Top 10 Horror/Sci-Fi movie Robots!
Y'all pumped for ELYSIUM this weekend? I know I am. Not only because it's Neill Blomkamp's much anticipated DISTRICT 9 follow up, but also for the legit-looking trailers and solid word of mouth the film has received so far (make sure to peep the Arrow's review to see what I mean). Mr. Matt Damon looks mighty badass in his steely exoskeleton and braided Navajo rattail, don't he...with that giant heater strapped to his arm?! Mighty badass indeed. But what exactly is he? A cyborg? An android? A hyper-militarized human soldier? Either way, he's tasked with saving the whole damn world, so you know the dude ain't to be f*cked with. And that got us to scratching the old noggin. You know who else you don't want to f*ck with? Check it Jack, these Top 10 robots, that's who!
Let's kick things off with the OG! Way the hell back in 1927...yes '27...Fritz Lang changed the world of cinema with his classic parable of dystopic science fiction, METROPLOIS. The flick envisions a miserable totalitarian future, not unlike 1984 or THX-1138, with the evil character of Maria (played by Brigitte Helm) representing "Death", "The Seven Deadly Sins" and other ominous monikers. Of course, Maria isn't a woman, but rather a robotic humanoid with her own nefarious agenda. Coming up on 90 years old, Lang's unquestioned sci-fi opus has yet to lose any of its metaphorical steam.
Come on now, you know we had to stir ROBOCOP in the mix somehow. Granted, Alex Murphy becomes cyborg - half man, half robot - which doesn't really count as an out-and-out android. Neither does the at once laughable-yet-intimidating ED-209, the oft-malfunctioning death-bot that shows up in multiple ROBOCOP films, but what the hell, between the two they deserve inclusion. The only problem with ED-209 is that it never assumes the human form, thereby losing the advantage of blending in with the herd. Still, as a sharp-aimed killing contraption, ED OG style...I got to have it!
I remember reading Dean Koontz's DEMON SEED in 9th grade, way before I even knew it had been adapted into a film six years before I was born. When I finally caught the flick on TV one night, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that both the book and the movie scared the ever loving piss out of me. I mean, the supercomputer Proteus, with its lifelike intelligence, seemed so helpful and protective at first. As the story unfolds, Prot's maddening sexual obsession over its owner (Julie Christie) and the actions taken on behalf of that impulse flat out f*cked me up. Still does.
You ever see Yul Brynner in WESTWORLD? How about FUTUREWORLD? Ah man, if you haven't, you must, as the entity simply called The Gunslinger is one of the all-time gangsta' androids the world has ever bared witness to. No joke. Dude's old-school pimpin'. In WESTWORLD for instance, the title refers to a theme park for older folks who want to robotically live out their fantasies. One couple chooses a jaunt through the Old West, but a techno-glitch awakes The Gunslinger, a rogue bot with a pair of itchy trigger-fingers. Game on, tourists!
Woeful remake aside, the original STEPFORD WIVES is actually an eerily jarring picture. No single automaton need be cited, as it's the collective race of well disguised fem-bots that truly disturbs. The cooperation. The unison. Shite's like North Korea. Obviously, looking back, much like in BODY SNATCHERS or any other "soul-sucking" films, the metaphors seem a little heavy-handed, but at least it dealt with larger themes in a way many major movies today do not. Sadly, I think we've become more like the characters than we'd care to admit.
Somewhat similar to ELYSIUM, the police force in George Lucas' debut film THX-1138 are comprised of cold-hearted automatons. The poke, they prod, they treat any remaining semblance of humanity with nothing but absolute disdain. And you know what, that's a truly scary vision of the future. Everything in the film is so cold, so sterile, so clinical. Every mundane routine of daily life modulated and patrolled by emotionless drones. Jeez, how depressing, I now see why homey made AMERICAN GRAFFITI immediately after.
With the groundwork laid by Ian Holm in the original (Ash), James Cameron tagged the great Lance Henriksen to play Bishop, an even more complex and morally ambiguous android in the 1986 action-classic ALIENS...a prototype in turn made even more slithery by Michael Fassbender in PROMETHEUS. Are such technological companions more harmful or helpful to the human condition? Are we more protected or endangered by their presence? These are the questions raised by having the such a dubious character onboard, questions that loom more prevalent than ever. Drones, anyone?!
Anytime I get a chance to doff the old lid to the great Stanley Kubrick, I must take it. But it just so happens the unparalleled master had a prescient understanding of artificial intelligence and its dangerous nature, illustrating just untrustworthy such technology can be in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The creepily monotone voice of HAL 9000 comes off as ably reassuring at first, but quickly grows terrifying when we see how odious and manipulative its actions become. The scene where Dave disables HAL at the end is one of the most tranquilly bizarre, yet intensely fearful sequences I've ever peeped.
Take your damn pick, the T-800 or the T-1000, James Cameron at once made the lethal android just as utterly kick-ass as it was truly terrifying...as physically menacing as it was visually cool to look at. Seriously, seeing TERMINATOR and T-2 for the first time, I know I both wanted to be Arnold, at the same time make damn sure I never ran into such a steeled, hulking piece of killing machinery. Even better though is the amorphous nature of the T-1000 in JUDGMENT DAY, able to ply its liquid-alloy body into any shape it desires...a giant blade, another person, whatever! Stellar FX that have held up over 20 years make T-2 one of the few superior film sequels.
Is Deckard a replicant? Such is the quintessential mystery that has preserved BLADE RUNNER in untouchable amber for over 30 years. Aside from the surface story, replete with form-altering visuals and dystopic cityscapes, there are many subtle visuals cues and clues that hint at Deckard's true identity...and it's exactly that double narrative that really makes the film a peerless sci-fi classic. Of course, Pris and Roy Batty are two of the most badass androids ever seen on celluloid. Here's hoping sir Ridley doesn't sully the films legacy by giving us an underwhelming sequel (I'm looking at you PROMETHEUS).