Black Panther (2018)

Release date: 16 Feb 2018

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Wakanda is a greatly advanced nation in Africa, which hides from the world both its true nature and the great deposit of valuable vibranium on top of which the capital city is built. The vibranium causes purple flowers to grow in underground caves, the essence of which grants an imbiber superhuman abilities. Wakandans reserve the right to imbibe the essence for their reigning monarch, who is then called the Black Panther.

In 1992 T’Chaka, then king of Wakanda, confronts his brother, Prince N’Jobu, in an Oakland apartment, accusing him of treason and collusion with the murderous vibranium-trafficker Ulysses Klaue. N’Jobu explains his radicalization, “I observed for as long as I could. But their leaders have been assassinated, communities flooded with drugs and weapons. They are overly policed and incarcerated.” He urges T’Chaka to end Wakandan isolationism. Unmoved, the king insists N’Jobu face trial. N’Jobu draws a weapon and aims it at T’Chaka, who in self-defense kills N’Jobu.

In 2018 following the death of T’Chaka, his son Prince T’Challa is to be crowned king. In the ceremony, he is challenged to trial-by-combat by M’Baku, leader of the Jabari tribe, but T’Challa proves victorious.

Meanwhile, ex-military supervillain Killmonger is collaborating with Klaue. Together they violently liberate a Wakandan treasure made of vibranium from a British colonialist museum. Word gets back to Okoye, who is the badass general of the all-female Wakandan royal military, the Dora Milaje. She recommends they follow the lead to bring Klaue to justice, and the royal court agrees. T’Challa is outfitted with a new Black Panther suit and weapons by his science nerd sister, Shuri.

They travel to a South Korean casino to intercept the sale of the vibranium to CIA agent Everett Ross. Klaue arrives and after a gunfight and car chase, is captured. The arrest is short-lived as, after a day, Klaue is busted out of CIA custody by Killmonger and some goons. Agent Ross is wounded in the process, and taken back to Wakanda for healing.

Killmonger betrays Klaue, killing him and bringing his body to Wakanda. There, he reveals that he is son of N’Jobu, and challenges T’Challa to trial by combat. Killmonger seems to be victorious, throwing T’Challa over a waterfall. T’Challa’s family, his sweetheart Nakia, and Agent Ross flee the capital to the mountain hold of the Jabari. There M’Baku reveals that they have T’Challa in safekeeping. They heal him with the last of the vibranium flowers.

Killmonger reveals his murderous plans of revenge and global conquest to the Wakandan court. As equipment and ships are being loaded for the war, T’Challa appears, challenging Killmonger to finish the trial-by-combat. The fight involves the Border tribe fighting T’Challa out of national duty, the Jabari arriving as cavalry, Agent Ross’ preventing the ships from leaving Wakandan airspace by remote pilot, and Shuri and the Dora Milaje’s mutiny against the usurper. In the end, Black Panther defeats Killmonger, wounding him. Though he could be healed, Killmoger opts to die before a Wakandan sunset instead. He asks that he be buried in the ocean with Africans who jumped from slave ships, because “they knew death was better than bondage.” 

The final scene has T’Challa and Shuri visiting Oakland, where he explains that this will be the site of the first of a series of community outreach centers around the world, ending Wakandan isolationism and hiding, and promising a better, more communal future.

(The stinger has him making a similar announcement to the U.N.)


I ordinarily reserve the introductory post of a series to just a summary of its story. But I chose Black Panther to follow Blade Runner because of the surge of the Black Lives Matter movement following the unjust murder of George Floyd. Protests have died down somewhat since that tragedy, but these issues are far from resolved. Given my pandemic-slowed posting rate, I trust this will help keep these issues visible on this forum for months to come. After all, there is more work to do.

Similar to the anti-fascist series that accompanied the review of Idiocracy, the posts in these reviews will be followed by ways that you can take action against white supremacy and white nationalism, especially in the context of ending police brutality against black lives and the carceral state.

To amplify some awesome voices, I have invited several black writers and futurists to join me in the critique of Black Panther’s interfaces. It is important to note that I am paying them for their efforts, directly or to a charity of their choice. I hope you look forward as much as I do to the Black Panther reviews, and their call to continued activism.

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Idiocracy: Overview

While reviewing fascism in sci-fi, I was reminded of how much I love Mike Judge’s under-appreciated film Idiocracy. It’s hilarious, smart, and, admittedly, mean sci-fi. Since American politics are heading to some unholy Deep Dream merger of this film and The Handmaid’s Tale, I’m refining my broad dictum against sci-fi comedy and diving in.

Release Date: 25 January 2007 (USA)

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Overview

Private Joe Bauers and jaded sex worker Rita are selected by a military program—for their being very, very average—to be frozen in capsules for a year.

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A mistake shuts down the monitoring agency, and they wind up frozen for 500 years instead. Over that time, because dumb people keep having more kids than smart people, the average intelligence of the population drops and drops, so that when Joe and Rita wake from the stasis pods on 03 March 2505, they are the smartest people in the world. By a lot. Society is barely hanging on, lasting as long as it has owing to the designs of some long-dead smart people.

Woozy from his long sleep, Joe wanders into a hospital where the doctor goes into a panic for Joe’s not having an ID tattoo on his wrist. For this crime Joe is arrested, tried in a sham court, tattooed, and has his IQ tested before being bussed to prison. There Joe finally realizes how stupid everyone is when he talks his way to the exit and then just…runs away.

He finds his way back to the apartment of his court-appointed lawyer whose name is Frito. Joe asks if there are any time machines, and Frito says yes, there is one. But he’s hesitant. To motive him, Joe offers a compound interest time travel gambit payout of $80 billion and Frito—who says that he likes money—agrees. They find Rita (who, clearly used to dealing with morons, is faring pretty well) and head for the time machine, but Joe’s tattoo is remotely scanned and Frito’s car is shut down automatically for harboring fugitives. The three of them abandon the car to hike. They enter a truly massive CostCo to find the time machine, but Joe’s tattoo is again scanned and he is again arrested.

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This time he’s taken to the White House, where he meets President King Camacho and named Secretary of the Interior for being the smartest man in the world, according to the IQ test he took earlier. In an impassioned speech to the House of Representin’ [sic], Camacho promises them that Joe will solve the problems of failing crops, the plague of dust storms, the failing “ecomony,” acne, and car sickness; and do it all within one week. If he does accomplish it, Camacho promises, Joe will get a presidential pardon for his crimes. If not, he’ll be thrown back in jail.

Joe heads to the countryside with the Cabinet and Frito, where he is reunited with Rita. There he learns that the crops are being fed not with water but with a sports drink called Brawndo, The Thirst Mutilator. (Brawndo’s computers had long ago identified water as a threat to its profit margins, and during the budget crisis of 2330, purchased the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission. This enabled them to say, do, and sell anything they wanted, including requiring all crops be fed with Brawndo.)

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Joe recommends they switch from Brawndo to water for the crops, which grosses everyone out because they only associate water with the toilet. Unable to convince them with reason (in my favorite scene they parrot Brawndo advertising slogans as counter evidence, “It’s got what plants crave.” “It’s got electrolytes.”) he tells them he can talk to plants, and that the plants say they want water. This convinces the Cabinet, and the sprinklers are switched over.

This causes Brawndo’s stock price to crash, and the company’s computer “does that auto-layoff thing,” firing everyone at Brawndo and causing 50% unemployment across the country. Outside the White House, a jobless mob demands revenge. Joe is taken to court again and convicted. Joe is sentenced to one night of “rehabilitation,” which is a deadly, monster truck public execution.

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As Rehab starts, Rita spots a flower growing outside the White House. She and Frito rush to Rehab to save him. On route, they see sprouts in fields. Camacho saves Joe from Rehabilitation just in time as Rita and Frito broadcast video of the sprouts, exonerating Joe to the world.

Pardoned, Joe and Rita have Frito take them to the time machine, which ends up being just a dumb theme ride in the CostCo. Joe and Rita resign themselves to their new life amongst the morons. They wed, and Joe is elected President of America with Rita as first lady and Frito as Vice President. The movie ends contrasting Rita and Joe’s three kids, “the three smartest kids in the world”, with Frito’s, who are “32 of the dumbest kids ever to walk the earth.”

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Bonus tracks

It’s no accident that I’m writing about Idiocracy before the midterm elections in the U.S. The American Experiment seems to be on the verge, and close to some inescapable mistakes. So, at the end of each one of these posts, since this is my country, I’m going to go full USA-centric here and share something that USAmericans can do to vote, help others vote, and reverse our own continued freefall into Idiocracy. I know I have an international readership, but please bear with me.

Today, the bonus track is about registering to vote. If you’ve done it, awesome. Find someone in your life you can convince to register. If you haven’t, you need to. Either way, below is the info you need.

Register-to-vote deadlines

Voting is the most important tool we have, but in every state but North Dakota, to do that you have to be registered ahead of time. (Seriously. Good show, North Dakota.) These deadlines are all in October. You can see your state’s deadline (and for states that allow it, a link to register online) listed alphabetically at the New York Times link below.

You may be wondering it too late for you? Note that while most states have a single deadline for voter registration, many have separate deadlines for registering by mail, online, and in-person. Find the same information from the NYT site sorted by date below. If it is, damn, that sucks, but there is still more you can do. Stay tuned to this blog for more reviews, more bonus tracks, and more calls to action.

Registration by date

  • 07 OCT Alaska, Montana (in person), Rhode Island
  • 08 OCT Mississippi (in person), Washington (by mail and online)
  • 09 OCT Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana (by mail and in person), Michigan, Mississippi (by mail), Nevada (by mail), New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah (by mail)
  • 10 OCT Missouri, Montana (by mail)
  • 12 OCT Idaho, New York (online and in person), North Carolina (by mail), Oklahoma
  • 13 OCT Delaware
  • 15 OCT Virginia
  • 16 OCT District of Columbia, Kansas, Louisiana (online), Maine, Massachusetts (by mail), Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon (note when you renew your driver’s license your are automatically registered to vote), West Virginia
  • 17 OCT Maryland, Massachusetts (online or in person), Nevada (by mail), New York (by mail), South Carolina, Wisconsin (by mail and online)
  • 18 OCT Nevada (online)
  • 19 OCT Nebraska (by mail and online)
  • 22 OCT Alabama, California, Iowa (by mail), South Dakota, Wyoming (by mail)
  • 26 OCT Nebraska (in person)
  • 27 OCT Iowa (in person), New Hampshire (by mail)
  • 29 OCT Colorado, Washington (in person)
  • 30 OCT Connecticut, Utah (online and in person)
  • 03 NOV North Carolina (in person)
  • TUE 06 NOV 2018, ELECTION DAY: Florida (in person), Iowa (in person), Maine (in person), Minnesota (in person), New Hampshire (in person), Vermont, Wisconsin (in person), Wyoming (in person). In California you can show up the day of and cast a provisional ballot.

Black Mirror: White Christmas (2012)

As part of my visit to Delft University earlier this year, Ianus Keller asked his IDE Master Students to do some analysis of the amazing British sci-fi interface series Black Mirror, specifically the “White Christmas” episode. While I ordinarily wait for television programs to be complete before reviewing them, Black Mirror is an anthology series, where each new show presents a new story world, or diegesis.

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Overview

Matt (John Hamm) and Potter (Rafe Spall) are in a cabin sharing stories about their relationship with technology and their loved ones. Matt tells stories about his past career of (1) delivering “romantic services” to “dorks” using a direct link to his client’s eyes and (2) his regular job of training clones of people’s personalities as assistive Artificial Intelligences. Potter tells the story of his relationship to his wife and alleged daughter, who blocks him through the same vision controlling interface. In the end…

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…it turns out Matt and Potter are actually talking to each other as interrogator and artificial intelligence respectively, in order to get Potter convicted.

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The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

This week, to celebrate both the holiday and the release of a new film in the Star Wars, universe, we pause the ongoing review to return briefly to the interfaces of an old, wretched entry in this ongoing saga.

Release Date: 17 November 1978 (USA)

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Han and Chewbacca are flying back to the Wookie home world Kazook [sic] for Life Day (read: Christmas) but encounter some imperial trouble which delays them. Worried, Chewie’s wife Malla makes several video calls on an illegal and hidden rebel communication device to try and find his whereabouts, and receives assurances that they are on their way. Then she attempts to cook Bantha Surprise while watching a local-cable cooking show by the eccentric, four-armed Chef Gormaanda.

Family friend Saun Dann arrives with gifts for each of them—including an erotic VR brain implantation chair for Chewbacca’s father Itchy—even as the Empire declares martial law on the planet. Princess Leia and C-3PO contact Malla and ask Saun Dann to look after the family. Stormtroopers arrive at the door to search the place for Solo and Chewbacca. One of the Imperial officers inspects a hologram-box and spends a few minutes to enjoy a music video on it. Saun is coerced to leave.

Alone, the young Wookie named Lumpy proves to be a nuisance to the stormtroopers during their search, so the family distracts him by having him watch a cartoon of Boba Fett and Darth Vader. Finally satisfied that the rebels are not there, the stormtroopers leave and Lumpy finally checks out the video introduction to the electronics kit left him as a gift by Saun. He uses the kit to build a television and watch a live-broadcast local television program. The program is interrupted by the announcement of an Imperial curfew being imposed.

An individual stormtrooper, B4-7-11, returns to the home to threaten Lumpy, but is intercepted by Han and Chewie, who have finally arrived. They defeat him and Han leaves. Saun returns and answers a call from an Imperial officer, lying about the fate of B4-7-11 . Saun leaves, and the Wookies finally undertake their Life Day rituals.

The main ritual involves donning robes, passing into a ball of light that teleports them to the Tree of Life, where they are joined by other Wookies, as well as R2-D2, C-3PO, Han Solo, and Princess Leia, who have teleported here by some unknown means. The English-speaking characters make a speech before Leia sings a traditional song. This causes Chewbacca to go into a reverie, recalling his recent adventures with the Rebellion, always from odd out-of-body ,third-person perspectives, as if from camera droids littered about the galaxy.

After Chewbacca’s reverie, they return home, sit at the table for dinner, and bow their heads in reverent prayer.


 

On most overviews I include links to purchase or view the film. But as this entire film is available on YouTube, it is included, in full, below. Analyses follow.

 

 

 

 

Jurassic Park (1993): Overview

Release date: 11 June 1993, United States

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As with all overviews, ALL THE SPOILERS ahead.

Venture Capitalist John Hammond hires paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant, paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler, and chaos theoretician Dr. Ian Malcolm to visit and approve a novel safari park, named Jurassic Park, he has built on a small island near Costa Rica. He has populated the island with dinosaurs, which are cloned from dinosaur blood harvested from mosquitoes trapped in prehistoric amber. Joining the doctors on their remote-controlled Jeep tour of the park-in-progress are two of Hammond’s grandchildren, Tim and Lex, as well as lawyer Donald Gennaro.

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Though the tour is troubled with production problems, real trouble starts when a massive storm blows in just as the park’s key developer Dennis Nedry enacts a plan to steal dinosaur embryos—a plan which involves his shutting off the security system to hide his actions. To reboot the security systems, Hammond must shut off the power to the whole park. Without the threat of the electrified fences holding them in, the carnivorous dinosaurs break free and begin hunting everything on the island, including the people. Nedry, Gennaro, game warden Muldoon, and chief technology officer Arnold are each killed. Eventually the remaining survivors take refuge in the visitors center. They manage to restore power to the island and thereby the security system, but not before the vicious utahraptors velociraptors figure out how to *gulp* open doors, and flank everyone to the heart of the visitor’s center. All seems lost until the massive tyrannosaurus rex bursts in, hunting the velociraptors, and as the dinosaurs fight, the human survivors escape in a helicopter to the mainland.

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The Avengers (2013): Overview

Release date: 4 May 2013, United States

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As with all overviews, ALL THE SPOILERS ahead.

A mysterious alien artifact called the Tesseract summons the Asgardian god Loki to the Earth, where he uses a powerful staff to either kill or enthrall several S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives before stealing the Tesseract and making his escape with them. The head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, gains permission from a shadowy council to assemble a team of superheroes (Iron Man, Bruce Banner, Black Widow, and Captain America) code named The Avengers Initiative to help capture Loki and recover the Tesseract. They find and capture him in Berlin but his operatives get away with a cache of rare metals. Loki’s brother Thor shows up to claim him but after fighting Iron Man and Captain America, Thor agrees to let Loki remain captured in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s helicarrier.

Loki’s operatives trace him and sabotage the helicarrier to free him as Banner becomes the Hulk and goes on a rampage through the vessel. Through fierce combat and resourcefulness, the helicarrier is saved from crashing, but Loki escapes with his staff.

In New York City Loki’s operatives use the metals they stole and the Tesseract to create an interdimensional gate through which he summons an alien army. Though the Avengers mount a strong defense of the city, the shadowy council orders a nuclear strike on the city to destroy the alien army. Iron Man intercepts the missile, flies it through the portal into the alien mothership, disabling the invaders em masse before falling back through the portal to Earth.

At the resolution of the film, Thor returns to Asgard with Loki and the Tesseract and the staff remains on Earth. Also the team enjoys some shawarma.

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Oblivion (2013): Overview

Release date: 19 April 2013, United States

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As with all overviews, ALL THE SPOILERS ahead. Some movies warrant just a few paragraphs, but it turns out this is a rather complicated plot.

Oblivion opens 50 years after an alien invasion, during which a great many things happened.

  • Aliens called “Scavs” hammered the moon into huge clustered fragments
  • (In turn) Doing massive ecological damage to the Earth
  • The humans retaliated with nuclear weapons
  • The Earth became contaminated with radiation
  • Most of humanity had to leave the planet to colonize Titan
  • Massive hydro-rigs were set up in the oceans that convert seawater into energy
  • Semi-autonomous flying robots called drones patrol and defend the hydro-rigs from the remaining Scavs, who attempt to destroy the drones and hydro-rigs
  • A massive tetrahedral spaceship called the Tet was put in orbit around the earth to serve as command and control for pairs of humans who live as a couple and work as a team in their section to monitor and protect both the hydro-rigs and the drones
  • One member of these teams stays in their sky home, called the Tower, to monitor activity and relay information to and from the Tet
  • The other member of these teams, the Tech, operates a “bubbleship” to patrol the sector to which they are assigned

One team, Victoria and Jack, are two weeks away from retirement when they are awoken one night by a massive explosion. It is one of their hydro-rigs, sabotaged by Scavs in their section. While investigating the wreckage, they detect a strange radio signal. Jack traces it to its source, discovering a repeater in the ruined Empire State Building broadcasting a set of coordinates off-planet. Later he spies a vessel landing at the broadcast coordinates. He visits the crashed vessel to find it is part of a pre-war human spacecraft, the sleeping pod of the Odyssey. Within are hibernation chambers, but only one crewmember is alive. Jack recovers it as drones show up to destroy them. At the Tower, Jack and Victoria revive its occupant, Julia. The next morning Julia travels with Jack back to the crash site to fetch the flight recorder, but both are taken captive by Scavs.

In captivity Jack learns the horrible truth…

  • The Scavs are actually the only humans left after the war
  • The Tet, drones, and hydro-rigs are the alien technology
  • Jack and Victoria are the tools of the aliens defending their tech from the rest of humanity
  • Scavs remote-controlled the Odyssey to crash in order to scavenge its nuclear fuel for a bomb to be delivered to the Tet in a captured Drone

Victoria, unaware, sends drones to save Jack, forcing the Scavs to release Jack and Julia. The leader Beech encourages Jack to visit the forbidden radiation zones to confirm the truth. Julie further reveals…

  • The Odyssey was originally en route to Titan when it was intercepted by the alien Tet
  • Jack and Victoria were once part of the Odyssey crew as well
  • Jack and Julia were husband and wife

Through a remote-controlled bubbleship camera, Victoria observes them kissing and this drives her to betray Jack and Julie to the Tet. The Tet activates a Drone and sends it to kill them all, but it only kills Victoria before Julia destroys it. Traveling to another sector, Jack sees a clone of himself appear in a similar bubbleship, to service a Drone. They fight and the clone is killed, and Julia is wounded in the melee. Jack gets into the clone’s bubbleship and travels to its Tower, where he meets a Victoria clone, and he realizes that the planet must be populated by huge numbers of these clones. He fetches a medkit and returns to Julia. He takes her to recover in a log cabin in a lush valley he has been keeping secret from Victoria for a long time. After she heals, he returns to the Scavs, and helps them reprogram their captured Drone, but the Scav enclave is largely destroyed by other drones sent by the Tet.

They load the bomb into a hibernation chamber, appear to seal Julia inside, load it onto a bubbleship, and fly to the Tet. En route he plays the flight recording from the Odyssey to learn…

  • When the Odyssey originally approached the Tet, Victoria and Jack were pilot and copilot
  • When they were caught in the Tet’s tractor beam, they ejected the sleeping pod with the remainder of the crew to protect them

Finally, in the bowels of the Tet, he…

  • Sees the clone vats where more Jacks and Victorias are being grown
  • Faces the horrible alien intelligence
  • Awakens the person in the hibernation chamber, which—surprise—is Beech, not Julia
  • Explodes the bomb, destroying the Tet

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Back on Earth, Julia is awakes in a different hibernation chamber at the lush log cabin, as part of Jack’s duplicitous plan to save her. She gives birth to a daughter, and three years later is found by one of the Jack clones, accompanied by a group of the surviving Scavs.

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Ghostbusters (1984): Overview

Release date: 8 June 1984, United States

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Ghostbusters is the story of a group of quirky scientists who start a paranormal pest control service in New York City. Though they struggle initially, the number of infestations mysteriously increases and they begin to capture and incarcerate more and more, leading to national fame. At the same time, the charismatic Ghostbuster Peter Venkman gets romantically involved with Dana, a customer whose case happens to lead them to the center of the mystery of the increasing paranormal activity: the imminent return of an ancient world-destroying demigod called Gozer. Just as the mystery deepens and Dana becomes possessed, they are arrested and their custom-made incarceration device is powered down by an aggressive and suspicious government employee. As a result the device explodes, flooding the city with spooks even while the Ghostbusters, in jail, are helpless to do anything about it. After convincing the mayor that it is in his best interest to release them, the Ghostbusters confront Gozer and use their homemade equipment to send it back to the dimension from which it came, freeing the possessed Dana as well as her neighbor Louis, and saving the day.

Starship Troopers (1997): Overview

Release date: 27 June 2008, United States

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Starship Troopers follows Johnny Rico and his friends Diz, Carmen, and Carl, from humble beginnings together at school, into their participation in a war against the super evolved insect race called the Arachnids, or “Bugs.” Johnny, who is excellent at sports but poor with verbal and math skills, enters the infantry with Diz. Carmen’s scores and skills lead her to being a pilot aboard the war ship Rodger Young. Carl shows nascent psychic ability and winds up in military intelligence. In these roles they travel to the bug home planet of Klendathu to not only score a major victory in the war, but come of age in dealing with life and love.

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WALL·E (2008): Overview

Release date: 27 June 2008, United States

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Humanity’s materialistic society has left Earth uninhabitable. A powerful mega-corporation – Buy-N-Large – offered resort-like spaceships for humanity to live on while they left behind an army of solar-powered trash collection robots to clean up the mess. Fast forward seven centuries, and Wall·E is the only surviving trash robot left. He continues to do his job, kept company by a cockroach who has also managed to survive the end of civilization.

Wall·E’s life is abruptly interrupted by the arrival of Eve, a BNL (Buy-N-Large) probe meant to search for any signs that life is returning to Earth. After becoming emotionally attached to Eve, Wall·E shows her a plant he found during his trash collection. She “freaks out”, collects the plant, and leaves the planet. He follows her back to her home and what may be the last surviving outpost of humanity: the Axiom, an all-inclusive lifeboat and pleasure cruise that has been waiting to return to Earth for 700 years.

Aboard the Axiom, Wall·E opens the eyes of people who have become so accustomed to having every wish granted to them by BNL that they have stopped doing anything for themselves. Eve and Wall·E fight the Axiom’s autopilot and security systems for the plant, and draw in the humans aboard the Axiom to the fight.

After the people on board the Axiom realize that they need to start doing things for themselves, they are able to deactivate the Axiom’s deceitful autopilot and trigger the ship’s return mode to land back on Earth. Wall·E, Eve, and the other robots of the Axiom then help people rebuild civilization on an Earth that is beginning to heal.

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