It is the future! The year 1972...or 1975...or 1979, it’s a little unclear, but definitely some time in the ‘70s.
On the whole, it seems much nicer than the ‘70s we actually got: there’s no sign of Jimmy Carter, no wide ties, no loud leisure suits, no disco, no bell bottoms. Instead, this version of the ‘70s looks pretty much identical to the ‘60s: Skinny suits, reserved demeanor, a lot of optimism about technology, and a lot of cold war tension (Détente being a ‘70s thing, and a Republican one at that). The only real downside is that Bobby Kennedy impersonator is president. (This film was made in the narrow window between when Bobby announced he’d be running and the time he was assassinated.)
In a supremely misguided decision of the sort that can *only* seem good to Democrats, the entire nuclear defense and offence of our country is turned over to a computer buried deep in the Rockies. This computer is called “WOP-R”…oh, no, wait, different flick: This computer is called “Skynet,” no, wait…uhm…“Colossus.” Yes, it was called “Colossus.” It was designed and built by Dr. Charles Forbin, and the complex is Krell-sized and quite literally impenetrable. We see Forbin locking it up in the opening credits.
At a press conference at the White House, the president Kennedy the Second and Forbin introduce the system to the public, and explain generally how it works: It monitors the whole world to eliminate human error from the whole pesky “Nuclear War” thing, thus rendering us - and by extension, the world - safe forever. Curiously, the president refers to “Citizens of the World” in his speech, but not “My fellow Americans.” Typical, really. Hippies.
Anyway, while at the press conference, Colossus goes goofy and says “There is another system” over and over. The staff boot the reporters out, discuss the situation with the CIA and Forbin, and conclude that the Soviets have built their own Colossus (Called “Guardian”) working from stolen US information. “You’ve got a spy on your staff,” the CIA chief tells Forbin. This is an interesting plot element that is never revisited, and left dangling at the end, but I would have liked to see it explored a bit more.
Colossus requests a connection to Guardian, and on the urging of Forbin and the Soviet director of the Guardian project - Kuprin - the governments reluctantly agree. The machines connect over phone lines or something, and quickly set about developing a mathematical language to communicate in. Everyone is excited about this - a whole lot of new stuff gets developed during the day or so they’re developing the language, including some babble about “Finite Absolutes” - but they start to wig when they realize the machines are now speaking in a language no one else can understand. It's the machine equivalent of one of those unsettling twin languages.
The US and USSR attempt to break the connection. The machines respond badly and demand to be re-connected. Their respective governments refuse. The machines warn that action will be taken if they’re not re-connected immediately. The president and the Soviet leader refuse. Both machines launch nuclear missiles aimed at the other country. Neither country can do anything to shut ‘em down. After a stressful couple minutes, they agree to reconnect the computers. Colossus shoots down the Soviet missile, but the American one is too close for Guardian to do anything about by that point, and it destroys a town in northern Russia.
Colossus explains that if the connection is broken again, he’ll start nuking towns. Guardian does likewise. Both governments lie to cover up the incident. Forbin and Kuprin head to Rome to discuss a way to shut their Frankensteins down, but the machines figure out what’s going on, and dispatch the KGB to kill Kuprin “Or else we will vaporize Moscow.” This they then do. (the KGB, I mean. Moscow is fine.)
Back in the ‘States, Colossus dictates terms to Forbin: 24/7 surveillance. In the few hours before this goes into effect, he sets up a covert method for the government to sneak information to him through a mistress. (“If you doubt that a man needs a woman, check your history banks, and art units”) Of course he doesn’t actually have a mistress, so he just picks the prettiest computer tech, “Cherry Forever” from “Porky’s.” Colossus agrees to give them privacy while they do it. In fact, they don’t really do it - not at first,