On July 5th, 1996, the world press was abuzz over the birth of Dolly, a sheep that had been cloned from the frozen mammary cell of another adult sheep. It was on this day that cloning research left its indelible mark on the world stage, as the stuff of science fiction had edged closer to becoming reality. However, what few people realized was that research in cloning had been ongoing since the turn of the century, and this latest achievement was made possible as the result of earlier successes in the field.
In the late Nineteenth century, Hans Dreisch inadvertently created the first 'clones' (organisms sharing identical genetic material) while trying to prove that, during the process of cell division, the genetic makeup of the original cell was preserved in the daughter cells. Using the two-celled embryo of a sea urchin, he was able to separate the two cells, which grew into separate but identical adult urchins. This work was then followed up by Hans Spemman in 1902, who conducted similar work on salamander embryos and experienced similar results.
However, modern cloning truly had its origin in 1951, when Robert Briggs was able to clone a frog embryo by substituting the nucleus of an unfertilized frog egg cell with the nucleus of a frog embryo cell. This process, called nuclear transplant, formed the basis for all cloning research that would follow. The next big breakthrough would not occur until 1986, when two independent teams of scientists were able to clone mammalian embryos (sheep and cow), thanks to advances in technology. However, the ability to clone the differentiated (mature) cells of an adult still remained elusive, and much doubt lingered over whether or not it could be done.
This obstacle fell in 1996, with the birth of Dolly, which was a cloned from the differentiated cell of an adult sheep. The following year saw the first cloned mouse, which eventually spanned into three generations of over 50 identical mice. With these successes, interest and concern over the possibilities of cloning were re-ignited, and questions were raised about the possibility of cloning humans.
Of course, human cloning is still a long way off. The successes in cloning sheep and mice were due in part to specific characteristics of those species' embryos that simplified the process of nuclear transfer and stimulating growth. Furthermore, despite the improved odds by working with such embryos, success was far from guaranteed. For example, Dolly was the product of 277 failed attempts, which produced numerous nonviable embryos or sheep that quickly died from congenital abnormalities. A successful cloning of a human would require hundreds, if not thousands, of such attempts.
In addition to the technical challenges facing the cloning of humans, there are all the moral and legal issues that must be dealt with. On the one hand, cloning proponents have outlined many of the benefits that cloning technology would bring. For example, patients could be treated with replacement tissue or organs grown from their own cells, such as for diabetes, spinal injuries, Alzheimer's, or kidney disease. Cloning technology could also be used to provide genetically-matching children to infertile couples, or couples whose genes carry serious mutations that would be passed on to their progeny via traditional reproductive means.
Unfortunately, human cloning technology would also open a quagmire, raising numerous legal, religious, and moral questions. For example, new intra-family dynamics would arise in the rearing of a child born genetically-identical to one of their parents, or the raising of a clone child to 'replace' a deceased one. Because it is such a political hot potato, a number of governments proposed or placed restrictions on human cloning research. For example, human cloning was declared illegal in England and Norway in the wake of the Dolly announcement. That same year, President Clinton imposed a moratorium on federal funding for human cloning research, and congressional studies are underway to extend such a ban to the private sector.
These possibilities, both good and bad, are explored in the new science fiction film "The 6th Day". Despite the star-billing of veteran action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose flagging career has been marred by a number of disappointments (such as last year's "End of Days"), "The 6th Day" remains a solid piece of sci-fi filmmaking. In addition to making a number of fascinating conjectures on the future of human cloning and its potential impact on society, Schwarzenegger's latest film also dabbles in the metaphysical in a fashion that combines thematic elements of "Total Recall", "The Matrix", and above all, "Blade Runner".
In the not too distant future, cloning has become commonplace and is marketed like any other consumer product, under the various operating divisions of a corporation headed by Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn, who played Neil Armstrong in HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon"). The depleted ocean stocks of fish have been replaced by cloned salmon, replacement organs are grown from the patient's own cells, and families can replace their deceased pets with identical copies in under three hours at their nearest RePet outlet. However, human cloning has been banned, by the so-called '6th Day' laws, following the tragic outcome of an experiment gone awry. Under such laws, cloning is not only illegal, but those attempting to do so are subject to imprisonment, and the resultant clones would have no legal status and be subsequently destroyed.
However, helicopter pilot Adam Gibson (Schwarzenegger), who runs a charter service with his partner Hank (Michael Rapaport of "Men of Honor"), soon stumbles onto a 'cloning conspiracy' after he is hired by Drucker for a ski trip. When he returns home later that night to celebrate his birthday with his wife (Wendy Crewson of "Air Force One") and daughter (Taylor Ann Reid, who appeared in the pilot of "Dark Angel"), he finds another man celebrating in his place-- someone who looks and acts exactly like him.
Pretty soon, Adam finds himself being pursued by some shadowy characters who want him dead-- Talia (Sarah Wynter of "Species II"), Wiley (Rodney Rowland, who played Hawkes on "Space: Above and Beyond"), and their handler, Robert (Michael Rooker of "The Replacement Killers"). With people shooting at him and his family unaware that their loving husband and father is an imposter, Adam must do whatever he can to get his life back.
"The 6th Day" may not be perfect (the film's implausibly happy resolution might make some gag), but the filmmakers have done an admirable job. For those of you who have been long lamenting Ah-nold's return to the sci-fi actioners that made the former Austrian bodybuilder famous (such as "The Terminator" and "Predator"), it can be safely said that "The 6th Day" is what you have been waiting for. Unlike all of Schwarzenegger's films in the latter-half of the Nineties (anything since "True Lies"), "The 6th Day" is backed by a decent script that does not completely rely on Schwarzenegger to carry the picture.
One of the first things you'll notice about the script, penned by husband-wife writing team Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, is the fascinating futuristic setting and all the wonderful details that have been worked in, both speculative and satirical. As opposed to the Internet shakeout occurring in the present, It seems that the networked economy is alive and well in the near future. Coaches give their star quarterbacks plays through wireless heads-up displays built into their helmets, cars drive themselves using the On-Star system, refrigerators automatically replenish themselves, holography and virtual reality combine to provide lonely men with 'virtual girlfriends', and all payment and security functions being handled by biometric devices. If you enjoyed the satirical swipes of "Robocop" and "Total Recall", you'll have a field day with this movie.
However, looking beyond the window dressing, there are a number of intriguing concepts at work in "The 6th Day", raising some interesting ideas about the nature of identity, whether it is the product of consciousness or merely memory. Like the replicants in Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner", the clones are implanted with memories by 'syncording' the entire contents of the original's brain, either while alive or within a few hours of their death, and if done correctly, the clone will be none the wiser. Thus, in the case of Adam, both Adam and his clone believe they are the 'genuine article', since they have exactly the same memories, to which their sense of self is tied. In contrast, other characters in the film enjoy the equivalent of immortality, having been cloned and had their consciousness 'ported over' multiple times as a result of their own untimely deaths. Not only do they carry the memories of their previous 'deaths', but they even develop the postmortem equivalent of 'phantom pain' (one character feels neck pains after having his neck snapped in a previous incarnation).
In addition to the heady metaphysical concepts, the 'mundane' moral issues of cloning are also examined, through the character of Dr. Weir (Robert Duvall of "Gone in 60 Seconds"), the scientist that heads up Drucker's clandestine cloning facility. Though he starts off as a firm believer in all the good that human cloning technology can do, such as giving the terminally ill a second chance at life, his dealings with Adam and Drucker open his eyes to the potential misuse of such technologies, such as how Drucker maintains tight control over his 'creations' through the introduction of specific mutations.
Director Roger Spottiswoode redeems himself for the anemic James Bond picture "Tomorrow Never Dies" by wrapping these engaging ideas into a tightly paced and visually-arresting production that never seems to have a dull moment. The cloning premise is put to good use in creating some thrilling sequences where the two Adams are confused for each other, as well as genuinely surprising the audience on several occasions. The film also boasts some humor derived from audience expectations of an 'Ah-nold movie'. For example, Schwarzenegger's penchant for smart-aleck one-liners is used to deliver a few self-aware zingers, such as a snide remark on the detrimental effects of media violence, and a reference to his trademark "I'll be back".
Of course, like in every other film of his, Schwarzenegger's acting is the greatest liability, given his limited range and odd style of enunciation. Thankfully, the scenes requiring him to truly 'act' are few and far-between, and there are plenty of other interesting characters to engage the interest of the audience. Goldwyn is sufficiently creepy and credible as the Bill Gates of biotechnology, and he delivers an interesting dual performance in the film's climax. Duvall acquits himself nicely as his character slowly comes to the poignant realization about the damage his work has done, while Wynter smoulders as one of Drucker's more ruthless and seductive followers.
Though "The 6th Day" doesn't achieve the heights of Schwarzenegger's best sci-fi action films, such as "Terminator 2: Judgement Day", it still does rank as one of his better ones and should help end the current drought in his career. However, aside from Schwarzenegger's larger-than-life presence, "The 6th Day" is a surprisingly clever and thought-provoking exploration of the implications of human cloning. Furthermore, with cues taken from "Total Recall" and "Blade Runner", it is also offers fascinating speculation about existence, what constitutes consciousness, and its interplay with identity and memory.