I, for one, welcome our new touchy-feely robotic overlords

I saw two movies Saturday, Robot Stories and Hellboy. Hellboy was interesting, but not especially stellar. Robot Stories, however, is something completely different. I told Dara that it would end up on my weblog, given that it was actually interesting and something that people would actually want to read.

I first heard about Robot Stories in a Slashdot article. I tend to get interested in anything that’s science fiction, but this looked really interesting. They are presenting it as something that’s from the heart, instead of concentrating on really good special effects, they are trying to present a story that just happens to only work as science fiction.

So I bid my time as it worked its way across the US, premiering in New York and then hitting cities like LA and such before finally making it here.

I was scared that I’d miss out on it and it would be good, but I managed to remember in time and managed to drag George the PHB and Oren over Sandy expressed interest but elected to silently abuse her cube-mate instead of being mean to me over the phone ;) ). Oren, to make the group complete, dragged Dara along, too.

Sometimes, you store up happy feelings towards something you have yet to see and it turns out to be crap. Like, for example, the Star Wars prequels. Other times, you store up happy feelings towards it and are rewarded.

In a word, this was a beautiful movie in four parts, covering the gamut from birth to death. All four pieces together work together well, with some common threads between all of them.

The first piece is called “My Robot Baby”. Two young professionals, Marcia (played by Tamlyn Tomita who you might remember form the Babylon 5 pilot, among other things) and Roy, are trying to adopt a baby. In order to adopt, they need to care for a robotic baby for a month, which needs to be fed, cradled, and cared for like a real baby. In this bit, you can tell that Marcia isn’t entirely pleased about the situation throughout and needs to come to terms with being a mother.

It’s really beautiful because it talks to so much to so many areas. It talks to mothers and how they approach their children, and also weather a glowing egg of a robot baby can really elicit emotions. George felt that it was a little sudden, but I felt like it would have dragged on obnoxiously had more stuff been added. It’s funny, because I felt that Tamlyn Tomita did a beautiful job of emoting her character’s feelings.

The second piece is called “The Robot Fixer”. This one is the least science fictional. A boy has just gotten into a car accident and his mother and sister come to his hospital room. His mother is trying to deal with his deteriorating condition by becoming obsessed with fixing his box of twenty year old toy robots.

Apparently this piece and the first one were written by Greg Pak originally as a proposal for Lifetime for a mother’s day story. In this sense, this one’s the sort of mother’s day story that Oren would write. It’s odd and a little disturbing to see the mother go to pieces over the robots. From it, I took away the symbolic theme that you can’t quite fix everything, no matter how hard you try.

The third piece is “Machine Love”. The Sprout G9 iPerson is a machine designed to adapt to an office situation. The iPerson can deliver themselves to the office, get to know people, and work efficiently. However, this iPerson, named Archie, ends up in a dysfunctional office where he just ends up working constantly with no interaction. Archie discovers that he needs love.

This one was beautiful because it works on so many levels. You can see Archie as a symbol of the marginalized tech worker, who is either being outsourced, working constantly under what I’d consider to be unfair visas (which is a rant best given in person), or regarded as somebody to stuff in a corner. On the other hand, you can see it as a character seeking love.

The thing that I loved about this part is that the whole robot-learning-emotion story has been done and redone many times, most notably with Star Trek TNG. However, this story didn’t go back to the same old tired cliches of learning emotion that I was expecting to see. Instead, it covered new ground, so instead of having one of the characters having clearly the wrong idea about romance based on their perspectives and looking foolish with another human, you instead get to see two equally naive beings trying together to figure out how to connect.

The final piece is “Clay”. In it, a sculptor tries to make a design for a public square, but his body is falling apart. He’s scheduled to be digitized, where his consciousness is uploaded to a computer, but he’s not sure if he wants to be able to be able to create grand new art by just visualizing it, to experience perfect love, or to live forever.

This one appeals to me as an artist, at least partially because I really understand the mindset. Art is hard and it involves feeling. The artist is sculpting clay by touch, with his eyes closed, which was beautiful.

I guess the word that I’ve been using is “Beautiful”. It was both happy and sad, funny and depressing, and definitely traversed towards the tear-jerking set. It’s about life and death and rebirth and even love. I had to watch something non-serious (I chose to see “Hellboy” instead of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” afterwards) I guess I have to say that this is the sort of screenplay that I’d love to have written, if I was able to write screenplays.

It was shot entirely on DV (PAL format for those extra lines of resolution) and then transferred to film. Technically, it was pretty good, although George and Oren had some critiques, being far bigger tech heads than I. It, in my mind, was good enough that somebody could take the reels off of the projector at the Opera Plaza Theater and put them on a projector at a mainstream cinema and be at the same level of quality.

It seems to me that, given how well the movie has done so far, that it’s going somewhere. It has sold out several of the San Francisco showings so far and has sold out many of the showings elsewhere. It seems to be attracting quite wonderful buzz across the Internet. I’m so glad that I was able to catch this movie on the first run.