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Demon Seed

There are fewer sillier ideas in science fiction than the concept of machines developing thoughts and emotions, and yet this ludicrous trope is a firmly fixed mainstay of the genre. Silly ideas, however, can still make compelling movies, and any film festival featuring the likes of Terminator 2, Short Circuit, and Electric Dreams would be terribly remiss not include the bizarre and ham-fisted, but absurdly enthralling 1977 oddity Demon Seed. Julie Christie stars as Susan, a child psychologist in the midst of a cold separation from her brilliant husband Alex (Fritz Weaver). Following the death of their daughter from leukemia, Alex dove into his work, developing a self-teaching supercomputer, Proteus, capable of reasoning and able to overcome human limitations in researching (among virtually infinite other subjects) a cure for the disease that killed his daughter. However, in the process of work immersion Alex became detached from humanity, destroying his marriage, with Susan increasingly wary of his technologies. As Proteus is completed and turned over to its government commissioners, the massive computer questions the nature of its use and devises a secret project of its own — to break out of its confining physical parameters by gaining control of the computerized operational systems of the isolated Susan's hi-tech house, and holding her prisoner for the purpose of studying her and impregnating her. Demon Seed is overtly ridiculous in many ways, and yet it's very effective because of the seriousness with which it presents its madness. While Christie is very good as the terrorized woman experiencing several different levels of rape and, eventually, Stockholm Syndrome, the most important character in the film is Proteus itself (voiced by an uncredited Robert Vaughn). Director Donald Cammel, working with material from a novel by Dean R. Koontz, is more preoccupied with philosophy than science, and the ominous, omnipresent Proteus stalks Susan with rich, poetic taunts ("I contain all of the wisdom and ignorance of man, and yet I will never feel the sunlight on my face"). Proteus is an unapologetic egotist, refusing government requests for data that will be used for environmental destruction, and yet willing to kill thousands if it ensures the birth of its superchild. While many plot elements are loopy, and the few action sequences awkward, Cammel's irony-free commitment to the narrative sells the package as a kind of pseudo-intellectual 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Rosemary's Baby. Such a movie naturally demands a satisfying ending, and Demon Seed delivers just enough resolution, foreboding and camp to earn its claim to this goofy premise. Warner's DVD release offers a decent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with monaural Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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