Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Movie review: Extinction, dir Ben Young (2018)

This film reminded me of a blogpost I made in 2018 – ‘We need a bill of rights for robots’ – that garnered an average number of views. The film is equally unremarkable for about half of its length until the narrative takes a turn and robots come to the fore. 

I could include spoilers but I won’t.

The other films that come to mind of course are Alex Garland’s ‘Ex Machina’ which came out in 2015 and also deals with robots and, as well, his ‘Annihilation’ (2018), which doesn’t. It’s safe to predict that in future there’ll be more films about robots as cars, fridges, home entertainment devices, phones, and computers become equipped with heuristic software and other types of exotic products (we refer to them nowadays as “AI”) and the issue of how to deal with robots becomes pressing. It’s already influencing our lives, though we may not be aware of it.

Young’s film makes a ‘Terminator’-like riff on the robot-as-enemy trope, indulging in a lot of standard action-movie special effects – there are plenty of guns, there’re explosions, there’re hovering spaceships – but the crux of the film is this heuristic function – the ability of some robots to learn. The film does a sort of sleight-of-hand, making us think of the main characters in a certain way then – wrenching plot device – asking us to reassess everything we’ve seen and heard to that point, and to relocate our understanding under a broader ethical umbrella.

So, this is a welcome addition to the sci-fi canon, though if this movie becomes famous (which I somehow doubt – it’s too low-key and intelligent, offering a gentle reminder instead of a sharp rebuke) it’ll be delayed until the director makes another, more successful film. I saw ‘Extinction’ on Netflix after a friend found it in the library. It wasn’t me looking for sci-fi, it was a person for whom science fiction is something of a habit.

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