Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reel Robots

Who in Hollywood decreed that we have to have at least one robot blockbuster per quarter? After the fairly execrable Transformers 2: Dark of the Moon this summer, we've got Real Steel to look forward to in October.

Rocky-meets-robots with Hugh Jackman and Kate from Lost, who was just the worst. It's like if Rocky had decided to get into Battlebots instead of going to the Soviet Union.

The trailer and featurette look good. I mean, the f/x look good. But I don't really get it: the robots look good but it's not clear why we're supposed to care about them. It's hard enough to give a crap about the Autobots and Decepticons. I'm not saying that audiences don't or can't care about robots in the movies. But we tend to like our robots to be more like humans, like Wall*E, R2D2, Starbuck, and Roy Batty--alien enough to interrogate and critique humanity, and familiar enough to elicit a profound emotional response.

But robots that are just machines ("we can just fix that"), or are primarily machines, like the fighting bots in Real Steel, can't do that. It's the distinction between ED-209 and RoboCop: one's a soulless automaton, the other is a character that we can relate to and that forces us to examine the porous boundary between human and machine.

Side note: I think it's fascinating that the best Battlebots look nothing like humans. They're all low to the ground. Battlebots *would* be a more interesting film subject: the people who labor over them, obsessively tweaking each aspect, and the way that the most successful bots expose the limits of biological design (unlike the Real Steel fighters, who look like a cross between RoboCop and Iron Man), in much the same way as Hugh Herr's prosthetic mountaineering legs and feet.

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