March 15, 2011

Wallpaper & Waxing Nostalgic: 'Short Circuit'


"Need inpuuuuuut!"

These two movies, Short Circuit (1986) and Short Circuit 2 (1988), have a number of good qualities, too many to list them all, but I'll list some that help to make them movies that I love to watch and re-watch:

  • The physical, beautifully-designed, robot models used for the FX.
  • The nifty 80's score/soundtrack.
  • The humor and the way they don't take themselves too seriously.
  • The colorful and detailed cinematography.
  • The easy quotability of the dialog and the one-liners.
  • The simple storytelling.
  • The naive malapropisms from Ben.
  • The heart of the underlying messages.
  • And of course their star - the inimitable Johnny 5 himself!

I'm a sucker for robots, androids, even computers. There's something so intriguing (and sometimes humbling) about equating our sentience and humanity with that of a constructed being. We are, after all, merely organic computers ourselves, are we not? Viewing the world the way a non-human might is always a good source of food for thought. And the way that concept is explored in both 'Short Circuit' and 'Short Circuit 2' is very compelling.

When watching them over, I had it brought to my attention the difference between how these movies portray their robot protagonist and how it is commonly handled. Johnny 5 is alive the entire time (once he is initially brought to life at the beginning) - the story isn't about him 'coming alive'. He starts out already having his personality and his quirky outlook on things and his joy of living every moment to the fullest. This is in contrast to how, often, the main drive for a robot or android character is to yearn for being human, or to wonder about what it means to love, or to feel limited in some way because they are synthetic and programmed.

Because of this difference, Johnny 5 is a fun character (for a child who just wants to see a robot be cool and have fun adventures), and also a very thought-provoking character (for someone older who watches the movies and thinks about the philosophical angle). He can be more human than the human characters know how to be. Such as when, in the first movie, Stephanie feels betrayed and is getting angry at her situation, even threatening bodily harm to her betrayer (Newton Crosby). Johnny is mortified at the thought and tells Stephanie "No disassemble...!" with such a nuance to his voice (kudos to Tim Blaney on his vocal performance of Johnny - it's perfect all around!) that it makes us reflect on how we act as human beings and our anger and how we could take an example, from a machine of all things, and be kinder, happier people. It's a nice touch to have the human be learning from the robot. It makes a good full circle to have her change inside from having met Johnny, since Johnny was helped in his life philosophy by Stephanie and her kindness to him when they first met.

It'll be really interesting to have the first fully artificially-intelligent being one day, and see just how they do behave. I, for one, am really looking forward to finding out. As 'machine thinking' gets more and more advanced, we start to see little glimpses into how human and artificial thinking differs, and what sort of things need to change in how we programme computer 'thought' at the moment. An example of the advancements and also the stumbling blocks, was when IBM designed a computer to compete on 'Jeopardy!' - that was far out, and so informative. It's still a long way from having AI, but the glimpses it gives us are too cool :D

Today Tomorrow?

I just adore these movies, and am a proud fan of little Johnny 5 for all his uniqueness and special qualities. There's a good webpage here about his robot model and a fan who liked it enough to track it down. And, unfortunately, there're attempts to make a remake. Now, I know, I should be more openminded about this, but I can think of 1001 ways in which it could be RUINED, so I'm founded in my concerns. I just can't picture a non-80's, CGI, boy-finds-pet-robot version... Oh well, maybe they'll prove me wrong and make a third 'great movie to last for all time', I certainly wouldn't mind that! :)

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