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CHAPPIE. Neill Blomkamp, dir. co-script (with Terri Tatchell). Jules Cook, prod. design. USA/Mexico: Columbia Pictures "Presents", Alpha Core, Sony Pictures Entertainment, et al. (prod.) / Columbia Pictures (US release), 2015. See IMDb for complex production and distribution details.[1].

CHAPPIE is set in Johannesburg, South Africa, with a number of scenes and sequences in Soweto. As of the opening week of US distribution in March 2015, the storyline was somewhat inaccurately summarized on IMDb by the publicity folk at Sony Pictures Entertainment with, "In the near future, crime is patrolled by an oppressive mechanized police force. But now, the people are fighting back. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself. As powerful, destructive forces start to see Chappie as a danger to mankind and order, they will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo and ensure that Chappie is the last of his kind."[2] An accurate summary can be found in the (very negative) Variety review [3] and elsewhere on the web; we give the initial official form because it might be significant that the forces of suppression are indeed present in CHAPPIE and associated with robotized Law'n'Order, but "the people" are not "fighting back" in some sort of politically justified revolution; what we see is crime and police violence in response, all sides using heavy weaponry (culminating in cluster bombs).[4] Given the repetition of "Amerika" (Hispanic character's name) in the dialog, and the repetition and frequent juxtaposition of flags and flag-symbols of the USA and RSA (Republic of South Africa), there's something political going on in CHAPPIE missed by the flacks at Sony — although whatever it is is far from clear. CHAPPIE is significant for the human/machine interface as recombinant cinema, taking ROBOCOP (1987) et seq. and combining it with SHORT CIRCUIT (1986) and the robot-coming-of-age story (e.g., When HARLIE Was One). See for an all-grown-up version of Enforcement Droid Series 209[5] from ROBOCOP given the flying power of Iron Man and The Iron Giant[6].

Note also the motif from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (and some recyclings) of the responsibility of the Maker of a sentient creature toward the creature: in this case the responsibility of the inventor of Chappie's AI and general sentience — and transgressing creator of Chappie — to Chappie. This portion of the Frankenstein myth is specifically used in terms of Chappie's mortality ("he" has a shorter shelf-life than even the Replicants in BLADE RUNNER), and the theme of mortality intertwines with the neat gadgetry of controlling a giant flyable enforcer droid through a neurological interface. Combining separable consciousness with a neurological interface provides the possibility of the transference of consciousness, both AI (easily) and human (with implausible ease), allowing for the possibility of a kind of resurrection and very long life for robots and robotized humans. Students of postmodern transgression of boundaries should note the association of Chappie with dogs — this robot has very expressive ears — and that in CHAPPIE the symbolic melding of mechanical and organic is neutral or positive: emphatically contrast most of the ALIEN (film) series. For students of gendering robots and other automata, note that Chappie is definitely a "he," even though "he" has no more genitalia than RoboCop or an undisguised Terminator or a real-world industrial robot.

RDE 11/III/15