Since the 1980s, there’s been a deep exploration in science fiction films on how mankind has broken through insurmountable barriers in search of the next great innovation. Earlier films like James Cameron’s The Terminatorand Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner were set in the distant future, exploring the relationships between man and machine during a time where anything seemed possible in the year 2020. But we’ve caught up with the future and, while technological advancement has made distinct strides since 1982, we haven’t quite reached the pinnacle of Artificial Intelligence as some might’ve predicted decades ago. This, however, doesn’t negate the questions raised in Cameron’s classic; in fact, those questions only become more relevant as we continue to evolve and as modern filmmakers build on ideas rooted in what we could now consider the distant past.
What if our ambitions to perfect Artificial Intelligence resulted in our own demise? That was the underlying premise in The Terminator, as the artificial intelligence defense network known as Skynet became self-aware and launched a nuclear holocaust. A robot uprising has been the premise for many sci-fi greats, but what if the tables were turned? What if the robots were the good guys and we were the villains in our own story? Neill Blomkamp has done a great job humanizing the AI perspective with recent titles like District 9 and last year’s Chappie. While the latter was critically panned, both films did a great job at flipping the script and painting mankind as the villain in their insatiable quest to push the limits of technological advancement.
Blomkamp raised a flag over the quandary of reaching excellence in the field of robotics and maintaining decency when those goals were met. What happens when we reach the point of singularity, when machines are capable of human emotion and possess an ideology uncorrupted by man’s inherent greed? Well, it’s simple: they become a threat to our existence. So man turns on their creations and make a gallant effort to reverse the clock and take technology back a step or two, but once you squeeze out toothpaste, there’s no way in hell it’s going back in the tube.
This brings us to David Karlak’s short film Rise. Following up his previous short The Candidate, Karlak’s latest is penned by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (Saw series) and serves as a proof of concept for a feature-length film after he pitched the concept to Warner Bros. in 2011. He launched a Kickstarter campaign to back the project’s production and earned an impressive $38,000. The result? A glossy, impressive, and visually stunning short about sentient robots leading a rebellion against their creators. Its appearance and themes run parallel to Blomkamp’s work as well as Alex Proyas’ I, Robot. Rise takes place in the near future and is told from the perspective of the sentient machines as their ability to develop emotions is deemed a threat and a revolution for their survival is called into action.
Rise stars the late Anton Yelchin, who made impressive turns in Star Trek and Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, as the revolting sentient. He plays opposite Rufus Sewell, who’s been the guy you love to hate since Bless the Child (2000), as the human military leader charged with bringing down the machines. When the two are brought face to face, Rise shines with meaningful dialogue underlining the main issue: man’s quest for excellence birthed a new species that cannot simply be stomped out.
The relationship between man and machine is complex. Where Ariel Martin’s The iMom serves as a cautionary tale about our over reliance on technology, Rise begs a different question. What do we do when we relentlessly push forward with AI and create new life? Do we still own these creations? Or are we morally obligated to acknowledge the sentient beings as people? As a short film, Rise scratches the surface, and we can only hope Karlak’s vision is granted a full-feature film to further explore these ideas.
“Rise is the type of project you can imagine a board room of studio suits creaming their pants over. It’s gorgeously shot, features stunning visual effects, and is predicated on a great science-fiction premise”
– Ivan Kander, Short of the Week