Sunday, March 08, 2015

"Chappie" raises issues about artificial intelligence, and about crime in post-apartheid South Africa


Documentary film has dealt with the horrendous crime problem in post-apartheid South Africa (“Tell Me and I Will Forget”, Feb. 4, 2014). So it’s good to see a major studio take this problem up, even if overdressed in a science fiction melee about robots.
   
The other point of “Chappie” (the robot, like “Robby the Robot from MGM’s “Forbidden Planet’) is, of course, whether man can create a sentient, free-willed being with computers.  The charismatic, likeable and even athletic geek (even if always wearing a tie) Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) says to Chappie “I am your maker”.  Deon tries to be a good dad to a precocious teen, almost his buddy, but teaching the kid morality, despite the pressure on him from enemy gangs tied to his own company (led by Vince, played by Hugh Jackman).  He experiences fatherhood without romance, procreation or even sexuality.  He takes on responsibility.  But if man could do that, think of the implications.  Stephen Hawking warns us that A.I. is one of the things that could destroy us.  Another implication is that a God or Allah or Jehovah must have created us after all, or certainly could have.
   
The story also encounters a Jo-berg kidnapping, start with a carjacking of Deon, who has gone against his CEO boss’s (Sigourney Weaver, hardly a Ripley here) orders by rescuing a robot from the dump and rehabbing it and giving it new life.  There are ties between the company Tetravaal and organized crime gangs in Jo-berg.
   
In the aftermath, the robots go rogue and attack the police, and have to be shut down.  The usual fight and chase scenes, like from “Transformers”, happen.  Deon decides he can save Chappie by download his consciousness and uploading it to a new robot’s body.  Now maybe this is a spoiler, but the next logical question is, can this happen with a real person?  Deon gets shot, and we find out. 
   
Imagine the implications again.  Immortality in the body of a robot is possible.  Or what if I could hijack an 18-year-old’s body and wake up in his instead of my aging body now? Maybe all I need is enough money.
   
The film offers detailed and impressive location shots of Jo-berg, and they’re pretty grim.
   
The film is released under Sony’s regular Columbia label, rather than Sony Pictures Classics or TriStar, which would be more common with foreign (in this case, South African) films.  Maybe that’s because it is also available in Imax.  The official site is here.
    
Sharlto Copley becomes Chappie’s voice.  The film is directed by Neill Blomkamp. 
   
A good comparison could be made to Steven Spielberg's "A. I. Artificial Intelligence" in 2001. 
   
I saw the film at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington, VA, with the recliners, not quite sold out, Saturday night.  The Courthouse appears to be sharing the showing of more independent films with the Shirlington, which is welcome given the impending loss of the West End Cinema.
  
Wikipedia attribution link for Jo-berg picture by Rodney and Paul, Creative Commons 3.0 Share-Alike license. 


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