I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Jared McMillan // Film Critic
It’s no secret that technology advances as a way for human nature to advance themselves. However, with every technological improvement, there’s this tiny feeling in the back of our minds that technology will eventually be a harbinger of doom. It could be said that most invention is just born out of convenience than necessity, but I digress.
Science fiction movies help paint a picture of this future, mostly to show scenarios of how technology either brought us to deprave depths or saved us in our darkest hour. Nothing puts us more in this mindset than that of the cybernetic organism, also known as “cyborg”. To put it simply, cyborgs are humans that have been altered or modified, and contain organic parts in combination with biomechanical parts.
The latest cyborg to come across the silver screen is the titular hero of HARDCORE HENRY, a non-stop bloody ride of insanity (read Courtney’s review here) that sees a man brought back to life through robotics, only to make him a nearly-indestructible weapon of revenge. With its release this Friday, let’s take a look back at some of film’s best cyborgs.
Side note: This list will only contain those that fit in the parameters of the term cyborg, so no robots or androids.
The T-800, THE TERMINATOR (1984)
While Arnie reprised his role as the T-800 in numerous sequels, nothing compares to the splash he made as this cyborg in 1984’s THE TERMINATOR. Brought back through time by the villainous SkyNet, its sole mission is to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in order to prevent the birth of humanity’s last hope, John Connor.
Directed by James Cameron, the camera makes sure to shoot The T-800 in low angles more often than not, giving the presence a more menacing feel. The movie, unlike the sequels that followed, isn’t a grand spectacle, but more of a methodical slow burn.
The T-800 is a “cybernetic organism, living tissue over metal endoskeleton” so it technically counts as a cyborg, even though it was a robot enhanced by organic material. Regardless of the technicalities, it’s still effective to this day, as the T-800 represents a warning of things to come, and a future that will destroy us all.
RoboCop, ROBOCOP (1987)
In almost 30 years since its release, ROBOCOP has made its way from cult classic to sci-fi/action classic, becoming almost prophetic in its themes of corruption, privatization, and so forth. Detroit’s police department gets bought by a corporation (OCP); their product that’s supposed to aid the police, the ED-209 is defective, so they look to combine an actual cop with their technology. It’s all a ploy to mass produce the police under corporate guidelines.
Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is gunned down by a gang, and is therefore the guinea pig for the RoboCop program. He goes from being a dead human to a cybernetic peace keeper, save for his brain, face, and digestive system. He is the future, grasping on to his own humanity, while trying to protect others. He may be bound to technology, but there’s nothing that keeps him from personally growing in this new environment.
ROBOCOP makes its impact in, not only design, but its violence. Everything is over the top, but by being low-budget, gives it a grittier subtext. Crime running rampant is supposed to be brutal, and it sets up the fact that RoboCop goes to extremes, but only as his logic/programming dictates. Dead or alive, you’re going with him.
The Borg Queen, STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT (1996)
Having first appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Picard had been assimilated into a race of cyborgs, it was only a matter of time that they bring The Borg to the silver screen. As a villain, they were certainly the creepiest part of the Star Trek universe, as they were an ominous force looking to further their race without remorse.
The Borg Queen (Alice Krige) did not appear in the TV series, but her debut in STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT could only be described as ethereal darkness. The human part of her that is shown is the only part of her, showing in one scene as she is placed into her suit, her spinal cord dangling below her shoulders. Also, her skin has no life to it and she projects a creepy superiority.
There is no origin to her, nor is there an origin to The Borg. Being 1996 when FIRST CONTACT was released, it could be said that The Borg represent the darker side of technology. It wants to be a part of you, latching onto your existence, assimilating itself to your consciousness. “Resistance is futile.” – Sent from Android.
Darth Vader, STAR WARS: EPISODES III-VI
That’s right. Darth Vader is a cyborg. No need to go into synopsis with regard to one of the most recognizable villains in cinematic history, but it is important to note that the definition of cyborg includes biomechanics not just cybernetics. It’s something that was known through Episodes IV-VI, but we got the visual evidence in EPISODE III.
Now, nothing in the entire cinematic existence of STAR WARS ever used the term cyborg, but that’s exactly what Anakin Skywalker has become. He loses his left arm and legs fighting Obi-Wan, and is burned to mutilation by the lava flows of Mustafar. After being rescued by Emperor Palpatine, he is then fitted with robotics to keep him alive, as well as an artificial respiratory system. He is now organic material fitted with the mechanical, made better to ensure survival.
Darth Vader isn’t just a cyborg though; he’s a Sithborg. Not only is he a combination of organic life and mechanical need, he is also transformed from an example of wayward evil to anthropomorphic evil; he is in all black, breathing as if he’s breathing down your neck, inciting terror without a single touch as an empire looks to conquer.
All movies are available to stream or purchase. HARDCORE HENRY is in theaters on Friday, April 8.