So this week’s themed movie list, as ordered by our editorial overlords, is ‘robot movies’. It’s been cleverly scheduled to coincide with the opening of the latest Transformers release. Frankly, we don’t know numerically how many sequels they’re up to by now – because they tend to blend all together – but we left what remained of our faith and interest in that franchise, lying somewhere on a cinema seat during the closing credits.
But, I digress…
The main problem with making any movie about robots is that the practical effects and accompanying CGI used have a tendency to look dated very shortly after a movie is made. Something better inevitably comes along. So let’s jump back and see what other robot films there are if you’re tired of the same old junkyard battle from the Transformer franchise.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (1997)
There is a beautiful juxtaposition in comparing the Transformer series to Neon Genesis Evangelion. Transformers feeds on childhood joy and nostalgia, the triumph of good versus evil, and the simple pleasures of watching robots hit other robots hard in their robot faces. Neon Genesis Evangelion is similar in that at its core, it is an animated show about giant robots. Just swap out the joy and pleasure of Saturday mornings for existential horror and contemplations on the value of life itself, and boom. You’ve got yourself an Eva unit.
This film is actually the concurrent/alternate/what-the-hell ending to the 1995-96 anime series of the same name. A small group of teenagers are tasked with saving the world by riding giant mechs called Eva’s, super powered and manufactured to destroy Angels, unknown aliens coming down from the heavens to destroy the world. Simple enough premise, but Evangelion takes it to a different level, and The End of Evangelion sees that level and punches it right in the gut.
In order to really understand what’s going on in the film, you will need to have seen the show. Of course, by really understand, I mean have a grasp on about a fourth of what is happening. This movie is full on crazy-sauce, but beautifully drawn crazy-sauce.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion shows that giant robot movies do not need to be black and white, simple drivel for the unwashed masses. It tackles humongous issues like religion, humanity, coming of age, and abandonment. Who knows what other symbolism is stuck up in there, but it’s fascinating and dazzling, and well worth the three times you’ll have to watch to have it all make sense. – Sylvia Mainer
Chappie is a funny, entertaining, and unexpectedly sentimental movie about a sentient robot being raised by gangsters in Johannesburg. This film received harsh critic response, of which it deserves almost none, just because it isn’t a US central, muscle car, muscle people filled movie; the film has something else to say.
It’s a thought provoking piece on society, and the emotion carries it from start to finish. I went into Chappie as a huge fan of the gritty action and social commentary of District 9. I expected that this would be more of the same. Both are still present, but surprisingly, with laughs.
This artificially intelligent robot is one of the most human characters to make it to the screen in a long time, and takes us through our childhoods at 100 mph. This isn’t your typical science-fiction flick; it talks about being different, which fittingly describes its place in the genre. A heart-wrenching lot of fun, though not as impressive as its predecessors of Elysium and District 9, this is worth a watch. – Rory McNeill
Pacific Rim (2013)
When someone tells me that the Transformer films are just dumb fun – and that’s what makes them watchable – my response is usually, “yeah, but you could just watch Pacific Rim, which is also fun, and not a horrible, terrible movie.”
In fact, Pacific Rim is a great movie. It has a lot of good things going for it. Idris Elba is about all the hotness I need in a stern commander figure, Rinoko Kikuchi is dynamite as Mako Mori, and it has the near perfect direction of Guillermo del Toro. Not to say that there isn’t some dumb thrown in there – the premise is kind of stupid. But, I don’t care because it is so much fun to watch when everything else is so well done. So what if the only way to stop extra-dimensional twisted demon monsters is to build giant robots that can only be piloted by two people who have to be mind synced? I’ll buy it if you keep throwing Charlie Day and Ron Perlman at my ever ready face.
Don’t waste your time with a popcorn filler movie that serves little more purpose than to keep Michael Bay in designer cargo shorts. You want some robot movie with an inkling of depth and a whole lot of hitting monsters with boats? Then sit your butt down and watch Pacific Rim instead. – Sylvia Mainer
The special effects utilized in my choice this week suffered badly from a CGI handicap of looking dated before the final movie was even released thanks to an unashamedly shoestring budget. Screamers had no real sets to speak of, very little cast, and a script that was steadily sinking under the sheer number of clichés that had been stuffed into it.
So why is it on the list then, if it was filled with so many flaws? Because it’s got heart, and embodies everything you need to make a halfway decent movie about machines.
Based on a Phillip K. Dick novella (you know, the chap who wrote Blade Runner?), it focuses on a Cold War raging on the surface of a far-flung Earth colony. With one side having deployed ‘Autonomous Mobile Swords’ and being held up in their bunkers, everything goes quiet until survivors from their opponents come bearing evidence that the AMS’s have now evolved into a much greater threat.
The movie is a master class in how you can obtain more from less as a filmmaker. The few actors that are onscreen work damn hard for their pay, easily compensating for their poor dialogue. They’re helped by the guesswork that the viewer is required to bring to the table as it becomes clear the murder-droids have now taken human form.
As the film plays out, it leads to a competition to see if you can figure out whom the robots are and in what order everybody else is going to kick the bucket. As tragedy follows tragedy, everything leads up to a series of desperate last stands where the only thing that stands between humanity and extinction is a few brave souls, followed by an ending that hits you straight in the gut. Haunting… – Simon Andrews
Short Circuit (1986)
In the cocaine filled days of the 80s, many studios, writers, and directors felt any idea was a good idea no matter how bad the idea was. These films would go on to shape and affect so many people that it still ripples into today’s blockbusters. Transformers, Automata, even a selection on our list like Chappie. One of the nuttiest ideas that came from the 80s was the story about a programmer and his robot, which premiered on screens across America, was called Short Circuit.
If you’ve deleted the part of your brain that holds the memory of this film, here’s a recap: A military robot prototype by the name of S.A.I.N.T (Strategic Artificially Intelligent Nuclear Transport) gets struck by lighting and comes to life. The robot, later calling himself Johnny 5, discovers the tortuous beauty of free will and comedy ensues.
The film was weird, but it was kind of ahead of its time as it took a simple and playful concept and put a hidden underlining message. The story becomes more – without even trying – about what is a “soul” and if something inanimate can understand the concept of love and friendship. I might be thinking too deep on this film, but it at least can put your brain into another gear besides watching two garbage disposals slap-fighting. – Mark Salcido
What’d you think of the list? Agree or disagree? Be sure to tell us your thoughts in the comment section below!