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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