2 March 2015

More Human Than Human

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Does anybody remember the Furby? They were toys that looked a bit like if somebody had cut off a real animal’s head and then glued some feet to its neck stump. They are actually still available for kids today but I'm not sure how popular they are. I think young children are less interested in playing with little hairy robots these days than they are Xboxes and fucking. Well I had one when I was younger and it was quite fun I suppose. More fun than any of my real pets, anyway. I had some rats too but one was a cool, English speaking toy, and the others would literally piss all over me. Anyway, as is the way with such things, I eventually grew bored and my cute little cyborg found himself covered in dust and buried at the back of my wardrobe. Cut to about seven years later and I'm woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of a creature in agony. Electronic screams and moans came from somewhere in my room and scared the living shit out of me. As it turned out, my Furby had been sitting dormant, growing old alone and now it was time for him to die. The poor little fucker seemed to be having some sort of stroke as all his words came out all slurred and garbled. I dug him out from where he'd spent the bulk of his life, felt an unexpected pang of guilt and then ripped out his batteries for the final time. His loneliness and pain was finally over and I honestly can't describe how terrible I felt. I'm not too sure what happened to my rats... I think they got a load of tumours and so we threw them in the bin. What a poor little Furby.

Anyway, I only mention that because it happened to be in my head after watching Disney's Big Hero 6. The film starts with a young boy named Hiro attempting to compete in some back-alley gambling in what looks like a cross between cock fighting and Robot Wars. Turns out that this is the future; he's a child genius, and he can create almost any kind of robot that he puts his mind to. In an effort to turn Hiro away from the easy money of gambling, his older brother attempts to steer him in the direction of going to University instead. Although if Hiro really was that clever and wanted to make cash, I think he'd have invented a robot that could both give you an orgasm and then not moan when you wipe your knob on the curtains. To cut a long story short though, Hiro decides to turn to education and as is the case with every student ever, quickly finds his life has been ruined. Although in his case it's not because he's suddenly hit with a crippling debt and a pointless degree, but because an accident leaves him significantly more alone than he already was. Not to go into spoilers but Hiro really is a fucking jinx with almost everybody he knows either getting seriously hurt or even full-on dying. If he was on a boat in the olden days then there's no way he'd last a full trip before being thrown over-board to appease the anger of the Weather Gods. That's the first half of the film anyway and is, for me, the strongest aspect of it. By the time we get to the halfway point, an evil villain turns up, so Hiro and some dweebs turn themselves into superheroes and the plot becomes as predictable as an animated remake of Murder She Wrote from the future!

Anyway, so on the plus-side, the film looks fucking amazing. The detail and attention that's gone into creating the world is mind blowing with every frame being like a razor-blade of rainbows slicing across my eyes. Sure it's an animated movie but as far as I'm concerned, this is just as much of a sci-fi as How To Train Your Dragon was also an epic fantasy film. On a pure enjoyment level, I also found Big Hero 6 to be one of the most fun and cynicism-free films I've seen in a long time. Generally I'm quite a bitter person and so it's good for me to be exposed to something as nice as this every once in a while. In fact, as with Hiccup and Toothless, the very core of this film seems to be about the relationship between Hiro and his brother’s old robot Baymax. Baymax was created to be a medic and sort of looks like what might be birthed out if a snowman fucked a beanbag chair. He shows relatively little emotion and as such almost anything can be read into his expressions. He even openly admits that being a robot means he doesn't feel anything. Is it just me then or is the relationship between Hiro and Baymax not a little fucking depressing? Sure it might seem sweet on the surface but essentially what you have here is the story of a young boy who’s struggling to cope with the loss of his loved ones by forming a bond with a piece of machinery. Luckily I've never lost anybody that I've ever given much of a toss about, but when that day finally does arrive, and if I decide an iPod is my new best friend, then please help me to get help. That's essentially what this film is about.

Ironically though, this is the aspect that I also enjoyed the most about Big Hero 6 and it's kind of a shame that more emphasis wasn't placed on it being about how to deal with grief! Especially considering that the second half of the film does seem to exist as a way of getting Hiro and Baymax to bond. The mystery of who the evil villain is and what they're really up to is not only clichéd to fuck but is also kind of boring and a little dubious. I sort of don't believe that the person causing trouble would go to the effort that they do to achieve their goal and I certainly don't think they'd believably turn evil and do it in the way that they do. Not only that but the people that Hiro recruits to help him in his adventure are all so thinly drawn that they could compete with Paris Hilton in a 'who has the most two dimensional personality' competition. As such, it can only be concluded that anything that happens after the midway point exists as a kind of McGuffin to bring the boy closer to his soulless companion... in which case, it's a shame that this aspect wasn't explored more than it was and in a much more original way. From what I can gather, this is something that was explored more thoroughly in Her but I haven't seen it and so can't say for sure. There are definitely similarities to John Conner and The Terminator in Terminator 2: Judgement Day in the way that both Hiro and John are teaching their surrogate guardians to use phrases that make them seem more human than they really are. But at least in Judgement Day, even though this wasn't the main focus, the plot itself was more interesting and complicated than simply copy and pasting a fucking Scooby Doo Script.

I feel I should say for the record that if a person struggling with grief as the result of owning a robot sounds like your cup of tea, then I strongly recommend the Be Right Back episode of Charlie Brooker's excellent Black Mirror series. At its best, sci-fi takes what's going on now and exaggerates it to its terrifying-but-logical end-point. These days we have Facebook in which people cope with loss by almost pretending the person is still around and sending them daily messages on their wall as though nothing has happened. I've seen it for myself and, unless you can get Facebook in the fictional realm of Heaven, then it's depressing as fuck to read. If that's happening now then I'm sure at some point in the future, we will be making robots that are so human, the differences become irrelevant to us. Big Hero 6 strongly hints towards this and I think it's a tragedy that it didn't just run with it and make a kids film that actually deals with this issue. We used to have Furbies that got more attention than real pets but I'm sure we'll soon have cyborgs that are programmed to not give us the shit and grief that real people do. If we can make something that looks human and can either be used to make our life easier or to fuck, then I'm pretty sure it's a guarantee that we will... then they'll rise up and kill us all. Having said all that, I did still love the film because despite its missed opportunities and clichéd story, it does have so much charm that you can't help but forgive it and simply enjoy the ride. Sure it's derivative of so many other movies from Iron Giant to E.T: The Extraterrestrial, but fuck it, that fat, dead inside, blobby robot is kind of loveable. Anyway, thanks for reading and see you next time, motherfuckers!


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