Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cinema: Hollywood Discovers (Real) Science Fiction

(Drivebycuriosity) - I love science fiction. Science fiction authors ask "what if" and they try to give plausible answers. The best of them speculate about the future by appreciating scientific possibilities, using a lot of logic; and they mingle their tales with physics, evolution biology and other sciences (hard science fiction). Real science fiction mixes entertainment with constructive and logical thinking.

Most of the usual Hollywood "Science Fiction" flicks aren`t really science fiction. The IMDb list of the most popular Sci-Fi flicks itemizes movies like "Avengers: Age of Ultron", "Transformers: Age of Extinction", "Guardians of the Galaxy", "TeenageMutant NinjaTurtles" and so on. There is not much science in it, if any. The typical  Hollywood "Science Fiction" film focuses on action and simple entertainment.

But there are exceptions: Recently I indulged into the movie "Ex Machina"This film is the proof that a science fiction film can be smart, entertaining and stylish at once - the best movie of the year so far. The story: A young software coder gets a one-week appointment in a remote research facility in a mountain forrest to execute a turing test (proposed in 1950 by the computer pioneer Alan Turing). His employer, a billionaire genius, had created "Ava", a smart robot with a (partly) female body and wants to know if this android is really an AI. "Ava" will pass the test if her interviewer cannot distinguish her behavior from human.

Director Alex Garland, who also wrote the script, created a fascinating psychological triangle between the young and smart coder, who is eager to fulfill his job, the employer, a bully with a sharp mind, and the sexual highly attractive machine-girl ("sex machina"?). The movie does not only ask questions like: Can a machine develop self-interests and a sentiment and can a machine make choices & decisions by her own? The film is also spiced with scientific debates about evolution, creating life, freedom of will, sexual attraction (biology), survival strategies and much more. Even that the plot was highly intellectual - based on sciences like evolution biology - it had a lot of suspense and I  really cared about the fate of "Ava" and the humans.

The movie "Her"(2013) wasn´t quite as strong as "Ex machine" but offered also interesting thoughts & speculations about what we can expect from an AI. A lonely man falls in love with an intelligent operating system, called "Samantha" (with the voice of Scarlett Johansson), who confesses that "she" is simultaneously interacting with 8,316 other customers and is in love with 641 of them. Samantha  learns, adapts and "thinks" with an accelerating speed and she gaines almost infinite knowledge thanks to her access to the cloud (the global network of  computers). Soon she speeds far ahead of her human "lover.

"Her" is an entertaining & plausible speculation about trends in computer science (information theory)  and shows near future technologies as extrapolations of already existing gadgets like iPad, Siri (vice responding software), game consoles & TV controlled by hand gestures, 3d projections. And Spike Jonzes merged the skylines of Lost Angeles and Shanghai into a fascinating futuristic cityscape (urbanism). In contrast to the popular dystopian movies this film shows a pleasant and wealthy future, a world I would like to inhabit and maybe will sometimes.

The low budged production "Europa Report" (2013), which describes a human expedition to the Jupiter moon Europa with dramatic consequences, is based on real science and uses data acquired by the NASA.  "Starting in 1995, NASA`s Galileo probe began a Jupiter orbiting mission that lasted for eight years, until 2003, and provided the most detailed examination of the Galilean moons to date", writes Wikipedia (wikipedia). Europa`s "surface is composed of water ice and is one of the smoothest in the Solar System.…… The apparent youth and smoothness of the surface have led to the hypothesis that a water ocean exists beneath it, which could conceivably serve as an abode for extraterrestrial life" (wikipedia). Director Sebasti├ín Cordero and script writer Philip Gelatt developed these insight into an inspiring drama showing the bliss of deep space travels but also the risks.

The movie  "Under the Skin"(2014) - which is visually stunning and an intoxicating cinematic masterpiece - shows 2 aliens wo are visiting earth, taking the human shape and are abducting young males. Scarlett Johansson acts as a sexually predatory alien camouflaged by a human skin. The camera follows "her" closely and shows how "she" is learning and using her aquired knowledge to handle the humans, like a human scientist would do.

And there will come more. Paramount studios are preparing a big budget movie titled "Story of Your Life" (2016; with Amy Adams & Jeremy Renner hollywoodreporter), based on Ted Chiang`s same named short story. The American writer is my favorite science author because he translates pure science into plausible but nevertheless entertaining fiction. In"Story of Your Llife" - which won the 2000 Nebula Award for Best Novella as well as the 1999 Sturgeon -  suddenly aliens arrive on the earth. The military is unsure if the visit is friendly or not and doesn`t know how to deal with the extraterrestrial. They recruit a female scientist, a professor for linguistics(!), who gets the order to decipher the alien´s language in order to communicate with the visitor and & to find out what they intend.

Maybe the time for (real) science fiction has come.

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