Oddly, Spielberg’s A.I. Hasn’t Received the Same Treatment Yet

There’s a lot of worried discussion these days, especially in arts circles, about the rampant danger supposedly posed by artificial intelligence.  Being an elder geek myself, this sort of talk isn’t exactly new – we’ve been warning people about Skynet for forty years now.  But with recent advances in technology and widespread adoption by corporate America (and, most relevant to this blog, corporate entertainment in America), it’s never been a more prevalent worry than it is now.  Screenwriters and other creative types are convinced their jobs will be wiped out by programs that can now churn out “original” material.  Perhaps our new robot overlords won’t wipe out humanity, but they’re liable to wipe out our business models and livelihoods – or so the argument goes.  Personally, I’m not convinced of this yet – the “original” material that AI has created so far simply hasn’t been good, and there’s no point in creating an imaginary conspiracy theory to create new things to worry about.

Not when there’s so many real things to worry about.  And not when it’s possible to be afraid of the artistic achievements which AI has actually created so far.

A series of videos have been making the rounds on YouTube, TikTok, and all the various websites that then shrink and regurgitate those videos for the benefit of insomniacs trying to find things to do at three in the morning.  They’re put out by Abandoned Films, and present theatrical trailers from some alternate universe where Star Wars, Alien, The Lord of the Rings, and pretty much every iconic fantasy and science fiction title of the past fifty years was actually released in the 1950s.  The AI takes the existing footage (you can tell from the shots they use, and how they match up with the originals) and adjusts it in a thousand tiny ways to create the desired effect.  The cinematography and color saturation are tweaked to match the old Panavision epics.  The scenic décor is tweaked to match old pulp covers.  The actor’s faces are altered to reflect the ravages of the average 50s actor’s steak-and-whiskey diet and pack-a-day cigarette habit.  You get the idea; if you’re curious, there’s a more detailed article on the whole process in Forbes

The first time you stumble upon one of these, it’s hypnotic.  The AI has clearly been used in an intelligent, and somewhat creative fashion.  Plus there’s a weird charm to it.  As the article points out, there’s a level of comfort in seeing that lost 50s sci-fi world recreated, and it feels nice to bask in that warm, Technicolor glow.

The first time you see one of these.

Watch any more than that, think about them for any length of time, and they’re terrifying.

Not because those weirdly lined, blank-eyed faces start to look scary and disconcerting – they do, of course, but it’s not their fault.  And not because the AI has done anything malevolent – it’s just a tool, which the creators have used to execute their vision.  And their vision is of a world where all of the great pop entertainments of the past fifty years – or, to put it another way, of my friggin’ lifetime – have been wrenched out of their proper time and context, and completely drained of their meaning.  Where it’s the bleached-out, sanitized America of sitcom fame in perpetua.  Where the movies that were specifically created to imagine new possibilities, to question the status quo, are now transformed to just another part of the same candy-colored dream.

Or nightmare, as the case may be.

And I have no doubt that this sort of a landscape – where all social progress is stalled, where everybody but the exalted souls who own the AI, and the trusted minions who know how to program it, are kept in the same aesthetic cocoon for all eternity – is the goal of most of those advocating most strongly for AI in the arts.  That way, there’s no way to voice dissent or rebellion against the status quo – nothing except for a fever dream of a lost decade that wasn’t anything like what were were told it was in the first place.  It’s the sort of dystopian scenario – an entire populace kept trapped in a science fiction dream world – that might inspire a really good movie.’

The real one from 1999.  Not the weird AI pretend-fifties version.

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