Look – computers will never have souls. It’s disappointing to admit, but we all have to face facts at some point in our lives. Maybe one day they’ll manage to act alive, but they will never feel our love. They have no feelings. They are soulless, uncaring devices that we all too often assign our own humanity to – just like cats.
But of course, in film, that would just be no fun. It’s better to have an A.I. that is dynamic and has some kind of personality, even if that personality is a lack of any kind of personality.
The key is the voice, and here are some of the most unforgettable ones…
10. Julianne Moore as ARIIA – Eagle Eye
Anyone see this film? It’s not bad in terms of an on-TV Sunday afternoon hangover film. You know the kind, like Bad Company or Enemy Of The State. Stuff where sun glare almost adds to the film.
The whole thing centers on this insane computer ball that really needs Shia LaBeouf’s face so that it can kill the president because the constitution told it to. Look, it’s not a perfect plot, but they are trying. What is perfect is Julianne Moore and her scary robot voice as she inflicts her will on these characters by blackmailing them and holding their loved ones hostage – which is impressive since the A.I. never has to leave it’s little room, which for some reason looks the set of a rap video after a flood. Why the hell anyone would suspend a super computer over water is beyond me.
9. Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime – Transformers
Peter Cullen sounds like a mustache. There’s really no other way to describe that voice – he’s what bears would sound like if they could talk. Vocal musk. And he’s been the voice of Optimus Prime from the very start.
Say what you want about Michael Bay (seriously go right ahead – he means nothing to me), the man did a good deed bringing back the original voice actor for Prime. Hell – he did a good deed bringing back Transformers. I know I’m not going to get any prizes for saying this, but those films were as good as they deserved to be. After all, we’re talking about a TV show in the 80s literally made to sell toys – why would the film be anything different? It was fine. I hope the make 30 of those things.
8. Kevin Spacey as GERTY – Moon
Spacey was long overdue to play a robot. His perpetual calmness makes him the perfect kind of creepy that really lends itself to outer space A.I. He always sounds like he’s trying to talk you down, which is also why he was perfect in The Negotiator – unlike Samuel L. Jackson. Seriously, who would hire Samuel L. Jackson as a hostage negotiator?
Anyway, Moon. Good film, good film. The beauty of GERTY was that he was clearly written in as a red herring. His smiley face expression, apparent initial resistance to Sam, and ultra soothing voice just reeked of evil robot. Then, nothing. The whole film you’re waiting for him to go bad and he just smiles and goes about his business – and that’s almost the joke of it. The twist is that there was no twist, and it was your own robot prejudice that was leading you down the wrong path.
Suddenly, it is you who is the bad robot!
I think we’ve all learned an important lesson about robot stereotypes today.
7. Phil Hendrie as I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E – Team America: World Police
This was brilliant a few levels – but the best part really had to be the voice. Apathetic and unsure, I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E was a talking shrug. The perfect scapegoat for Team America’s uninformed actions.
What baffles me is why after this film there were no other marionette puppet films done. It’s a great new genre that could have really picked up. I bet those poor puppeteers got really hopeful too. “Oh my god! Puppets are back! I don’t have to do any more shows out of my brother’s garage/where I live.”
Seriously though, it’s really no better than a cartoon, and there are tons of advantages. DP Bill Pope, who also did The Matrix and Spider-Man, noted in the DVD extras that when you can cover the scale equivalent of like a hundred feet in a quarter that, it makes for some awesome action shots. They even purposefully dumbed down the puppet work and facial animatronics for the sake of comedy – imagine how cool a puppet action movie would be using their full potential. Let’s do this!
6. David Warner as Master Control Program – TRON
You gotta respect the actors in TRON, man. Think about what they were doing! Some dude gives them a bunch of grey spandex and bike helmets and tells them “Trust me! Just act like you’re a computer program and this thing will totally be a hit!” And they just went with it.
It’s the reason films like Zardoz exists – because everything looks ridiculous on paper, so all you can do is just film it and see what happens. Seriously – Star Wars has a giant hairy man in it. You think anyone first read that script and thought it would be a hit? This is why TRON must have been such a leap of faith.
So yeah. David Warner. I didn’t even realize it was him because of that weird robot filter they put his voice through, but I guess this guy doesn’t just play the bad guy boss Dillinger but also the bad guy MCP. It makes sense in retrospect. Anyone running a company with an elevator button labeled “laser bay” is going to be maniacal and self-centered enough to use their own voice for their evil A.I. assistant. In another world he’d be a Bond villain.