Stars – Gary Graham, Anne-Marie Johnson, Paul Koslo, Michael Alldredge, Danny Kamekona,
Director – Stuart Gordon
Released by Shout / Scream Factory
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
Made seventeen years and several generations of special effects before the Michael Bay’s spectacle Transformers Robojox feels like a throwback now. The plot is overly simplistic. The practical effects continually reach for the stars. The acting is pretty terrible. And yet this is quite a lot of fun. Set years in the future wars have been abolished. Instead squabbles between countries are settled by one on one fights between gigantic robots. One man, the jock, sits inside and pilots the mechanical machine. Back at the control center each man has a coach who advises him on strategy via a headset. There is also a technical wizard who just like Q in the James Bond movies continually comes up with new fighting weaponry that he tries to keep hidden from the other side’s spies until the match begins.
Achilles (Gary Graham) the top jock for the Market has just finished what he thought was his last fight with the Federation’s robot. However at the end of the battle Achilles sacrifices his machine to prevent a wayward rocket from hitting the fans in the stands. But his machine topples over into the bleachers in the process. He quits and the Market begins grooming Anne-Marie Johnson to take over for him. There has never been a woman pilot before but she has been bred and raised just for this. Meanwhile the big rematch is coming up with the territory of Alaska going to the winner. Will there be a new woman jock? Will Achilles get his act together and get back in the fight to save everyone. Will the Market find the spy in their midst? Will we get to see more giant robot mayhem and a killer fight to the finish? You betcha.
The allure and charm of this film lies completely with the robots. Much of their action has been done by stop motion animation and it is thoroughly entertaining. Instead of doing all the effects work in a controlled studio the team set up work tables outside in the desert so the background would match with the outdoor desert battle terrain of the fights. It looks great however we learn in the extras that any rain or excessive sandy breezes would delay the process considerably. There are pyrotechnics used throughout these battles. You can’t animate fire so elaborate puppets and models were created to let the fire and explosives crew could do their thing. Much of their works was inspired by The Thunderbird TV series and movies. There are all kinds of neat surprises built into the bots’ arsenal including a chainsaw, rockets, missiles, flame throwers, a flare that blinds and a cool looking bolo saw that wraps around and severs any limb it attaches to. These battle scenes are a kick and a half to watch. Those who love old school special effects will have a filed day with this.
Director Stuart Gordon is best know for Re-Animator (1985). He got his start though as a theatre director in Chicago. One of his shows Bleacher Bums became a movie. It’s neat to hear the fans in the collapsed stands in this film referred to twice as Bleacher Bums. This film was pretty much the swan song of Empire Pictures so it has that delightfully cheap style about it. Empire made a slew of horror films in the eighties. Achilles’ coach is called Tex and he sports a cowboy hat. There are some cheesy Karate styled fights with poor choreography. The costuming is cartoon-like. Every set seems like it was built moments ago and just may fall down right after the shot is completed. Gordon keeps up a joyous attitude throughout the film. The jock pilot for the bad guys’ side is played with a Russian accent by Paul Koslo (The Omega Man). Word had it that the screenwriter Joe Haldeman was continually at odds with the director. Joe wanted more realism. These fights scenes are nothing at all like the amazing sequence in Aliens (1986) with Ripley piloting a futuristic pay loader to battle the queen alien. Haldeman wrote in his Interim Report that, “Stuart pinpointed what we’d been doing wrong. He said, “Joe, our problem is that you’re writing a movie for adults that children can enjoy, but I’m directing a movie for children that adults can enjoy!”
Video – 1.85:1
The film looks bright and colorful as it should be. Colors are generally bold. There is good detail throughout.
Audio – DTS Mono with subtitles offered in English.
All dialogue is clear. The music and effects are supportive but not strongly featured in the mix.
Extras – Commentary with Director Stuart Gordon, Commentary with Associate Effects Director Paul Gentry, Mechanical Effects Artist Mark Rappaport, and Stop-Motion Animator Paul Jessel • New Interview with Actor Paul Koslo • Archival Interviews with Director Stuart Gordon, Pyrotechnic Supervisor Joe Viskocil, Associate Effects Director Paul Gentry, Stop-Motion Animator Paul Jessel, and Animation & Effects Artists Chris Endicott and Mark McGee • Behind-the-Scenes Footage• 2 Still Galleries • Trailers
All the special effects features are fascinating and enjoyable. Any discussion of David Allen’s stop motion work is captivating. He was the visual effects director and apparently inspired a lot of the crew with his vision and relaxed manner on the set.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :
Blue Ray – Excellent
Movie – Good