Last weekend’s most successful movie in American theaters? Real Steel. Transformers: Dark of the Moon now the fourth most successful movie of all time? There’s only one thing we can take from these seemingly-freak occurrences: America loves robots. Maybe the movie industry should capitalize on this newfound fad.
We’ve all seen what happens when this kind of thing gets out of hand; remember when literature became invaded by horror, and we had things like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters all over the place? That’s exactly what we need from Hollywood in order to feed this need, this hunger for robots that is apparently so voracious that audiences will happily subject themselves to Hugh Jackman teaching a robot how to box, or Peter Cullen’s hilariously flat delivery of every single line Optimus Prime ever says.
Here’s my thinking: With very rare exceptions – Blade Runner, Wall-E and, uh, maybe just Blade Runner and Wall-E – Hollywood can’t do a robot movie without becoming completely overwhelmed by the robotness of it all, and in a bad way. Somewhere along the lines, it becomes all about the special effects and the design of the robot and everything else just falls apart. I, Robot? Transformers? Even Short Circuit, all of them become eclipsed by the robot(s) and things like story, acting and direction all become secondary – even if it means the film is lesser because of that. The clear solution for that is, start with a movie that’s already good and just add some robot in there somewhere.
The odd thing is, from a certain perspective, this could definitely work. The novelty alone of something like On The Waterfront With A Giant Robot would draw people in, even if only to see a robot fall to its knees and yell “Stellaaaaaaaaaa” in an auto-tuned voice just seconds after Marlon Brando does the same thing. Who wouldn’t have a sneaky desire to watch The Sound of Music With Robots, if only to see Maria and the Von Trapps escape the Nazis because even the Third Reich can’t stand up to a cybernetic army sworn to protect the fleshy ones who taught them to sing with a song like “Doe A Deer”? Think of how amazingly different Titanic would be, if it were re-released in a special edition that changed the ending so that the ship didn’t sink, but instead changed into a robot warrior from another planet who could save everyone in the water and fly them to safety?
Okay, perhaps that trick would only work a few times (Ben Hur! But with robotic horses for the chariot race!). But I’d be curious to see what would happen if Hollywood managed to make a robot movie in which the robots weren’t the stars, but simply the plot mcguffin that manages to get all the people in the movie doing something. If that means everyone pretends that the robots have only been added at the last moment so that there’s enough focus on the people in the whole thing, then I can totally deal with that.
And if that doesn’t work, then there’s always the prospect of The Fast and The Furious Robots to brighten our cinematic future. Like you wouldn’t pay to see that one.