June 27, 2008

BATTLE ‘BOTS ; From Beep-Booping Heroes to Murderous Masterminds, Machines Are a Cinematic Staple. But Which Androids Reign Supreme on Screen?

By Phil Parker Journal Staff Writer

Plucky WALL-E can build skyscrapers with trash cubes and reenact entire dance numbers from "Hello, Dolly!" He's a cute, clumsy little fellow who, in his fantastic new Pixar movie set hundreds of years in the future, Mr. Magoos his way off the desolate planet Earth and into the heart of a saucy EVE probe robot ("probot"?). That's right, over the course of a rollicking adventure to lead the slovenly human race back to its abandoned home planet, WALL-E gets something till now unparalleled in the annals of movie robotdom: a girlfriend.

Save the world long after it's died AND fall in love? It's enough to vault WALL-E toward the top of the movie robot pantheon. But which robot ruled like no other?

The contenders: (Not mentioned below are the "Batteries Not Included" critters, Mechagodzilla, Crow T. Robot and Tom

Servo, Evil Bill and Ted.)

Ash ("Alien") and Bishop ("Aliens"): Two "synthetic humanoids" providing a fascinating contradiction. Ash was a Company-controlled goon, sent undercover aboard a ship of tough astronauts. His mission was to kill the humans and secure a vicious, acid-blooded reptile monster with the potential to revolutionize chemical weapons. He essentially executed innocent colleagues in the name of the military industrial complex. And his blood looked like milk.

The same milk-goo powered Bishop, Ash's unlikely opposite. Instead of killing the humans, he bravely airlifts them to safety before an entire planet becomes a fireball. And what little boy wasn't mesmerized by Bishop's blindingly fast knife-between-the- fingers trick?

Johnny 5 ("Short Circuit"): The killer robot with a heart of gold. Johnny 5 was supposed to be an ultimate soldier for the government, until he was struck by lightning and began to question the importance of life and death. By the end of the movie he's literally a dancing machine and, significantly, he's completely terrified of dying. One question: Shouldn't the Feds have made their supposed super-soldier more scary looking? Johnny 5's like a grownup WALL-E.

Bumblebee ("Transformers"): While the Autobots and Decepticons blah-blahblahed about a cube and whether humans were worth saving, Bumblebee kept his mouth shut and whooped bad 'bots with gusto. Kudos to the Transformers for being taller than most buildings and packing serious punch. Boo, though, to Bumblebee for turning from a greatlooking retro Camaro into the Mustangwannabe of 2008.

HAL 9000 ("2001: A Space Odyssey"): "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that." Has a little red light ever been so creepy? With his monotone voice evoking serious sociopathic tendencies, HAL 9000 bridged technology and insanity. (Or did he? Liberal arts students everywhere continue the debate.) An all-time classic villain, HAL murdered the astronauts aboard the Discovery but never once raised his voice.

Gort ("The Day the Earth Stood Still"): Gort was a loyal servant with laser-beam eyes. Klaatu, his master, came to Earth with a message and left with a warning: Clean up your act, warmongers, or robots like Gort will come back and wipe out every single one of you. Gort didn't do a whole lot, but he was apparently powerful enough to destroy Earth. Can any other movie robot claim that? Klaatu barada nikto.

Lots of great candidates, but if one robot can claim the top spot on the pyramid there's only two real contenders.

R2-D2 ("Star Wars"): An adventuring Jedi's best friend. Unlike his whiny boyfriend C-3P0, R2 brought scrap and guile to the battle against Darth Vader (not quite a robot himself) and the dark side. Luke Skywalker would've never gotten Princess Leia's message, never escaped Jabba the Hutt and never found Yoda without the help of this eager little vacuum cleaner. And there's no way Han Solo could have beaten the Storm Trooper on the Ewoks' home planet without R2-D2's codecracking skills. As an added bonus, not once did he utter a word of George Lucas' wretched dialogue.

In fact, all R2 ever said was "Beep boop beep." Compare that to the iconic vocal stylings of the greatest movie robot ever. Which line do geeks geek out most for -- "I'll be back" or "Hasta la vista, baby"?

The Terminator ("Terminator 2"): Before he was the cigar-smoking king of California, Ahnold played a movie robot of unsurpassed programming. (Fun fact: O.J. Simpson was considered for the role.) The Terminator started evil in the original film, wasting an entire police station filled with armed officers. Then he learned the meaning of humanity in the unprecedented sequel. The Terminator saved the world twice, but his ultimate accomplishment lies in his struggles to beat more advanced enemies. Unlike the other robots on this list, Terminator went face to face with more advanced versions of himself. In epic brawls and with the fate of the world at stake, he beat the liquid-metal T-1000 in grand style, then destroyed the voluptuous Terminatrix -- a walking arsenal -- in "Terminator 3." Out matched and outgunned, he was, simply, unstoppable.

If this were Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, WALL-E wouldn't last three seconds against Terminator. The Terminator, though, would just be stomped into a flesh-and-metal pancake by Mechagodzilla.

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