Tag Archives: elysium

Why I like science fiction films

This was meant to have been posted in July, but when I scheduled it, I accidentally scheduled it to post in 2010 not 2014, so it was filed where no one could find it! Enjoy.

For the oral exam in my French class last week, I drew a subject out of a hat and talked about it in front of my classmates. The question was which genre of film do I particularly like and why. My answer was science fiction, a fact recently bolstered by re-watching Alien and taking in last summer’s Oblivion (not bad, if not great) and Pacific Rim this month.

Why do I like science fiction movies?

First, growing up in a small town in Alberta leaves most opportunities for adventure up to the imagination. Of which I had no short supply as a child, I admit. What science fiction films provided for me was adventure far beyond the world of the Clearwater Forest, the North Saskatchewan River, the Rocky Mountains. A world where adventure was as thrilling as what I imagined was going on during a hike in the mountains.

Science fiction fuels the appetite of young boys and young men, provides us with vicarious adventures we’d not otherwise have. And not all sci-fi adventure is violent (not denying the violence of the Alien and Terminator franchises, though) — in The Empire Strikes Back we have the battle on Hoth at the beginning and then some firefight and a legendary light sabre duel at the end. Most of the adventure is spent in running from the Empire and meeting Yoda, the adventure of training young Luke Skywalker.

Second, and related, science fiction can help open our eyes to a bigger universe, a universe not simply of adventure but even of opportunity. My cousin who grew up in actual middle of nowhere at a missionary station in Africa says that Star Trek was a very important influence on her when young because it helped her see a world, a universe, larger than what she knew. Star Trek doesn’t just stave off boredom, it opens minds and eyes to the universe, to the potential of humanity. It can make clever young minds realise that perhaps they aren’t alone in the universe. (For the clever do so often feel alone. And I don’t mean aliens; I mean other clever people.)

Third, science fiction films can discuss issues of philosophy, politics, and society in an imaginary forum without the heat generated by real, live conversations. This way, a person who is being entertained can begin questioning him- or herself about his’er own life. Famously, Star Trek includes the first televised interracial kiss in the 1960s. It also features an episode where two races are at ceaseless war on a planet where one race was black on the left and white on the right half of their bodies, the other race the opposite. And that was the basis of their conflict. Star Trek shows the utter folly of racism.

District 9 raises questions about the treatment of refugees. Elysium makes us probe into the growing disparity between earth’s rich and poor and the mental apparatus for a just society. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country makes us ask: what is it to be human? Can ancient enemies become friends?

The final frontier is not space, my friends. It is the human mind, and human potential is the subject of many of the greatest science fiction stories, from Forbidden Planet through classic Star Trek to Inception. What are the limits of the mind? If you give a human brain too much power, what sort of person do you get? What does character have to do in relation to this intectual potential?

Finally, it’s fun. This is coming full circle to the first reason. Beyond the questions of what is human and what is just action and all of that, I like science fiction because I enjoy it. I read a lot of books all day and work fairly hard at my PhD. It is nice sometimes to come home and watch a movie like Pacific Rim that has a good story and is visually stunning but doesn’t require as much brain power as I’ve expended all day.

These are the reason I gave, only much more eloquently and with more examples in English than in French!

Movies that would be different with the Three Laws of Robotics

First, so you know what’s going on, Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

These laws were developed in Asimov’s various robot stories and novels as a way of protecting humanity from the Frankenstein complex. The laws are so thoroughly encoded into the positronic brain that an Asimovian robot would cease to function were it to break one of the laws.

The thought came to me while watching Elysium that none of the action of the film would have happened with the Three Laws — the robot cop wouldn’t have been able to use force against Matt Damon’s character, who would thence not be irrated, and thus never invade Elysium. Boom. Done.

What other films would be affected by the Three Laws of Robotics? Obviously robots built by aliens, such as Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still, don’t count.

Well, straightaway, obviously no Terminator, Matrix, Blade Runner, or Battlestar Galactica or any other film/TV series wherein robots are the antagonists. The Three Laws are meant to prevent precisely those films.

Alien would only be slightly different. Ash would have to be replaced by a human who, for some diabolical reasoning or bent in his psychology, was willing to do what Weyland Industries wanted. Similarly, then, for Michael Fassbender’s robot in Prometheus. It is plausible to use a human being in these two cases.

Star Wars would lack the interrogation droid, but I’m pretty sure people could have given Princess Leia needles instead. And the droid army in Phantom Menace was utterly useless, anyway; the Trade Federation would have done better to hire mercs or something that can’t be taken down by a power failure. However, the fact that their actions in helping run small fighters kill ‘human’ life, programming R2 units and their ilk with the Three Laws would make them unserviceable in the Rebel fleet.

The auto-pilot in Wall-E would not have suppressed the information of Earth’s habitability brought back by EVE and they would have gone straight home.

Do mutants count as human? The Sentinals in X-Men: Days of Future Past are designed precisely to hunt down mutants, although they do turn on human sympathisers and potential parents of mutants. I wonder.

These are all I can think of. Of course, the robot brutality in Elysium is of interest because the robots can only harm or even arrest non-citizens of Elysium. So there is an element of the Three Laws as applied only to the wealthy in that case. So even foolproof programming can lead to problems for the fools…