Wall-E, Transformers, Terminator and, of course, Jonny Five
Chappie is a futuristic film about a police robot that’s reprogrammed from being a patrolling droid designed to arrest and control humans, a robot that thinks and feels. If you think you’ve been here before, you probably have. The idea of treading that thin line between robots and humans and what makes us unique is by no means new. So we thought we’d have a look back at a few favourite artificial life forms on film.
Wall-E (2008) This adorable waste collecting robot, Wall-E, roams the earth cleaning up the debris left behind after the human race had essentially turned the planet into a giant rubbish heap. With his big sad eyes, he looks like a cross between E.T. and Number 5 from Short Circuit (more on that below), and is all alone on Earth after humans evacuated the planet to live on a spaceship holiday resort. What we love about him is that he doesn’t try to be human, and in this version of events humanity doesn’t look very attractive, but we see his love for fellow robot EVE when she lands looking for signs of life, and his sense of duty to help earthlings regenerate their planet is heart-warming.
Transformers (2007) The first in the series of Transformers movies directed by Michael Bay, Optimus Prime, Bumble Bee et al are on a mission to save humans from the evil Decepticons. Mere Earthlings are caught in the middle of an ancient showdown between the Autobots and Decepticons, and luckily Optimus is on our side. When the film was released and we caught those first glimpses of the cars whizzing into giant fighting robots, nostalgic viewing audiences lapped up the visual effects. Transformers go from hot wheel to machine busting, gun-toting robots and Optimus Prime voiced wonderfully by the sonorous tone of Canadian actor Peter Cullen, is leader of the pack.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) Arguably the best Terminator film to date (Arnie’s reprieving the role in Terminator Genisys this summer), and we get a double whammy of virtually indestructible cyborgs in one seriously action-packed film. Terminator 2: Judgement Day picks up 10 years on, and the Terminator that was sent to kill Sarah Connor has now been sent back from the future on a new assignment to protect her young son John, from the leaner, stronger, and frankly terrifying shape-shifting T-1000, played by Robert Patrick. Both Terminators are smart and strong and seeing which one will succeed in their mission makes this a riveting watch.
The Iron Giant (1999) A lonely boy befriends an innocent robot giant from outer space that the government want to take down and destroy. Based on the novel by Ted Hughes, the iron giant of the film is a fifty-foot, metal-eating robot with an involuntarily defensive reaction to anything he recognizes as a weapon. The friendship that grows between loner Hogarth and the giant robot is tender and you root for the pair of misfits all the way.
Short Circuit 2 (1988) The original Short Circuit was humorous and sweet. Military robot, Number 5, is charming and dizzy when he is hit by a lightning bolt and acquires intelligence, wit and a sense of self. But in Short Circuit 2 when the renamed ‘Jonny Five’ comes to the big city to help his creator set up a business, he gets manipulated by a criminal gang and we see the cute robot encounter the dark and prejudiced side of humans. It is kitsch, in that wonderful ’80s movie kind of way, but it’s also a very touching film.
Bicentennial Man (1999) Robin Williams plays Andrew, an android purchased to perform menial tasks and domestic chores. The film starts out in 2005 when “every home will have an Andrew” and Andrew is just a mechanised maid, but his hardwiring starts to change. Without the use of CGI visual trickery, just the talented Robin Williams in silver body paint and an android body suit, Williams skilfully plays the robot who develops feelings, creativity and curiosity. Much like Pinocchio, he endeavours to be “real” and discover his destiny. This film didn’t have the tills ringing at the box office in 1999, but it’s an underrated film with a touching performance from the late Williams.
Stepford Wives (1975) Not the most high-tech spec of machinery, there are no cannon guns on these robots or visible nuts and bolts, and yet this film is a great satire and raises a lot of issues about the roles of women, male dominance domestic abuse and control in society. Oh yes, there’s plenty of meaty sociological issues to debate here, but the mere fact that the wives in the seemingly idyllic town of Stepford are murdered and turned into robot clones that cook and clean is pretty depressing. Like all good films about robots, this film makes us look at the state of the human condition and what makes us all tick. Chappie is released on March 5 in cinemas across the UAE.