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Posts Tagged ‘robots’

Destroy All Kaiju

July 16th, 2013 No comments

I’m just speculating here, but I imagine that the average anxiety level in the production offices of Legendary Pictures has risen a few notches. Here they are, trying to drum up interest in next summer’s Godzilla reboot at the same time that the American public is demonstrating its indifference toward their current giant monster epic, Pacific Rim.

Maybe it was just a scheduling issue, but it did seem odd to me that Godzilla is being produced as the follow-up to Pacific Rim rather than the other way ’round. Godzilla has the name recognition, but it also has (so far as we know at this time) just the one giant monster. (EDIT: Ding dong, I’m wrong. The official description was just released, and say “this spectacular adventure pits the world’s most famous monster against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.” So there’s that.) Pacific Rim, on the other hand, has lots of monsters (and robots), but isn’t based on an existing property.* Coming out second, Godzilla risks being seen as the lesser spectacle, a potential problem made worse if Pacific Rim appears to have poisoned the giant monster well.

Unfortunately for Legendary Pictures and Godzilla fans, Pacific Rim isn’t just a mediocre box office performer, it’s a mediocre film.

I’m torn here. I really, really, really, really want to love it. I want to hold it to my bosom and proclaim it as the Second Coming of Spielberg.

And, lest we forget, I am very forgiving when it comes to giant monster movies. I unreservedly love Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, despite production values perhaps 1,000 times lesser than those displayed by Pacific Rim. Hell, recently I voluntarily watched the nadir of the Toho Studios film series, Godzilla vs. Megalon, in its native Japanese.

Now I’m in no way saying that Pacific Rim is inferior to Godzilla vs. Megalon, in that very little that exists in any of the known states of matter is less than Godzilla vs. Megalon. It’s just that, considering both its production budget ($190 million) and pedigree (acclaimed filmmaker Guillermo del Toro), I hold Rim to a higher standard.

The main problem for me is the assortment of stock character types with their off-the-shelf backgrounds and motivations. That wouldn’t be a problem if they brought a bit of personality or fun to the party, but the only ones who seem to be having a good time are Ron Perlman as a dealer in monster body parts, and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as the comedy relief scientists. When the frog-faced guy from Torchwood is the most entertaining member of your ensemble, that’s a concern.

My other major complaint is that, with the exception of a couple of flashbacks, every monster appearance takes place at night, in the rain and/or at the bottom of the ocean. I thought that we were past the point that we needed everything to be dark and rain-streaked to hide the special effects seams.

So, what does Pacific Rim do right? A lot, actually. It’s got a bit of a Top Gun vibe with its international team of pilots. The monster designs–many courtesy Hellboy artist Guy Davis and master alien illustrator Wayne Douglas Barlowe–are varied and bizarre. A great deal of attention has been paid toward world-building, with such details as a slum built inside the carcass of a dead beast and a misguided attempt at border-security known as the “Wall of Life.”**

It’s far from a disaster, but it’s a definite disappointment coming as it does from del Toro, whose love for this subject matter runs deep.

In light of this, I say good luck, Godzilla. Your long-anticipated comeback just got a bit more difficult.

*And if you doubt the power of intellectual property, look at the many Internet comments declaring Pacific Rim to be a Transformers rip-off, even though what it’s really ripping-off predates the robots-in-disguise by several decades. Furthermore, consider that Transformers: Dark of the Moon made nearly as much on opening day (a Wednesday) as Pacific Rim did in its first weekend.

**It, of course, works here about as well as it does in real-life, never taking into consideration–for example–that the evolving cavalcade of creatures might eventually exhibit the ability to fly.

31 Monsters #30: The Iron Giant

October 30th, 2009 No comments

“But…but, Dave!” I hear you sputter. “The Iron Giant isn’t a monster!” Au contraire, mon frere. That’s my douchey way of saying that in the Halloween ecosystem, the Iron Giant fills the ecological niche of Misunderstood Monster. You know the type: too big for his own well-being, basically good-hearted until you cross him.

The Iron Giant was a 1999 animated film directed by Brad Bird, better known for his Pixar productions: The Incredibles and Ratatouille. It told the familiar tale of boy meets giant robot, military shoots giant robot, giant robot proves his good intentions, dies anyway.

While it’s since been recognized as a modern classic, it was a box-office flop. Fans like to believe that this was because Warner Bros. bungled its marketing, but I disagree. It was released at a time when Disney still completely dominated the animated feature film genre. It didn’t feature musical numbers, cute sidekicks or crowd-pleasing pop cultural references. Plus, it had a science-fiction theme; the animation field is littered with the bloated corpses of allegedly boy-friendly sci-fi adventures such as Treasure Planet, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Titan A.E.

Based loosely on a fantasy novel by Ted Hughes entitled The Iron Man, it was reconceptualized as a ’50s sci-fi pastiche. The Iron Giant fell to earth from outer space, clonking his noggin on impact. Unable to recall his purpose, he wound up befriending a young boy with the highly implausible name of “Hogarth.” The kid did his best to hide the huge robot from a paranoid U.S. government agent, and also to instill the mechanical man with an understanding that he had the ability to choose who he would become.

Naturally, it all went pear-shaped by the third act, with the Iron Giant revealed to a frightened military. What I find interesting is that while the film obviously sided with the monster, it also made clear that the government’s distrust wasn’t entirely unjustified. I suspect that without that little dent in his metal melon, the giant would’ve happily burned Hogarth to ashes and gone on to conquer the world.

When Hogarth appeared dead, the Iron Giant shifted into offensive mode, and what a mode it was!

Hey, nice arm cannon! What about the other one?

Oh. Sweeeet! What else you got?

Okay, that’s a little freaky. Kind of a War of the Worlds thing you got goin’ there.

I’m not even sure what that spinny disc thing is.

The redonkulous chestzooka might be overkill there, mate.

Alright, don’t get mad. You’re a fine robot monster, you are.

Now, of course, the Iron Giant was ultimately given the chance to prove he was not a gun. (Or rather, not just a gun. ‘Cause, looking at the above, I’d say he was pretty clearly one.) And if you can get past his “Superman” moment (you’ll know it when you see it) without fighting back tears, then I want nothing to do with you.

Categories: Movies Tags: , ,

Notes From The Apocalypse

June 27th, 2009 No comments

I spent much of my week off immersed in the world of Fallout 3. I’ve now witnessed my digital me die dozens of times. It’s still weird.

I am in no way compensating for anything. Not at all.Here are some random observations regarding my travels in the D.C. Wasteland.

  • There’s no crippling injury that can’t be cured by an hour’s sleep.
  • I applaud the game designers’ inclusion of restrooms in most of the houses and public spaces. For me, nothing breaks the verisimilitude of an imaginary environment more than the lack of a place to poop.
  • Robby the Robot-style mechanoids are cool. Robby the Robot-style mechanoids in powdered wigs are awesome.

Who says that videogames aren't educational? I'd never heard of Button Gwinnett until I met him.

  • I still hate Moira. But at least I’ve stopped trying to kill her.
  • Some of those rotting ghouls are surprisingly well-stacked. (“Don’t look, don’t look…”)
  • Killing slavers on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is satisfying, but not as much as gunning down the head slaver with Lincoln’s own rifle.

Defending freedom! Boo-yah!

  • Apparently, making pretty much the same decisions that I would in real life makes me a saint in Falloutville.
  • Being a saint means that you can steal stuff with impunity.
  • Lincoln’s rifle is sweet. Lincoln’s hat? Priceless.

I'm here to emancipate your ass!

If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Avoid My Colossal Metal Fist

October 14th, 2007 No comments

Who knew that Ann Coulter built a giant robot?

Panel from Metal Men #15, August 1965.

Categories: Comics Tags: , ,

My Own Boiling Point Is 56.7 Degrees Celsius

October 7th, 2007 No comments

In the ’60s, we got to the moon by flying through a PICTURE of the moon.

While my love of so-called “Silver Age” (1956-69 or thereabouts) DC Comics remains unabated, I have to admit that in rediscovering them through the massive reprint volumes known as Showcase Presents I’ve found that all too often, they…well, let’s just say that they’re not quite as good as I remembered.

Must be a Russian robot.

The Showcase books, which reprint entire runs of comics in chronological order, aren’t necessarily the ideal format for these stories. Consuming issue after issue in one go rather than waiting a month or two for the next installment highlights their repetitive and formulaic nature.

Submitted in support is the most recent volume, featuring the Metal Men. This unusual super-team debuted in 1962, in issue #37 of the original Showcase title. Showcase (no “Presents” back then) was a book which tried out new characters and concepts, with the most popular given their own titles. “Metal Men” was originally intended as a mere fill-in story, but the heroes were so well-received that they appeared in four issues before spinning off into a bimonthly series which ran for another seven years.

Lead became so concerned over his atomic weight that he developed an atomic eating disorder.

The Metal Men were robots created by the brilliant Doc Magnus, each a shape-shifting humanoid endowed with the properties (and anthropomorphized personality) of a metallic element: noble Gold, strong man Iron, slow-moving Lead, hot-headed Mercury, weakling Tin, and beautiful Platinum, the latter the only female in the band.

Look, I said it was the ’60s.

It was established from the beginning that the effectiveness of the Metal Men as superheroes stemmed from their imperfections. The “responsometers” that governed their actions left them with human-like emotions, ironically making them better at their job than mere robots would have been. On several occasions, Doc built duplicate Metal Men without this flaw, and the dopplegangers inevitably proved a danger to others.

Platinum (aka Tina) got the worst of it, exhibiting stereotypically “female” behaviors as only a ’60s comic book writer could envision them. While the other Metal Men were loyal to their creator, Tina was in love with Doc, and said so…constantly. Doc had to keep reminding her that she was “only a robot.”

Get used to this line of conversation. It’ll come up again.

As I mentioned, comics of this period frequently repeated themselves, often for the benefit of new readers. You could bet that most of the following would occur in any given Metal Men story:

  • Mercury would arrogantly declare that he was the only metal that was liquid at room temperature.
  • Doc would tell Tina that she was not a woman, and that she should behave like a robot.
  • The Metal Men would announce their respective atomic weights and/or boiling points. DC Comics were scientific like that.
  • Tin would fret about his uselessness, then rush the latest menace in a foolhardy and ultimately futile gesture. (Each time he met another pathetic fate, the other Metal Men commented on his bravery. To them, it seemed that “bravery” was expressed as pathological, self-loathing suicide.)
  • Tina would act like an unpredictable woman, forcing Doc to remind her that she was, in fact, not one.
  • One or more of the Metal Men would die horribly, to be rebuilt in a later issue. (The very first story killed off the entire team.)
  • Did I mention that Tina was really a robot? And not a girl?

Just another day at the office for Tin.

The Doc and Tina relationship got pretty sick. Doc kept promising to ship her off to the Museum of Science (or, as I prefer, Museum of SCIENCE!!!). This he eventually did, but they sent her back because the patrons complained.

Museum goers are a tough crowd.

That’s because the Museum of SCIENCE!!!, when gifted with a metamorphic, self-aware work of unparalleled genius–which could stretch itself thinner than a human hair and was capable of pleasuring others in ways of which human women had never dreamed–could think of nothing better to do with it than to lock it in a glass coffin and demand it to stand very, very still. And they were dissatisfied when it began to mope.

I can hear the families now:

“Mommy! That robot lady is crying!”

“Well, naturally, Jenny. She’s a sentient being put on eternal display in an enclosure slightly larger than herself. Now, eat your ice cream while you appreciate her endless, living hell.”

I know that rationality was not the order of the day here, but it occurred to me that if one was a scientist who had committed to donating one’s fabulous platinum robot to the Museum of SCIENCE!!!–and had, in a previous story, built a second model without those pesky human behavioral traits–one would really be an asshat to give them the crying one.

That’s Doc Magnus, inventor and asshat.

Only 37 more times. This issue.