By Mavis Teo
The orientation storyline is important for many reasons: it drives the many internal and external activities, excites the students, and, more importantly, who would turn down a good story? With the theme Nova: A World Awaits, this year’s orientation was centred around the galaxy Domus, within which contains 4 planets: Aureus, Caerulus, Pyrrhus, and Viridis, each representing one of the four houses: Faraday, Fleming, Fibonacci, Nobel.
Our students were promised an adventure more intense than The Martian, more profound than Interstellar, and more epic than Star Wars (maybe). I think Orientation 2016 made good on that promise.
At the heart of NOVA11 is Iris, an artificial intelligence running the ship, and our main form of exposition for a large portion of the storyline. Even though she is portrayed as an inanimate spinning orb on screen, her expressive voice and witty comebacks make her difficult to dislike. In fact, she is arguably the most fleshed out character in the entire story.
The idea that the houses were working against one another was introduced in day 2; this was a huge red flag since genuine house rivalry had never featured in any of the previous orientation storylines. Because Iris resembles so many antagonists, it is easy to imagine her as a sentient AI gone rogue, manipulating our main characters in hopes that they will go against each other and self-destruct.
In fact, most movies where an AI features prominently in the plot also include a predictable power struggle, where the AI gains sentience and overrides programming to cause harm to its creators. Even physicist Stephen Hawking theorises that a rogue AI could “spell the end of the human race”.
It was all an elaborate red herring.
Iris remained true to herself when our true villain, Vigil, appeared, apparently having masterminded the conflict and killed, or at least hidden away Iris, all in a bid to prevent the Vitium sources from his planet from being tapped. In all honesty, I can understand Vigil’s motivations. Our heroes have been flagrantly misusing Vitium for selfish reasons, and when it was exhausted, wanted to take it (by force, I should add) from another planet. War has been waged over less, and if any sovereign country marched into another to mine for oil, it wouldn’t be pretty.
The storyline clearly seeks inspiration from multiple other movies and pop culture phenomenon: the energy crisis that drives students to seek out alternative energy sources echoes that in Monsters’ Inc; Iris, the AI bears a striking resemblance to JARVIS, HAL9000, and is quite literally SIRI spelled backwards; the dance during finale is set to the style of The Matrix; our protagonists wield multicoloured lightsabers and Vigil, the main antagonist bears a lightsaber that is almost an exact replica of Kylo Ren’s in Star Wars. It hints at a bigger reality than what was shown on stage, and lets the students’ imaginations do the rest of the work.
The finale committee also cleverly incorporated the traditional house float march in and mass dance into the storyline, promoting inclusion and continuity. Professional strobe lights set the scene. The houses truly outdid themselves this year, with spectacular floats and intense dance sequences, a reflection of their hard work throughout the three days. Emotions peaked as the final battle came to a bittersweet conclusion, with Iris choosing to self-terminate in order to ensure that Vigil is really and truly erased, nailing down the safety of our protagonists and citizens of that galaxy.
The sky was rapidly darkening as the credits rolled. Students stream steadily out of the hall in a kaleidoscope of colours, undoubtedly exhausted from the long day. But those who stayed behind will know that finale committee sneaked in a cryptic post-credits scene.
“Vigil: Good work, Iris.
Iris: But our work here isn’t done yet.”
With that comes an explosion of questions and possibilities. Are Iris and Vigil simply teaming up to ensure sustainable Vitium supplies? Or is there a much darker fate awaiting our protagonists?
I guess we’ll just have to wait till Orientation 2017 to find out.