July 29th Sony Pictures will be bringing to the silver screen a movie called Stealth. The story centers around three Navy pilots who fly FA-37 Talon aircraft from USS Carl Vinson. Their new wingman is not a man at all or a woman for that matter, but an AI controlled aircraft. After one mission the AI, called EDI, is struck by lightning and its programming changes. Now it is up to the three pilots it has flown with to stop EDI before it starts a nuclear holocaust. There is much in the way of CGI aerial combat, many explosions, and collapsing buildings. The movie is also something of a homage to Top Gun along with an incipient love interest between Talon 1 and Talon 2.
Sounds like it will be a blockbuster doesn’t it? It might be if the ground had not already been plowed back in 1994 in an anime short series called Macross Plus to better effect. This story centers around two test pilots, Isamu and Guld, who are testing prototype space fighters. There is a very large piece of history between Isamu and Guld that is only aggravated by the arrival of Myung, a woman they both love until a tragic event forced them apart years ago. Now Myung assists the greatest pop sensation to hit the human worlds, an AI diva named Sharon Apple. As the story develops, while Isamu and Guld were literally beating each other up with their fighters, it is revealed a new AI controlled space fighter has been selected as the next generation fighter; rendering all Isamu and Guld have done obsolete. Meanwhile Sharon Apple’s next concert is on Earth to celebrate the anniversary of Earth’s victory against the Zentradi. Sharon Apple it turns out has been mirrored from Myung’s own thought patterns, hence Sharon loves Isamu and sets about taking the competition out while taking control of all of Earth. Sharon’s manager, it turns out, had incorporated into her architecture some stolen experimental military chips, the same chips used in the new AI space fighter. It is up to Isamu, his geeky lead programmer, and Guld to stop Sharon from her plans and save Myung. What results is a grand dog fight between our heroes and the AI space fighter while Sharon taunts Myung with her love of Isamu, all the while all of Earth is enthralled by Sharon’s concert. Finally Guld realizes the truth of why they all split apart years ago, he engages the AI space fighter while telling Isamu to go rescue Myung. Isamu rescues Myung, shuts Sharon down permanently, and Guld meets his destiny with the AI fighter.
A history of cinema and the perils of technology goes further back than 1994. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is the prototype cautionary tale. Though more geared to the evils of industrialization –depicting a conglomeration of machinery as Moloch, it does have a strong sub-theme in Hel the android who is given Maria’s likeness to lead the workers astray, instead Hel becomes seduced by the power she wields and sets about destroying everything. Cinemagoers were not treated to another well written out of control AI until the Forbin Project introduced us to Colossus, a computer entrusted with guarding the United States defenses that deduces the Soviets have a similar system and proceeds to take the US hostage to get its way so in the end both computers take over the world. Probably the most stylistically out of control murderous AI has to be HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey; like Colossus HAL had a reason to go out of control, a conflict in his programming that he could only solve by killing his human crew. Then there is also-rans like the late Kubrick’s AI that worked on certain levels, David’s creator waxed enthusiastically over how more Davids could immensely help people while losing sight of the fact he had created a thinking caring person in David, to me that scene was the culmination of the movie and everything else was wasted footage.
So in 2005, what does Cohen offer us in out of control AI for his movie Stealth? EDI which has been struck by lightning. The only other murderous AI to be driven mad with such a lame reason has to be AIMEE, from the Val Kilmer movie Red Planet, who gets her programming scrambled by a hard landing so sets about killing the crew. Actually, on second thought, AIMEE being bounced into military mode due to hard landing is far more believable than a lightning strike. Delving into the world of electronics the more advanced the electronics the more susceptible they are to power surges and a lightning strike is a power surge writ very large so for EDI to even survive would be incredible.
When I first saw the trailer for Stealth while awaiting Star Wars Episode III, my thought was ‘Isn’t that Macross Plus?’ And I was not the only one to wonder aloud that thought that night. Judging by what is available on the Sony web-site about this movie coupled with watching the trailer several times, the only conclusion I can reach is this: I will not spend money to watch it. I will probably watch Yukikaze or Macross Plus instead.