“Time is the substance of which I am made.” It’s probably okay to admit at this point that Jean-Luc Godard’s too-cool-for-school New Wave sci-fi film isn’t really all that great, but it’s been nothing if not influential to other indulgent auteurs over the years with its tale of a faraway planet whose central city (that looks exactly like 1965 Paris) is ruled by the evil Professor von Braun (Howard Vernon), whose creation, Alpha 60, is a sentient computer that outlaws free thought and emotion, replacing them with dehumanizing and often contradictory concepts (“Don’t ask ‘Why,’ only say ‘Because’”) that leaves everyone confused and obedient. Eddie Constantine is Lemmy Caution, a secret agent who’s got business in this sad town of mindless drones, including a mission to overthrow van Braun and destroy Alpha 60. Alphaville is a curious piece of work with the occasional flash of brilliance; it’s not the best depiction of a futuristic sci-fi dystopia and/or technocratic dictatorship ever made, but it’s definitely one of the most challenging and interesting, even though it leaves the vague impression that Godard might be pulling our leg the entire time.
“I reject your reality and substitute my own!” The Dungeonmaster is what happens when people with no money are “inspired by” Disney’s TRON. Seven people, actually — this low-budget sci-fi schlock is separated into seven distinct story segments, each with its own director (and none you’ve ever heard of), that tell the tale of Paul Bradford (Jeffrey Byron), a computer programmer whose mind is linked with his highly advanced (and female-voiced) home PC, X-CaliBR8. It seems that Paul and his jealous girlfriend, Gwen (Leslie Wing), have been monitored by dark forces, and soon they’re sucked into an alternate universe where a diabolical wizard named Mesterna (Richard Moll), aka “The Dungeonmaster,” forces them to interact in seven different scenarios/riddles. Luckily, X-CaliBR8 appears as a sort of wristwatch in this world, one that can zap things like a sort of high-tech Excalibur. Oh, 1984 — the year when anything was possible in cinema! There’s actually much amusement to be had with this little gem, especially the sequence where Paul has to save Gwen from an evil heavy metal band (played by real-life heavy metal band W.A.S.P.) that’s making an evil heavy metal music video.
“The net is vast and infinite.” An astonishingly beautiful and complex anime that’s influenced such sci-fi directors as James Cameron and the Wachowskis, Ghost in the Shell manages to tell a convoluted, multi-layered and mind-blowing cyberpunk yarn in just under 83 minutes, making for an experience so intense and overwhelming that you’ll feel as if you were “jacked in” to it. In 2029, a police unit called Section 9 investigates various crimes that take place in a vast interactive network to which almost everyone is connected (is this sounding familiar?); two officers take on their hardest case yet when they attempt to track down an elusive hacker nicknamed “The Puppet Master,” who ends up being a sentient program designed to hack “ghosts,” or human consciousness, that longs to experience the two aspects of being a living organism that it’s so far been denied: reproduction and death. Ghost in the Shell is heavy stuff, filled with enough philosophy to fill about eight grad classes, but it’s also an exciting, kick-ass action film and all around brilliant piece of science fiction — jack in and see for yourself.
Elwood: I bet those cops got SCMODS.
Elwood: State County Municipal Offender Data System.
We have a feeling the “SCMODS” gag came directly from Dan Aykroyd, just ’cause it seems like a Dan Aykroyd kind of joke. The police cruisers in The Blues Brothers are equipped with an on-board super-computer that keeps track of every single criminal and crime that’s occurred (and, perhaps, that will occur) in, we’re assuming, the entire state of Illinois (as the “S” does stand for “State,” after all). Elwood is pulled over for running a red light that he thought was yellow, and the SCMODS tells the officers to “Arrest Driver, Impound Vehicle.” This little incident initiated the multi-state car chase that wrecked the most cars in movie history (well, at the time — we’re sure some Michael Bay movie has since broken the record). Fun trivia from the SCMODS archive: Carrie Fisher, who plays Jake’s psycho ex, co-hosted the Saturday Night Live episode in which the Blues Brothers made their debut.
According to Deep Thought, the super computer in Douglas Adams’ much-beloved sci-fi cult classic, the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is… “42.” This is the answer it came to after, well, deeply thinking about it for 7,500,000 years. Deep Thought offers to design an even more powerful computer, Earth, to calculate a perhaps more satisfying answer, but after ten million years of calculation, the Earth is destroyed by Vogons five minutes before the analysis is complete. That, as Marvin would say, is “rather depressing.” For the record, the only film adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that’s worth a damn is this 1981 six-episode BBC television series (the 2005 movie suffered from a constant sense of not wanting to break anything as it tiptoed around the Douglas Adams museum), and the scenes featuring the ever-blinking Deep Thought and its cheeky wisdom (voiced by Valentine Dyall) contain some of the series’ best (and funniest) moments. Originally considered by the BBC to be “unfilmable,” the series went on to win a Royal Television Society award as Most Original Programme of 1981 as well as several BAFTA awards.