Friday, August 30, 2019

The Invisible Boy

The Invisible Boy
Herman Hoffman

Timmie Merrinoe (Richard Eyer) is the disappointing child of Dr. Tom Merrinoe, a renowned scientist who has just built the world’s most powerful computer. The computer has a will of its own and soon uses Timmie to active a robot from the future (you might know him as Robby), and in turn, use that robot to start kidnapping scientists and military figures in order to implant control chips in their brains. You know, as you do…

The first thing you’ll notice is that everyone in the movie, aside from Robby, is a jerk. Timmie gets bored and causes trouble. His dad only seems to notice him when it’s time to lecture him or beat him. Timmie’s mom Mary, just falls apart at the earliest issue and makes weak attempts to reign in her husband’s attitude. All the scientists in the house don’t seem to care about anything aside from bickering. Robby is the only one who shows an ounce of character growth or compassion for another being and he’s the one directly responsible for a dead guy later on in the movie.

If you can move past the unpleasant batch of human characters, there is some texture to the plot. While the film does begin as a light-hearted kid’s movie complete with corny 1950s slapstick humor, the darker elements slowly start to creep into the story. The villain of the film is a room-sized super-computer complete with flashing banks of lights, a spooky transparent dome sporting a single eye, and a sonorously evil voice. Early on the scientists and the military wonder if an enemy country (guess which one) is behind the computer’s evil behavior, but it turns out that nope, the computer has been slowing seeding its rise to power for some time. It’s a great development; Skynet for the Atomic Age, and it lends a much needed serious thread that takes the film into the third act. The Invisible Boy initially doesn’t feel like a film that can make the switch from, ‘invisible child plays pranks on stuffy scientists,’ to ‘evil super-computer causally threatens to physically torture a child for days,’ but it does manage it.

The big selling point for The Invisible Boy is the return of Robby the Robot, still a popular figure from his debut in Forbidden Planet (1956). In a surprise move, The Invisible Boy serves as a sequel of sorts to that film, with an explanation that a scientist from the 1950s created a time machine and brought Robby back from the future. It’s more of a cute side note than any serious attempt to connect the two films. The Robby of this film is much less sardonic than in his 1956 appearance, but Marvin Miller’s voicework still imbues him with a charming nature that makes his scenes a joy to watch.

Robby you nasty.
The Invisible Boy is very much a kid’s adventure film but it is still colored by the anxieties of the 1950s, we have the encroachment of new technologies, the potential for Russian sabotage and attacks, loss of identity through conformity, and even nuclear annihilation as the computer threatens to carpet bomb the Earth with strontium-bombs at one point. So while The Invisible Boy isn’t perfect and pales next to Forbidden Planet (if you consider it an actual sequel), it is still an enjoyable adventure and a moment in time that captures a piece of the culture of the U.S. in 1957.

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