With the latest ‘Transformers’ on Blu-ray and ‘Real Steel’ hitting theaters, this week seems like the right time for a Roundtable about our favorite movies involving robots. Our future machine overlords are destined to take over the planet one day. Let’s try to get on their good side before that happens.
Although robots, androids and cyborgs are all technically differentiated from one another, for the purposes of this Roundtable, they’re all fair game.
Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)
Maybe it’s cheating a little, but ‘Blade Runner‘ is definitely my favorite “robot” movie, if Replicants count as robots (as well they should, since they are artificially manufactured people). In addition to the stunning visuals, wonderful acting and beautifully realized dystopic future, Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ poses deep questions about what it means to be human. As Replicant creator Eldon Tyrell says: “More human than human, that’s our motto.” Can a manufactured being be truly alive, with all of the attributes we normally associate with a biologically created human being? If so, don’t they have as much of a right to live in freedom as we ourselves do? The film satisfies on so many levels: intellectually, dramatically, visually. And unlike the incessant tinkering that Mr. Lucas has applied to his ‘Star Wars’ films, Ridley Scott’s “Final Cut” of ‘Blade Runner’ (released on Blu-ray, DVD and HD DVD), is a subtle but enjoyable improvement over the original theatrical edition. Those who prefer the theatrical release can watch that too in the multi-disc Special Edition set.
While it’s hardly the best in the series, I have a lot of respect for what was accomplished in ‘Terminator Salvation‘, in terms of how the film crafted the robot menace. There are both the cruel, calculating, cold and cunning killing machines we all love, and then the robot trying to find its place in the world, unaware that (spoiler alert!) he is in fact a robot. I really feel the way this particular character, played by Sam Worthington, is fleshed out (get it?) and developed is the highlight of the film. It’s one of the most believable, interesting robots I’ve seen in recent film history. It’s not manipulative like Haley Joel Osment, nor is it one dimensional in its quest for discovery. This is a human being, in robot form. Aren’t they all, though?
When asked to pick a favorite movie that features robots, I had to go with Pixar’s ‘WALL-E‘. This is one of the sweetest, most sincere movies out there. It features a main character that, like Dumbo, never speaks. Anything he tries to vocalize is disguised as electronic sounds. However, dialogue isn’t really needed when it comes to WALL-E as a character. Pixar created a robot that could show every single emotion with his intricately animated face and binocular inspired eyes. I instantly fell in love with ‘WALL-E’ when I saw it, and it still remains one of my favorite Pixar films.
I’m going with ‘The Matrix‘ – although “machines” may be a better word to describe the villains. I’ll never forget seeing ‘The Matrix’ for the first time. I had to catch a late show, which was a bad decision considering that I had to be up for work at 5 AM the next morning and couldn’t sleep because the film left my baffled mind thinking. ‘The Matrix’ is brilliant for mixing its complex science fiction story with unique stylized Wachowski action. (Unlike most ‘Matrix’ fans, I actually love the two sequels too.) The way the robots/machines are portrayed is fantastic – especially if you saw the back stories in ‘The Second Renaissance’ sections of ‘The Animatrix’. Agent Smith is an iconic villain who is still ripped off by other movies today.
Robot movie… Robots in movies… Hmmm, that’s a tough call. So many to choose from! Do androids count? OK, I’m going to stick with robots. In that case, one of my favorites is ‘The Iron Giant‘, a wonderful, little, unassuming joyful flick about a boy and his robot. Who doesn’t tear up at the giant’s line: “Superman”?
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
I know that this Roundtable was inspired by yet another ‘Transformers’ sequel and a ‘Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots’ flick that’s made the audience crack up every time I’ve seen the trailer play in theaters, but there really are good movies out there that revolve about robots. Actually, “good” isn’t the first word that leaps to mind when I think of ‘The Iron Giant‘; it’s more like “perfect.”
For one thing, this Cold War-era tale about a boy and his 100 ft. tall alien robot is a family movie in the truest sense of the word. The writing is endlessly sharp and clever, respecting both its characters and the intelligence of its audience. An emotional streak radiates from every last frame: the wide-eyed awe at the sight of the Iron Giant, that infectious sense of joy when Hogarth’s towering robot pal first takes flight, and the sincerity of a climactic speech that never fails to leave me in tears. This story about friendship and acceptance is the movie ‘E.T.’ so desperately wanted to be but fell short. It’s thrilling, it’s infectiously fun, its emotions hit like a slug in the gut, and every last bit of that is wholly earned. Having a skilled roster of voice actors behind it and such breathtakingly gorgeous visuals just make the experience that much richer. Here’s hoping a proper Blu-ray release isn’t too far off on the horizon.
Aside from ‘Episode I’, where George Lucas tried to kick off a new marketing spree by adding a tragically unfunny, drowned reptilian rabbit named Jar Jar Binks, some of the best parts of the ‘Star Wars‘ movies, as far as I’m concerned, come from the comic interactions of R2-D2 and C-3PO. From ‘Episode II’ – ‘Episode VI’, they’re the timeless elements that I think bind the movies together. There are other movie robots I’ve admired (Teddy from ‘A.I.‘ is the first to come to mind), but ‘Star Wars’ is the one series where my love for the robotic characters matches my love for the majority of the series as well.
When it comes to robot movies, I can’t help but think of 1990’s ‘Robot Jox‘, where disputes are settled not by wars, but by pitting men controlling giant robots against each other in an arena. Was it a great film? Well, I thought so when I was a kid. Is it the best live-action movie ever made about giant fighting robots piloted by humans? Yes, it is. In fact, after watching it again a few years ago, I feel like it’s on the borderline of “good,” but that may be the nostalgia talking. That, and my love of giant robots with men in control. Especially big clunky robots that aren’t silly like the mech in ‘Avatar’. I want stuff like the AT-AT; it’s gigantic and hard to maneuver, but it’s borderline indestructable. It’s strange that there are so few of these giant robot flicks. I’ve always thought that a ‘MechWarrior’ movie would play out beautifully, so long as it wasn’t way too fluid and confusing like the ‘Transformers’ CGI. Well, we can hope.
M. Enois Duarte
Though not really a personal top favorite, I still think that ‘RoboCop‘ is one of the best films featuring a robot ever made. Taking place in a future where violence has grown completely out of control, society takes desperate measures by resurrecting the corpse of a fallen police officer and transforming him into an unstoppable machine of law and order. Paul Verhoeven does a terrific job in creating this somewhat dystopic environment, where he can also explore ideas of privatization, giving corporations the ability to freely interfere with the law, and allowing companies to literally turn people into a machine workforce. The beauty of the story in ‘RoboCop’ is the way the character discovers his humanity and history through the memories of his former life and the love he experienced from others, the feeling of familial community and being an individual. It’s a great movie, lots of fun to watch, and for some reason seems to be somewhat underrated, pretty much like many of Verhoeven’s other movies.
I’m going old school with this one, all the way back to 1927 for Fritz’s Lang’s ‘Metropolis‘. The False Maria is one of the most iconic robot characters in all of cinema history, and for good reason. When she stares directly into the camera and reveals her evil grin for the first time, the moment is still chilling.
After the miraculous discovery of an obscure 16mm print from Argentina, the film was recently restored to almost its complete original two-and-a-half hour length. Only a few minutes remain missing. The restoration is truly a revelation. In the film’s complete form, it’s amazing just how vital and alive ‘Metropolis’ still is. This is more than a historical curiosity. It’s riveting entertainment that moves like lightning and rarely lets up. I was fortunate enough to see the restoration projected with live musical accompaniment from the Alloy Orchestra last year, and that event was one of the best theatrical experiences I’ve ever had.
Some honorable mentions for me would include ‘The Terminator’ (obviously), ‘Silent Running’, ‘Runaway’, and ‘The Black Hole’. That last one is not a “good” film by any means, but it was the first movie I ever saw in a theater, and the little robot characters are pretty endearing.
It strikes me that our staff picks are completely devoid of any anime. Perhaps you, our readers, can fill in some gaps in the Comments when you tell us about your favorite robot movies.