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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cyborg 2087

There were a burst of time travel stories in the mid-60s. Cyborg 2087 added to the trope of an agent from the future traveling to the past to prevent some event which causes mayhem in the future. Michael Renne (Klaatu in Day the Earth Stood Still) plays the cyborg named Garth. Wendell Corey, who played the inarticulate admiral in Women of the Prehistoric Planet, plays the inarticulate sheriff here. Like most time travel tales, it can get a bit confusing.

Quick Plot Synopsis
In a futuristic city of 2087, troops storm a control room in mid countdown. The agent in the time capsule pod is, nonetheless, successfully sent back to the year 1966. His mission is to find Professor Sigmund Marx and bring him back, or destroy him. The agent, named Garth A7, pops into 1966 on the edge of a western ghost town. A man drives up in his red jeep, bringing his uncle Pete and german shepherd for a visit. Garth stuns all three and steals the jeep. He breaks into a clothing store for some less conspicuous attire. Citizens are getting jumpy. Stolen vehicles. Missing people. Burglaries. Garth gets to Marx's lab after he'd gone. Garth uses mind control to turn Marx's assistant, Dr. Sharon Mason, into a helper. He has a tracking beacon in his chest and wants it removied. "Tracer" agents will come from the future to stop him. She takes him to a friend: Dr. Carl Zeller. The Tracers do pop into 1966 in their own pod and start jogging towards Garth's beamer. Carl removes the beamer but they need 5,000 volts to destroy it. They head for the power station. The Tracers catch up with Garth and Carl at the power station. One Tracer is killed and the beamer destroyed by voltage. The other Tracer chases Garth around on the roof for awhile before both elude the cranky Sheriff and his men. Meanwhile, Sharon has swiped Marx's files on his radio telepathy project. Marx catches her. She spills back story Garth told her about how in the future, unscrupulous powers will use it to enslave mankind. Free thought will be illegal. They drive out to Old Town to find Garth. There, Sharon is captured by the other Tracer and used as bait. Garth was willing to leave her to her fate (no feelings) and fulfill his mission of bringing Marx to 2087. But, a spark of compassion brings Garth to Sharon's rescue. After much old fashioned fist fighting, Garth kills the Tracer. Sharon proclaims her love for him, begs him to stay. He cannot and says she will forget he was ever there, if the timeline is altered. Garth and Marx pop out. Later that morning, some generals and officials have gathered to see Marx's demonstration. He comes in (apparently back from 2087) but says there will be no demonstration. Mankind isn't ready to handle the power. It will be abused. The generals go away sad, but Sharon and Carl discover each other and agree to go on a date. In the sheriff's office, bored deputies complain that nothing ever happens around there. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The plot is intriguing enough, with many possible threads left unexplored, that Cyborg is good food for thought.

Cold War Angle
The focus in Cyborg is more on oppressive state dictatorships, ala 1984, with the military-industrial complex (as Eisenhauer put it) as the bugbear.

Remake? Ripoff? -- The plot of Cyborg reminds many people of The Terminator ('84). There are similarities, but also some significant differences. The tropes they have in common suggest an inspiration, at any rate. Cyborg sent to the past to find a human who is the key to a dystopic future. Dual good/bad time travelers. Some claim that two Outer Limits episodes from 1964 were the basis for both movies. Again, not so much in their plots as in their tropes. The Soldier episode provided emotionless (but human) soldiers, raised by the state from birth, to do nothing but follow orders -- to kill on command. But there was no time traveling. Demon With A Glass Hand provided the trope of agents (alien humanoids, not machines, nor human despots) are sent from an oppressive, dystopic future to find and stop Robert Culp (actually a cyborg) who has the key to saving humanity. Yet, neither of these TV episodes were the same story as Cyborg or Terminator. T1 is too different in plot from Cyborg to be even a loose remake. Both the Terminator and Garth were after a key human in the past, but one was to persuade, the other to kill. T1 was focused on violence and killing (somewhat creepily previewing the millennial style of real life massacres: Columbine, Virginia Tech and Fort Hood.) Cyborg was focused more on the time-line issue and far less on the violence. One scene could raise an eyebrow. T1 ends with Sarah Conner driving a red jeep, with a german shepherd in it. Coincidence? or intentional nod to Cyborg? You decide.

Stockholm Syndrome -- Presaging the famous bank robbery/hostage event in 1973 that gave the syndrome its name, note how Garth forces his will upon Sharon. Briefly, Garth handles Sharon somewhat roughly, supporting the captor/captive model. He hooks her up to the radio-telepathy machine to "bend" her mind to accept only his point of view so that she'll help him (get the beamer removed). Under this mental control, she begins to develop feelings for him (rather quickly and based on little). In the end, she proclaims her love for him. Garth, quite correctly, tags the Stockholm Syndrome. She only has feelings for him because he bent her will.

Lame FX or Butterfly Effect? -- The script of Cyborg tried to keep the complexity of time travel logical, instead of as a gimmick. The Free Thought rebels could not risk any negative changes, so Garth's ray gun could only stun. Killing anything might ruin the improved timeline they were trying create. The Tracers were not so careful. Their ray guns could kill. Fortunately, but like most movie bad guys, they were very poor shots.

Plot Flaw or Time Paradox? -- The story ends with a sort of "it was all a dream" erasure off all the movie's events. This isn't explained at all, so feels like a too-hasty wrap. Professor Marx's return to 1966, and refusal to do his demonstration would change events from then on. Why would it rewrite the prior day? Perhaps it ran like this: Marx is taken by Garth to the year 2087. The Oppressor State is still in power. The Free Thinkers convince Marx of his error and return him. He does not give the demo. Since they succeeded, their timeline then poofs out. No Oppressor State. No rebels. Jo Ann Pflug (who plays the female rebel engineer who launches Garth to 1966) if she existed at all, might just be some mild researcher somewhere. No one sends Garth, so all those events of the movie caused by him would cease to exist too.

Love Trumps Programming -- Writers (and audiences) loved the notion that human love could conquer just about anything. Garth is the total stoic. He was taught since birth to suppress and deny all feelings. Yet, near the end, Garth's heart is softened by Sharon's plaintive screams for help. He risks the success of his mission to rescue her. The earth-woman-falls-for-outsider trope is reminiscent of Klaatu and Patricia Neal in TDESS (and its many remakes). This is all the stronger since it is Michael Rennie playing the outsider again.

Nasty Cuts -- Betraying the ultra-low budget, note how badly the disappear-appear cuts are done. In the future lab, the camera position is nowhere even close to the same. When the pod appears/disappears outside of Old Town, the camera was at least fixed. But, the sun and lighting are very different. Oh well.

Senseless Dancing -- Perhaps as a sop to the teen ticket buyers, Hoey included some longish shots of two teen couples dancing all groovy-like in Carl's living room. This wasn't a mere establishing scene, but almost a showcase. Viewers are given long stretches of close-ups of the girls' fancy footwork or Rick's asynchronous gyrations. Toss in a garish hot rod and some cool "hip" teen lingo, and the whole segment smells like a sop.

Bottom line? Cyborg is a low budget production with no impressive effects or captivating acting. It does build upon the time travel sub-genre, and aside from a few quirks presents a fair story.

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