Monday, August 24, 2009

Review Article / Andy Scott [041399967]

1. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

An object of incredible power is on a direct course for planet Earth, all attempts to intercept it have been met with destruction. There remains but one ship that can reach the object in time, the recently reconstructed U.S.S. Enterprise and its legendary crew. They discover that the object is directly related to Earth history, but will that knowledge help them save mankind?

With many film studios attempting to capitalize on the Star Wars phenomena, the Star Trek franchise was revisited. Under these particular circumstances you'd imagine a clear cut and paste, good versus evil storyline with mind-blowing special effects, a lucrative blockbuster that won't put a strain on your brain. What you wouldn't expect is a commentary on how beliefs shape us, how true faith has no boundary and why from certain perspectives it can be viewed as hostile.

The crew of the Enterprise discovers that the aforementioned object is a type of living machine that refers to itself as V'Ger. It is on a crusade to become one with its creator which it expects to find on Earth. When V'Ger arrives at Earth and cannot contact its creator it becomes convinced that it's a result of the carbon life forms inhabiting the creator's planet and thus sets in motion a plan to eradicate all life on Earth.

These events clearly symbolize a parallel with Earth's own history of religious crusades in the name of God, humans on heavenly missions. These people are shown alternatively here through the character of a machine, unemotional, single-minded and also stated to be "childish" in nature. It is suggested that at our most extreme we would not simply seek submission plus conversion of faith, but complete annihilation justified only by our apparent quest to be one with God. This film could have easily scripted the story from an opposite point of view i.e. Earth invading other planets to spread democracy, but it insists we examine how it would feel to be on the weaker side in an ideological war.

Ultimately we discover that V'Ger truly was created on Earth as it had maintained all along. V'Ger began its journey as the Voyager probe sent from Earth to find out everything in the universe before returning to Earth to relay that information. Somewhere along the way it had evolved into a sentient machine and its initial mission objective became an unquestionable dogma.

Here the filmmakers suggest that our own unyielding ways towards religious law may have been the result of taking words of the past completely out of context and their importance may be exaggerated. If V'Ger misinterpreted its mission then may we have also made that same error in judgment? At the very least the film raises the point of reasonable doubt and asks how can we justify any crusade in the presence of said doubt. All in all quite deep for a cheesy sci-fi flick.

2. Bicentennial Man (1999)

Bicentennial Man is the story of Andrew Martin, an android different from his ilk due to glitches in his programming which cause him to act more 'human'. He devotes the entirety of his existence to his goal of becoming human in every way and to be recognized as one by the rest of humanity.

It specifically asks the question 'Could an android become human enough by our own standards?' and you might wonder the worth of such a debate many years before the actual problem has arisen. But it does lead to the question 'what makes us human at all?' which has immediate real life applications. For example were this story told several hundred years in the past, they might ask the same about a non-Caucasian person. Why go back that far, we can find examples in living memory. It's ironic that we only update our definition of 'humanity' after we stop committing certain crimes against it.

So the question is legitimate, can Andrew Martin remove all traces of android and become human? Early in the film he displays human characteristics that we'd like to believe are beyond the reach of programming e.g. imagination, humour, loyalty and love. But superficially it'd be hard to gaze upon Andrew Martin without resorting to prejudiced stereotypes. He may mimic human behaviour, but he is far from human.

Specific behaviour is not enough to achieve human status, so it must come down to physical form. Using his vast intellect, he designs advanced human organs and his innards replaced with them. Now he is the same as us on the inside, on top of which he now has to go through the rigors of ageing. Though this is not enough for him to rise above the rank of android, regardless of the fact that others are using these mechanical organs whilst still being deemed wholly human. So on top of being overly superficial in our definition, we're also overtly hypocritical when confronted by faults in our argument. Perhaps Andrew should rethink his path.

Eventually he becomes physically as human as anyone else, but tragically dies moments before the government of Earth proclaims Andrew to be human. He misses out on his affirmation, his sole purpose for living. Alternatively the message here is that Andrew had always considered himself human, he probably knew that eventually we'd all see it too once we got past our prejudices. Andrew wasn't trying to become human in the same way that we are. He knew he was our equal and knew the only way to make us see it was to live up to our standards. It's also interesting to note the idea that the characteristics that separate us from other species may ultimately come down to glitch in our own programming. It certainly puts the term 'only human' into perspective.

Andy Scott

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