Leaving soon: ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’ on Criterion Channel

Long before The Terminator and The Matrix there was Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), the godfather of all digital dystopia films where computers challenge humanity.

Set in the depths of a Cold War in the not-so-near future (at least from the vantage point of 1970),  the American Government takes a bold step in the arms race by creating a vast underground electronic brain to control the entire national defense system. Almost simultaneously the Russians mastermind their own master control computer.

When the two systems start to communicate they decide the best method to prevent world war is a “benign” digital dictatorship. The world suddenly faces a super-computer makes 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL 9000 look like a laptop with attitude, giving the orders with nary a reset button in sight.

British actor Eric Braeden is the almost too cool as the computer scientist Forbin, the father of Colossus. He struggles to outwit his supermachine spawn with the help of co-worker Susan Clark, his one contact with the outside world, while Colossus keeps him a virtual prisoner

But the real star is Colossus, whose demanding messages ominously scroll across computer screens to the chattering noise of a teletype. The hardware may be dated (spinning magnetic tape, blinking light arrays, and ribbons of punch-tape programs) but the intelligent screenplay from James Bridges constructs a sophisticated, continually surprising thriller that pits man against a globally connected computer network which couldn’t be more contemporary. Its legacy can be seen in films from The Terminator to War Games to The Matrix.

Gordon Pinsent, William Schallert, and Georg Stanford Brown costar.

Originally rated M, rerated TV-PG.

Streams for a limited time on Criterion Channel; leaves at the end of September

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Colossus: The Forbin Project [Blu-ray]
Colossus: The Forbin Project [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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