Johnny leaves the airport by taxi, ending up in a disreputable part of town. During his ride we see another video phone call with a different interface, and the first brief appearance of some high tech binoculars. I’ll return to these later, for the moment skipping ahead to the last of the relatively simple and single-use physical gadgets.
Johnny finds the people he is supposed to meet in a deserted building but, as events are not proceeding as planned, he attaches another black box with glowing red status light to the outside of the door as he enters. Although it looks like the motion detector we saw earlier, this is a bomb.
This is indeed a very bad neighbourhood of Newark. Inside are the same Yakuza from Beijing, who plan to remove Johnny’s head. There is a brief fight, which ends when Johnny uses his watch to detonate the bomb. It isn’t clear whether he pushes or rotates some control, but it is a single quick action.Continue reading →
When the Odyssey needs to reverse thrust to try and counter a descent towards the TET, Jack calls for a full OMS (Orbital Maneuvering System) burn. We do not see what information he looks at to determine how fast he is approaching the TET, or how he knows that the OMS system will provide enough thrust.
The OMS system (4 large chemical thrusters up front)
A secondary set of thrusters (similar and larger than the OMS system) on the sleep module
Tiny chemical thrusters like those used to change current spacecraft yaw/pitch/roll (the shuttle’s RCS).
After Jack calls out for an OMS burn, Vika punches in a series of numbers on her keypad, and jack flips two switches under the keypad. After flipping the switches ‘up’, Jack calls out “Gimbals Set” and Vika says “System Active”.
Finally, Jack pulls back on a silver thrust lever to activate the OMS.
Why A Reverse Lever?
Typically, throttles are pushed forward to increase thrust. Why is this reversed? On current NASA spacecraft, the flight stick is set up like an airplane’s control, i.e., back pitches up, forward pitches down, left/right rolls the same. Note that the pilot moves the stick in the direction he wants the craft to move. In this case, the OMS control works the same way: Jack wants the ship to thrust backwards, so he moves the control backwards. This is a semi-direct mapping of control to actuator. (It might be improved if it moved not in an arc but in a straight forward-and-backward motion like the THC control, below. But you also want controls to feel different for instant differentiation, so it’s not a clear cut case.)
What is interesting is that, in NASA craft, the control that would work the main thrusters forward is the same control used for lateral, longitudinal, and vertical controls:
Why are those controls different in the Odyssey? My guess is that, because the OMS thrusters are so much more powerful than the smaller RCS thrusters, the RCS thrusters are on a separate controller much like the Space Shuttle’s (shown above).
And, look! We see evidence of just such a control, here:
Separating the massive OMS thrusters from the more delicate RCS controls makes sense here because the control would have such different effects—and have different fuel costs—in one direction than in any other. Jack knows that by grabbing the RCS knob he is making small tweaks to the Odyssey’s flight path, while the OMS handle will make large changes in only one direction.
The “Targets” Screen
When Jack is about to make the final burn to slow the Odyssey down and hold position 50km away from the TET, he briefly looks at this screen and says that the “targets look good”.
It is not immediately obvious what he is looking at here.
Typically, NASA uses oval patterns like this to detail orbits. The top of the pattern would be the closest distance to an object, while the further line would indicate the furthest point. If that still holds true here, we see that Jack is at the closest he is going to get to the TET, and in another orbit he would be on a path to travel away from the TET at an escape velocity.
Alternatively, this plot shows the Odyssey’s entire voyage. In that case, the red dotted line shows the Odyssey’s previous positions. It would have entered range of the TET, made a deceleration burn, then dropped in close.
Either way, this is a far less useful or obvious interface than others we see in the Odyssey.
The bars on the right-hand panel do not change, and might indicate fuel or power reserves for various thruster banks aboard the Odyssey.
Why is Jack the only person operating the ship during the burn?
This is the final burn, and if Jack makes a mistake then the Odyssey won’t be on target and will require much more complicated math and piloting to fix its position relative to the TET. These burns would have been calculated back on Earth, double-checked by supercomputers, and monitored all the way out.
A second observer would be needed to confirm that Jack is following procedure and gets his timing right. NASA missions have one person (typically the co-pilot) reading from the checklist, and the Commander carrying out the procedure. This two-person check confirms that both people are on the same page and following procedure. It isn’t perfect, but it is far more effective than having a single person completing a task from memory.
Likely, this falls under the same situation as the Odyssey’s controls: there is a powerful computer on board checking Jack’s progress and procedure. If so, then only one person would be required on the command deck during the burn, and he or she would merely be making sure that the computer was honest.
This argument is strengthened by the lack of specificity in Jack’s motions. He doesn’t take time to confirm the length of the burn required, or double-check his burn’s start time.
If the computer was doing all that for him, and he was merely pushing the right button at the indicated time, the system could be very robust.
This also allows Vika to focus on making sure that the rest of the crew is still alive and healthy in suspended animation. It lowers the active flight crew requirement on the Odyssey, and frees up berths and sleep pods for more scientific-minded crew members.
Help your users
Detail-oriented tasks, like a deceleration burn, are important but let’s face it, boring. These kinds of tasks require a lot of memory on the part of users, and pinpoint precision in timing. Neither of those are things humans are good at.
If you can have your software take care of these tasks for your users, you can save on the cost of labor (one user instead of two or three), increase reliability, and decrease mistakes.
Just make sure that your computer works, and that your users have a backup method in case it fails.
With a ghost ensconced in a trap, the next step in ghostbusting is to transfer the trap to a containment unit. Let’s look at the interaction.
The containment unit is a large device built into a wall of the old firehouse that serves as the Ghostbusters headquarters. It’s painted a fire-truck red and has two colored bulbs above it. As they approach, the green bulb is lit. It’s got a number of buttons, levers, and cables extending into it. Fortunately for purposes of discussion, Stantz has to explain it to their new employee Winston Zeddmore, and I can just quote him.
“This is where we store all the vapors, entities, and slimers that we trap. Very simple, really. Loaded trap here. Unlock the system…” He grabs the red door lever and cranks it counterclockwise 90 degrees and lowers the door to reveal a slot for the trap.
“Insert the trap,” he continues, and a sucking sound is heard and the green lightbulb goes off and the red lightbulb turns on.
Then Stanz pulls the trap out of the slot and is able to, as he explains, “Release. Close. Lock the system.” (Which he does with the lever handle.)
Next, he presses the buttons on the front of the device, starting with the top red one and continuing with the second below yellow, explaining, “Set your entry grid. Neutronize your field…” Then he grabs the red lever on the right-hand size and pushes it down. In response, the lowest push button lights up green, the red bulb above turns off, and the green bulb illuminates once again.
Stantz concludes, “When the light is green, the trap is clean. The ghost is incarcerated here in our custom-made storage facility.”
The interaction here is all based on the unkonwn ghostbusting technology, but it certainly feels very 1.0, very made-by-engineers, which is completely appropriate to the film. There’s also that nice rhyming mnemonic to remember the meaning of the colored bulbs, which helps Zeddmore immediately remember it. And course with the red paint and thick plates, it feels really secure and conveys a sense of pith and importance. Still, if they had a designer consulting, that designer would most likely tell them talk about a few aspects of the workflow.
First, why, if there’s no breakpoint between the entry grid and the field neutronizer, can’t those two be consolidated into a single button? A gridtronizer? While we’re on the buttons, why is that third one looks like a button but acts just like a light? If it’s not meant to be pressed, let’s make it an indicator light, like we see on the trap.
Similarly, why do they have to press that last lever and wait for the green light? I get that a variety of controls feels better to convey a complicated technology that’s been hacked together, and that would be appropriate for a user to understand as well, but it seems error-prone and unnecessary. Better would be another pushbutton that would stay depressed until the unit was doing whatever it was doing behind the scenes, and then release when it was done. It could even be consolidated with the gridtronizer.
But while we’re including automation in the process, why would the ghostbuster have to press anything at all? If the unit can detect when a ghost has been sucked in (which it does) then why can’t it do all the other steps automatically? I know, it would be less juicy for the audience’s sense of ghostbusting technological complexity, but for the “real world,” such things should be fully assistive:
Insert trap (which gets locked in place)
Watch the machine’s lights indicating its four steps
Remove unlocked trap.
You might think for efficiency to have the trap removed immediately, but you really want the Ghostbuster’s attention on the system in case something goes wrong. Similar to the way ATMs/bancomats hold on to your card through a transaction.
Lastly, there should be some sense of what’s contained. In this scene there’s just Slimer in there, but as business picks up, it gets so jammed full that when EPA representative Peck recklessly shuts it down, it…you know…explodes with ghosts. Would a sense of the contents have helped provide him with a sense of the contents, and therefore the danger? A counter, a gauge, a window into the space, a “virtual window” of closed-circuit television showing inside the unit*, or a playback showing helmet-cam video of the ghosts as they’re being captured—would all help to convey that, Mr. Peck, you do not want to eff with this machine.
*IMDB trivia for the movie says this was originally included in the script but was too depressing to visualize so it was cut. But hey, if it’s depressing, maybe that would help its users consider the ethics of the situation. (Once again, thank you, @cracked, and RIP.)
Furious at Durand-Durand’s betrayal, the Black Queen walks to a set of five shoulder-height levers, each baroquely shaped, transparent, and hinged to a base on the floor. She pulls the middle one, and a bright white light below the base begins to glow. She then pulls the first lever. She glances at the fourth, but then changes her mind and pulls the fifth one, explaining that she is unleashing the Mathmos to devour the city. The Queen’s brief hesitation implies that this isn’t just an interface, but a self-destruct mechanism that must be activated in some particular, secret order to take effect. Upon completion of the sequence the city begins to fall into the liquid creature, Mathmos, that lives beneath the city.
We know in the film that Control has been working behind the scenes long before the event takes place. The Chem department, for example, has somehow gotten Jules to bleach her hair, and the hair dye “works its way into the blood” as a way to slow her cognition, and make her conform more the Whore archetype. Additionally, they have been lacing Marty’s marijuana to keep him dazed & confused. (Though, key to the plot, they missed his secret stash.) There’s even an actor placed en route to the eponymous cabin who unsettles the victims with his aggression and direct violent insults to Jules, setting the stage for their suffering. Though these things occur “off stage” of the actual cabin (and the Chem team works off screen), they help tell the story about how deeply embedded Control is in the world, and set the stage for the surveillance interfaces on stage.
Marking the deaths: on screen & ritually
The goal of the scenario is the suffering and death of the victims, in the right order. To provide a visual marker on the monitoring screens, a transparent red overlay is placed over victims who are believed to have been killed.
The choice of red has a natural association with the violence, but red has a number of problems. Visually, it vibrates against blue (according to opponent process of color theory, the red and blue receptors in our retinas are in the same place and can’t perceive both at the same time). It’s also typically used to grab attention, which in this case is the exact wrong signal. Jules is no longer in the picture, and so specifically no attention is needed for her. Better would be to dim her section on the monitor, or remove her altogether, if marking progress is unimportant.
Hadley orders Thorazine
In addition to marking the deaths in the digital interfaces, the deaths must be marked ritually for the system to work. To this end, Sitterson and Hadley act as the human interface that transfers the information from the electronic systems to the Bronze-Age mechanical systems behind him. Though this could be accomplished mechanically, there are ritual words that must be spoken and an amulet that must be kissed by a supplicant.
Sitterson, the senior of the two, recites, “This we offer in humility and fear / For the blessed peace of your eternal slumber / As it ever was.”
After these ritual actions, Hadley raises a roll top wooden panel to reveal a simple switch. Pulling it down initiates a chain of mechanics that ultimately break a vial of blood into a funnel, which channels the blood into grooves carved into a sacrificial slab.
Sitterson and Hadley mark the first sacrifice
The roll top door acts as a physical barrier against accidental activation, and the mechanical switch requires a manageable, but deliberate, amount of force. Both of these features in the interface ensure that it is only done when intended, and the careful mechanical construction ensures that it is done right.
Dr. Morbius introduces the Krell plastic educator, saying, “As far as I can make out, they used it to condition and test their young, in much the same way as we once employed finger painting among our kindergarten children.”
Morbius grasps the educator’s head mount.
The device is a station at which the learner sits. There is a large dashboard before him, in turn before a space enclosed in a tetrahedral encasement of plastic. To his right is a large column made of plastic with red and yellow graduations running up the side. Inside the column is a strange shape like a lathed accordion, terminating in a pulsing ring that indicates a level against the graduations. An arced panel hangs from the ceiling with other printed graduations with lines of light above and below. Blue neon squiggles blink randomly along the walls.
Morbius demonstrates proper placement of the educator interface.
To activate the station, the learner grasps a pair of curved metal arms, which are connected at a hinged base and tipped with crystal orbs. He leans forward, rests his forehead on a third arm, and pulls the pair of arms to rest on his temples. He turns a pair of dials on the dashboard before him, and the crystal orbs on all three arms glow, indicating that the headset is operational.
Morbius points to the intelligence indicator.
Adams and Doc try to guage their own IQs.
The device’s immediate result is that the accordion shape inside the column rises such that the lit ring indicates the intelligence of the user. (To Adams’ and Doc’s dismay, their readings are much lower than Morbius’.)
With the press of a lever Morbius manifests a thought visually.
The primary function of the device is for the user to make a thought of theirs manifest in the tetrahedral space. The user concentrates on the thing, and then pulls a lever at the base of the headset. A red ring at the base of the headset illuminates, and a material appears above a pedestal at the base of the tetrahedron. By concentrating, the user shapes this material into the desired thing. Morbius shapes it into an image of Alta. The image is a scaled, translucent, volumetric display of Alta, which moves and smiles just as she would.
The projection ceases immediately when the mechanism is removed.
To stop using the device and shut down the projection, the learner simply lifts the lever and removes the headset from contact, and the orbs, the red ring, and the volumetric projection all fade within moments.
Finished with his demonstration, Morbius turns the educator off.
Turning the dashboard off requires a user to turn two free-spinning dials that sit to each side of the headset inwards. The lights of the dashboard fade.
You know, sometimes you get the inkling that the bad guys just want to fail. Joh, the alleged brains of Metropolis, seemed to take a special delight in having his engineers develop machines that would ultimately doom his precious upper class.
A laborer fails to monitor the temperature of the M-machine.
So you’re one of those engineers, mopping your brow and staring at whatever the Metropolis version of AutoCAD is, and you have this problem. When the machine gets too hot and close to failing, you need to vent some of that deadly, deadly steam somewhere to buy your guys some time to try and fix things before lots of people die and your civilization comes crashing down. OK. So, where to put that vent? Well, you consider putting it somewhere safe. Nonsense. Let’s instead turn that pipe this other way, and aim it like a cannon directly at the guys who might fix the problem. Be sure and jot a note at the bottom of your drawing that this will piss a lof of the dead guy’s friends off so they’ll revolt against you.
Machine-Maria disables a safety switch.
But OK, I hear you cry, these things are complicated, and perhaps that steam thing was just an oversight. People get busy and maybe it was rushed into production. How then do you explain the presence of a single, large, and easy-to-pull switch, the sole purpose of which is to immediately overheat and explode the one machine that’s keeping the working class and their children from being crushed under a wave of water? Thats not a slip-up. Somebody had to put that there, and somebody else had to approve it. Not to name dystopian names, but we’re looking at you, Joh Fredersen. Maybe that’s the great secret under Metropolis: Joh is the unsung good guy of this tale. The one guy who could mastermind the takedown of the terrible, oligarchical mess, all from the inside, and using his goofy do-gooder son as a pawn.
Maria’s heroism in saving the children of the Lower City from flooding is aided by what may be only positive depiction of a technology in the film.
Maria summons the children with the gong in the town square.
To summon the children so that she can direct them to safety, she climbs a structure in the center of the town square. There she struggles with a very difficult-to-budge lever, but when she finally does so, it sets a loud gong to ringing. In keeping with the film’s theme, this brings people together so they can be saved.
Rotwangs Machine-Man is the most magical technology seen in the film. This is understandable since there the only common precedent available to the audience were stories of golems and imps, soulless and wicked servants out to wreck havoc at their masters bidding. Despite this imp paradigm, many of the interfaces around the Machine-Man are worthy of note.
Rotwang reveals the Machine-Man.
When Rotwang first reveals the Machine-Man to Joh, he does so with a dramatic yank of a curtain to the side. There sits the automaton, in a throne before a catwalk. In response to the curtains opening, the catwalk gradually illuminates. Did the Man-Machine turn the lights on? Was it a curtain switch? The movie gives no clues, but the lesson is clear. Light signals power, and the Machine-Man is imbued with a lot of it.
The Machine-Woman awaits Rotwang’s instructions.
The Machine-Man as Joh meets it is entirely machine in appearance. (Beautifully designed by Walter Schulze-Mittendorff. This piece of sci-fi is so iconic and seminal that it warrants its own Wikipedia page.) At Joh’s instruction, Rotwang gives the Machine-Man the outward likeness of Maria. How he is actually able to accomplishing this is vague, but note that as he twists up the power, more and more bars illuminate at the foot of the table. An early establishment that, as power increases, so does light.
Rotwang powers the transformation table.
This “light = power” theme is reinforced a number of times throughout this sequence.
Some machine glows as Rotwang turns it on.
With a switch the transformation begins.
Rotwang increases the power to the transformation table.
What does the tall tank, the arcing sphere, or the large wafer switch do? We don’t know. But with the flick of a switch, something glows, and even without any sound to tell us, we know that he’s summoning a great deal of power for what hes about to do next.
Machine-Maria devises her saboteur’s scheme.
Machine-Maria looks nearly identical to the real Maria. But in seeking to make the differences clear to the audience, actress Brigitte Helm needed to supply some kind of uncanny valley a century before the term was invented. Her response, which underscores the evil twin nature of Machine-Maria, was to adopt sharp, precise movements, an under-the-brow stare, and asymmetry. These simple cues let us know in a few seconds that she is not human and not to be trusted.
On the pyre, Machine-Maria reverts to her original form.
Machine-Marias death also underscores its deeply magical roots. When burning on the pillar, Machine-Maria transforms back to her original, machine-like form for little given reason other than her spell has been somehow broken.
Laborers in the Lower City live lives of horrible dehumanization, tending to and dying in the maw of the machines. Much of the technology in the early part of the film highlights this aspect of the world of Metropolis.
One shift files in as the other files out.
Access to and from the machine halls are carefully controlled. Between shift changes, laborers line up in regimented rows before the gates. A device on the wall adjacent to the gate shines two square lights up top. When that light extinguishes and the circular light illuminates, the laborers know to begin walking through the gates.
They trudge to large elevators, where an operator turns a crank wheel to raise the containing gate and lower the elevator. This elevator operator keeps his eyes on a gauge positioned uncomfortably high on the wall above the crank.
Freder encounters the worker’s city.
A laborer fails to monitor the temperature of the M-machine.
One exhausted laborer has to control the temperature of the machine. He stands before a panel where a thermometer is mounted in the dead center. Its markings tell him the acceptable maximum temperature. A row of flanges and levers line the lower part of the wall. Each has a lightbulb above it. When the lightbulb illuminates, the laborer must activate that flange. The pattern of blinking lights is difficult to keep up with and the work exhausting.
11811 struggles to keep up with his task at the machine.
When Feder returns to the Lower City, he sees a laborer tending a particularly pointless machine. He holds two arms on a human-sized, clock-like face. Instead of numbers, the face is ringed by lightbulbs. Every half a second, the two blinking bulbs will dim, and a new completely random pair will begin blinking. The laborer’s task is to turn the hands such that each one points to the blinking lights. 11811 struggles to keep up with his task at the machine.
Feeling for his brother, Freder offers to take 11811’s place at the machine.
Though too fast and random to be easily sustainable, the task itself is so apparent that Feder can offer to stand in after only a few seconds of watching.