Darth Maul: Apprentice – A Star Wars Fan Film

Chappie is, well, you know…

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I can see it now. Director Neil Blomkamp, still full of hope and promise after District 9 and only slightly tarnished from Elysium, goes into a meeting to pitch his next project, Chappie

“I have a vision for a movie about a robot. It’s a mashup of Short Circuit and Robocop. It’ll be great! And to ensure that we get the young adult crowd, we’ll give it a hard R rating!! Whattayasay???”

Investors are still unconvinced and so he continues on:

“Look, I’ve got a stellar cast lined up. We’ll have Sharito Copley do the motion capture for Chappie, my buddy Dev Patel will be the scientist/creator, Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja will be the criminals you can’t help but love, Sigourney Weaver will be the clueless CEO and Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman will be our villain!! Heck, I’ll even get Hans Zimmer to do the music It can’t miss!!! Whattayasay?????”

Of course, the movie gets greenlit. It does sound great! Unfortunately, the reality is far removed from the vision.

Chappie depicts a world in the not too distant future where Robots are being used as the main force in augmenting the abilities of the local police to combat crime. They are called Scout Drones and are the creation of  Deon Wilson (Patel). His main rival is Vincent Moore (Jackman), who has created another type of robot called MOOSE that is the mother of all overkill in modern weapons. Moose is big, has machine guns, as well as Cluster bombs.

Wackiness ensues when Deon, who is ready to test a program that will make artificial intelligence sentient, uses the new program on a Scout that is scheduled to be scrapped. Through a series of events, Vincent discovers what Deon has done and plots to use the situation to discredit Deon and gain support for his MOOSE program. Things are complicated when the now sentient robot, called CHAPPIE, winds up being “raised” by a group of criminals that want to use him to pull off one big heist. He winds up talking like the gangsters that are raising them and even emulates their body language. 

Chappie excels in the integration of the motion capture work of Sharito Copley to bring the sentient robot to life. The cinematography is exceptional and creates a believable atmosphere of squalor coupled with technological achievement. The scenes where Chappie is abandoned and experiences the cruelty of man firsthand can be jarring and echoes incidents of abuse that are all too often parts of our reality.

The film breaks down with incredibly huge, gaping holes in its internal logic. Chappie has the intelligence of a newborn when he first awakens. However, without explanation, he matures mentally to a young teenager. I can accept that the AI can develop more quickly than a human, but there is no context to show how fast he learns or how he gains the knowledge to use the skills he demonstrates. He also makes an unexplained leap from the mind of a child with no experience regarding computer science, programming or computation to being able to develop a way to transfer a consciousness from one body to another.

I could ignore these potholes and chock it up to editing, however there is one major plot point upon which the movie turns, that is unforgivable. Chappie possesses a CPU that acts as a “key”. It connects him to the rest of the Scout drone network.  In a particularly disturbing scene, Vincent captures Chappie and removes the key so that he can disable the network and create a situation that can only be resolved by deploying the MOOSE unit. The plan is put into effect and the network is shut down. INCLUDING CHAPPIE. HUH? He’s not connected to the network anymore so how is this possible? Later in the movie, Chappie is able to accomplish a major plot point by entering the network, BUT HE STILL DOESN’T HAVE THE KEY! 

In my opinion, gaping lapses in story logic is an unforgivable sin that ruins  my ability to enjoy a film.

Ultimately, Chappie is a disappointment because no matter how well intended the allegory, if you don’t follow the rules you set up in your story, your message doesn’t matter.

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The Imitation Game is Riveting

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The Imitation Game is the Oscar nominated film directed by Morten Tyldum, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander, and Rory Kinnear as Detective Robert Nock. It is based on the book titled Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

People tend to forget that when a film is portrayed as being based on something that it means exactly that. This is not a documentary and is not a faithful, historical recreation of Alan Turing’s life. What this film does is take 3 specific time periods in Alan Turing’s life and weaves a story about the race to break the codes of the Nazi Enigma machine to help hasten the end of WW II. 

Tyldum does a masterful job of creating an interweaving story that shows Turing’s relationships with the men (and woman)he worked with on the top secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, the impact of his experiences as a young boy in boarding school and his friendship with Christopher Morcom, and finally, the consequences in 1951 for Alan Turing after  he is investigated by the police for suspicious behavior.

The film works on so many levels. It is a thriller, a mystery and a tale of prejudice and discrimination. We get a glimpse into the turmoil that Turing must have experienced during his life as a gifted genius who also happens to live in a society where homosexuality is a crime punishable by either prison or chemical castration. It serves as perfect metaphor for so many people today who may be gifted in a variety of areas, but are experiencing prejudice and discrimination in their own lives.

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A director working on a biographical/historical film has a couple of innate problems that must be dealt with, regardless of the subject matter. In an interview with Time magazine, Mr. Tyldum is quoted as saying:

“It’s a huge responsibility when you’re dealing with real-life persons and real-life events to do it accurately. Of course, you have to compress a lot into two hours, and there’s no way you can be totally accurate. You have to convey the emotional accuracy—how did Alan Turing feel at this time?—and to do that, you sort of have to dramatize events.

That’s why I wanted it to feel like a thriller. He was 27 years old when he came to Bletchley Park, where the code-breakers worked. Here was this man plucked straight out of Cambridge. And he ends up with all these incredible secrets being dumped on his shoulders and all this incredible pressure. It would be as if he was living in the middle of this wartime spy thriller, so that’s what we wanted to convey.

One thing people have been saying is it’s not accurate that the machine he built was named Christopher. Here’s the fact though: The machine was inspired by Christopher. We know this because he wrote letters to Christopher’s mom his whole life. We know that from his journals, his obsession about recreating a consciousness that he lost—Christopher. How do we communicate that onscreen without making it a lecture? By naming the machine Christopher.”

The Imitation Game is not the only Oscar nominated biographical film to come under scrutiny this year. American Sniper has had its own share of critics for not being an accurate portrayal of Chris Kyle.

The biographical film will hopefully accomplish several goals. It should give the audience a snapshot of the subject and the circumstances that make this a significant period to observe. It should also create a need to know. What’s the full story? Why did this happen? What impact does it have on my life? In my case, I felt both films were very successful. I researched the lives of both men after I saw those films. When I discovered the differences it did not make me feel like I had been cheated or lied to. Instead, I felt that I was now more educated about events and issues that I had previously been ignorant about.

See The Imitation Game. You might discover some things you didn’t know before. It’s then up to you to find out if you were manipulated or educated.

 

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