Robots are notorious for having little or no emotion, outside of Hollywood that is. Given the right motivation, most robots can be friendly, emotional and comedic. And yet, robots only do what they are programmed to. If we program them to love, they will love. If we program them to hate, they will hate. While robots are merely machines and tools that allow humans to live comfortable lives. The idea of robotic sentience is usually the stuff of apocalyptic and dystopian futures. But, what if “the singularity” (as it is known) ends up creating robots that can show emotion and have free will? What if their free thoughts and emotions allow for the robots to learn how to love for themselves? What if they find the kindness in mankind and learn from it, thereby becoming friendly themselves? Of course, considering some of the robotic toys we give our children these days, maybe that’s not so far off. This week’s two films exhibit some robots with similar traits, both in design and amiability.
*batteries not included
Length: 106 minutes / 1.76 hours
We often think of robots as creations of only humans. We are the self-proclaimed smartest beings on our planet, so we never consider the possibility of aliens creating robots. While this possibility is often constrained to science fiction, we also stereotype aliens as the kind that would create robots that are meant to kill us. And yet, one of the possibilities we rarely think of are robotic aliens. Furthermore, robotic aliens that are also peaceful are truly a rarity in our fiction. Robots are easy antagonists, due to their apparent invulnerability. However, if they are truly on our side, then the conflict must be against some vice of man. We rarely want to admit it, but we are not perfect by any means. And if it takes little robot aliens to expose us for what we really are on the inside, then so be it.
“Out with the old, in with the new” is an all too common saying when it comes to real estate in the city. An apartment building with a lot of history and some unique tenants has been bought and is scheduled to be torn down so that an enormous skyscraper can take its place. With the residents facing eviction, their only salvation comes from some space alien robots. These robots take refuge in an equipment shed on the roof of the building and construct a litter of smaller space alien robots from scrap metal (they even manage to make a runt). The special ability of these robots is rebuilding things, which becomes evident after the diner that is on the ground floor of the apartment is trashed in an attempt by the corporation to get the tenants to leave. Eventually, the corporation has to give in and allows the building to remain.
Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours
In our media-saturated society, catch phrases and jingles are all too common. However, when a military robot starts learning these slogans and uses them during fight sequences, it produces comedic situations. The perfect John Wayne impersonator is a robot who can use actual John Wayne sound bites to deliver delicious one-liners. With the growth of robotic industries in the 1980’s, it’s no wonder that we saw so many films about robots in this decade (also including The Terminator, which was not a friendly robot). I must admit that both films mentioned in this post were some of my favorites growing up, and are probably the reason that I went to school and earned a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering (with a focus on Robotics and Design).
The 5th robot in a series of military killing machines was struck by lightning during a training exercise, thus giving it emotions, taking away its monotone voice and giving it some semblance of sentience. He escapes the laboratory that created him and ends up at the house of an animal lover named Stephanie (Ally Sheedy). Johnny 5, as he now calls himself, has to put up a fight to not be taken back to the lab to be reprogrammed. This proves to be difficult, since the other robots (who are all equipped with deadly lasers) are on the hunt for him. Luckily, some “Three Stooges” antics save Johnny 5 and bring him in contact with his creator, Newton Crosby (Steve Gutenberg), who in turn finds love with Stephanie. Now all three of them are on the run, but can they truly get Johnny 5 his freedom?
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 friendly robots