Welcome back to Vada Film Club; the only club you’ll ever need. After introducing our tastes by going back to high-school last time, this week we look to the future. If film has taught us just one thing of what’s yet to come it’s that we’ll inevitably be dominated by a superior robot species, and so it’s only right that we honour them. If only the three laws of Robotics had human equivalents that went beyond I Robot‘s “thou shalt always wear Converse” then perhaps we wouldn’t end up in such a mess. Oh well.
So from Transformers: The Movie through to the Transformers trilogy-tragedy (aka Michael Bay Hates Mankind), from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to Star Wars, and from The Iron Giant to Artificial Intelligence, here are Vada’s essential collection of mechanical mayhem. Carl Eden, Jack Sadler, myself, Raks Patel and Sam Gillson take you through our favourite robot films, of which there are classics galore.
Blade Runner is perhaps the definitive “robot movie”, though the word is never used in the film. Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic is a masterpiece of world-building and iconic cinematography, presenting a fully-lived in, worn down and wet future LA, a world in which replicants – artificial humans with a limited lifespan – are hunted down as fugitives.
Building on Philip K Dick’s novel, the film uses robots to examine the nature of what makes us human: if artificial intelligence can possess memories and have desires, then where do we draw the line? The replicants of the movie often act more humanely than the humans – who themselves are ambiguous – and there’s been great debate over the years regarding the true nature of Harrison Ford’s Deckard.
Blade Runner is an intelligent, dreamlike movie, one which questions the nature of our humanity and reality. It remains one of the all-time sci-fi classics.
In Duncan Jones’ (aka Zowie Bowie) enthralling directorial debut, Moon, Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut enduring three years of isolation on the Moon with only his loyal and intelligent computer, GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), to keep him company. Towards the end of his service, he experiences a personal crisis that causes him to question his very existence.
With several nods to the quietly terrifying HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, GERTY expresses his AI moods with a series of smiley faces on a screen. Also like in 2001, GERTY is portrayed in a typically calm and subdued manner by Spacey. He acts as both servant and psychologist, assisting Bell in his chores, keeping him (mostly) sane during solitude and coolly choosing between contradictory goals.
What makes GERTY stand out is his nuanced human moral centre: reactive, flawed, easily influenced and based on hindsight but strives for ethicality.
One of the great on-screen robots of the 21st century comes from the creators of monsters, toys and fish. Yes, Pixar’s titular character WALL-E is my pick.
He’s not just one of the cutest characters of all time – with the film infected with the same level of sweetness that refuses to spill over into gushing sentiment or vomit-inducing over-affection – but it’s also one of Pixar’s most impressive to date. Whisper it, but it just might be their greatest yet.
The astonishing thing is that the first half an hour is effectively a silent film, and to do so in a feature aimed primarily at children is quite an achievement indeed. His romance with Eva is just right, the film nods towards seminal sci-fi such as Silent Running, and works across all ages, cultures and backgrounds.
WALL-E is your atypical robot, and from the genius minds of Pixar we’d expect no less.
I chose Edward Scissorhands, one of my top three films of all time. Edward qualifies as a robot because he is an artificial man created by an Inventor. Edward resembles a human in every way except that he has scissors for hands (hence “Edward Scissorhands”).
However, the normally clear line between human and robot is blurred in Edward’s case because he has something that most robots lack – a fully functioning heart, capable of emotions, kindness, compassion and love. People therefore perceive Edward as a human not as a robot and treat him accordingly.
Edward’s downfall comes about because as a robot, naïve about how humans think and act, and unversed in the ways of the world, he is unable to function in society in the way that a human can and will. Ultimately modern society proves too brutal to accommodate a gentle soul like Edward and that is our tragedy.
If I hear “robot film”, I automatically think of The Terminator films (well, the first two anyway). Not only did the first launch the career of Arnie and arguably the most famous catchphrase of all time, but the sequel was even better.
The premise is, uh, simple…. when the machines of the future take over the world, they send back a robot assassin to terminate the mother of the future human resistance leader and erase him from history. The human resistance then send back a soldier to protect aforementioned mother resistance who turns out to be father resistance.
The films were scary, fun with some great effects and action scenes; and had some poignant things to say about technology. It also showcased James Cameron’s writing and directing skills before he became a 3D-obsessed eco-terrorist. Now only if we could go back in time and erase Terminator 3 and 4….
So which is your favourite? Blade Runner, Moon, WALL-E, Edward Scissorhands or The Terminator? Let us know, and be sure to include your own alternative suggestions.