Jack Garner: The best of aliens and androids in movies
05:00 AM, Sep 29, 2013
The arrival of “Alien Worlds and Androids” at Rochester Museum & Science Center prompts me to consider my favorite movie androids and aliens.
Androids, of course, are artificial intelligence, or robots. Aliens are organic, living creatures from another world. Both have frequently been featured as heroes or villains in films. The Terminator started as a villain and then became a hero.
Here are my most memorable cinematic androids:
Hal 9000, the computer that controls the deep space craft in 2001: A Space Odyssey. With just a large red light for an eye and the fabulous voice work of Douglas Rain, Hal takes on startlingly human characteristic as he becomes increasingly power-hungry, and then frightened.
Roy Batty, the platinum blond, strong and resourceful leader of the renegade Nexus-6 replicant group in Blade Runner. He’s responsible for the film’s incredibly poetic finale, sitting on a rooftop in the rain, as he says, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time … like tears in rain … Time to die.”
R2D2 and C-3PO, the Mutt and Jeff of robotics, and the comic-relief heroes of Star Wars. They also were the influence, I suspect, for the great Pixar animation robots WALL-E and EVE, from WALL-E.
Robbie the Robot, the house servant and all-round assistant in Forbidden Planet. He’s become the iconic symbol of robotics, and exemplifies Isaac Asimov’s famous three laws of robotics:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the first law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law.
David, the adopted android boy in Steven Spielberg’s greatly underrated A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
Other android favorites include Maria in the silent classic Metropolis. The butler robot emulated by Woody Allen in Sleeper; the Stepford Wives; the Gunslinger (Yul Brynner) in Westworld; Ash, the sinister company “man” (Ian Holm) in Alien; the gigantic Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still; The Terminator; and RoboCop.
And now, the aliens. The greatest and most terrifying are the aliens in Alien and its sequels. Others:
E.T., the beloved antithesis of the aliens.
The Brother from Another Planet, just because John Sayles thought it would be cool to have an alien of color.
Chewbacca and Jabba the Hutt, the most memorable of the many Star Wars aliens. (They make it easier to forgive George Lucas for Jar Jar Binks.)
Also The Man Who Fell to Earth, who looked mysteriously like David Bowie, the creatures of Avatar, The Thing in various film versions, the cocoons that make the elderly feel young in Cocoon, the title character of Predator, and the pods from The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Pump and dine. Geva’s current revival of Pump Boys and Dinettes is as tuneful as a country jamboree and as satisfying as big ol’ slice of apple pie. I’ve been around long enough to remember the summer Geva presented the show a few decades ago and it’s just as much fun as I remember. Its Andy-of-Mayberry sensibility has an eternal Southern rural timelessness and the music remains entertaining.
The cast is first-rate, offering a likeability that sells the roadhouse fantasy and the ingratiating collection of tunes. Mark Cuddy’s direction keeps the show moving with vigor and humor, and the richly detailed set by Vicki Smith seems far ahead of what I remember from the past.
To top it all, you get to buy yourself a yummy slice of pie onstage before the show or at intermission.
Ali fight. Don’t miss Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, a fascinating film on HBO this week about the champ’s legal fight to refuse induction in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. The film, superbly directed by the talented Stephen Frears, tells the story from within the corridors, offices and courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court, and features first-rate acting from the likes of Christopher Plummer, Frank Langella, and Danny Glover as key justices in the debate.