Portal At The Pictures: Lab Ratt

By John Walker on May 30th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

There's a great attention to detail here.

Portal has been a surprisingly prolific source of inspiration for many high quality products, so a short fifteen minute film based on its universe isn’t that big of a deal any more. However, what I love about Synthetic Pictures‘ Aperture: Lab Ratt (as spotted by The Sixth Axis) is how, in making a film based on Valve’s Lab Rat comic, how successfully they portray the evil of GLaDOS.

It’s interesting how the otherwise superb Portal 2 rather diminished the sense of fear that sentient robot could create. Making her pathetic, and giving us control over her, certainly created some fantastic comedy moments, but it also took away her power. The Lab Rat comic remembers that purer evil, but it’s this filmed version that really gives it back, as you see her cruelly manipulating the mind of a man diagnosed with schizophrenia in the times of Aperture’s falling apart. The words are mostly from the comic, but the delivery and the re-sequencing of the events is very smartly done.

There are some flaws, a peculiar choice of arranging shots in the first few minutes, and a couple of weaker moments, but ultimately the standard is incredibly high here. What I would have loved to see – and perhaps it could still happen – would be this lot teaming up with those who do the extraordinary indie CGI films, to create a version that doesn’t have to skip over featuring the likes of a ruined GLaDOS, or working turrets. Anyway, enjoy:

Definitely check out Synthetic’s previous Portal movie too, on the history of Aperture.

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21 Comments »

  1. MistyMike says:

    I think the best use of a portal gun would be as a sex aid. I mean, think of the possibilities!

  2. Xocrates says:

    “It’s interesting how the otherwise superb Portal 2 rather diminished the sense of fear that sentient robot could create.”

    Wut? GLaDOS isn’t an antagonist until the final section of the original game, and even then she proves incredibly ineffective at providing any sort of threat. Heck, Wheatley is far more successful at that than she ever was.

    Everything we know of GLaDOS as a threating villain comes either from the original boss fight or from Portal 2 material.

    • JackShandy says:

      Yeah, I wouldn’t say I was ever scared of GladOS. She’s funny, I can’t be afraid of something I laugh at.

    • Gnoupi says:

      I would rather disagree with that. During most of Portal 1, you have this threat, that something is not right.
      A sentient AI as a threat is scary mostly because it’s not a “regular” antagonist.

      In Portal 1, GLaDOS has nothing personal against you. You are merely a tool for her experiments, a lab rat which she plans on disposing of, once you are not useful anymore. A classic antagonist has grudges, ambitions, emotions. A sentient AI doesn’t have that, and that makes it a scary threat. You realize that you are part of some logical plan, but you are at the mercy of this AI. At the mercy of a cold, calculated intent.

      Wheatley is exactly a classic antagonist. He has grudges against you, and against the whole world, feeling inferior (“I. AM. NOT. A. MORON!”). He is making emotional mistakes, being too hasty or unstable. Then in the end, he tries to kill you in a quite visceral way, throwing everything he can at you. That is not what you would expect from a sentient AI. It’s what you would expect from a human.

      GLaDOS at the beginning of Portal 2 has grudges, so her character is building up from the cold sentience. But yet, she follows her protocol, her logic, her rules. But she punctuates it with personal attacks (insults, parents, etc). So you have a mix between the cold AI and the feelings. Then in the second part, she is not an AI anymore, on the emotional plan.

      So it is true that this is lacking. The cold, calculating AI is something threatening. The most usual trope is the AI which “thought” further than the human preservation, seeing humans as their worst threat. So it proceeds, logically, to eliminate such threat. And this is a scary enemy, because it is not moved by personal emotions. It is merely accomplishing a logical plan, on the most effective way it calculated.

      • Xocrates says:

        “You realize that you are part of some logical plan, but you are at the mercy of this AI.”

        Actually, no, and that was sort of my point.
        Until the last third of the game, apart from some mild foreshadowing, GLaDOS doesn’t appear to be anything else than a guide. She has no more apparent initiative or evil intent than Cave Johnson in 2. You get the feeling that whoever is responsible is kind of demented, but not necessarily evil.
        It’s not until the last third that all the pieces fall in place and you realize that, yes, there is an actual threat, at which point GLaDOS fails to provide it.

        • Gnoupi says:

          My point is that a sentient AI as great antagonist is not “evil”. It is functional and logical.

          It won’t scare you directly. What is scary is the play you are in, if you take a moment to feel it. Given that it’s not scary because it feels so much like a puzzle videogame, but if you took it as a movie, you have a character who is trapped in a place which is most likely not her quotidian. And the only way to go seems to be following this AI, without knowing what it has prepared for you.

          I’m not saying it’s the perfect “incarnation” in Portal 1, though. But for sure Portal 2 has more human antagonists, which are steering away from the sentient AI fear that could be.

          • Xocrates says:

            Kind-of, sort-of. I agree that AI antagonists work because they’re functional and logical, however I don’t necessarily agree that makes then inherently scary when compared to a more human antagonist.

            Being strictly logical means they’re predictable. As far as I can think every AI in fiction that has been threatening as either a) had way too much power (skynet) b) was obeying human issued orders (HAL) and/or c) had a human like personality

            b and c are straight up “humans are bastards” territory, while a is usually a warning against human hubris.

            And that’s the thing, for most of the game, GLaDOS was “helping” me, and any indication that she would harm or turn against me was because she didn’t seem to be working properly (i.e. she wasn’t fully functional and logical). If GLaDOS was ever unpredictable or threatening, was because of her human side, which becomes obvious in the final stretch of the original game.

            If she ever appeared less threatening in the sequel (which I don’t agree with) was because she lost power, not because she was made more human.

      • JackShandy says:

        Were you actually scared of GladOS?

        She starts out with neutral exposition, then moves to pathetic begging when you escape. Later she acts kind of angry and shoots missiles at you.

      • PopeJamal says:

        “During most of Portal 1, you have this threat, that something is not right.”

        I’d have to agree. Part of the reason I was much more “afraid” of (“intimidated by” might be more accurate) GLaDOS is because I wasn’t exactly sure HOW angry or HOW crazy she was or was capable of getting.

        Is she going to lure me into room, lock me in, and then gas the place?
        Will she blow up the building?
        Is there some type of moveable panel I haven’t seen before that might send me plunging to my death?

        Once you’ve beaten the first game, you bring those expectations into the second game. You know pretty well what she is and isn’t capable of. What she will or won’t do.

        Granted, I know those things I listed aren’t likely to happen anyway because of practical gameplay considerations, but I like to allow my imagination to really get into the narrative when it’s something I’m really into (ie something without elves).

        So yes, GLaDOS scared me because I allowed her to. It worked in Portal 1, but not so much in Portal 2.

      • Sparkasaurusmex says:

        I’m glad I’ve already finished Portal 2 because you’ve basically spoiled everything.

  3. Kollega says:

    I think now would be a good time to mention what i thought about GLaDOS’ utter derision and contempt towards the player. Somehow, this part of Portal 2 (utter contempt and sadism towards Chell as opposed to just wanting her to run the testing course and then be disposed of) struck me not only as a result of something wrong going with her after the reboot, but also as a metaphor for what Valve really think about their clients. They basically can do anything and the playerbase will gobble it up because they either don’t know better or don’t have a choice, and they seem to know it. So GLaDOS’ personality change for the second game is basically a huge trolling attempt by Valve.

    Discuss.

    • Gnoupi says:

      So who is Wheatley in that metaphor, then?

      • Kollega says:

        I haven’t actually thought my conspiracy theory through that far, but if i had to say, he’s probably an anthropomorphic personification of the Steam forums (endearingly stupid when powerless, maliciously stupid when in power, and was attached to GLaDOS [i.e. Valve] to cause her trouble). It’s not perfect, but it works out somewhat.

      • shizamon says:

        The COD crowd?

    • DrGonzo says:

      Um…

      No.

      It’s their best written game yet, and my personal favourite. Of course she isn’t the main bad guy this time around. You killed her in the first, this time she’s meant to be somewhat pathetic, and becoming a bit more human *DELETED*

      Yes.

    • Donjo says:

      I thought the overarching theme of Portal and Portal 2 was a thin analogy for Valve itself- the absolute focus on testing and feedback. So Gabe is Glados. Pure evil.

  4. Mr. Mister says:

    It is to be expected that GLaDOS is less fearsome in Portal 2. After all, you burnt her Angry core to pieces in Portal.
    But yep, Portal’s GLaDOS’ boss batle is kinda weak. If you wanna experience a decent fight with her (even if it’s more of a holdout), check out the free mod Portal: Prelude http://www.portalprelude.com/
    Disclaimer: It is difficult and may troll you in one or two ocassions.

  5. jimbobjunior says:

    Anyone else sport the Dharma Initiative logo at 8:10?

    Nice little crossover.

  6. Loiosh says:

    I think people are viewing this incorrectly. She’s not threatening because she is angry or hates you. She is threatening because she likes you. The implication in her dialogue is that she views you as a wayward child who needs to be taught a lesson, and all of her antagonism in the end is to get you back in line.

    Not because she hates you, but because she loves you. That is what makes her dangerous. She’s got the powers of a god, with the willfulness of a child, and she wants you to be her favorite toy, and friend, and enemy all in one.

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