The ’09 summer movies have already begun to arrive, but still to come are some of the biggest, baddest, FX-iest movies around. For robot fans, you can look no further than three of the biggest releases this summer: Terminator Salvation, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and (if it sticks to the cartoon’s use of robot drones to satisfy the ratings board) G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra.
[No, colons are not movie code for “Robot Plot.”]
Robots are on the A-List now, but they didn’t always have it so good. Here are five cinematic robots that just didn’t work (as they were intended):
Program: Kill Sarah Connor, period.
If you remember, in the near future, robots take over the earth with an aim to destroy all of mankind. Can you blame ‘em? But, there’s a group of Resistance soldiers – human, natch – trying to keep it from happening. So the robots, led by Skynet, send Arnie (“The Schwarz”), as T-800, back in time to kill the Resistance’s leader’s mom. Now, that’s just cold. So, the Resistance sends their own man (only one of them) to save her and her unborn son (and a lot more than that, boom shaka wow wow!). Of course, if we are led to believe that robots are pretty much infallible in the pursuit of their programmed target, we’d have written off human existence (Even Honda’s Asimo robot would have taken us over by now). But, like all new technology, the bugs still needed to be worked out and the T-800 had a few of them (as did Skynet).
Bug: He failed.
First off, as a lot of fanboys would tell you, the T-800s program was to systematically kill all Sarah Connors, alphabetically, living in Los Angeles. That was to guarantee that the right Sarah Connor was killed. Of course, some sort of logic system wasn’t built in, because the T-800 probably could have saved himself some bullets. Or, alternatively, it may have just killed off a slew of innocent Sarah Connors in Los Angeles, failing to understand that the real Sarah Connor might have lived in Thousand Oaks. Either way, T-800 decided to “save the best for last” and therefore gave Reese (the Resistance’s “Timecop”) enough time to catch up to the real Sarah Connor, proving that the human brain still can’t be messed with when it comes to finding the correct Sarah Connor in clutch situations.
The T-800 failing, and being crushed to death by a waitress, can’t all be blamed on its own dubious deductive reasoning. If Skynet was such the super-processing computer as we are led to think it is, you would think that it would find out instantly, as soon as the T-800 was FedEx’d to 1984, that “Plan A” didn’t work, and maybe waiting till technology improved (the T-1000) wouldn’t be the best idea. They’re robots! Just manufacture an army of them (à la Attack of the Clones), bubble wrap ‘em, and send a whole fleet after Sarah Connor. I start to wonder what sort of villain Skynet will be in the upcoming Terminator: Salvation. Based on the first three films, it seems to be a military general on par with General Mills.
And, speaking of robots built to kill…
Program: Do as NOVA Laboratories say and be weapon.
Originally, Graham Crosby (Steve Guttenberg) had created the robots as music-playing chore-doers (think Rosie the Robot Maid 1.0), but because this is America, some ornery-looking guy riveted on a couple heat-seeking missiles , slapped an American flag on ‘em, and pushed them into Military pre-production.
Bug: They aren’t weather-proof.
During the grand introduction of the “Rocket ‘Em Socket ‘Em” weaponized Smart Cars, lightning strikes the compound, frying the motherboard of one Johnny the Fifth. Johnny 5 then goes berserk and decides time is better spent reading books, making breakfast, and trying to woo Ally Sheedy than blowing up a tank. Obviously, Johnny 5 missed his formative times as an 8-year-old boy. You would think that if the military was so invested in the robots, they would have thrown NOVA Laboratories a few extra bucks to snap on some sort of ground wire to each of the ‘bots.
That said, here’s a couple of other robots without ground wires…
Program: Be unarmed mall cops.
Secure-Tronics created a system of mall-patroling “Protector” robots as a security measure for ne’er-do-wells and punk kids breaking into the mall after hours. The goal was to make them taser unwelcome guests and notify the police.
For whatever reason, Secure-Tronics added lasers to their not-to-be-violent securo-bots. So when they, like Johnny 5, got fried from a lightning bolt, they started lasering first and asking questions later. Of course, unwitting teenage sexpots are trapped in the mall with those “destructicons” because Secure-Tronics thought another good addition would be steel doors that are secured at midnight and not re-opened until the following business day. It begs to question, what’s the point of having a robotic fleet of security guards in a mall no one can break into, let alone break out of?
Another private company that entered moviedom’s automized security industry was OCP, makers of…
Program: Be better than Robocop.
Detroit’s economy failed (yes, in the movie, too), so the city sells itself out to mega-ultra-conglomerate Omni Consumer Products (OCP). They plan to replace Detroit with an utopian upgrade – Delta City, only they need more cops, because there’s too much crime, corruption, and general anarchy in “Old Detroit.” Since cops are on short supply, it’s left up to a couple of OCP executives to come up with solutions. Ronny Cox heads up the ED-209 project. Miguel Ferrer heads up Robocop.
Bug: Being ED-209.
To be fair, it’s not easy to be better than Robocop. For one thing, Robocop has mastered stairs. But when ED-209 fails in his first demonstration of fair and balanced justice (by shooting another OCP executive), the doors open for Robocop to succeed. So it’s hard to judge poor, old Ed on one poor performance – and in Detroit 2.0, no one is given a second chance (you hear that, GM?). Robocop is an instant hit with the kids, and Ed is put on the back shelf, only to be brought back in the end. Really, instead of shelving him, they should have tinkered, adjusted, tightened bolts – or do whatever it would take to give Ed a chance Knowing OCP, they were probably all too busy counting the profits coming in from their bestselling S.U.X. 6000. But, as one of Robocop’s final “labors,” he puts in a quick stress test on ED-209, and Ed flunks like an oafish turtle.
ED shares more than one link with another quick-drawing (and shooting) robot…
Program: Give adults a good role-playing experience.
WestWorld is one of the three “worlds” in an adult theme park, Delos. Think of it as a place that a burned-out accountant can spend a crap load of money pretending he’s Wild Bill Hickock. So, you know, relaxing. Delos’s “imagineers” have created picture-perfect androids to play the supporting roles in the vacationer’s western experience. And, because it’s the west, fanny-pack wearing tourists are issued guns – but it’s okay, they only react with the androids.
Bug: Robots start killing people.
Thanks to a crack robotics-team, an unexpected, and unprepared for, bug shifts all the Androids to kill mode. One, in particular, the Gunslinger, looks to make his mark on the cinematic body count records, chasing our hapless hero through the entire Delos park, until the Gunslinger is put to rest after falling down some steps (ED-209 style). Michael Crichton wrote and directed this flick 17 years before his “untested amusement park” novel, Jurassic Park.
Here are a few more movie robots that didn’t quite make our list, but screwed up all the same:
CHERRY 2000 in Cherry 2000
The skinny: A robot wife is constructed with fragile parts and her husband breaks her. If there are any inventors out there, dedicating themselves to perfecting a robot wife, I quit.
THE TEACHERS in Class of 1999
The skinny: In the gloomy future of post-grunge Seattle, “bad kids” are fenced into a “Free Fire Zone,” and local principal takes on new cyborg teachers with a penchant for discipline. Cast Stacy Keach, Pam Grier, and Malcolm McDowell in a Mark L. Lester film (exclusive, contributing writer here on ScreenJunkies), ramp up the robotic mishaps, and you’ve got yourself cinema gold.
EVE VIII in Eve of Destruction
The skinny: Eve VIII starts to get painful memories from her creator, making her a one-stop kill-shop. Gregory Hines, meanwhile, does his best Jack Bauer impression.
ALL ROBOTS & WILL SMITH in I, Robot
The skinny: Will Smith acts more robotic than his castmates in a script probably written by a “Speak & Spell.” Harlan Ellison (writer of an unproduced draft more than 20 years prior) has a right to be angry – I, Robot 2 is currently in development.
AMEE in Red Planet
The skinny: AMEE gets jammed in military mode and kills all the human Mars-o-Nauts.
THE ROTTWEILER in Rottweiler
The skinny: A robot dog is made to hunt down fugitives – a bad, bad, bad, BAD dog.
THE RED R2 UNIT in Star Wars Ep. IV: A New Hope
The skinny: Uncle Owen proves his choices in droids aint’ what they used to be, and the R2 unit’s head explodes like an old dishwasher, before he can put him to good R2 use – like thwarting Darth Vader and the Empire.
E.D.I. in Stealth
The skinny: In the future, humans decide robots should fly planes in wars, but then E.D.I. goes rogue (a bit power hungry probably) and Ray Charles has to take it down.
WALL-E in WALL-E
The skinny: He gives up a no-paying job cleaning up after the humans in the name of love. Where’re your priorities WALL-E?
So, future robot engineers, I implore you, get a quality assurance team. We understand that when you make a robot, you want it to work as programmed and not go haywire and kill thousands of people (unless that’s what you want it to do). And, if you haven’t learned anything, learn this – remote control OFF switch.
Fanboys, make your peace in the comments section below.
– ROSS CONKEY
Ross Conkey is a freelancer writer living in Chicago. He’s working on a film in which the real Keith David can fight a robot Keith David. Whoever wins, we win.