5 Underrated movie robots!

Get ready for ROBO-G!
In anticipation of this  year’s feel-good robot comedy, we look back at some of Robo-G’s most underrated mechanical companions

Kier-La Janisse

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Everybody loves robots, right? Well maybe not of the Skynet variety, and Maximillian from The Black Hole was particularly nightmare-inducing, but cinema has given us our share of robotic cutie-pies, from R2D2 to WALL-E. But in my usual underdog fashion, I tend to think most fondly of those A.I. pals that time has forgotten, so – in anticipation of the comedy hijinx of Robo-G – in the “whatever happened to…” category, here are my votes for the five  most underrated ‘friendly’ robots the movies have given us (and yes, I’m dating myself here):

Romie-0 and Julie-8 – One of the early wave of Nelvana TV specials, this one is a Can-con classic that was originally played on Valentine’s Day as part of Nelvana’s run of seasonal programming. As can be surmised from the title, it’s a riff on the Shakespearean prepubescent romantic tragedy, with two androids created by competing robotics companies falling “nuts and bolts” over eachother. Like Nelvana’s earlier The Devil and Daniel Mouse, it features tunes by folkie John Sebastian, who’d been a chart-topper for the Welcome Back Kotter theme.

Silent Running – In this sci-fi film about an eco-terrorist from first-time director Douglas Trumbull (known for his FX on Kubrick’s 2001), sketchy character actor Bruce Dern turns to a trio of androids named Huey, Dewey and Louie for friendship in the lonely reaches of space. These small, triangular-shaped robots were actually operated by double-amputees that were housed inside the costumes and using their hands as the robots’ legs!!

Heartbeeps – From Allan Arkush, the director of Rock n Roll High School, this 1981 film starred Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters as two robots who fall in love and run away from their human masters to start a family of their own. Most people don’t remember this film as fondly as I do – and at least one online user has complained that the acting is “stilted and wooden”. Well, they’re robots, you heartless jerk, what do you expect. Character vet Dick Miller makes an appearance as a night watchman.

Making Mr. Right – the weirdest thing about this film has to be the arthouse casting – performance artist Ann Magnuson and John Malkovich (!?), but then again, it was directed by Susan Seidelman who gave us Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan, both of which also mined the NYC underground for actors with counterculture street cred. Malkovich plays a dual role as an emotionless scientist and his own robotic creation, who surpasses him in human feelings when he falls head over heels (literally) for the spirited PR girl (Magnuson) who’s hired to tutor him in “acting human”

Omnibot – Omnibot is not a film – Omnibot is REAL! But he was in TV commercials incessantly so I’m counting him anyways. I desperately wanted an Omnibot as a kid. My brother and I begged our parents for one to no avail, but this pint-sized house robot manufactured by Tomy in the early 80s was reputed to be like a personal slave that would bring you cookies and milk while you sat on your lazy ass watching cartoons. I have never met anyone that owned or met an Omnibot in real life. If you have – please post about your experiences in the comments!!

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ROBO-G has its North American premiere on July 31 at 7:40pm in the Hall Theatre. More info on the film page HERE.

About the author:

Kier-La Janisse

Kier-La Janisse is a film writer and programmer, Owner/Artistic Director of Spectacular Optical Publications and founder of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies. She has been a programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, co-founded Montreal microcinema Blue Sunshine, founded the CineMuerte Horror Film Festival (1999-2005) in Vancouver, was the Festival Director of Monster Fest in Melbourne, Australia and was the subject of the documentary Celluloid Horror (2005). She is the author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (FAB Press, 2007) and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (FAB Press, 2012) and contributed to Destroy All Movies!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (Fantagraphics, 2011), Recovering 1940s Horror: Traces of a Lost Decade (Lexington, 2014) The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul (University of Toronto Press, 2015) and We Are the Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale (PS Press, 2017). She co-edited and published the anthology books KID POWER! (Spectacular Optical, 2014), Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s (Spectacular Optical, 2015) and Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin (2017), and is co-editing Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television for release in late 2017. She is currently writing A Song From the Heart Beats the Devil Every Time: Children’s Programming and the Counterculture, 1965-1985, monographs about Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter and Patricia Birch’s Grease 2, and is in development on a TV series based on her book House of Psychotic Women with Rook Films.

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