In the near future, a brilliant scientist (Fritz Weaver, Creepshow) helps develop a sophisticated computer system named “Proteus” that will hopefully help mankind find the cure for all sorts of diseases. The scientist’s computer-controlled home is connected to the central brain of Proteus, and when the computer starts developing ideas of its own, Proteus traps scientist’s wife (Julie Christie, Doctor Zhivago) in the house.
Reaction & Thoughts:
The concept of artificial intelligence has been around for quite some time. Despite what many people think, the idea of creating artificial life is not something new; in actuality, the concept can be traced way back to Greek mythology, where we can find many indications of people’s preoccupation with this interesting possibility. Ancient myths like the stories of Hephaestus and Pygmalion — later immortalized by playwright George Bernard Shaw in his play of the same name– explored the possibilities of hand-made artifacts capable of some degree of reasoning.
From the creation of clocks and printing machines in the 16th century, to the invention of the first mechanical calculating machine in the 17th century, people have always been intrigued by the notion of creating tools with some type of intelligence that could perform arduous and tedious tasks. In literature, we can also find the idea of man experimenting with the ability of creating life, most notable in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein. But for whatever reason, movies seem to provide the perfect medium to explore the real possibilities (and consequences) of artificial intelligence.
As further indication of how well this provocative subject has been served by the world of cinema, one doesn’t have to think too much before realizing how the idea of artificial intelligence has become an integral part of the science fiction genre. Metropolis, Blade Runner, The Terminator, The Matrix, A.I. – Artificial Intelligence, and more recently, Spike Jonze’s Her and Alex Garland’s Ex-Machina, are good examples of how common (and popular) this subject has become over the years.
Even though Demon Seed, directed by Donald Cammell (White of the Eye), lacks the realism that modern technology is able to supply to today’s science fiction dramas, this is an intriguing and intellectually demanding movie. Based on one of Dean R. Koontz’s first and best novels, Demon Seed is an absorbing tale that neatly combines the conventions of two genres: horror and science fiction.
Demon Seed is not what you will call a masterpiece, but the central premise — an incredible showdown between machine and its creator, or more accurately, synthetic versus organic — is so fascinating and so well executed that one cannot help but get pulled into the story from the very first scenes to the film’s incredible and puzzling ending — thanks to an interesting script and imaginative direction, it’s always engaging and entertaining.
Robert Vaughn (The Magnificent Seven and Superman III) provides the chilling voice of Proteus — a distant cousin of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Vaughn’s icy, matter-of-fact delivery is chilling to say the least.
Leading actress Julie Christie gives a tour-de-force performance, especially quite amazing if one realizes she’s interacting with an inanimate object — we can feel her pain as she uncovers, layer by layer, Proteus’s amazingly bizarre master plan. Director Cammell builds suspense slowly, but in an intelligent manner, infusing the story with complicated existential and metaphysical undertones that range from man’s place in the universe to Nietzsche’s superman theories.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Demon Seed is a film I think will be embraced by most sci-fi & horror enthusiasts, especially now, when humanity seems to have reached a technological threshold in which science has not only opened the door for new possibilities, but also has become a source of concern and anxiety. Demon Seed does not pretend to have all the answers, but it definitely raises some interesting questions about the meaning of life. Color, 94 minutes, Rated R.