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"Max, you're a doll!"—Maggie (Brie Howard)
One of the few companies tirelessly devoted to unearthing offbeat gems, Anchor Bay has finally given the quirky coming-of-age robot story Android a life on DVD; a brand spanking new version that should make fans of decidedly unusual sci-fi very happy.
Facts of the Case
Because android research has been outlawed on Earth, Dr. Daniels (Klaus Kinski, Dead Eyes of London) and his humanoid-robotic assistant Max 404 (the film's writer, Don Keith Opper, Critters) conduct their secret experiments isolated in the far reaches of space. Daniels is finishing work on his newest creation, Cassandra-1 (Kendra Kirchner) a much-improved female android who will eventually serve to replace Max—a dreamer, who spends most of his time pining for a visit to Earth.
It seems like Max's wish might come true when a law enforcement ship makes an emergency landing at the space station for repairs, but what Max and Dr. Daniels don't realize is that the ship's occupants, Maggie (Brie Howard, Tape Heads), Keller (Norbert Weisser, The Thing) and Mendes (Crofton Hardester, Saving Private Ryan), are actually escaped prisoners that commandeered the vessel. Having researched the particulars about human sexuality, Max is especially interested in Maggie, but he has some serious competition in Daniels, who desperately needs Maggie's bio-electric potential (read: sexual energy) to animate Cassandra. But Keller and Mendes don't plan to let the feverish desires of Daniels and Max interfere with their chances for escape, and they are willing to do anything to get back to Earth.
Android may have been produced by Roger Corman's New World Pictures, but don't confuse it with your average Corman B-film quickie. You know the kind—a hackneyed story scripted around the presence of pre-existing sets and a big star's last few days on contract. Well, okay, you got me—the film was written to take advantage of some leftover sets, and Kinski's role is not an incredibly sizeable one, but it would still be a mistake and a disservice to lump the film in with your typical New World fare.
Instead, this 21st century Pinocchio story is a charming and tragic character-driven effort. Borrowing from The Bride of Frankenstein and Metropolis, the film delves deeply into Max's loneliness and desire to interact with others—especially a female—by taking him through a kind of robot "adolescence." As his obsolescence and termination become imminent, Max is increasingly insolent to his creator, and spends his time listening to rock music, playing video games, and watching movies—including some prophetic scenes from the aforementioned Metropolis.
Unlike myriad other big and small screen robots longing to be human, Max's obsession with 20th Century culture is not an attempt to learn how to "behave"; it's the social and cultural interactions of humans fascinate him, and his desire to connect with others fuels this need to visit Earth. This is a subtle but appreciated change from the sci-fi norm, with Max most resembling the replicants in Blade Runner, a film released in the same year that also draws its inspiration from Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Like the replicants, Max is a completely self-aware entity, but because of the reduced scope (and budget), this film is able to deal with many of the same issues—including what makes us "human"—on a far more intimate level.
Star Wars fever was still running high in the early 1980s, and Android does makes some concessions to the science fiction genre, despite its dramatic pretensions. The few scenes that call for elaborate special effects are not too bad considering the tiny budget, but it's really in the little details that keep the film convincing, such as a circa-1982 space video game that ably substitutes for a real laser gun control. The elaborate space station sets also lend significant credibility to the film even though they are a thoroughly 1980s take on futuristic interior design—somewhere between Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica. However, this sense of false nostalgia works with the films' tragic themes and only adds to Android's overall effectiveness.
Euro-cult mainstay Klaus Kinski provides the film's sole star power with an interesting take on the mad scientist, but it's Don Keith Opper who really steals the show as the rebellious android, Max 404. Opper, in his uncredited debut (the opening crawl features the phrase "Max as Himself") infuses the character with innocence and an appealing curiousness, smartly avoiding the "stranger in a strange land" clichés. His performance makes for easily one of the most fascinating android characters ever created for the screen.
Anchor Bay has cleaned up their reportedly artifact-ridden Region 2 release of Android, and while still not overwhelming, the results are quite satisfactory. Colors seem a little muted, but that may have been the intention of the director all along—there is some discussion of Dr. Daniel's preference for "low lighting" to save power for his experiments. Still, a few scenes shot in an arboretum seem like they should be brighter and more colorful; instead, they just come across as dull. A slight level of grain is apparent throughout the film, but it's unobtrusive and almost expected considering the film's low-budget roots. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is fairly non-descript, clearly delivering the dialogue and Mother of Invention Don Preston's excellent Moog score.
The disc's main supplemental feature has director Aaron Lipstadt and Max 404 himself, Don Opper, contributing an informative commentary track. Although there are a few more pauses than I would have liked, the two are fairly entertaining, discussing the origins of the film, and some humorous anecdotes about the difficulties the crew experienced with Klaus Kinski on set. Also here is the film's theatrical trailer, which in true Roger Corman style, plays up the few moments of sex and violence in the film.
Android is best thought of an extremely low-budget counterpart to Blade Runner; a highly original cult film that has held up extremely well over the years, despite its obvious low budget. Fans should not hesitate to pick up Anchor Bay's new DVD, and it should make for an enjoyable rental for those as yet unfamiliar with the film.
404? Nah, not Max!
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