Youtube Film Club – Robot Jox (1989)

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Before I get to 40, I’m catching up on all the films I really ought to have watched when I was a teenager. After posting a review of “Arena”, this was suggested to me, and as it’s free to watch on Youtube, I felt it would be rude not to. Looks like we can’t stay away from director Stuart Gordon, either – the ISCFC has previously covered “Space Truckers” and “Fortress”.

A nuclear war has killed or poisoned great swathes of humanity, and we’ve all sort of decided to have no more nukes, no more armies, and no more wars. Any territorial disputes will now be handled by one-on-one giant robot combat, which is televised, has betting, etc. The pilots of these robots are superstars, the “robot jox” of the title, as the future is too cool to spell it “jocks”, evidently. The best of the “American” pilots is Achilles, who’s one win away from retirement; and the best “Russian” is Alexander, who is really quite evil.

During his last fight, Achilles accidentally kills hundreds of spectators watching from the bleachers, and this sends him into a downward spiral, at the same time as a group of genetically engineered “genjox” are being trained to pilot the robots. Chief among these is Athena, who is introduced when Achilles suggests that rather than give a sperm sample to help produce the next generation of genjox, he could leave a deposit right at the source (charming). Oh, and there’s a mole in the good guys’ side, but who could it be? Will Achilles eventually step up and save Alaska from falling into Russkie hands?

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The production of this film sounds like it had a few setbacks. The scriptwriter was Joe Haldeman, author of one of my favourite sci-fi novels, “The Forever War”, and his description of the finished product was “it’s as if I’d had a child who started out well and then sustained brain damage.” Because the robots are very obviously ripoffs of the Transformers toy line, there was a struggle between making a film for kids or adults, and it would appear the kids’ side, led by Gordon, won out.

There are interesting ideas which pop up all over the place, though, and there’s plenty to like. Pregnancy is very important in the nuclear-devastated world they live in, and there are posters all over the place encouraging women to do their bit. The idea of a world so disgusted by traditional war that they resort to an idea like this is worth exploring too, even if it’s a bit of a silly idea and impractical in a world where there are still competing and incompatible ideologies. The cast is strong, and the miniature special effect work still looks great now, which couldn’t be said for the CGI of the period. The plot, while rather silly, is decently paced, and giant robot fighting is a heck of a lot of fun. Athena is not your typical leading lady – skinny, black, short hair, remains fully clothed – but Achilles lusts after her anyway, which I quite liked.

The problems start if you think about it for more than ten seconds. The mole in the organisation is so obvious they might as well have a neon “baddie” sign floating over their heads, and Achilles’ “I quit – I spiral downwards – events force me to return” arc feels completely tossed off. And things get really, really shambolic towards the end, in the final robot fight, where things happen because it would make a cool visual, not because it would make any sense. Also, If you can figure out if the good guys’ “secret weapon” worked or not, you’re a better man than I. Lastly, it suffered from release delays – made in 1987, while the Cold War was still a thing, due to bankruptcies it didn’t get released until November 1990, by which time the USSR was crumbling and the idea of the world being destroyed by two big armies duking it out had started to look a little ridiculous.

All in all, it’s not a great film. If you have fond memories of it, I’d suggest it’s from you being a kid and not from this being any good. For fun, you can imagine this as a prequel to “Pacific Rim”, though, which it bears a fairly strong resemblance to. I’ll leave you with the film’s message of peace, the “crash and burn” symbol of the film, which looks for all the world like they’ve got ports to connect a TV to an old computer console on their hands:

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Rating: thumbs down (sorry, picture above)

Atlantic Rim (2013)

Once again, The Asylum delivers. With “Pacific Rim” actually promising to be quite good, their low-budget “Atlantic Rim” has a chance to make some money. But is it worth 80+ minutes of your time? Well, let’s see.

It's not aliens

It’s not aliens

After a weirdly stilted opening, where it appears the two people in the scene shot their sides of the conversation at different times, and our first view of the monster, we go to Mardi Gras. It seems the Asylum loves New Orleans! (see also “Arachnoquake”). David Chokachi of “Baywatch” and a new ISCFC favourite, is a Navy guy, and along with a woman he’s maybe sort of having a relationship with and his extremely tattooed mate, is a giant robot pilot.

Oh yes, the three robotas are colour co-ordinated. So, they’ve been tasked with finding out what happened to a destroyed oil rig, but why the robots had to be gigantic for this job is never fully explained (or explained even a little bit, for that matter).

But lucky they are massive, because monsters! They bring one of the movie’s giant lizard baddies onto the shore, kill a bunch of people by just wildly firing their lasers and then finally manage to drop the lizard thing. All the corpses you see strewn around the street after that point? Baywatch did that. That lizard didn’t even make it past the beach. But he’s fine about his mass murder, and has not the slightest pang of guilt. In fact, he does address this in dialogue – “oops”. Cold!

I don’t see there’s an awful lot of point describing the ways Asylum saves budget – if you’re watching one of their films, you know what you’re getting. But this is particularly heinous – the main Navy base, where they’re launching nukes and all sorts, has two people in uniform and then just a bunch of office people; and the room we briefly cut to which houses the guy who apparently warns all the branches of government that a huge lizard attack is on the way, is just a completely ordinary office, with zero signs that it belongs to one of the most important people in the country.

There’s a second lizard, of course, but Baywatch is locked up for offending the Navy brass, and in one of the film’s funniest scenes is seen in his “cell” exercising, pacing, rearranging the meagre furniture and so on. It looks like weeks of activity, the sort of thing most films would have to show the extended passage of time. In this film, we discover it’s still the same day, and given it looked like dusk was on its way before, it can’t be any more than a few hours.

The film has some romantic intrigue! Love triangles! And then we’re on to mama Lizard visiting Manhattan. In the classic Asylum tradition, they can’t just rip off one film, so this climactic battle owes more than a little to “Cloverfield”. There’s a clever bit where we see the monster hitting the city, and all the enormous billboards are advertising other Asylum films…and we then find out the robots can fly, and they all have “melee weapons” – a sword, a hammer and a club. It’s pretty silly, even for a film like this. Countless thousands of New Yorkers lose their lives, but do they defeat the lizard? Which brave robot pilot will the woman go for? Do they all even survive?

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I do need to really hammer this point home – “Atlantic Rim” is rubbish. I’m worried that my critical faculties have worn away, because I kind of enjoyed it. Baywatch is having fun, there’s some good-rotten acting, and it’s got more plot holes than is usual, even for something from these guys. I say give it a go!

Rating: thumbs up

Atlantic Rim on IMDB
Buy Atlantic Rim [DVD]