Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The 80's Goes Beserk with Robots: Short Circuit

Short Circuit came out in 1986 and was immensely popular. So much so that is spawned a sequel, and a remake has been considered for years.  Johnny 5 became a fixed icon of the 80's, helping most movie fans to become slightly less worried about robot Armageddon.

MIKE SAYS hey, Folks, I owe Kate and our few readers an apology; life's been a little busy of late, and I've been letting my deadline slip.  Things are hopefully calming down, so I expect to be on time a bit more often.  Sorry again, everyone.

As far as Short Circuit goes, while the film is fun and enjoyable, it doesn't age terribly well.  While #5 and his fellow robots are just as impressive now as they were at the time (to me, at least), the acting is perhaps the thing that stands out the most, with Ally Sheedy being so over the top annoying that it changes the tone of the film dramatically.  While there's a fairly serious war vibe here and there, it's hard to take anything seriously with Shelly's high pitch comments.

 #5 continues to be the draw of the film, and as I seem to remember fast forwarding to the robot heavy moments as a kid.  I would imagine that this is why the film has continued to do so well over the years.

The 80's themes here are pretty obvious and over-used as Kate's burnout indicates.  War is bad, military using technology also bad, man using technology tricky, because hey, we don't know what we're creating.  Sentient technology was a very, very common theme explored in the 80's, which was a time of rampant technological growth, at least in the consumer market.  Suddenly all these gadgets were available for personal use, allowing a versatility in life that was commonly found throughout the culture. 

With an uncommon thing becoming so easy to access, growing pains and fears are sure to surface.  Fear of military use, and the fear of the technology of itself, is by far the most common.  Short Circuit takes these fears and tries to address them with a smile.

Unfortunately, the film is so self-conscious of this that it fails to handle some great opportunities to explore the implications... For instance, do all of the scientist's robots have the potential for life?  That musical arm certainly seemed emotional....

The sequel goes on to further dilute the argument.  While fun, and certainly a cult classic, Short Circuit is a film that is plenty entertaining as it is, but one that certainly could have been much stronger.

KATE SAYS I've actually seen this movie!

80's anti-war movies always strike me as kind of silly. My first thought: Geez, who cares about the robots; that's one stellar laser weapon! A human wielding that laser weapon would be just as impressive as the robot (and far more interesting).

Compare this to Iron Man 2 which intelligently points out that the hardware has to be added to the suit and then modified--even when Tony is designing the weaponry.

Numb3rs and Star Trek: TNG have done a much better job demonstrating the point/use of robots: not to fight wars, which big hunks of metal with decent guidance systems can do perfectly well without a "brain." Instead, non-cute robots are designed to work together in units to "learn" and complete basic hardware tasks.
If I'm going to believe in robots, I'm going to believe in things like nanites or decision-making legos operating in units. If I'm going to watch a robot, I prefer it look humanoid like C3PO. My favorite metal android is Asimov's Giskard, and he has an utterly human, non-clumsy form.

Truthfully, I feel like I'm roboted-out. Maybe if we'd seen this movie first . . .

Regarding the humans, while I'm not a huge fan of Steve Guttenberg, he does an okay job, and I really like the actor who plays Howard, Austin Pendleton (he's shown up on Law & Order: Criminal Intent playing a Stephen Hawkins-type character); Fisher Stevens, naturally, is always a hoot.

But I just can't relate to Ally Sheedy sobbing over #5. I'll shed a tear for Wallee, but then Wallee has a personality developed in reaction to popular culture. #5, like so many 80's robots, seems merely a collection of popular culture quips with no core character. R2D2 is more real!

I don't remember being this critical of the movie in 1986, but I also only saw the movie once in the theater. Like I say, I may be suffering 80's robot-saturation.

Though really, this movie is just odd. Asimov had a more advanced perception of robotics in 1950; Gene Roddenberry had a far more advanced perception in 1987 for TNG. So why was Short Circuit such a popular movie? Mike does a great job answering that question! Technologically speaking, society has come a long way over the past twenty-five years!!

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