material, each side agrees to allow it. As soon as the link is established the two become a new Super computer and threaten the world with the immediate launch of nuclear weapons if they are detached. Colossus begins to give it's plans for the management of the world under it's guidance. Forbin and the other scientists form a technological resistance to Colossus which must operate underground.
Directed by: Joseph Sargent
. Starring: Eric Braeden
, Susan Clark
, Gordon Pinsent
, William Schallert
, Leonid Rostoff
, Georg Stanford Brown
, Willard Sage
, Alex Rodine
, Martin E. Brooks
, Marion Ross
, Dolph Sweet
, Byron Morrow
, Lew Brown
. Music by: Michel Colombier
This film defines the concept of "dated" in its purest form. It's well made in almost every respect and it its day, it might have been very good. The passage of time and changes to the world, however, have robbed it of most of its entertainment value. Today, it's of more interest from a sociological and historical perspective.
The story starts with the construction of a gigantic computer under a mountain in the western United States. The machine, called Colossus, was designed by Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden) to take over the military defense of America. Indeed, as the President (Gordon Pinsent) announces the existence and function of Colossus to the world, he seems positively relieved that human frailty and human emotion will no longer play a role in deciding if nuclear death should be launched into the sky. Almost as soon as Colossus is switched on, however, it has a startling message for its creators. It detects another massive computer brain. This one is called Guardian and it was built by the Soviet Union for the same purpose as the American's machine. That's not all, though. Colossus and Guardian want to talk to each other and demand that a communications link be provided. When the President and his Soviet counterpart (Leonid Rostoff) balk at that request, the two super computers launch missiles and a Russian town ends up destroyed.
Forbin and the designer of the Soviet computer (Alex Rodine) meet to try and figure out a way to deal with their out-of-control creations, but Colossus and Guardian foil that attempt and Forbin ends up under constant electronic surveillance. The only privacy he gets is by tricking Colossus into thinking one of Forbin's staff, Dr. Cleo Markham (Susan Clark), is his mistress. The machine agrees not to spy on them in bed and that's where Forbin comes up with a plan to neutralize the threat of their mechanical overlords. He suggests finding a way to incapacitate the missiles under computer control and the U.S. and Soviet military begin replacing the missile warhead triggers with dummy switches. But as you might expect, things don't go quite according to plan and man is left to confront his creation and the question of who really is in charge.
There's very little technically wrong with this film. The writing, acting and direction are all perfectly fine. It's much more melodrama than drama, but it works within those confines. Or at least it used to work. The problem for a modern audience is that Colossus: The Forbin Project was very much keyed into the zeitgeist of its era. The story it's telling and the way it's telling it are so strongly connected to the thoughts and feelings of its day, it has little resonance to a world that thinks and feels very differently about things.
That is most evident in how the movie actually works against any sense of increasing tension or growing desperation as the story goes along. People are certainly concerned about what is happening with these two super computers, but the film repeatedly undercuts any real sense of threat. The movie works fairly hard to keep its audience from worrying and the sense that Forbin will come up with a solution in the end is almost omnipresent in the story. But none of that was a mistake or the result of poor storytelling. These filmmakers wanted to let the audience feel that the challenge of Colossus was always going to be overcome. They were playing into the societal self-confidence of their day. This film was made at a moment in time when Americans believed that they could lick any problem if they put their mind to it and these filmmakers used that to lead the audience down the storytelling road a bit, until they hoped to shock them with an ending that was meant to shatter their self-confidence.
As I mentioned, that may have worked in that era. The modern world lacks that sense of self-confidence. When we see the characters in the movie not get more upset or agitated or worried about the threat of machine domination, we don't identify with their "can-do spirit". They seem like they're all on some sort of medication. Instead of playing into our preconceptions, the efforts to downplay the seriousness of the problem make us less interested in the story. The original viewer of this film came in expecting it to reaffirm their conviction that they are in command of their lives and their world. We're not as sure of all that today, so we pay more attention to the threat and want to see it built up and up, hoping to get an emotional release when that threat is defused. The initial audience for Colossus went in convinced the threat would be defused and the film uses that to set up its twist ending. Today's DVD watcher wants to see the threat exaggerated, is bored when it isn't and doesn't find the twist all that twisty.
The movie is also a look back to the days when computer hardware was king and the more powerful a machine was, the bigger it was expected to be. Those ideas have almost completely vanished, replaced by the power of software and the eternal goal to make every computer as small as possible. It makes you wonder how radically different our approach to technology will be several decades from now.
It's hard to recommend Colossus: The Forbin Project, even though it is good in most respects. I f you can look at it more like a study of the mindset of a previous generation and less like a conventional film, you still might enjoy it a bit.
Review by MBunge from the Internet Movie Database.