By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Computer impregnates a human.
Based on an early Dean R. Koontz novel the story centers on Susan Harris (Julie Christie) who is married to Alex (Fritz Weaver) a man who has created a giant artificially intelligent computer named Proteus (voice of Robert Vaughn) as well as installing a computer inside their own home, which does all of their household chores and is fully automated via voice command. Things seem to be going fine until Proteus starts to question the assignments that he has been given and his unhappiness with being ‘trapped inside a box’. To remedy the situation he decides to use the computer terminal inside the Harris’s home, so that he can overtake the house through his electronic commands and then impregnate Susan to have his child and therefore experience life as a person instead of a machine.
One of the things that got on my nerves right away was the way the film immediately telegraphs where it is going and reeks with ‘70s paranoia about computers ‘overtaking the world’, which was a prevalent fear during that era as computers were just in their infancy and their ultimate place in human society still not fully understood.
The Alex character is too ambivalent towards the warning signs and comes off like the clichéd super scientist with a child-like enthusiasm about his ‘creation’ and not the slightest concern for what might happen if things go wrong and the way he becomes so quickly shocked when the computer does start to behave in a way he had not considered seems almost laughable. Real-life scientists would most assuredly have considered these issues and had safeguards already put in place and the fact that the characters here don’t just doesn’t seem believable.
When the Proteus computer takes over Susan’s home I didn’t find it frightening, but more unintentionally funny for many of the same reasons. I don’t think that I myself could ever get used to a computer running everything for me and doing whatever I said at the sound of my voice. In the back of my mind, and in any sane person’s mind for that matter, I would be worrying about it malfunctioning and the consequences that it would entail, so when things finally do go wrong I found it laughable because anyone could have clearly seen it coming from the start. In fact the only thing that saves this thing from a being a complete dud is Christie’s brilliant performance and the fact that she gets you to see her character as a real human being and someone you care for and want to see rescued.
The script suffers from a myriad of other logical loopholes as well. One of them is the whole basic premise of how a computer can somehow manipulate human DNA in order to get supposedly his ‘genes’ into the child, so that it fully has his own traits and even his own voice. There is also no suitable explanation for how he was able to speed-up the gestation period from the 9 months to just 28 days. I was also surprised that the husband never bothers to call his wife during that 28-day period. Yes, I realize that they had just separated, but it was a very amicable one and I would still have thought he would’ve called-in at some point simply to check-in. There is also another character played by Gerrit Graham who comes into the house and tries to shut down the computer and is killed in the process making me believe that his disappearance would’ve caused suspicion and others would’ve come looking for him. There is also the issue of her mail, which I’m sure would’ve been piling up at her front door and causing both the mail carrier and neighbors to take notice.
End of Spoiler Alert!
The film is full of many colorful graphics and effects although they may no longer be considered as state-of-the-art as they once were. The idea is an intriguing one and Robert Vaughn gives the Proteus character a lot of menace with his voice, but he is still no HAL. The ending is really over-the-top, but in a wildly interesting sort of way even though it does nothing but create more questions than answers.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: April 8, 1977
Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes
Director: Donald Cammell
Available: DVD (Warner Archive)