Friday, May 16, 2014

HA HA HA HA!!!!!!! Yeah, I should have posted this on Mother's Day, but what can you do?

"Mother" is the main ship's computer in the 1979 film Alien. Helen Horton voiced Mother.

Much of the look of Alien is "sci fi industrial" -- a rejection of the "clean look" made immensely influential in science fiction by Star Trek in the 1960s. The Nostromo, the ship in the film, has most of its conduits, wires, equipment, and cables exposed on the walls. Only small sections of the ship -- primarily the sleeping quarters and dining room -- show the "clean look".

Fantastic Films magazine for October 1979 revealed that "Mother" is an abbreviation of "MU/TH/UR 6000" -- the model of the computer.

At the time the film was made, the PC was just making its appearance. Mainframes with terminals ruled the world. Art Director Roger Christian designed the ship's main computer with this in mind. The concept was that simple queries could be made from terminals throughout the ship, but the computer's high-level functions and programming could only be made from the computer room. To make this room distinctive, Christian went for the "clean look", and utilized a sci fi film trope (lots of winking lights) to visually indicate "computer activity" to the viewer.

The viewscreens through which Mother communicates used the then-typical green-on-black text -- which not only used little computer memory to generate, but was believed to be easier on the eyes than orange text or black-on-white text.

The font used on screen is Berthold City Light, a proportional font. Most computer terminals at the time used Courier, Courier New, or Lucinda Console, and were "monospaced" fonts (each letter or number taking up the same space as every one letter or numbr). Berthold City Light was a proportional font (letters and numbers varied in width), and never used by computers at the time. To make the font look even more odd, the font was stretched twice as wide and only capital letters were used.

Alien also was the first film to depict a modern computer keyboard. Earlier films had shown keyboards, but they either contained non-alphanumeric weird symbols or controls, or were a mix of the standard keyboard and the "futuristic" symbolic keyboard. Other filmmakers felt it looked silly for a star to sit and type on a keyboard, and besides the computer did all the work anyway... Their idea was that someone would input "ideas" or "concepts" (similar to using F-keys) into the computer. Better, they did away with keyboards completely and had voice-interfaces. Alien did away with this, as the "sci fi industrial" look demanded a clunkier look. A standard keyboard, with F-keys along the top and a numeric keyboard to the right, was used for Mother's interface.

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