A Complete Illustrated History
of Robots in the Movies
|Film/Year, Name of Robot and Film Description|
HAL 9000 Computer
Stanley Kubrick's landmark science-fiction film was based on Arthur C. Clarke's The Sentinel. The Discovery spaceship, on a nine-month, manned mission to Jupiter, was intelligently controlled and monitored by a "sixth member of the Discovery crew" - an even-toned, talkative, alert, "thinking" and "feeling" super-computer, named HAL-9000
HAL maintained the electronic systems of the spaceship (HAL "became operational at the H A L plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January, 1992"). It had anthropomorphic, human-mimicking qualities: a glowing, watchful red eye with which he connected to the world, and a rich, pleasant TV announcer's voice (voice by Douglas Rain).
Although appearing and sounding robotic, HAL was not really a robot. HAL was an acronym that stood for "Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer."
HAL was capable of speech recognition (lip-reading), chess-playing, sophisticated language interpretation, and, of course, malevolence.
In the film's most dramatic scene, astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) turned off HAL's cognitive functions by removing brain modules arranged as panels/arrays - he floated through the computer's memory bank, de-braining, lobotomizing, dismantling and disconnecting HAL's higher-logic functions by ejecting components of HAL's auto-intellect panels (shaped like tiny white monoliths). HAL pleaded and protested with Bowman - in a programmed voice - as his 'mind' gradually decayed and he became imbecilic and returned to infancy, while singing the song Daisy, or A Bicycle Built for Two.
Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
Colossus and Guardian super-computers
In this low-budget, cautionary science fiction film set during the Cold War Era and based on the 1966 novel by Dennis Feltham Jones, the AI 'robot' was a mainframe super-computer code-named Colossus, similar to HAL-9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) -
It was constructed in a bunker deep in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, where it was activated by its brilliant creator Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden).
It was an untested, uncontrollable mecha-brain (and later equipped with a mechanical and metallic voice) designed to control the United States' nuclear arsenal of weapons and military decision-making.
The film also postulated that the Soviet Communists had built an identical super-computer named Guardian to control their defense system - setting up the film's plot that the two computers would be linked together, run amok and threaten world destruction (with nuclear blackmail by firing ICBMs on each other), a common theme of films at the time (e.g. The Andromeda Strain (1971), THX 1138 (1971), and Westworld (1973)).
THX 1138 (1971)
George Lucas' feature-length debut film was about a post-apocalyptic, oppressive futuristic, underground police state world of the 25th century, where people were required to wear white gowns and shave their heads.
The society was patrolled by hundreds of identical, black leather-clad, chrome-faced android-robot enforcement cops with white motorcycle helmets, long baton-sticks or cattle prods, and radioactive power supplies.
A few of the society's individuals, including robot-building production line worker THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) and his female roommate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) - after not taking their state-required and prescribed, anti-emotion drug doses - began to experience illegal sexual feelings for each other, but then were caught and arrested by the black-garbed police.
Silent Running (1972)
Dewey (Drone # 1), Huey (Drone # 2), and Louie (Drone # 3)
Douglas Trumbull's directorial debut film was a speculative vision of eco-disaster. The environmental story about the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust featured three, beautifully-designed, faceless, silent, ecologically-friendly, anthropomorphic drones or robots named Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
They were low-profile, 3 foot-tall robots with retractable, pneumatic arms and a front-mounted searchlight, originally named Drones 1-3, but then re-named after Donald Duck's nephews Dewey, Huey, and Louie (colored blue, orange, and green respectively), and the inspiration for Star Wars' R2-D2 robot.
They were the innocent and protective robotic companions of rebellious, monk-robed, hippie loner botanist-ecologist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) on the orbiting space-freighter-greenhouse Valley Forge around Saturn, carrying out a mission of tending to the last remaining plant specimens from a radiation-devastated planet Earth. In their spare time, the drones played poker with Freeman.
Ordered to destroy the geodesic greenhouse domes, Freeman refused and hijacked the ship with one remaining dome, when he decided to refoliate a destroyed Earth with the last surviving vegetation.
Huey was lost in space as the ship jettisoned away and flew through the rings of Saturn, and Dewey became the sole survivor left to tend the last remaining dome after Freeman blew up the spaceship and himself.
Fantastic Planet (1973, Fr./Czech.) (aka Planète Sauvage, La, or The Savage Planet)
René Laloux's surrealistic animated film featured themes of oppression and rebellion, and was the winner of the Special Grand Prix jury prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival.
It told about an alien race of giant blue robotic creatures called Draags, superior beings on the futuristic planet of Ygam. They ruled over the "Oms" - tiny kidnapped humanoids from an Earth-like planet, some of which were kept by the Draag children as domesticated pets with collars.
The Draags had bluish skin, huge round and protruding red eyes, and a skull-like head. The tale concluded with a chronologically-reversed Planet of the Apes (1968) twist ending.
Gojira Tai Megaro (1973, Jp.) (aka Godzilla vs. Megalon)
In director Jun Fukuda's low-budget science-fiction film (the 13th Godzilla film and the fourth for Fukuda), monstrous bipedal, winged, stag beetle-like Megalon (with drill-bit hands and capable of shooting laser rays from his head) from an ancient subterranean civilization called Seatopia attempted to take over Earth.
Godzilla came to the rescue after being informed on Monster Island by experimental robot Jet Jaguar, a cone-headed android capable of flying, wearing an orange-red-silver colored rubber suit.
It was shown that the robot was programmed by punch cards, and capable of transforming himself into giant size.
The final showdown battle (a tag-team wrestling match that was about one-half hour long) pitted Godzilla and Jet Jaguar against two space monsters (Megalon and one-eyed cyclopean dinosaur-like buzzard Gigan).
Roboman (1973, UK/W. Germ.) (aka Who? and The Man With the Steel Mask)
Robotic Cyborg, Roboman
In director Jack Gold's Cold War-era action-espionage thriller and suspenseful character study starring Elliott Gould and Trevor Howard, Joseph Bova was featured as a seriously-injured American government official, a US scientist named Dr. Lucas Martino.
Martino was turned into a robotic, metal-faced and armed cyborg by the East Germans after a car accident. For its video release, the film was renamed Roboman and given the tagline: "The Kill Machine with the Megaton Mind" (to capitalize on the popularity of Robocop (1987)).
Robotic Household Butler
Woody Allen's satirical comedy about the future opened with jazz clarinet musician and co-owner of a Greenwich Village health food store, the nerdy Miles Monroe (Allen), waking up in the dystopic world of 2173 after being accidentally cryo-frozen with liquid nitrogen.
When first unwrapped and awakened, he staggered around like a zombie-like Frankenstein. To escape detection and capture, he ineptly pretended to be a servant-robot, with a silver-painted face and dome on his head (although he still retained his black-framed thick glasses), in the household of hedonistic poetess Luna Schlosser (Diane Keaton) during a party.
In the house party scene, Miles as the robotic butler participated in the passing of the pleasure-producing "intoxication orb" - and tried to pretend that he wasn't affected by it.
The film also featured a robotic workshop, and a computerized, blue-eyed robotic Rags Dog that spoke: "Woof woof woof...Hello, I'm Rags..." - accompanied by this joke:
Gunslinging Cowboy Robot Model 406
Writer/director Michael Crichton's original film was about a remote, adult-entertainment theme park named Delos on an island populated with androids, designed to provide visitors with a "vacation of the future" (with heavy doses of sex and violence) for $1,000/day.
It featured Yul Brynner as a gunslinging, black-clad Cowboy automaton robot, who would allow visitors to kill him in shooting matches. The Cowboy represented Chris (also played by Yul Brynner) from the popular western The Magnificent Seven (1960).
The cold and expressionless gunslinger possessed ultra-sonic hearing and magnified, infrared vision (represented by red-tinted POV shots), demonstrating the first use in a feature film of 2-D CGI. Every night, trucks collected the robots and took them to an underground lab where they were cleaned and repaired by giant computers and white-coated lab technicians.
When the Gunslinger went beserk and ran amok in the park, threatening visitors, it withstood being set on fire with a torch and melting by acid thrown in its face.
Dark Star (1974)
Bomb # 20
Director John Carpenter's comedy science-fiction film was set in the mid 22nd century, and told about a 20-year space mission (aging the crew three years) conducted by the scout ship Dark Star, looking for habitable planetary systems and destroying unstable rogue planets.
The five-man crew used the ship's twenty intelligent bombs, called Exponential Thermo-stellar Bombs, to destroy the planets.
Talking and stubborn Bomb # 20 (voice of Adam Beckenbaugh), the last remaining bomb, was falsely ordered by the ship's malfunctioning "Mother" computer to prepare for detonation, leading to a funny existential "Phenomenological" conversation with acting captain Lt. Doolittle (Brian Narelle) about the renegade smart bomb's ultimate destiny and "purpose in life" - to explode in the ship's bomb bay.
This life goal was accomplished by Bomb # 20, after announcing the God-like phrase: "Let There Be Light."
Robots in Film
(chronological, by film title)
Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12