Saturday, June 28, 2008

EVE was incredibly overengineered

The link's just to WALL·E's IMDB page. I want to point out in passing that now to view trailers, you have to sit through an advertisement. So, previews are apparently now considered informational, instead of promotional. If you're keeping track at home, I did not watch either.

WALL·E's a wonderful movie, and there's a lot for engineers, although more in the realm of emotionally satisfying moments than actual information or interesting puzzles. It salubriously (for our culture) keeps children's interest focused on robots, space flight, chromotography, ecology and other places children's interest should be focused. However, there's a flaw that seems sort of central.

You'll recall that the Simpsons movie had this element that taxed one's physical intuition -- that Homer Simpson could use the same process to ride the inside of a large arc that he used on a much smaller arc without any sort of nod to the increased centrifugal force he'd have to supply. And WALL·E has a similar sort of flaw, but more on a product development or systems engineering level than a physical level, which is that the Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator (EVE) is grossly overengineered.

EVE's role is to scour the surface of planets for vegetation. WALL·E's is to pick up garbage, and compact it. But, they're from the same point in technological development -- Engineering has apparently been pretty static in the 700 years WALL·E's been picking up garbage. She flies, and he doesn't. Well, OK. Maybe he's not supposed to pass an obstacle without dismembering it, and his maintenance costs are much lower. But, she can also fly through space. She's dropped off and picked up by a giant spaceship! In her normal course of events, she's never even in vacuum!

Now, even this I can allow, because the people fly through space in the same vehicle they land on earth with, which seems a little suspicious. So, it's an animated movie that's supposed to be accessible to children, and this is probably just simplified. It wouldn't really forward the story to add reentry vehicles, so maybe EVE does need to move herself back and forth from the planet to somewhere else. Well, forth. There'd be a narrative problem if she could get herself back, but it's possible that we're meant to understand that she transported herself to Earth through space.

But, she has a blaster. She's rather seriously armed, and has a sort of a hair trigger. There's no suggestion that any other engineered object is similarly equipped. We see a pretty broad overview of the state of human civilization, and she's the baddest ass in it. Not only did her designers expect her to be in hostile situations, but they expected her to be in unambiguously hostile 'shoot first and ask questions later' situations. Her job, again, as is implicit in her name, is to collect plants. I'm not saying you'll never run afoul of locals in that pursuit, but it seems a bit much to give every probe that much destructive power.

All of this means that she's really hard to stop when she... well, there's a school of thought that one should unnecessarily give away plot points. And, it is a wonderful movie. Recommended!

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