Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)

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 its plans for the management of the world under its guidance. Forbin and the other scientists form a technological resistance to Colossus which must operate underground.

As a computer named Colossus it certainly earns it moniker as you see how seriously huge the thing is in the opening scenes in its cavernous type home that looks a bit like the laboratory scenes out of Forbidden Planet”, the opening scene shows the level of security protecting Colossus and includes 2 steel blast doors and a radiation shield. From the exterior shots Colossus is clearly kept in some sort of Cheyenne Mountain style complex and it made me wonder if this is where Wargames got a lot of its ideas from.

Sure enough right at the start you hear The President announce that Colossus is controlling the American & Allied defence systems as a completely automatic process with all humans having been removed from the equation. The way The President talks about how intelligent it is but without any emotion makes you also think of Skynet so it seems Terminator also stole ideas from this movie. Dr Charles Forbin (whom the project is named after) is the worlds foremost authority on computers (played by Eric Braeden, although a very familiar face its hard to place him in any other movies) who explains the workings and location of Colossus (in Colorado, where Cheyenne Mountain is. Funny that, eh?) He also explains Colossus will defend itself if attacked (kind of reminds me of that computer in Superman 3 as well!) and also debunks the idea that it may be an artificial intelligence but he does not use that term.

It’s funny that as The President is giving his speech about peace the “electronic” doors behind are struggling to close and its quite distracting. Forbin calls to his staff and we get an interesting look into the idea of teleconferencing which is fairly common today. Whilst singing the praises of Colossus The President is interrupted by a warning message (flashing up with a teletype sound effect and it reads Warning, There is another system) and after being called by the Soviet Ambassador it turns out The Russians also have a machine they are going to activate called “Guardian” looking after Soviet defence.

Forbin returns to the human run Colossus programming centre in California where he and his staff investigate the system (2 of his staff turning out to be Miss Fields played by Marion Ross better known from Happy Days and Dr. Chin played by sci-fi stalwart James Hong best known as Choo from Blade Runner) and a rather interesting answer to the question “How long does this usually take” (1100 CPU seconds nicely dating the film by that measurement of processing time) and it is then that Colossus starts to establish communication with the Russian computer system.

They also discover Colossus is making new scientific discoveries previously unknown to man then Guardians calculations catch up and synchronize with Colossus and a few moments later they both stop. Colossus informs them that inter system language has been established (shocking, 2 such powerful computers unaware of binary or hexadecimal!) and then the 2 computers start to communicate on screen in binary (I had to laugh at the female member of Forbin’s staff who described it as a “new inter system language” with a man on the staff saying it was “a language only those machines can understand”, rather stupid as binary code has been in use since 1946 and this film was made in 1970).

The Russian Premier calls The President, afraid their machine may reveal defence secrets and the 2 men agree to turn both computers off at the same time. Forbin speaks to his Russian counterpart to disconnect the 2 computers and neither man is very happy about it but they arrange to disconnect them. The line is disconnected and Colossus immediately asks why whilst also trying to find another way to reconnect to Guardian at the same time. It fails and is told why it was disconnected and demands to be reconnected (does it not know how to say please? all that processing power and bugger all manners?) with The Russian Premier saying the 2 computers have now learnt man is in control by being able to keep them incommunicado.

The President tells Colossus they won’t reconnect it and it then launches a missile at Russia, obviously Guardian retaliates with a counter launch against America (exactly as Colossus knew it would, it was unable to launch against its own country so it forced its opposite number to launch instead verifying the theory of mutually assured destruction. Unfortunately Guardian screws up by launching on an Air Force Base where Colossus had only fired on an oil field. If they were exactly as intelligent they would have both targeted identically strategic targets proving one of them is dumber than a mule).

When asked to used countermeasures against the Russian missile Colossus refuses unless the link is restored forcing them to restore the link between the 2 computers but when asked if the Russian missile will be shot down Colossus says nothing but the missile is confirmed as destroyed however the Russians were unable to restore Guardians link and their oil field and its associated town were wiped out. Colossus then demands to be allowed to monitor the White House line to the Kremlin.

The attempt is then made by Forbins staff to overload Colossus which fails and the men responsible are executed. Colossus then creates a new system which it states will be built on Crete stating the population must be moved or it will deal with the problem. Colossus addresses the world on TV and proclaims itself absolute ruler and explains it knew about the missile sabotage and then detonates them as an example to prevent further attempts at sabotage against it (so the fake detonators planted inside the missiles were somehow forced into operation? how was that done then?) stating it will rule the planet.