Short Circuit (1986)
It takes a but more these days to compel me to take the time to write a review. My last one was well over a week ago. It’s also a busy time of year, and I need a film that really talks to me. Ultimately that gets me thinking and that’s what I found with Short Circuit (1986) which immediately had me making comparisons to Wall-E (2009) if only in resemblance, that develops sentience after a freak accident. Compared more often today with Chappie (2015) which I have yet to see so really can’t compare. However I can see things from just the trailer. This is not Chappie and was aimed more at the family market when it was released.
To me the ultimate in sentience in a robot is and always will be Commander Data (Brent Spiner) from Star Trek: The Next Generation whose own existence was explored over 7 seasons and four films, his quest to become more human as he serves with his fellow crew members. It was a rich a deep exploration as he learns more about his own history, what it means to be human as he learns to understand the high and lows of what we take for granted being flesh and blood ourselves. We don’t have the luxury of hours to explore everything the futuristic android, instead 90 packed minutes. Number 5 a military robot prototype of private organisation that are looking to provide the next weapon to the world. That’s all Number 5 is essentially, wires, servoes and a bunch of electronics. He wasn’t programmed to think beyond his programming. To obey orders, seek and destroy, a weapon on wheels essentially a clever and compact tank of wheels that shoots lasers.
It takes a freak accident of an electric shock that brings this cute little robot to life, OK not as small as Wall-e but built to move about with little problem. He wakes up from the programming in a blur, unsure of his surroundings, as if he has just been born, finding his feet. Early on you know we are looking at him, its his story and journey, at first I thought this could have more in common with Wall-e than I initially thought the robotic silent gestures as he figures the very basics out, you just want to hug the little thing.
It’s only when he accidentally finds Stephanie Speck’s (Ally Sheedy) van who believes she has found an alien on her doorstep. It’s not long until she welcomes him (I’m already treating this character as human, genderising him) she opens up what it is to be human, as he consumes the books, just with a flicks he has absorbed the text and only just starting to digest their meaning, making connection that take us our whole childhood to start to even make sense of. This robot is growing up fast. Once you give someone the gift of knowledge you have to give them freedom to explore and understand that ultimately autonomy of free-will. I told you I had to have something to grab me and there you have it in just a few lines.
Back at the base where everything is about retrieve and destroy, they ignore the inventor Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenberg) who doesn’t even want them to be used as weapons his practically ignored unless he plays along with Howard Marner (Austin Pendleton) and Skroeder’s (G.W. Bailey) plans he can kiss goodbye to his job. It’s the classic scientist versus the military argument being played out, brain vs. brawn you could say. These are played for all the laughs you can get and they all hit, even when the tone’s lowered it pass the kids ears it still works. OK it’s dated in places for a film that is almost 30 years old its doing well to still feel fresh.
The real charm of the film comes from the only one who is not human, Number 5 who is learning all the time, taking all the “inputs” that he can input, making use of everything. A lot of jokes come from the TV he watched for a night, popular culture references that maybe lost on younger audiences today are still funny. He’s like a sponge who soaks it all up, absorbing all the one-liners and knowing when to use them. At the heart of him is the knowledge that Nova (the organisation that built him) wants to disassemble him. After accidentally killing a grasshopper he begins to understand how fragile life is. Its fleeting a short and he realises this quick, thanks to all those encyclopedias he read, the foundation of his understand comes from them, Television and those who he interacts with he becomes a rounded and fun individual, robotic or not.
For a family film it says a lot about our own existence, even poking fun at the Star Wars military program of the Ronald Reagan years. Our reliance on technology and how far it may one day go, It may turn on us, become more intelligent or just maybe learn to live with us. Like all of us we are the product of our up-bringing, thank-god this weapon was allowed to take it’s own course and disarm the parts that make it destructive.
- “Short Circuit” (1986) – Flawed, but entertaining 80’s classic (macremi.wordpress.com)
- Life Is NOT A Malfunction: Short Circuit (1986) (cinemalacrum.blogspot.co.uk)