The Girl Next Door.

Starring Will Smith. Directed by Alex Proyas.
Running Time: 115 mins.
Rated: Rated PG.
Isaac Asimov was one of the great science-fiction writing pioneers of the 20th century. He introduced robots before they were a fashionable topic for fiction and fantasy. He also introduced the three laws of robotics designed to safeguard the humans who had engineered the robots and who now used them as servants.

This line of imagination has been fruitful in speculating about human nature and technology, about human intellect and feelings. Interesting films in this genre include Blade Runner, AI - Artificial Intelligence, Bicentennial Man and such entertainments as Forbidden Planet and The Stepford Wives.

Here, Asimov's stories are taken as the basis for an updated plot. The Chicago world of 2035 is sufficiently recognizable in its ordinariness, although it has the kind of building developments and technology centres that are quite imaginable. Robots are key figures and new line models are being continually improved in automated serving skills.

Will Smith plays a detective who has an antipathy towards the machines and their seemingly impeccable logic: he had been saved be a robot in a car drowning accident instead of the child he thought should have been saved. He is so edgy that he pursues a robot through the streets thinking he was a mugger when (we knew) that he was only getting medication for his owner. But this edginess means that he is the best contact that a frightened engineer can make to try to reverse a malevolent trend in the main computer which is turning the new robots against the humans. What follows is part detective work, part action thriller, part final confrontation with an army of computer-graphic rogue robots.

It is not as if the message were exactly new now. But, that is not the point. Humans need reminding of their pride in thinking that they can conquer all worlds and harness artificial intelligence for their own needs. The machines think that humans sometimes need protection from themselves and this logic leads them to apply violent methods 'for the humans' own good'.

It is always interesting to see again that, in a world which continually hails scientific advances, one of the roles of movies is to warn against dangers by telling the Frankenstein monster story over and over again in new guises.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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