Friday, September 6, 2019

The Robot Parade

Every summer over the last few years I’ve done a series of reviews centering around a specific subgenre: luchadores, dogs, apes, and now robots. Thousands of pages and millions of words have been spent talking about humans and their relationships to robots both real and fictional. Robots are one of the first science-fiction tropes that kids are attracted to and it is easy to see why; we as humans anthropomorphize machines and often view robots as us but better: they are faster, smarter, they look cool, they don’t age or succumb to diseases. Strip away the humanity from these beings and they become objects of fright, remorseless, relentless machines that might just consider us obstacles and could sweep us aside without hesitation. For me this is the most interesting element of the robot as characters, this tension between them being like us, but also not like us. They can surpass us or lack key qualities we admire, often both.

For selections in the Robot Parade, I simply went with the era and elements that appealed to me so, that included many films from the 1950s, really the decade that set the standard for robots in film; mechanical companions for good or ill (usually good). Gog is perhaps the weird outlier in that set, it is the only film that treats robots as pure machines driven by their programming rather than some internal soul (or the machine equivalent).

The Stepford Wives is interesting in that it positions robots in a social context, their artificial nature is desirable to the patriarchal forces of Stepford because it strips the women of their free will. The flipside to that is Robowar, of all things, which takes a person stripped of their will and made into a machine only to have them work to reclaim it by the end. The fact that one is a sly black comedy and the other is a goofball Predator (1987) rip-off only adds charm to the comparison.

The Robot Parade was just the most surface dip into the world of film robots. I’m curious if this particular subgenre will eventually become passe as robots become more commonplace  in many parts of the world and less interesting. Maybe there will be a retro robot fad where we look back fondly giant clanky machines that were more interested in fighting mummies than delivering us a box of detergent.

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