Out of all the movie robots, Judge Clark Douglas would say the hero of Short Circuit is number five.
Our review of Short Circuit: Special Edition, published June 19th, 2008, is also available.
Number Five is Alive!
"Input! More Input!"—Number Five
Facts of the Case
The U.S. Defense Department is holding a special presentation for a group of powerful officials. They're introducing a new type of weapon. If you're thinking "Killer Robots," you're on the right track. Five high-powered robots have been created that have the ability to blow up tanks and other military weaponry. After the impressive presentation, Robot Number Five is struck by lightning, causing a very unusual reaction: the robot develops a human personality. The Defense Department panics, and Number Fives creator (Steven Guttenberg, Cocoon) does everything in his power to find the robot. Little does he know that Number Five is hanging out with a peace-loving woman (Ally Sheedy, Wargames) who is teaching him to be a gentle bucket o' sweetness.
For those of you who haven't seen it, Short Circuit was one of the most notable "killer robot who is transformed into a really cute and very human-like robot" films of 1986. The film is undoubtedly being re-released to coincide with the forthcoming theatrical release of Pixar's Wall-E, a film about a robot that bears more than a passing resemblance to the lead character of Short Circuit. Ever since Star Wars brought us R2-D2 and C-3PO, sci-fi films have been very fond of creating their own cute robots. So where does the mechanical hero of Short Circuit rank on the lovability meter?
I'd say pretty high. Number Five is an irrepressibly endearing character that is easy to adore. How can any viewer not smile at seeing Number Five zipping through a pile of encyclopedias, bleeping and beeping in incredulous fascination? Much of the humor in the film comes from Number Five's attempts to be human, and his unique ability to pick up all of our flaws as well as our strengths. For instance, within 24 hours of being altered by the lightning strike, Number Five becomes a channel-flipping couch potato, mumbling and complaining when Sheedy demands that he turn off the television. The film finds new and amusing ways to provide humor as Number Five evolves.
Of course a film about a robot made in 1986 is going to seem pretty dated these days, but the technical achievements of Short Circuit are still pretty impressive. I've always found "real" special effects such as animatronics, claymation, and puppets far more engaging and likable than "realistic" CGI. Number Five is given a nice blend of human-like physical features and reasonably credible mechanical design. Director John Badham does a solid job of directing the film, always keeping the center of attention on Number Five. I can imagine that the producers might have wanted to spend a little more time with the humans, in order to save money on special effects.
The hi-def transfer is a mixed bag to say the least…it runs from impressive to poor, seemingly at random. Certain early sequences feature a ton of grain, while others are positively crystal-clear. The audio is pretty solid, though the music is mixed a little too loud. The score is provided by the usually wonderful David Shire, who seems a little off his game with this film. The extras included here are a lot less lavish than they might seem at a first glance. Most of them are as old as the film, and have apparently been taken from a very crummy video source. These are some rough-looking, uninformative behind-the-scenes promotional odds and ends. Text-only items like production notes and filmographies have been hauled over from the DVD. Curiously, the filmographies have not been updated…nobody's resume goes past the year 2000. Lazy. Thankfully, a commentary by John Badham and the screenwriters does offer the occasional nugget of interesting info.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's a good thing the movie doesn't spend too much time with the humans by themselves, because they are mostly quite dull. Steve Guttenberg is personality-free as the robot's inventor, and all of his military associates are the usual one-dimensional warmongering stereotypes. Fisher Stevens offers up a hokey Indian accent that wears out its welcome very quickly. The only member of the cast who really manages to become a unique individual is Ally Sheedy, but even she is less memorable here than she was in Badham's Wargames a little earlier.
It's light and inconsequential, but families looking for a little bit of fun will probably enjoy Short Circuit. It's a cute little movie that represents one of the more endearing sides of the 1980s.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Commentary w/John Badham, S.S. Wilson, and Brent Maddock
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