In the 80's there was a series of films that featured robots. A lot of them set the standards for today's technology and the future. One of the more popular robot films from the 80's was Short Circuit and it's sequel Short Circuit 2.The films featured a robot named Number 5 AKA Johnny 5. They're one of my favorite 80's movies. I would like to take this time to talk about them.
The first film was an idea by screenwriting partners S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock. They started out taking screenwriting courses at USC film school, which is where they first met. It was there where they got their start in filmmaking. They made a series of educational films that used stop motion animation, which was Wilson's background. They made these films with another USC alumni Ron Underwood, who both Wilson and Maddock would work eventually work with on the first Tremors film. One of these educational films featured a stop motion robot who was showing how a library worked. It was this film that gave the inspiration for Wilson and Maddock to write a feature about a robot. This was
when Short Circuit was born.
The end result was a film about a military robot that comes to life by a bolt of lightning and develops a personality. Wilson and Maddock had envisioned a low budget film, using stop motion animation to bring the robot to life. However, when they sold the script to TriStar Pictures, they didn't want to use stop motion animation. Wilson then did a series of stop motion tests with a the robot used in the educational film. The producers weren't happy with it. Then, a director was hired, John Badham, who had directed Saturday Night Fever and WarGames. It was him who made the final call about using stop motion animation. Apparently, he didn't want the main character of his movie to be invisible to the actors and just say, "Oh we'll add it in later." So, he shopped around for someone to create his robot. He went to Carlo Rambaldi, who had made E.T. He also went to Apogee, ILM, and even went as far as to get programmers to make a robot. However, all those ideas didn't work. It was then, that Badham found Eric Allard.
Eric Allard was a young effects wizard who had once made a robot for a Showscan film called Let's Go, which featured a robot named Pal. The robot effects were achieved with a rod puppetry technique. It was this similar style that was used to make Number 5 come to life. Allard and his crew made different types of robots for the film. In total there were about 27 action props to achieve the robot effects. There were some radio controlled robots, rod puppets, marionettes, bunraku puppets, and stunt robots.
Finally, the stage was set and it was time for production. The cast included Steve Guttenberg as Newton Crosby, a scientist who created Number 5. Ally Sheedy plays Stephanie Speak, an animal lover, who "adopts" Number 5 after running away from the military. Fisher Stevens plays Ben Jabituya, an Indian inventor who created Number 5.Number 5 himself was operated by several puppeteers under the direction of Tony Urbano, who was a marionette puppeteer. The voice of Number 5 was done on the set by one of the puppeteers, Tim Blaney. It was also the final voice that was chosen for the film.
In total the film cost 16 million dollars to make. The final film was released on May 9, 1986. It did well at the box office taking in $40,697,761. However, critics were mixed about it. After doing so well, sequel talks started to come about. Finally, production on a sequel started in 1987. Wilson and Maddock returned as screenwriters. This time, it was Johnny 5 coming to the city with Ben to make it in the toy business, while dealing with street hustlers and gangs. TriStar pictures once again, produced the film. This time there were some changes.
Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy did not return, because the studio didn't want them back. Therefore, Ben went from the comic relief sidekick to the star. The cast also included Michael McKean as Fred Ritter, a street hustler who decides to help Ben with his business. Cynthia Gibb plays Sandy Banatoni, a buyer for a toy company and Ben's love interest. Finally, Jack Weston plays Oscar Baldwin, a bank teller, who plans to steal jewels along with his goons and tries to manipulate Number 5, or Johnny 5 as he's now called, into helping him do so.
There was also a new director on board, Kenneth Johnson. His background was in television. He directed episodes of V, The Incredible Hulk and others. He was friends with one of the producers at TriStar, so he was to direct. John Badham did not come back to direct because he was busy with another project, but really wanted to.
The effects were different too. This time around Eric Allard and his crew made an all radio controlled robot that was a controlled by a device called the telemetry suit. A puppeteer would wear this on his back like a backpack, with two arm size controls. In other words, the puppeteer would wear this device off camera and move his arms, then Johnny 5's arms would move. The rest of the features were all remote controlled. This time different puppeteers were also used. Since filming was done in Toronto, Canada, they used Canadian puppeteers, who had done work with the Jim Henson Company. However, Tim Blaney did come back to perform the voice of Johnny 5.
In total, the film cost 17 million dollars to make. The final film was released on July 6, 1988 and had a modest success taking in $21,630,088. Once again critics were mixed on the film. However, both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film "two thumbs up." They gave the first film thumbs down. They commented on this one saying it was better than the original.
After Short Circuit 2 was released. There was more that wanted to be done with Johnny 5. Eventually, Short Circuit 3 was in development. This time there were different screenwriters. The plot was about Johnny 5 going to college. However, the producers didn't like the idea and the film was scrapped. Even a Short Circuit TV show was in talks, but the idea never came off the ground. In 1990, Johnny 5 made his last appearance in an educational film called, Hot Cars, Cold Facts, which is ironic, because that's where the idea of Johnny 5 got started, in an educational film. The film was about car theft and how to prevent it. The film starts where it left off in Short Circuit 2, where Johnny 5 is now an American citizen and has his own house and car. However, his car gets stolen and throughout the film, he learns about car theft. No one involved in the first two movies came back for this, being that it was an educational film.
Nowadays, Short Circuit 1 & 2 are considered to be 80's classics and Johnny 5 is a memorable character. As of right now, Hollywood is this time where almost everything they're making is a remake. Now they're remaking 80's movies and Short Circuit is now on that list of remakes. Originally, writers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock were set to write the remake, but due to disagreements, they're now off the project. Instead, Robot Chicken writer Dan Milano is writing the script and Steve Carr who directed films such as Dr. Dolittle 2, Are We Done Yet and Paul Bart: Mall Cop, will be directing this remake. The plot is said to be about Number 5 coming to life by lightning and befriending a little boy with a dysfunctional family. So, far it has a release date of 2011.
How do these movies hold up, though? Well, I have to honest, while I do really enjoy them, they have quite a of flaws, such as the writing and acting. If it wasn't for the characters of Johnny 5 and Ben and something different, I don't think I would've liked the movies. Without them, the movies have some bad qualities. However, the effects are top notch, especially in the first movie. For some reason, I like those effects better than the second film, maybe because it's traditional puppetry and not electronics. I'm very much into traditional arts and I love puppetry, so that's why I like the effects of the first film better. Although, I do think the effects of the second film are good and I respect the great technology that was used, but the first film had GREAT effects. As far, as the films themselves go, I agree with Siskel and Ebert. I also think the second one is better than the first one. To me it just has a better story and more character depth, especially with Johnny 5 and Ben. We see them both dealing with loneness, particularly in this one great scene where they're taking a walk at night and talking to each other. I also love that scene because it's almost 3 minutes long and it's all done in ONE SHOT. There's no edit or cut, it's great. I think that was possible because of the technology to make the robot move. I also like the scene where Johnny 5 gets beaten up, because of the significance it has to the film. Although, as a kid, that scene scared me to death. I mean, this is a family film and the main character is being killed. It was shocking, but also added a lot to the film, because it shows how alive Johnny 5 really is and is almost human, despite not looking human. Although, the rest of the film is rushed and has kind of a stupid ending, but i can deal it with. Now I know, this isn't supposed to be some masterpiece like The Godfather, but it's scenes like that which make the second one better. I love the first one, because it's a fun movie, but when you think about it, it comes off as an E.T. clone, with the same idea, only with a robot.
I have also read the Short Circuit 3 screenplay and I'm glad it wasn't made. It was kind of dumb and had a stupid ending. I've also viewed the educational film, Hot Cars, Cold Facts. That was also not very good. It was just weird and Johnny looked weird and his voice was also weird. He sounded like a combination of Big Bird and Gumby, it just didn't fit. I also don't like the idea of this remake. First off all, the director has an awful resume. Secondly, people who don't like Short Circuit, call it an E.T. rip-off, with the plot the way it is now, it WILL be E.T. It's almost identical, but instead of an animal lover young girl, it's a little boy. Although, I do think it will be funny since Dan Milano is writing it and he writes for Robot Chicken.
I also want to mention that a while back, both Fisher Stevens and Austin Pendelton, who ere in the first film, together did an interview for a website and made
some comments about the films. Stevens said the end result of the first film wasn't what he expected. He said script was much different and was better than the final cut. He also didn't want to work with Steve Guttenberg at first. He said the second film, left him disappointed and felt it was badly directed, but still a cute movie. He also felt that the voice of Johnny 5 didn't fit him. Pendelton also commented that the script was better than the final cut of the first film. He described the script as "heartbreakingly beautiful." I still wonder was different about the original script. Who knows? All in all, I really enjoy these movies, despite their flaws, it's a guilty pleasure to say the least.