Is there anything that shouts “Sci-Fi” in a movie more than a robot?
I don’t think so, and given the fact that there has been a robot in a movie ever since 1917, obviously Hollywood agrees with me!
One of the very first robots appeared in the 1927 German film Metropolis. In fact, it was a female robot. Der Maschinen-Mensch actually had a look that would fit nicely into today’s films. She was sleek, sexy and the epitome of seduction – much like the Queen Borg played by Alice Krige in Star Trek: First Contact. This film is little known in the US, being German made and produced, but it is one of the forerunners for modern SciFi movies.
The next robot, however, is almost a household name – GORT. The Day the Earth Stood Still is classic ScifFi at its best. There is a giant robot, a UFO, an alien, and a darn good moral to the story to boot. The impeccable Michael Rennie plays Klaatu, the alien who comes to Earth with a warning and brings his guardian robot with him. Of course toward the end of the movie we are left wondering if Klaatu is in charge of GORT, or if GORT is in charge of Klaatu? This film is hailed as one of SciFi’s first great triumphs, and regularly tops lists when people are asked to name the first SciFi film ever made.
Forbidden Planet is another SciFi movie that automatically comes to mind when you think of the classics. This time, however, the robot – Robby – is completely different. Although he looks more machine-like than any of the previously mentioned robots, he has a more human personality. He is friendly, helpful, and often makes us chuckle (such as the time when he tests his own homemade moonshine). But he is a fiercely loyal companion that will protect his creator until the end.
Rocket ahead about 20 years and the extraordinarily talented Michael Crichton enters the Hollywood scene. Although not his first film, Westworld was one of his earliest. The basic story? Imagine a theme park where you can live out any adventure you can dream up. Want to play cops and robbers? No problem. Spy games? 007 right at your door. Gunslingers complete with a saloon and dancing girls? Well…we’ve been having a little difficulty with our robot, the Gunslinger. See his safety features have sort of been fried, and he’s really trying to kill you. Is that OK?
And now we come to the movie, and movie franchise, most heavily saturated with robots - Star Wars. Who doesn’t recognize R2D2 and C3PO? And thanks to the 2nd trilogy (which is really the 1st), these ‘bots had personality big time! C3PO – the anal retentive, fussy, prim and slightly cowardly robot who would always pull through in a pinch, but might not know exactly what he did. R2D2 – the spunky little box who pretended to follow the bigger droid around, but really just did his own thing, often being the silent hero in many situations. Both droids could be counted on to be at your back in a firefight. And they are just as recognizable as Laurel & Hardy, Laverne & Shirley, or the Olsen Twins! Truly one of the greatest matchups in Hollywood history.
The movie Alien was sneaky all the way around. First it had you thinking it was just another SciFi movie – when really it is a cleverly disguised crossover horror flick. Then it had you looking around for the alien monster, when the real monster was sitting right beside our heroine the entire time; the unassuming android, Ash. Completely human looking in appearance, it is easy to forget that Ash is an android with no human feelings whatsoever. So when the order comes down from “Mother” to bring back the alien as a specimen, the android is going to follow orders, not be concerned with the frightened humans. They do not figure into his assignment. Is it monstrous to have no feelings? Maybe not if you are a robot, but if you are a human – that is called being a sociopath.
Robots came a long way in Hollywood in 50 years. Be sure to check back in a week, when I cover more movie robots from the 80s until today!