The 8 Ball 4.15.14: Top 8 Villainous Movie A.I.s
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 04.15.2014
From Agent Smith in The Matrix and Skynet in the Terminator franchise to Resident Evil's Red Queen, Ash in Alien and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 villainous movie artificial intelligences!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Villainous Movie A.I.s
Welcome back to yet another edition of the 411 Movie Zone 8 Ball! As usual, I'm your host Jeremy Thomas. This week Transcendence hits theaters. Wally Pfister's directorial debut stars Johnny Depp as an expert in artificial intelligence who, after being near-fatally shot, has his intelligence uploaded to unsurprisingly horrific results. A.I.s are a common villain in science fiction; the idea of a formidable intellect that lacks the ability to process human emotion has made for any number of dangerous situations, many of which have resulted in the destruction (or subjugation) of mankind. This week we're going to take a look at some of the greatest villainous A.I.s in movie history.
Caveat: We're defining "artificial intelligence" today as exactly that: an intelligence that was not created through natural means (i.e. birth and procreation) but by scientific methods. An A.I. must be self-aware and able to learn on its own; simple robots don't qualify. That's pretty much where I left the criteria at.
Just Missing The Cut
• Sally - Oblivion (2013)
• VIKI - I, Robot (2004)
• Chip Hazard - Small Soldiers (1998)
• Gunslinger - Westworld (1973)
• AUTO - WALL-E (2008)
#8: Sark - Tron (1982)
First up on our list is a person who ranks a bit lower than he otherwise would because he isn't the primary architect of the little hell he's created. Sark, as played by longtime genre character actor David Warner, is the primary enforcer of the Master Control Program in the world of Tron. But while he isn't the top banana, he's certainly the most threatening character and serves as the primary antagonist of the film. As the MCP's right-hand man, he plays the role of the tyrant in the virtual world and everything about him represents the opposite of what the digital world was hoping to become. Early computer pioneers saw this new technology as a form of freedom, a way to break free from the old, oppressive and conformist ways of doing things and their pioneering spirit made that viewpoint make sense. Sark is there to enforce the will of the authority on all programs and to keep a hierarchy of power in place, which makes him a singularly terrifying entity within the virtual world. He's not just brawn though; Sark is a very shrewd tactician and presents quite an obstacle for Flynn and Tron. With his red cybernetic armor he was a striking visual contrast from the heroes and certainly one of the best early A.I.s.
#7: Red Queen - Resident Evil (2002)
"Your sister was a psychotic bitch," Alice tells the White Queen program in Resident Evil: Apocalypse. I'm paraphrasing just a bit here, but suffice it to say that there was no love lost between the film franchise's heroine and the computer program in charge of the Hive from the first film. And from a human standpoint, Alice is right. The Red Queen, a construct created by Charles Ashford, had no compunctions or guilt about killing off a mass quantity of Umbrella employees. But on another level, she's simply misunderstood. The Queen was simply following her program parameters by sealing off the Hive in order to prevent the T-Virus outbreak from escaping into the real world. It was only because of Alice and company's refusal to die, after all, that the virus got out and decimated the population. Still, as an adversary this computer intellect in the image of a child was incredibly formidable. It easily eliminated most of the military team sent down to handle the situation and refused to see the possibility that there was any chance of hope. That it was accurate doesn't make it any less of a villain. And of course when it was reprogrammed in Retribution it just became an all-out villain and set out to destroy humanity in vengeance, so there is that too.
#6: Joshua - WarGames (1983)
There are certain cinematic words that will live forever. One of them, without question, is "How about a nice game of chess?" These are the words spoken by Joshua--or WOPR, if you prefer--the supercomputer intelligence that is in charge of NORAD's military simulations in WarGames. Now to be fair, for all intents and purposes Joshua is not exactly a villain, but it is the primary adversary in the film. When Matthew Broderick's hacker David gets in and asks to play Global Thermonuclear War, he doesn't realize that he's putting the world just a minute away from midnight on the nuclear holocaust clock. But that's exactly what he's doing, as Joshua simulates a nuclear attack that is so real that the experts within NORAD are unable to figure out how to stop it. It isn't until David realizes that Joshua's ability to learn gives them a chance that nuclear annihilation is averted. Joshua simultaneously represents the dangers in putting such dangerous technology in robotic hands and the optimism that A.I.s can indeed potentially learn. Sure, it may not be as visually stunning as some other A.I.s, but in terms of what it can potentially do the world, there are few that rival Joshua.
#5: Ash - Alien (1979)
Ash is the first synthetic we meet in the Alien franchise and while he isn't the last, he is easily the most terrifying. As played by the inestimably talented Ian Holm, we first meet Ash believing him to be human. Ash is serving as the science officer on the Nostromo, handling medical treatment and all the other duties that would fall under that jurisdiction. He's a bit of an enigma, but he's certainly not acting like a monster. It isn't until after the Xenomorph is running around the ship and destroying his crewmates that we learn the horrifying truth. During a heated confrontation with Ripley, Ash goes haywire and attacks her, trying to suffocate her with a rolled up magazine. When Parker hits him hard enough to kill him, it just knocks his head off and that's when we see what he truly is. In Alien, Ash represents the callous, cold corporation that is willing to sacrifice the lives of its crew for the monetary gain of the Xenomorph specimen. He is the instrument of humanity but he's no gem himself; the way he's smiling when he tells Ripley and the crew that their chances of survival are low is absolutely chilling. Later synthetics were more heroic, but they were always suspect because of Ash's shocking betrayal.
#4: Roy Batty - Blade Runner (1982)
As we discussed in my column on the top 8 cyborgs, the true nature of replicants within Blade Runner is somewhat nebulous. Whether they're biological or mechanical is difficult to tell. One thing that we know for sure, however, is that they are artificial and that qualifies them for this list. And of course the leader of the little cell of rebellious Nexus 6 replicants is the primary villain of the film. Rutger Hauer has a long resume, but Roy may just be his best role ever. Let's not split hairs; Roy is undoubtedly a villain. He's responsible for the deaths of innocent people and caused the Earth's government to decide to destroy them all. But he's also a tragic figure, given a four year lifespan and yet the sentience and intellect to realize just how cursed of a life he had. That evokes a sense of sympathy for the character, something that Hauer beautifully evoked with his layered portrayal. We completely get why he has to go, but by the end of the film we understand him and we feel for him when the inevitable happens. Batty may not have the world-killing abilities of some of the other A.I.s on this list, but in terms of characterization few of the others even come close to him.
#3: Skynet - The Terminator Franchise
What Joshua nearly accomplished in WarGames, Skynet actually had the balls to pull the trigger on. The Terminator franchise could almost be seen as an alternate universe to that in WarGames, one in which the A.I. ended up simply making a different choice. But Skynet is the one that wins out because, well...frankly, it's a more villainous character. The quest to put a stop to Judgment Day--when Skynet will end civilization as we know it--is the primary driver of this franchise and even though we don't exactly see the A.I. itself, we see the embodiment of it in the various Terminator models. It's a remarkably devious system, and one which becomes so intelligent that it actually figures out how to travel back in time. The entity has spanned multiple films and a gone-too-soon television series to become the ultimate exclamation every time that some news story about artificial intelligence hits the internet. One of these days, if we're not careful, Skynet really will destroy us all.
#2: Agent Smith - The Matrix Franchise
All right, so Agent Smith got a little bit ridiculous when he was having Superman fights with Neo at the end of The Matrix Revolutions. But up until that point he was an incredibly potent force and an instantly iconic science fiction villain. Hugo Weaving played this character so wonderfully in the Wachowski Sibling franchise; he moves and talks and acts like a human but of course he's just a program, and the little things he does make that differentiation. The slow way he talks, the deliberate movements. These are off-putting and they make the character far more disturbing before we realize exactly what he is. Agent Smith was a perfect foil to Neo, and when he was "infected" by Neo and given self-awareness he became that much more dangerous. Smith suffered a bit from ninjaitis--the idea that one is formidable but many are easy to beat--but he was always a dangerous force that loomed tall over our little group of reality freedom fighters and his ability to turn on even his creators propels him into the runner-up position on this list.
#1: HAL 9000 - 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
HAL 9000 is easily the most famous artificial life in film history. "I'm sorry Dave; I can't do that" is a landmark quote in science fiction history. And he's iconic for a few very, very good reasons. Let's just start with the image. He doesn't have a true physical form or even a virtual form like Agent Smith's, but his representation as a red glowing camera eye is just sinister. It's also amazing how deceptive he is; in Kubrick's masterpiece, HAL is a warm, soft-spoken and conversational artificial intelligence. He actually seems friendlier than Dave and Frank, the humans on the ship. That level of deception makes him a better villain than the more straight-forward A.I.s that populate this list. Add in his perceptive abilities, his ability to control the entire ship and his near-omniscience in terms of technical knowledge and you have a character that was nearly unbeatable. He is absolutely the greatest A.I. film villain of all-time.
Disguise of the Episode
Current Series/Season:Season One (2001 - 2002) Episodes Watched: 16 Last Serial Completed:The Prophecy - Sydney is tested by the DSR to discover her mysterious link to a chilling 500-year-old picture and prophecy foretold in a Rambaldi manuscript. Meanwhile, after uncovering the identity of the rogue group leader, "The Man," Sloane learns through fellow Alliance of Twelve member Edward Poole that a close friend may be in cahoots with the enemy. Episodes Remaining: 89
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.