Sunday, 29 March 2015

Short Circuit (1986)

Way way before the likes of Wall-E and the recent Chappie there was Johnny 5 (Number 5), a prototype military robot built for use in the Cold War against the Ruskies (not really of course). This all sounds really serious and high-tech but in wasn't, no this movie starred the ever lovable Steve Guttenberg and the wholly 80's Ally Sheedy. It comes as no surprise that much of this idea came from the success of Star Wars and the vast array of droids featured all over its universe. I do recall this movie coming out and it was quite a big deal, very popular, quite an original idea and following on well from things like 'Flight of the Navigator' and of course 'E.T.'

This was possibly one of the first movies to use this concept where a robot featured as the main character with humans mainly as secondary characters. The plot follow the creation of Number 5 at NOVA laboratories along with four other robots. Whilst being prepped for a demonstration Number 5 is hit by lighting and is suddenly...alive! (Frankenstein's monster homage noted). Naturally Number 5 is curious of his new surroundings and runs (drives) off leaving the military base getting lost in Astoria, Oregon. The happy little robot finds his way to Ally Sheedy who eventually takes care of him whilst convincing Guttenberg (another scientist from NOVA who is after 5) Number 5 is indeed a living errrm...entity? creature? Together the brave pair must battle off the other naughty scientists from NOVA who want to recapture Number 5 and reset him or shut him down and fix him.

One thing is clear from the outset and that's the fact that all the budget went on the robot. The entire production does look cheap accept for Number 5, as if they shot most of it in and around the local area quickly without permission. But considering this movie is pretty darn old nowadays Number 5 does still look really very good and totally holds up. The fact that Pixar clearly copied this classic design for their own creation shows the overall concept was still looked upon favourably. Obviously 5 was designed to look appealing and kinda cute for kids to enjoy, hence the easy to recognise simple binocular eye design, eyebrow type flaps for basic emotions, an E.T. like alien body, cool looking caterpillar tracks and his bubbly chirpy voice. It all still looks quite authentic to this day really, maybe the support coaster at the rear being rather impractical but the simple eyebrow flap emotions work nicely. Matter of fact if you look at 5 from the side he bares a striking resemblance to the Hunter Killer tanks from 'The Terminator' which came out two years earlier.

Number 5 is clearly the movies selling point because without him it has virtually nothing else going for it. There is literately nothing of interest to look at or get stuck into in this movie other than Number 5. The military base is your typical 80's military base with hordes of military police running around all packing. At least I assume they are military police of some sort, I actually think they were just company security guards that had their own arsenal of weapons, jeeps and min tanks! It made me chuckle when 5 escapes and this security force span out to find him in various vehicles, 5 must be moving at less than 5mph yet they still can't catch him up.
Of course all the company men wanna destroy Number 5 naturally, typical Americans wanting to kill kill KILL! Although admittedly the main scientist played by Austin Pendleton wants 5 in one piece, head of security played G.W. Bailey wants to nuke it. In fact Guttenberg and Bailey pretty much resume their roles from 'Police Academy' with Bailey virtually repeating all his old lines to boot! The whole chase aspect in this movie is really ludicrous frankly as I'm pretty sure they would have caught little Number 5 in about ten minutes, all the goofiness is so very 80's.

Sheedy plays the same type of accepting kind-hearted character that we saw in so many 80's flicks and beyond. We the audience are meant to connect with her and root for her (same with Guttenberg in time, we all know he always played a goodie) but its all so vomit inducing and infantile...these days anyway. She lives in a very large house typical of Astoria (which also kinda reminds you of 'The Goonies'), its probably the best bit of background eye candy in the movie really. Lastly we then have Fisher Stevens playing an Indian scientist and sidekick of Guttenberg. He actually plays this character extremely well because I always thought this character was actually an Indian actor. Not sure why Indian though, I kinda get the impression it might be for cheap laughs at the accent? hmmm.

Gotta be honest, most of this film is kinda dull now, not in a bad way but more of a very dated and unfunny way. Essentially its all about the silly antics of Number 5 and how he interacts with the world like a young child, he is a young child basically, learning for the first time. In that you do feel for him and you can relate to him which gives the film a lot of heart, but watching these days it really is very very mushy and cheesy. The whole sequence where Sheedy and 5 are getting closer and end up dancing is pretty corny to the max, laughably so. On the other hand when Number 5 learns of morality and what will happen to him if NOVA capture him, shows a much deeper side that does tug at your heartstrings. I will say that Tim Blaney does do a terrific job with Number 5's voice, he's so innocent, naive and trusting whilst at the same time starry-eyed with wonder and pure untroubled joy with everything he learns. It really is a superbly moving little performance that actually really came into its own with the sequel.

Its all very predictable and horrendously hammy these days, all the visual tomfoolery as Number 5 larks around getting into mischief whilst being oddly adorable at the same time. You do actually forget this character is a robot, by the end of the movie you do look at him as a real person, a little bug-eyed alien that you don't wanna see get harmed. Anywho its a by the numbers science fiction yarn with ample amounts of sweet doughy charm littered with lots of sickly good-natured visuals, dialog and humour. I don't think there is anything here that could upset, fun for all...mainly the kids.