Every once in a while a film comes along that is so groundbreaking, so cinematically revolutionary, so awe-inspiringly vital that all you can do is sit back, take a deep breath, and say “wow.”
The Future Dead is not one of those films.
Despite the fever pitch fanfare and sociological hysteria accompanying the release of the first Artificial Intelligence-directed feature film, the payload delivered was about as enticing as a sack of mealy apples. If this is the kind of cinema we have to look forward to with the arrival of the Singularity, voices calling for technological relinquishment may have cause to pump up the volume.
The story starts appealingly enough—Sarah Plume (played by a ravishing Janet Ashara), awakens in only her white cotton bra and panties to the sound of a siren echoing through the streets of suburban Chicago. She will come to learn that a secret government project has turned a chunk of the human population into red-eyed animalistic psychopaths. The President has declared martial law and is evacuating the citizens to an underground facility. It is here she meets intrepid molecular biologist Reese Ryans (Dale Reinhart), who believes the entire situation was actually caused on purpose in order to weed out the weaker genes in the human blood-pool. This idea of false flag evolution-by-zombie-uprising is perhaps the one resonant note in an otherwise quacking duck of a script.
Where The Future Dead fails as a horror film—or even as an utterance of creative expression—is its auto-populated cache of characters. Even Ashara seems stale and awkward in her role as heroine-turned-investigator. We won’t even address the love scene between Ashara and Reinhart, which was about as steamy as petting a donkey in a sauna.
In his attempt to create compassion for the side characters, director Art 5 seems to have gone embarrassingly overboard. Case in point, the sequence in which Sarah must rescue a room full of blind, handicapped children seems excruciatingly desperate. Blind or handicapped alone for one kid would have been enough to build dramatic tension; both blind and handicapped for a room-full of kids is just morbidly humorous.
Which is not to say I laughed. The only time I even cracked a smile during this film (even though there are numerous attempts at lowest common denominator gallows humor) was when one of the 3-D holographic zombies stumbled a little too close to an elderly woman in the front row and she swung her purse irritably into the light.
In perhaps Art 5’s only overt reference to the heritage of advanced technologies predicating the film’s release, Janet Ashara’s character is seen wielding a virtual reality cypher that allows her to lead the blind (literally) in a daring escape from the horde of undead post-humans. There’s little else to imply that this film was helmed by a quantum supercomputer the size of a Rubik’s cube, which is perhaps a call for both shame and a joy to humankind and artificial intelligence alike.
If you believe the industry gossip rags one of the early conflicts during pre-production of the film centered around whether Art 5 should inhabit an android body or simply reside in studio mainframe, issuing directives through his assistants and producers. Executives opted for the latter, and it is easy to see how the actors’ inability to interact with their director played into a general atmosphere of confusion and disconnect on the set. To make matters worse, all reports point to Art 5 losing the faith of his crew early in the production.
With Hollywood gripped by paranoia over “the new workforce,” the conversation over humanity’s dying monopoly over creative industries may be overheard by more than a few ticketholders leaving the theater after Future’s credits roll. Now it’s not only digital doubles threatening to fleece jobs from the once recession-proof entertainment industry, but powerfully trained machine-based Artilects with the very real ability to replace Hollywood’s writers, directors and producers, too. We’ll need more than an uncanny valley to stop this uprising, we’re going to need an impossible canyon.
While Art 5 may have attempted to tap into the human fear of reanimating the dead, he may have unwittingly tapped into a much larger fear. Some critics have said he embraced that fear and that the movie itself can be read as a satire, with a pro-sentient rights agenda built in.
Unfortunately, if there was an agenda here it was buried under a million feet of bad film and a production budget equaling some countries’ GDP. Though the film saved money by using nanotechnology to reconfigure the sets, the final price tag (upwards to a billion dollars by some tallies) doesn’t seem to mesh well with the Sentient Filmmakers Union’s assertion just last week that Artificial Intelligence will restore financial parity to America in a time of economic hardship.
Tall order for a horror movie marketed to the already frightened. But with so much of the film’s box office take supplied by moviegoers who are simply too scared to not see it (lest they offend their AI boss or neighbor), the world’s first feature film written and directed by Artificial Intelligence is due to make a killing.
This reviewer finds the tongue-in-cheek cuteness of the whole thing a little hackneyed for an event billed as the most significant cinematic movement since color film. In this age of exponential irony (when futurist Ray Kurzweil can die just hours before the invention of mind uploading), it seems worth noting that perhaps we should feel uncomfortable with the idea of humans assisting machines on a movie set.
The day a computer sent a human on a mail run was the day irony passed from this Earth and was reborn—reanimated, so to speak, from the dead.