Tuesday, June 12, 2007
With the release of the new Transformer's movie just a scant 485 hours away, I recently acquired a copy of the original 1986 film.
From the cheesy retro 80's soundtrack to the star-studded cast (Leonard Nimoy, Orson Wells, Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, to name a few) to the fairly interesting retelling of the old King Arthur tale, there is a lot to like in the old film.
It's brutal, first of all. Optimus Prime and Starscream totally get killed. Ultramagnus almost bites it, and well...let's not even talk about the strange death that Unicron endured. Not even sure how that was supposed to have happened...I mean... is the matrix technological? Or magical? Or what? What the hell is it?
But that aside, there's an interesting thing about the movie that I think is very daring on the part of...well...whoever the hell it was that made the movie. It's going to take a bit to explain, but if you'll bear with me, the payoff is exceptional, especially if you're a fan of science and speculative science fiction, like I am.
Okay. What are the transformers? Giant robots from outer space, right? When they came to Earth (in the TV show), perhaps thinking that the dominant form of life on the planet was the automobile (which is understandable), they assimilated the designs of Earth vehicles as a way of blending in.
Of course, the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime takes on the form of that king of cross-country transit, almost a symbol of capitalism itself, the eighteen wheel semi truck. And the quirky youngster takes on the form of a Volkswagen Beetle (whoa...newsflash...while writing this post, I have discovered that I was wrong to lambaste the makers of this new movie for making Bumblebee into a Camaro...apparently, it's VW itself that didn't want to lend its image to a film that portrays violence--my sincerest apologies to Universal Studios, and shame, shame on you, Volkswagen).
Anyway, before I get sidetracked any further in this analysis, let's do the dirty business.
Okay, so there's a planet called Cybertron where all of these giant robots live. It is a planet which has evolved sentient robots. Inorganic creatures which are self-aware. This is absolutely critical.
In his book, The Blind Watchmaker, Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins (of some degree of infamy) discussed the possibility (indeed, the probability) that DNA (that is, deoxyribonucleic acid) is not the first self-replicating molecule, and, perhaps more importantly, nor is it going to be the last. It just happens to be the one that appeared on Earth.
It is unlikely that machines can be created except by another being. They are not inherently self-aware. Some sort of catalyst organic being would be required before such a thing could come about (in most likelyhood---I'm not willing, at this point, to rule out the possibility completely that the Autobots could have evolved by chance). The important thing to consider is the possibility that the transformers in their highly evolved state are possibly the creations (perhaps a reincarnation) of another organic species that created them in the first place. --As a sidenote: wouldn't it be interesting to have a creation myth that revolved around beings less evolved than yourself?
The staggering thing is, upon watching the old Transformers movie (a film I have not seen since I was a very young child, and never had the opportunity to own myself), is that Earth appears to be the only planet that actually has organic lifeforms. All other planets (Cybertron, Junkion, Quintessa, etc) appear to support, not only exclusively mechanical "life-forms" but are also made entirely of heavy metals themselves. No organics anywhere (I think Quintessa might actually have some plants...but I can't remember exactly). Perhaps if life is to evolve on a planet with little carbon, concessions need to be made. Or perhaps some dominant organic life created some sort of horrible environmental catastrophe that stripped the planets of their atmospheres and made organic life unsustainable. Who knows?
Hell, on Quintessa, Hotrod and Kup were beset by goddamned robotic piranhas! The plausibility of robotic (non-self-aware) piranhas evolving by chance seems a little thin, but that doesn't matter. Nature abhors a vacuum right? So somebody had to fill an ecological niche. Why not a robotic piranha?
The thing we are seeing with the transformers is not a genetic legacy, but a memetic one. Look it up. Since obviously, Autobots don't have DNA, there must be some other thing being passed down by generation. Again, we look to Richard Dawkins and the "meme."
Videodrome, a film by David Cronenberg, also features a meme. It's hard to make the case that the entity that is "videodrome" is self-aware, but it certainly is a non-material (non-organic) entity that self-replicates. (Whether Max Renn's death also signaled the destruction of videodrome is beyond the scope of this little essay).
The Matrix also comes to mind, obviously with a decidedly more deliberate agenda (i.e. the endless repetition of sophomoric and highly idiotic elementary philosophical ideas about free will and what-have-you), but the idea is still intact in the The Matrix trilogy. I wonder if it's coincidental that the Wachowski epic is named very similarly to the central plot device in Transformers: The Movie (1986).
Whether this discussion has any real relevance or point is entirely up to you, dear reader. I am merely drawing connections and building a plausible framework for further analysis. The important thing is that you learned something. Now, watch this video. I think it sums things up nicely.