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Movie Review: Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control -- A Garder, Zoologist, Animal trainer, and Researcher sound off on life.

Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control

Directed by Errol Morris.

Includes interviews with Dave Hoover, George Mendonca, Ray Mendez, and Rodney Brooks.


By Vladimir V. Zelevinsky
Staff Reporter

I feel like a lion when somebody swings a chair in front of him. According to animal trainer Dave Hoover, one of four people interviewed in Fast, Cheap & Out Of Control, a lion has a one-track mind, and a chair has, obviously, four legs. So the lion can not understand that those four points in front of his face are very much connected, and therefore is befuddled and distracted, forgetting what he intended to do just a moment ago (namely, to eat that guy in white pants in front of him). So, that's precisely how I feel after watching this movie - I am a lion, and Errol Morris ("A Thin Blue Line", "A Brief History of Time") is a guy who is teasing me with four different points, which seems wildly disparate, but are, as a matter of fact, connected.

Four different interviews, copiously interspersed with new, old, stock, and B-movie footage, weave their way through this documentary: Dave Hoover, an animal trainer; George Mendonca, a topiary gardener; Ray Mendez, a naked mole-rat zoologist (it's the rats which are naked, not the zoologist), and our own Rodney A. Brooks, director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Each of those four people does not talk about pretty much anything beyond his work: the animal trainer relates events from his career (a useful tip: don't wear a wristwatch while taming lions); the gardener defends his reliance on old hand shears, as opposed to electric ones; the zoologist explains how bathroom habits play a pivotal role in creating a sense of family in a group of mole-rats; and Brooks explains what goes into building a walking robot. For the first 15 minutes or so, the movie is content with gazing at four interesting individuals. Then, something clicks, and the real thing begins.

These four lines start touching and crossing, forming multiple connections, and treating multiple subjects, included, but not limited to, the complexity of living beings, the importance of sensory input, the sociological designs of insect, animal, and human societies, the human desire to create another - perhaps better? - consciousness, immersion in one's work, the shocking idea about humanity's imperfection (since it clearly demonstrates that our minds are not that much more complex than that of lions), and the transitory nature of life itself. The animal trainer, now retired, looks back at the years of his active work with regret, and tries to relay his knowledge to his successor; the gardener is both sad and proud that his ornamental sculptures (sculptures of animals, no less) will outlive him; and Brooks contemplates the simultaneously thrilling and horrifying idea that humans might be, after all, on this planet only to create robots,which then will become our successors, and, when humans are gone, will continue scurrying on their way - fast, cheap, and out of control.

Neither of these adjectives apply to the movie itself, by the way. While the hyperactive camera work is occasionally distracting (cinematographer Robert Richardson worked with Oliver Stone on such movies as JFK and Natural Born Killers), the rest of the movie, especially the musical score (Caleb Sampson), is witty and subtle. On the whole, this movie is unusually thought-provoking; it's also deliberate, precious, and tightly controlled.